Nuances of ‘expert’ and ‘perfect’ strategy

Sep 27, 2005 12:55 AM

My father, Lenny Frome, coined the phrase expert strategy almost 20 years ago as the name for the strategy that he created for video poker. As time went on, this phrase proved to be applicable to virtually every casino game.

Expert strategy was never advertised as the strategy that would guarantee you would win at any particular casino game. It wasn’t some system to beat the casinos. It was a sound strategy, based on math and common sense, which would allow the recreational gambler the best chance to win and to enjoy his time gambling, by stretching his gambling dollars.

The first part of expert strategy is to play the right game, not to play only games that have a positive expectation.

If you’re a professional player, you have to play games with a positive expectation, and then you have to play enough hands.

Expecting to win playing a negative expectation game (a game with a payback of less than 100%) over the long run would be like trying to defy gravity. It doesn’t happen.

It was by sheer accident that some early versions of video poker were positive games. Over the years, the casinos have "corrected" this situation by removing virtually all of these games, although occasionally one sneaks through, especially when you include comps and cashback.

There is no table game that offers a payback over 100%, except maybe blackjack to an accomplished card counter. Many of the newer table games, however, offer paybacks as high as video poker machines.

The first leg of expert strategy tells the player to play the right game. This means finding games with a payback that gives you a fighting chance.

It’s rare for a casino to offer the same table game with different paybacks, but quite common for them to offer video poker machines with different paybacks. So, expert strategy tells us to play the video poker machine with the higher payback.

This doesn’t mean that playing the higher payback game will guarantee a win, and it doesn’t mean that if you play a lower payback game, you won’t win. You’re simply increasing your chances while giving yourself the best chance to win.

The second leg of expert strategy is to play the right strategy. This is applicable to all casino games, and should be followed by both recreational and professional players.

The play strategy offered as expert strategy is not always perfect strategy, but it can come close to perfect strategy — at least within the limitations of human endeavor.

Any deviation from perfect strategy is usually a conscious choice to reduce errors, knowing that a small fraction of payback may be sacrificed.

For those who scoff at using a strategy such as expert strategy, keep in mind that every casino game is designed with expert/perfect strategy in mind. In order to get a game approved in most jurisdictions, the strategy that maximizes payback must be spelled out.

If someone wants to tell you that math models don’t apply to casino games, they must also believe the world is flat. There are math concepts that apply to random events, and no amount of anecdotal stories can change this.

The last leg of expert strategy is to know what to expect. I believe that lack of knowledge of this leg is what causes so many people to deny the math behind the game. They see something happens that they feel defies math, thus, all the math must be wrong or inapplicable.

The reality is that, as long as the game is fair, nothing that happens defies math. Sometimes, when you discard an ace, an ace will appear in the same spot (in fact, this is really not all that rare). Sometimes, when you make the wrong play, you still win. Sometimes, when you make the right play, you lose. Sometimes, this will occur more often than what should be "normal."

Many people who have given up on expert strategy labored under the notion that it was a guarantee to win. This is simply a distortion of the facts. Expert strategy will help the player achieve in the long run the theoretical payback of the machines the player chooses to play.

If you play 98.5% games with 0.5% comps and cashback, you’re still going to lose 1% of all the money you play over the long run. This doesn’t mean exactly 1%. This means as you play more and more hands, you’ll approach the 1% with a higher degree of probability.

If you choose some alternate strategy, does it mean you’ll lose more? No, it means you’re more likely to lose more.

Besides my knowledge of math, how do I know that expert strategy is the right strategy? All you have to do is look at the paytables the casinos are offering. As I’ve discussed many times, the reason the casinos can offer such high paybacks on video poker is because there are so many players who play so poorly.