Play to win, not to beat the stats

Dec 27, 2005 1:39 AM

How does a video poker player measure his or her success? Some people may not care. They only want to know the good feeling that they get from hitting a few winners even if they lose overall, which most people do. Others try the statistical route, as they create ridiculously meaningless spreadsheets that track every aspect of their play. By and large, you’ll hear these people say they win. After all that effort, what else can they possibly say?

Those in my camp have an altogether different set of priorities. We simply want — and expect — to win each and every time we play, and we apply all known abilities to utilizing a strategy that has the best chance of making a profit whenever we’re in a casino. Keeping records is best left to the contemporaneous ones required by the IRS. Statistics are simplified down to the point of counting how much money we have in our pockets as we leave the casinos vs. how much we walked in with.

But winning consistently at video poker is a puzzling experience for nearly every player. Even though I walk into each session with a very high confidence level, I know that it’ll take a huge amount of concentration and ongoing calculations in order to actually play my strategy properly and walk out a winner.

To play my strategies properly (found at no cost on, one must accept the fact that the only way to win is by having good luck, and to know exactly how to handle it when it comes along.

That’s why my play strategies concentrate on the value of hitting four-of-a-kinds, and in particular, the special four-of-a-kinds. Fully 95% of my strategy is based on playing the computer-perfect play. That’s just, in most cases, simple common sense, and if you don’t have that down then you shouldn’t be playing.

And don’t worry about mistakes. We all make plenty of them — especially those who believe that sitting at the machines for hours on end has any merit whatsoever. Anyone ever hear of getting fatigued, distracted or just bored to death?

I never rely on royal flushes to pull me through or help me get my percentages up. Instead, where my strategy makes the difference is in the special plays that go for the quads.

For instance, when playing Bonus Poker I only have two instances where I’ll break 2-pair to go for four aces (400 credits). But most of my play is on what I call the Advanced Bonus Poker Games (Double Bonus (DB), Double Double Bonus (DDB), Super Double Bonus (SDB), & Triple Bonus Poker+ (TBP+)) where all quad 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s pay at least 400 credits, and on SDBP J’s, Q’s and K’s pay 600.

In each of the games in which my strategy is key, the ace is an all-powerful card. Therefore, there are a number of special plays that have me holding a lone ace or breaking up 2-pair with aces where Einstein never would.

And the result? Well, like I said, I don’t keep statistics because that’s not what’s important, but I have no problem saying that without the plethora of quad aces I’ve received over my years of professional play, my overall profit level could easily be cut in half.

So what’s all this say about the mathematical chances of holding a higher probability hand versus what I sometimes hold? Ha, the question of the century, and one which I hear all the time.

The answer is I know what I’m theoretically giving up on the draw by making a less-than-optimal hold. But I also know reality, and the fact that it’s just a machine — and machines can do anything at any time without regard to what they’re supposed to do.

Lets see if you can get this: When dealt a hand in which there’s several ways to make the hold (the optimal way or the Singer method) where the math says the computer perfect play’s expected value (EV) might be 2.009, and mine is 1.478, the mathematician is basing the calculation on what should be the outcome over millions of hands. But what of this one time right now, what could be waiting on the draw?

Who’s to say the huge winner won’t pop up if you toss the nearly useless other pair? Who’s to say there’s not three more aces just waiting to come out and give you a very large W2G? Where is it written that the machine has to follow probabilities, percentages and theories? Well, my friends, I certainly know where it’s not written — in my play strategies.

My favorite hand is getting four aces dealt without the kicker on DDB, and going for the extra 1200 credits. Many, many times, I’ve held a single ace (many time when I shouldn’t according to those who say they’re smarter than I am) and watched three more come rolling out as if on a red carpet. It does happen. I’ve even spelled A-C-E-S on an ACES Bonus Poker game once. The fun part? It was a very short-pay 6/5 game — you know — the type the experts say it’s not possible to win on!

Royals to me are not as exciting as hitting four aces because I’m hardly ever anticipating them. Certainly, when dealt four-to-the-royal the machine’s got my attention, but as a video poker player, how many times does that deal disappoint you?

A winning video poker player has to understand when to go for those hands that were put in the pay table to make a difference, and when to pass. Almost all players don’t. They eventually come to me.