Strategy is your only guarantee

Dec 24, 2007 2:19 AM

The last two weeks, I spent reviewing Guaranteed Play Blackjack and some of the pros and cons of this type of game. I found it interesting that two of the games that IGT has started using this variety of guaranteed-play are video poker and blackjack.

These are two of the highest paying games in the casino (although, I admit I’m not sure what type of paytables they offer for this version of video poker).

Blackjack is a relatively low volatility game as well. You really don’t need that large of a bankroll relative to the size of the minimum wager. A $100 bankroll for a $5 game is likely to last you all night, if you know how to play.

I guess that if is a critical component of any analysis. Blackjack is a 99.5 percent payback game if you play proper strategy. If you don’t, well, then it is hard for me to say exactly what the payback is. I don’t know if you’re simply sticking on 12s against a 2 or splitting every pair of picture cards you get.

Certainly, not all strategy errors are created equal. So, while you may play less than perfect, this may result in a 99.4 percent payback. Another far less disciplined player may take the game down to 95 percent or 96 percent and lose his bankroll rather quickly.

This may be another problem I have with guaranteed play. It doesn’t necessarily induce the player to learn how to play the game correctly. With regular video poker or blackjack, you’ll have a winning session (1 hour) about 40-45 percent of the time. With guaranteed play, it will drop to about 20 percent of the time when we include the buy-in. If you’re playing less than optimally, this may drop even further to the point where you feel there is little chance to actually win.

Once this occurs, one has to wonder what might happen. We’ve all sat at a table on watched someone who had perhaps had too much to drink start doing some interesting things. Now, what happens if they can buy in for 30 hands for $20 and just start playing as wildly as possible, figuring all they can lose is their $20? Theoretically, they haven’t affected anyone else’s play, even if they are hitting those 16’s into a 6, but I wouldn’t want to be sitting at the table when this is going on.

My goal as an analyst is try to get as many of you (my readers) to play as many games as close to perfect as possible. Okay, everything except for slot machines, for which perfect strategy means absolutely nothing. I realize that not everyone enjoys video poker. Some people prefer blackjack or Three Card Poker, while others like the newer Texas hold’em based games that tend to have higher volatility.

I’ve been writing for GamingToday for more than 4 years, and probably written about a dozen or more table games and an equal number of video poker variations over that time. In the end, it still comes down to the three legs of expert strategy.

As we enter 2008, it might be a good time to review them.

Know which games to play — You definitely have to pick one that you’ll enjoy, but once you do, you have to make sure you’re playing a game that at least gives you a fighting chance. Almost every casino game has different variations that affect the payback. It might be paytable changes or it might be rule changes. The key is to make sure you sit down at a version of the game that offers that best possible payback.

Know what strategy to play — All of the casino games that I write about have some strategy associated with them. They might be relatively simple or they might be quite complex. In either case, the important thing is to learn these strategies and make sure you use them consistently (i.e. all the time!).

The paybacks are calculated using these strategies. This is not some sort of voodoo math and don’t listen to that nonsense about how only if play 24 hours a day for the rest of your life will this matter.

It is not an accident that every casino, gaming commission and gaming mathematician all pay attention to the proper strategy when determining the payback. They all know that this is the best the players can hope to do.

If any one player can consistently do better than the theoretical payback, it would make sense that every player following the same strategy could do better than the theoretical payback.

If this were the case, the laws of math would cease to exist. Anyone telling you that this is possible is selling you snake oil.

Know what to expect — If I were to write a book about expert strategy, in theory, this would be by far the largest section. There are so many ways to look at what to expect. This is such an important part of the strategy because it teaches us to stay focused on the strategy and that when we see things that look abnormal, we are just using our selective memories.

Barring a malfunctioning machine or a cheating casino (which I don’t believe happens in the big casinos), everything that happens does so because the math says it might. When we stay focused on our strategy, we are able to realize that we will achieve our goals by staying the course.

The casinos would love nothing more than for you to give up the strategy in favor of playing hunches. It takes a lot of money to pay for those neon lights!

So, as we head into the final days of 2007, I’d like to wish everyone, a very happy holiday season and a very happy new year — one filled with health and happiness. I’ll just leave the royals to luck (and some strategy!).