Poker changes my life at expense of losing a friend

September 18, 2007 1:06 AM
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Video poker is such an intriguing and powerful game.

So many people from all over the country have become enthralled with the game, and who doesn’t play it in locales that offer it up in their casinos? It has, in fact, become such a big-ticket item that some have turned their working life into profiting from the commercialization of this ever popular and growing game.

One person’s life video poker has so profoundly affected is mine. I gave up a very lucrative working career, not to enter into the business end of the game, but rather to play the game for a living in 1999. But I didn’t enter the arena without being prepared. When taking on any casino game head-on, being prepared meant going through the extremely treacherous school of hard knocks first.

But I didn’t try it alone. My long time older friend and fellow aerospace industry engineer Mick Rostaine - a computer programmer by trade — both felt invincible when it came to understanding the mathematics of video poker and how we could fare against the game if we used our perceived advantages correctly.

Both of us played the game feverishly whenever the opportunity arose. While Mick was always home in Michigan and had the chance to travel to casinos anywhere at any time, I could only go to Nevada (usually Laughlin) if able to get home once a month. I only saw my friend once or twice a year, and the news was always distressing for me.

We had practiced, ran the numbers, and practiced again in order to sharpen our video poker-playing skills. That way it was possible to have the greatest edge wherever we chose to play. Mick was happy with a 1 percent advantage, but I wouldn’t play without at least a 1.5 edge.

I like some kind of a cushion, while he relied on refined skills to pull him through. We both had the same goals — win every year and often enough to make it worthwhile.

Mick retired in the mid 1990’s and I continued working. He had always claimed to win a tiny percentage each year just as the math models had predicted he would. As for me, I never seemed to have anything even close to the same luck. Seeing that I was more educated and had a quicker mind than him, it was nothing less than confusing at best.

For several years we didn’t see each other or speak, and I eventually saw the light about optimal play strategy. This turned the whole thing around for me — my newly developed Single-Play Strategy. Losing became winning, and playing became fun —enough that I hung up my shoes on a working career and began playing the game professionally.

I was so thrilled about my turnaround that I decided to write several books explaining my story, but I was also wondering where the game had taken my friend. The last I heard, he was still playing, still winning all the time, and still tied to the math. Not a lot of news there, except was it all true?

You never do really know about someone else’s claims of winning in video poker because you aren’t right there walking in their shoes every moment of every day with them. But you can use simple common sense and review patterns to make a good determination.

Mick had always told me about his winning because he was playing strictly according to all the probability theories ever known. But what does that really mean? Most of the advantage players I talk to even now tell me they’ve been losing for years, and I myself failed at it.

Mick, as it turns out, had tried and failed to develop a video poker software program for a game known as jacks-are-wild (known as other names in different locations). After realizing the disappointment of being unable to make a name for himself in the game, he turned to criticizing many who have. The discipline I used to see in him is now three sheets to the wind. He is now an angry Internet troll in search of arguing with any and all successful names. And did I mention he still claims he wins?

One of the most sacred points we used to make to one another was about how we would never be able to play at Indian casinos because of the lack of verifiable regulation of the machines. Another is our saying we would never move to Las Vegas just to be closer to the machines. After all, anyone and everyone knows that’s the LAST reason to make such a move.

Moving ahead several years later and I’m still not playing in Indian casinos. I hold steadfast in remaining in Arizona because I know better than to pretend the casinos are institutions of withdrawal at my beck and call. But Mick has given in to the temptation of playing at whatever Indian casino he drives by. He and his wife moved to Las Vegas in order to be able to play video poker more often.

I had Mick and his wife over for dinner several months ago, and we did nothing but argue over strategy approach and views of the overall game. But when I heard how he had turned his wife into the same video poker-playing maniac he was and that they played every day for hours in Las Vegas, I just shook my head and asked him where he went wrong.

Denial of everything followed, and I knew it was time for him to go.

We still communicate, but it isn’t the same. Arguments always seem to appear, but who wouldn’t expect that when one side is at peace with what he does and the other’s at war! Playing video poker used to bring us together even if we were thousands of miles away. Now Mick and I don’t even speak the same language any more.

And not even a Royal flush will solve it.