Who has the advantage?

May 21, 2007 3:25 AM

Last week, I was sitting next to a video poker player, who was proud to tell me that he would never play video keno because the payback percentage was too low.

He went on to explain that video poker was his game of choice because he could get nearly 100 percent return with perfect strategy, and that he only played games with a positive EV (expected value) rate of return.

That made him an "advantage player," he said.

I guess that puts me among the disadvantaged.

I’ve heard players refer to themselves as "EV" gamblers before, and it never ceases to amaze me how desperately they cling to this notion that they have a better chance of winning than a non-EV creature like myself.

The reality is their chances are really the same: the odds of catching that royal, or those bonus four aces or four deuces or whatever are still the same as on a lower-paytable machine.

If there’s any difference it’s in the amount of bankroll you need to play the games.

Here’s what I mean. The only difference between a 97 percent poker machine and a 101 percent poker machine is a few credits here and there for hands such as a full house, flush or four of a kind.

The odds are still the same for hitting the hands. It’s just that you might need a few more dollars to achieve your desired result.

Remember, your experience on a machine — whether it’s poker or keno — is a short-term proposition. Theoretically, catching a solid 7-spot comes around once every 41,000 games. Obviously, if you played that many games before hitting the jackpot you’d go broke.

But players are betting that they’ll catch the winning hand in the short term ”¦ and they usually do. How many times have you seen someone sit down at a machine and immediately hit a big payoff after playing just a few minutes?

This is what astute players do. They know they can’t beat the odds, or the machine’s payback percentage, by sitting their for hours on end.

To give you an example, I recently spent some time playing in Palace Station’s high-limit room. Most of the players who came in and out were hit-and-run players. That is, they play a high-denomination machine, such as a $5 or $25 machine, and try to catch a quick hit on a relatively easy hand, such as a full house or flush.

Unless you have the bankroll to "grind away" as you wait for lightning to strike, this is the usual recipe for winning: catching an award when a machine is in the fertile part of its cycle.

Keep that in mind: you are playing a machine for a very tiny portion of its overall cycle, which always favors the casino. Thus, the advantage — in the long run — is with the house. Your advantage is playing in the short term.