A friendly lesson

Sep 19, 2005 3:41 AM

Most people get involved with the game of video poker with little knowledge of what they are doing. That’s how I started out. A short roll of quarters, a quick first-time visit to Las Vegas and the Gold Coast, and a lucky hit of a royal flush after a cocktail waitress suggested I play five coins per hand instead of the one or two that I was playing.

A thousand dollars seems like a lot of money when it happens like that. But I soon realized that, compared to what I was making in corporate America, it wasn’t really that much at all. I’m sure that’s the reason I set aside so much money over the next six-years-plus to play the game that made it all seem so very easy.

The problem was that the few weeks following the royal was the only time I was ever ahead over the next six years!

The casinos had me right where they wanted me, and I was taken in by the game just as easily as every regular player of video poker ever is.

One thing that I thought I right right, however, was to learn the mathematics of the game. And that’s exactly how I approached my play over the years of losing. I studied the correct holds, I practiced for hours each week while traveling the globe, and when I returned home I went straight to Nevada, confident in my new-found ability to withdraw money "at will" from any casino that had the games I learned to play. After all, anything over 100 percent meant I would win, right?

So goes easy money. All the people who sold me a bill of goods about the game and its "perfect-play/long-term strategy fantasy" never seemed to take the time to tell me that it does not work without extreme and consistent good luck at the machines.

I took them at their marketing-best-word, and fell into the trap hook, line and sinker. They made money off of me while I was merely a link in the chain of those helping them keep gambling money in their pockets. Now I knew the real truth about whether they won or lost.

But that was then and this is now. I’ve had nearly nine years of consistent success playing the game since then, and it’s all because I combined the ingredient of knowing the optimal plays with the just-as-important-ingredient of knowing when to deviate from expert strategy in order to experience the best chance at short-term gain.

Along with pre-set goals, a proper bankroll, and the discipline to make it all work, I’ve found there is not other way to beat the game other than to go about it with a short-term strategy such as this.

That’s basically what I told a long time friend from my high school days who came to me this past year for assistance. He had a medium sized bankroll, had read about me on the Internet, and decided that being a professional gambler was his calling. Thank God he came to me!

He came out here from New England and spent a week with us, and I in turn trained him at both the Indian Casino in Scottsdale as well as in Laughlin. He was adamant in that he only wanted to learn the expert way to play, which to him was only optimal play.

Although it took several days to get him to see why that was the wrong approach, he soon enthusiastically began going for the hands that would best allow him to meet his win goal and cash out, and he no longer was a slave to mathematical play only. He felt he was on a roll.

But video poker is such an unforgiving game, and for those who can’t stomach the swings then it’s best for them to only play recreationally. My friend was ahead almost $1,500 in six days of play, but during his last session in which he was down $900, my strategy required he play at the $5 level — which was his highest. He got the familiar case of cold feet, asked if I would think he chickened out if he took his $600 and went home, and I gave him my blessing to go.

That’s a lesson in true intelligent play. If you can’t do what you said you were going to do, quit. Take the profit (or accept the loss) and go home immediately. Plans have to be followed through on to attain success.

People who go up in denomination after a jackpot, feel the urge to quit but are compelled to stay out of habit, or run to the ATM machines after getting wiped out have no business playing video poker. To do so would be playing directly into the hands of every casino manager ever born. Learn the smart way to play. And remember it.