Do the math ... then do the ‘right’ thing

Nov 28, 2005 11:33 PM

It’s no secret that I’m often at odds with the math people about why I incorporate special plays that deviate from expert strategy within my self-developed play strategies (available for free on my web site,

And not only do they criticize me for doing that, they also have a problem with the fact that most of the games I play for profit are somewhat below the theoretical 100% expected value (EV) threshold. Yet I win, and they have no answers.

But I have plenty of answers that are undeniably true, and they are not what the gurus like to hear. The first is rather obvious: Nobody can outperform a very perfect computer, and that simple fact means any errors made are on the side of the player. To go along with that undeniable fact, it is a known human trait that the longer one sits at a machine the exponentially higher rate of errors he or she will experience per hour of play.

Because of these truths, anyone who plays with a slight edge as they sit down goes out with negative EV each and every time. They don’t like to admit it, but there’s nothing they can say or do that will ever change reality. And certainly, the good feeling they pretend to have as they plan a session only serves to give them the confidence they need to play far more often than they should. Advantage: casino.

Did you ever watch the famous chefs on TV as they prepare foods that you and I love to eat? Ever see a difference between the nervous types that MUST add every ingredient by the book, and the easy going, confident chefs who add ingredients by guestimating as they see fit without the use of measuring devices? Who would you rather have teach YOU how to cook? Will the inclusion of every last grain of sugar or each tenth of a gram of salt really make any difference? And what about the red wine? Does anyone ever complain, or is there cheers, when more than the book-required one cup only is added into the pan?

I think you’re getting the point. Just because you learn textbook theories and study math models until you know them inside out, doesn’t mean it’s the end-all when it’s time to face the real world. All the intellect in the world won’t do the math student any good when it comes to video poker if the machine doesn’t take him into infinity. And it never will.

In the early days of video poker, there were a few pioneers who led the way in understanding and reporting to players that the game had a basis in math. So off and running many went, only to be disappointed time and time again in their results after constant study, practice, and tons of hope. What these forefathers forgot to say was that WINNING would require at least 90% good luck, and that every single hand that is won is because of this large ratio of luck to skill. There simply is no other way.

But that approach alone will not make a consistent winner out of anyone. The successful player must be prepared for the hands that may occur in the form of win goals, and if good luck shines down upon him then he has to have the ability to get up and walk out whenever that goal is reached. Again, there is no other way. Staying on and playing through winners is like asking the machine how hungry it is.

So how does one learn to win consistently by being prepared? By understanding and accepting the fact that each dealt hand will not be experienced millions of times in one session, and because of this the math formulas do not apply.

Yes, it’s a tough lesson to learn for all you math types that make believe the machine’s draw assumes the same misconceptions that you do. But you’ll get over it.

Enter the special plays I developed that were meant to greatly improve my chances on all of the games I play. Many of my special plays have to do with being dealt two pair on the advanced Bonus Poker games such as Triple Bonus Poker Plus. Let’s say you’re dealt 4-4-7-7-K, and the pay table shows 45 for a Full House, 250 for four 7’s, and 400 for four 4’s. Do you know what the math expert says to keep vs. what I say to keep?

Every time, the optimal play person will go for the Full House. His computer tells him that, his slide rule tells him that, and his instruction books tell him that. But the intelligent player who’s only there to win TODAY knows that is not right. Why is he playing that game? Yes, to hit the special quads, and ”˜4’ is one of them! In all of my strategies, the only time I’d ever keep the two pair is when hitting a Full House will attain a goal. Otherwise, it’s a colossal waste of time.

The math person’s argument is that, according to the theories, this play will ”˜cost’ me X amount of dollars every time I make it, and over time it will be ”˜very expensive.’ However, just because their books say that four fours aren’t likely to pop up enough to happen this particular time, who says it won’t happen here and now? If they like to toss theories around, mine says that if you don’t give the hand a chance to materialize, it never will!

Every hand isn’t looked at in that manner of course. Consideration was given at the onset of development, about the value of going for the big winners vs. just playing it safe. In a fairly extreme example, when dealt 6-6-8-K-9, I’d never hold just the K to go for the Royal in lieu of trying for quad 6’s. It has to make sense first, and then it has to meet the test of the value in going for the goal.

The concept is simple: The game allows for some large winners, and you don’t have all that many opportunities to go for them. In the case of being dealt two pair as shown above, the two 7s are nothing more than penalty cards in most situations. People who don’t recognize that and who stick to math-only play will suffer financially without extreme good luck. And guess what? I don’t suffer any longer.