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S-lots better going video poker

May 6, 2008 7:00 PM

Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome | Between my father, Lenny Frome and myself, we have spent nearly 20 years trying to convince people to give up the slot habit and play video poker instead.

This is based on our knowledge that video poker tends to offer very fair paybacks instantly known from the pay table on the screen. The game must be random for this to be true. If not, all bets are off.

I can’t even fathom a reason why someone would play a non-random video poker machine. First of all, you have absolutely no way of knowing what the payback is. You could be staring at a 9-6 full pay Jacks or Better and the machine might be programmed to pay back 72 percent! You’re only hope of winning at that point is if you’re Bruce (or Evan) Almighty! When I say that the game must be random, it simply means that at any point, the odds of any unused card being the next card is that same as any other unused card.

But what better way to convince players to give up using Expert Strategy than to scare them into believing that the normal patterns of cards are really an indication that the game is not random. If it isn’t, you might just as well close your eyes and pick your discards randomly!

Okay, that might be overstating it a bit. You don’t want to discard sure winners. Unlike slots which have only one spin per ‘hand’, I don’t even know how a non-random video poker machine decides what to give you on the draw. I would assume it is pre-programmed to deliver certain draw cards based on what it expects you to hold, even if this hold is not optimal.

I’m getting a headache just thinking about this! Bottom line is that in places like Nevada, New Jersey and Connecticut (and many other US locales), the games are random according to the law.

So, how do people convince themselves that the game is not random? Generally, it takes a combination of two things. The first is ‘selective memory’. We have a tendency to remember certain items and not others in the casino. If you have a large number of Three of a Kinds that don’t turn into Four of a Kinds, and then the ‘fourth’ card turns up in the next hand, this event will ‘click’ in your mind.

If you simply miss and the next hand doesn’t contain the needed fourth card, you’ll just forget about it. By the end of the night, you’ll be totally convinced that countless times the needed card showed up on the next hand. In fact, you may even convince yourself that it happened every time. The second aspect of this is not realizing the actual probabilities of some of these events that you consider to be so rare as to convince you that the game is not random.

Recently, I read an account where a woman said that in a two-hour session she was dealt a 4-Card Royal four times. In each case, she did not draw the Royal, but the necessary card was dealt on the deal of the very next hand.

Let’s assume that this story is true as stated. What are the odds of this occurring? There are two distinct components to this story. Assuming about 600 hands per hour, and that a 4-Card Royal is dealt (on average) every 2,667 hands, the probability of being dealt four of them in 1,200 hands is about 1 in 1,064. We can expect that in average evening in a casino, one person will be dealt four 4-card Royals in a two-hour session.

The probability of the fifth card showing up on the next deal is 5/52 or just under 10 percent. The odds of it occurring four times are about 1 in about 11,700. This is hardly enough to declare the machine to be non-random. The odds of this occurring is four times more likely than winding up with a Royal, and we know that happens all the time!

Even if we put the two events together and say that this should occur once in 11 million two-hour sessions, this is still not all that rare considering the number of hours and people playing video poker.

If the story is 100 percent true, there is no reason to believe the machine is not random. But, what if selective memory is in play? What if, in reality, the missing Royal card only showed up three out of the four times this occurred and the last time was just the mind playing tricks on our Player?

The probability goes all the way up to 1 in 300! Now, not only does it not seem unlikely, it seems almost ordinary! The likelihood of having the fifth card show 3-of-4 times on the next deal is as likely as being dealt a 4-Card Flush!

Bottom line: If you’re playing in most U.S. locales, the video poker machine is random. It is very rare that a computer will malfunction to the point that it will appear to play correctly. The exception being that the Random Number Generator (RNG) has in some way malfunctioned so that it decides to tease you as much as you can.

The only reason that someone would float such a ridiculous theory is if he was playing games with your mind.