Pro gambler learns truth the hard way

Jan 23, 2006 2:10 AM

Over the years because of my unique but successful approach to playing video poker, I’ve been jeered at, criticized, and called a liar by the most fervent believers of playing to the math (i.e., advantage players/optimal play strategists, etc.).

As such, many new players have continued to listen to the wrong side, and they continue paying the price. But luckily, it only takes a few losing years in this economy to force someone to take those blinders off.

Much of my information comes either from my own experiences, talking to people I know within the casino industry, or by meeting with and chatting often with others from all types of video poker backgrounds.

And generally, whenever I print about my successful casino experiences, the naysayers ask for some type of proof that supports my wins. I’ve always acknowledged and provided documentation, but the doubters nonetheless remain.

One way to help alleviate their pain is through reading this column. It’s time for more proof, but not from me — from another professional gambler living in Las Vegas who, like me, derives his living from his betting. Even more impressive is the fact that he has never worked a day in his life, and expects to continue to operate in that fashion throughout his days.

His name is Rick Radner — someone who for nearly 10 years has been found playing whenever and wherever a video poker play occurs that theoretically calculates out to at least 101%. He is, in fact, a real live advantage player — a term that almost exclusively falls victim to my scorn.

In turn, in my many discussions with him, I’ve learned that while he maintains his belief in the advantage play, he puts the same or more credence into my play strategies over expert-play. You see, he’s willing to talk to me and understand the common sense approach of what I do and why BEFORE crucifying it like others do. An open mind is truly hard to find in gambling circles.

Now, I have a solid math background, but when I first met Rick he performed a very complicated mathematical feat that I’ve never been able to do, and have never seen anyone else able to even come close to figuring it out successfully. I’d say that qualifies him to be a serious video poker player — which he obviously is.

While Rick has had great success in playing live poker and betting on sports, his video poker play has not been nearly as kind. In 10 years of play and averaging 150,000 hands per year while playing 3-4 days a week for 2-3 or more hours a day, the only reason he’s slightly ahead, if that, is because of the value of the comps, the cash back, the free-play, and any significant gifts that happen to come his way.

The gurus are wondering how that can be. Over the years, about 75% of his play has been on the $1 and $2 multi-plays: Triple-Play/Five-Play/Ten-Play, and almost exclusively on what I call the Advanced Bonus Poker games (such as Double Double Bonus, Super Double Bonus, Triple Double bonus, and Super Aces, etc.) as well as the Deuces Wild games. The other 25% is on single play games, and he plays as high as $10 in certain theoretically advantageous cases.

Is EV the all-important factor advantage players make it out to be? Let’s take a look in Rick’s case and we’ll find out. On the single-play games, he’s ahead of the expected royals cycle as well as most of the other categories of large winners in the games he plays. But not so on the multi-plays — which as we’ve seen happen to be where the majority of his play is.

Here’s some examples of the huge anomaly he’s facing. Royals: In 1.5 million hands, he should receive 2-3 dealt royals — which of course equate to HUGE jackpots. He has none. Four Aces: Never had them dealt, and the math says he should have had that happen around 16 times.

The same story holds with four deuces. Aces or 2’s, 3’s, or 4’s with the kicker: Never dealt. What about the very powerful 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, J’s, Q’s, or K’s in Super Double Bonus Poker? Not once has he been dealt any of these winners. And the straight Flush, which should have occurred approximately nine times by now on the deal? Never.

All in all, he figures as an advantage player, he’s behind by close to $500,000 because of being "passed over" by the math on these multi-play machines. And to add insult to injury, what happened to him last week would make a grown man cry.

After losing nearly $5,000 on a five-play $2 machine, he went to a single-play $5 game and oddly chose Bonus Poker. The very first deal? Four aces for $2,000! If he had that on the prior game with the $2 five-play Super Aces he was playing, it would have been a $20,000 winner.

But it didn’t stop there. At another casino he put $3,500 into a similar $2 multi-play game and had no hits. But with $4 left what do most people do when they’ve just been killed? Yup, they play it off as a short-coin hand. The deal on this five-play machine? Four 2s for $500, and a slap in the face, because technically he cannot now say he’s never been dealt one of these winners on a multi-play!

And shortly after that on a $2 triple-play on a sweep of a bad deal, he was DEALT a royal on line 2 for $8,000 — while seemingly being mocked for never having been dealt a large bottom line winner on such a machine in 10 years of play.

What’s all this say? Certainly, royals, big winners and big deals are not necessary at all for one to be a slight winner, a slight loser or very close to even in the theoretical long-term. You get lucky when you get lucky and you take your lumps when it’s time to. But most importantly, advantage video poker play will most likely never get you to where those math models predict you will be. You’re not robots, and not everyone’s that lucky.