Winning doesn’t have to be a mystery

Mar 13, 2001 5:08 AM

It’s been predictably challenging being the first one out of the gate who has publicly rejected the popular belief that mathematics plays a major role in winning at video poker.

After all, for years the experts of the game have been printing, teaching, and talking about all the "secrets" of their strategy, but it doesn’t seem to have discouraged the casinos from continually adding games to their inventories. Shouldn’t we have expected to see 10s, or even 100s of thousands of professional players gambling for a profit by now?

No, there simply is very few — if any — who actually play that way and win on a consistent basis, year in and year out. And it all has to do with luck.

As an example, let’s look at the game of 10/7 double bonus poker. Played computer-perfect over a long time (we’ll define that as 1 billion hands for our purposes) it is expected to pay 100.17 percent — a positive outcome game. It may or may not, but that is what the expected return should be, and if it is off it will be a meaningless variation because of the huge number of hands.

If it comes out ahead of that schedule, obviously the computer would be a bit on the lucky side. Now I — an imperfect, emotional, error-prone human being — play the same machine 1 billion hands. How will I do? This is unpredictable, but chances are my results would be similar to those of the computer. Why? Because of the 10s of millions of hands that I play imperfectly, who knows what impact that has? Could be good — could be bad. Regardless, the point here is that no one plays that much, so telling us that playing computer-perfect will yield a winner is useless. During our short-term daily bursts in casinos, our results are controlled by luck — and most of it is bad. Learning how to react when good luck comes along is the only consistent way to become a winning player.

Another fallacy has to do with what the number of cards in the deck — 52 for most common games — actually means when talking about deals and draws. All the calculations we’ve seen for years relates to being dealt five cards, and what the percentage chances are for drawing a winner or improved winner out of the remaining 47 cards.

In actuality, however, we’re dealt 10 cards, and our draw comes out of the five cards dealt that we cannot see. Since video poker machines are all programmed to allow only 10 cards to be dealt each and every time, which determines whether or not we will win or lose, those 10 cards better be a lucky bunch if we want to end up with a winning hand! For instance, if the machine shows 3 kings up, you really have a 40 percent (2 in 5) chance of hitting the quad — and not 2 chances in 47 — if you were lucky enough to deal the 4th king into your five down cards. If not, you have absolutely no chance at all in getting four kings.

Since we have no control over which five cards are shown and which are not, many times the best results are not obtained from holding the computer-perfect combination. In fact, it is impossible to prove what the best cards are to hold even in the most obvious of cases.

Suppose you’re dealt four 8’s tonight on your 7th hand of 10/7 double bonus poker at the bar. Are you certain there aren’t four aces waiting to pop out on the flop, or even a royal?

It is a fact that if your hand shows four 8’s with any card other than a royal card, your chances of drawing a royal, four aces, or anything paying more than four 8’s just went up quite a bit, because there was only 47 cards left in the deck that your hidden five cards came from. No, there just isn’t much about this game that doesn’t rely on luck.

Einstein could play the machine right next to you every day and watch you win as he collects nothing but a stack of ATM slips. The next time your luck is some of the good variety, go on home and let it last a bit, and don’t be so anxious to put it all back in.