Advice for 2008: Use proper strategy

December 31, 2007 3:29 AM
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Happy New Year 2008!

Every year at this time, I ask my readers to make a New Year’s resolution to break the slot habit. I’m shooting higher than that this year.

Between my father and I, we’ve been asking people to break the slot habit for nearly 20 years! If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not sure if I can convince you of it. Instead, I want all my readers to make a resolution to use proper strategy when playing — no matter what game you decide.

Of course, this encompasses the notion of avoiding slots. The only strategy is whether to press the ”˜spin’ button with your right hand, left hand or nose. Incidentally, it does not matter which you pick from a mathematical perspective.

I don’t know why so many people have decided that playing proper strategy is either too hard, tedious or not worth their while. Quite frankly, everyone uses some form of strategy when gambling. The only questions are how close to the proper strategy are you using, and what makes you pick the strategy you actually use.

If you were sitting at a Blackjack table and someone hit a hard 18 (i.e. no Ace) looking into a ”˜6’ upcard, I think everyone at the table would beg the guy to reconsider. Why? What’s wrong with hitting in this situation? Is it that the Player will bust more than 76 percent of the time by doing this? Or, is it that the Dealer will bust so frequently in this case that taking most any risk of busting is a big mistake?

Those last two words are the key — a ”˜big mistake’. Hitting in this situation is such an obvious error that to do so would be like throwing money away. Would it be just as foolish to throw a Pair of 8’s in video poker in favor of a J-A suited to go for the Royal?

Barring some ridiculously high Progressive Jackpot for the Royal, I think we would all agree what the proper play is in both of these situations and that anybody who does the wrong thing, frankly, would clearly be playing with the ”˜wrong’ strategy.

So, is a ”˜wrong’ strategy defined as one in which virtually everyone universally agrees is wrong? I think this is a very poor definition of a wrong strategy. Hitting the 18, or going for the 2-Card Royal are wrong because they result in a lower expected value then sticking on the 18 or holding the Pair. In simple terms, we can expect to win less by doing the wrong thing. So, this means that any strategy which results in expecting us to win less is a wrong strategy. Taking this further means that the difference between the two options doesn’t have to be so obvious so as to require nothing more than common sense.

It means that any difference results in one strategy being right and the other being wrong.

That said, this doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes add a human element to all this. If you were allowed to bring your laptop into the casino and perhaps plug in your cards and the Dealer’s cards and the visible cards of all the players, then perhaps a human should be expected to play 100 percent computer-perfect strategy all the time.

Sometimes, however, we simplify the strategy slightly in order to make it easier for a human to remember what the strategy is. I’ll only do this if the impact is relatively small (and obviously, small is in the eye of the beholder).

This is why my father and I have never bothered much with the idea of penalty cards in video poker. These are discarded cards you would like to have back depending on how the Draw goes. So, if you have a Q-K suited and you throw away a 9 off-suit, this is really a penalty card. The ”˜9’ could help you complete a Straight, but it’s not worth keeping either. Sometimes, these penalty cards appearing in your hand could cause you to want to change what is held.

For most versions of video poker, this is a very minor impact (perhaps only 0.01 or 0.02 of payback). Because the strategy for video poker requires remaining a 30+ row strategy table, we tend to ignore these situations so as to not add even more complexity to the strategy. Some people prefer to take it to the limit and memorize these situations as well. I give them much credit if they can do so accurately. I’m just not convinced this is for the masses relying on their memories.

For a game like Three Card Poker, I wouldn’t simplify the single strategy rule of Playing on a Q-6-4 or better. There are those that simplify this to Q or better. They are not necessarily giving up much in terms of payback, but with a single rule, I think it is reasonable to expect people to remember it and take advantage of the extra payback it affords.

In the end, expert strategy does not require a Player to play like a computer for hours upon hours. It requires the Player to play the right games, play the right strategy and to know what to expect, all at reasonable human levels.

Is this really too much to ask of yourself as you make your new year’s resolutions?