Not all flowers are red roses

Mar 27, 2006 3:15 AM

For a variety of reasons, over time, expressions that mean very different things can get interchanged. Nearly 20 years ago, my father Lenny coined the expression "Expert Strategy" with regard to video poker.

In reality it applied to any casino game with a strategy, as the titles of our many casino booklets show. I’ve covered the basic concepts of Expert Strategy in this column numerous times. The concepts are to know which games to play, know what strategy to use and know what to expect.

Expert Strategy was never about how to beat the casinos. It was about giving the player the best chance to win, and about minimizing the player’s loss over the long run.

Any game that has a payback of less than 100% will result in a player loss in the long run. While the amount of time it takes to get to the long run is up for debate, there can be no arguing that as the sample size gets larger, the probability of approaching the theoretical payback goes up. This doesn’t mean that a player can’t win, but rather he is less likely to. The closer the payback is to 100% the greater the player’s chances.

Of course, when my father first started, he didn’t really expect to find video poker machines paying greater than 100%. If my father could throw together a code on his Atari 520 ST computer, then certainly the inventors of the video poker machines could do the same thing and they would never let a game hit the floor paying greater than 100%! For reasons still not fully understood, these machines DID in fact hit the floor.

Well, if the probability that a player will lose on a machine paying less than 100% goes up as he plays more hands, then it must follow that the probability that a player will WIN on a machine paying greater than 100% must also go up as he plays more hands. This concept has led to the creation of a new term, called the advantage player (AP). Advantage players seek out machines with a payback of greater than 100%. With the advent of comps and cashback, these players have included these items in their calculation to determine which games are worthy of being played.

Expert Strategy is one component of advantage play, but the terms are NOT interchangeable. Advantage play requires playing a very large number of hands to ensure that the player winds up a winner. Most of these players play specifically to win, with many of them counting on the winnings for their income.

This does not mean that they are gambling addicts, but it does mean that they have turned video poker into a form of a job. Just like a salesman who knows he must knock on X-many doors in a given week to close enough sales, an advantage player must play a certain number of hours per week in order to likely meet his/her income target. Like a salesperson, the income will not always be even, with some months being better than others. In the long run, the advantage player, like a good salesman, knows that his income will likely be in a certain range, year after year.

Expert Strategy, however, is not only for advantage players. Advantage players MUST play games paying over 100%. It would be nice if we could all play such games, but not every jurisdiction offers them.

For most people reading this article, video poker is a hobby — a form of recreation. Some people go to the movies, some go to the opera, some play golf and some play video poker. Most people would like to win, but they are willing to accept the risks of losing a certain amount of money in exchange for the entertainment.

As such, most players must accept the idea of playing on machines that have a payback of less than 100%. This doesn’t mean that you can’t win over reasonable stretches of time. However, you have to expect that the more you play, the less likely you are going to win. On a full pay jacks or better machine, you have perhaps a 40% chance of winning if you play for an hour.

If you play for three hours, this may drop to 30%. If you play for six hours, this will drop further to let’s say 20%. This still means that one in five players will walk away a winner. If you play a less than full-pay machine, these numbers will drop farther and faster.

This is why Expert Strategy is important EVEN to the recreational player. By knowing which games to play, the player learns to pick the games with the highest available paybacks. By knowing the right strategy, the player can most likely achieve these paybacks.

It does no good to be playing a 99.5% video poker machine, but using a strategy that results in a payback of only 97.5%. In order to have the greatest likelihood of getting that payback, the player must use the right strategy.

Lastly, knowing what to expect is what teaches the player that hot and cold cycles are part of the randomness of the game and not built into the machine by the manufacturer as a means of cheating the player.

There is nothing wrong with being an advantage player, and I doubt there is a single one who doesn’t utilize the concepts of Expert Strategy. At the same time, you don’t have to be an advantage player to use Expert Strategy. All roses are flowers, but not all flowers are roses.