Frame of reference

Jun 5, 2006 5:23 AM

A few weeks ago, I reviewed the early season statistics for three baseball players. The first two had started the season with a lot of home runs, while the third was hitting .680 about a quarter of the way through the season. Three weeks later, with about a third of the season played, his batting average is now about .700.

For those who follow baseball, you’re all wondering what player is batting anywhere NEAR .700. For those who read my article, you know that I am talking about my own batting average across my two summer softball leagues. From this, we can learn an important aspect of expert strategy — know what to expect.

Knowing what to expect is the largest, and in many respects most complex leg of expert strategy. Learning which games to play is relatively simple. You learn which are the full-pay machines with strong paybacks and you try and stick to those.

Learning the right strategy is a bit more complex, but also relatively concrete in nature. Learn the strategy table for the particular game you are playing and you’ve mastered this concept. Knowing what to expect, however, is vast. There is no end to the information that can be known about any particular game.

There are simple statistics about each game, such as, the payback or the win frequency. But, these are both long-term numbers that really don’t guide you along the way. Knowing the details of what to expect can help keep you focused and keep you from falling into the trap that the games are rigged or are not behaving randomly. If you honestly believe the game is not random or is fixed, playing them would be completely foolish because you wouldn’t stand a chance.

Another aspect of knowing what to expect comes from my softball batting average. Hearing a .700 batting average without knowing that it is recreational softball could make one believe that there is professional baseball player who is batting .700, which would be beyond phenomenal. In a softball league, it is a very good batting average, but quite frankly, I have the 2nd highest average on each of my teams of the regular players. To know whether .700 is a good, great or absolutely phenomenal batting average requires having a frame of reference for the game being played.

Expert strategy requires the same knowledge. If you walked past a video poker machine and saw that it pays 10 credits for a four of a kind, is this good or bad? If the machine is a jacks or better or a non-wild bonus game, paying 10 would generally indicate an awful paying machine. If, however, it is a Deuces Wild machine, there would probably be a long line of players waiting to play it. At the same time, it is theoretically possible to build a paytable for each of these games that would pay 10 for a four of a kind and yet have the paytable be in the normal paying range.

The key in each of these cases is to understand the full paytable and the ramifications of any changes made to the paytable, both in terms of payback and in strategy. So, when you’re looking for a machine in your casino, don’t just jump on a jacks or better that may pay 30 for a four of a kind without noticing that it’s paying 6 credits for a full house and 5 for a flush. You’d be better off playing an 8-5 jacks or better machine paying the customary 25.