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Playing video poker, computer programs help you win

Jun 3, 2008 7:06 PM

Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome | I have to remember that writing a weekly column about video poker is not the same as writing a book about video poker.

When you write a book, you probably don’t want to keep repeating yourself and writing about the same topic over and over. In a weekly column, I have to remember that a person who read a GamingToday three or four years ago may not be reading it today. Many of the readers may be people who pick up a copy while in Las Vegas and only go through the handful of articles they see when in town.

So, when I look back at some 200 articles I’ve written for GT, I have to realize that it is okay to repeat topics from a couple of years ago. I, of course, don’t just change a few words and submit it, but rather find new ways to present topics previously presented. If there are some avid fans who read each of my columns, I apologize for this repetition. My goal is to get as many people as I can to play video poker properly.

If it weren’t for new readers, I think that I may have run out of topics. Some days, I almost wonder how can people not get it yet? Are there really video poker players out there who have read about how to play correctly who just ignore everything I have to say? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

So I guess that is why I have to try convincing as many people as possible that the game of video poker is 100 percent about math. It is not about hunches or bluffing the opponent. Each hand is a math puzzle.

Looking at one hand at a time, you may not get the results you’d like, but in the long run, the game will play exactly at its theoretical payback if you play it correctly. Playing incorrectly and playing hunches can only lead to losing more (or winning less) in the long run.

I can’t imagine that someone can read about the right way to play video poker and then decide that playing using math is just plain wrong. So, I guess I’ll give another math lesson.

We all know that there are 52 cards in the deck. By dealing five out, there are 2,598,960 possible 5-card deals that can be dealt. For each one, there are 32 ways to play the hand – ranging from keeping or discarding all five.

Depending on the number of cards that are discarded, there are a finite number of possible draws. If you discard one card, there are 47 possible draws. If you discard three, there are 16,215 possible draws. In total, there are billions (maybe trillions) of different possible ways that all the cards can be dealt, discarded and drawn.

Thanks to the power of today’s computers (even our little desktop PCs), the number of possibilities is not all that impossible to analyze.

As a player, you only have to worry about one decision – which of the 32 ways to play the hand. Thanks to computer programs, we know exactly the expected value of all 32 ways. The expected value is the average number of units (coins) we can expect to have returned to us when looking at every possible outcome.

Whichever of these 32 ways provides us the highest expected value is the proper way to play the hand. Interest in maximizing the overall payback of the game is a good way to give a player the best shot to win.

This seems rather intuitive to me. Your goal is to win and play each hand that offers the best opportunity to win. Unlike a slot machine in which nothing is known, in video poker, everything is understood.

Because of those computer programs which can analyze the billions of possibilities, we know the exact payback of the machine. With slots, the only way to know the payback is by finding out what the machine is programmed to pay. It is kind of like the cart leading the horse instead of the other way around.