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Slots vs Video Poker

Jul 1, 2008 7:03 PM

Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome | Iíve always thought that video poker was as close to the perfect casino game as perhaps we will ever see.

I like a lot of table games, but there is something about video poker that just seems to scream perfection in so many different ways. The very basic nature of video poker is such that you can create an incredible number of variations to satisfy virtually every player.

We have basic Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Jokers Wild, Deuces Wild, Multi-Play, Multi-strike and countless others I havenít listed. These variations allow for players to choose between different levels of volatility and even to some extent difficulty.

But, is this the main reason why video poker is so perfect? Is this what differentiates a video poker machine from a slot machine? Is it just the fact that a video poker machine can be difficult because it involves an element of skill not found in a slot machine?

What if someone were to invent a video poker machine in which there was no element of skill? You bet a certain number of coins Ė it deals seven cards and you get paid based on the best five-card hand that can be made. Youíll get paid on a pair of Kings or better so the hit frequency will be fairly similar to Jacks or better (five-card draw).

The payback is comparable to Jacks or Better. The key point here is that there is no strategy whatsoever. All you have to do is hit the deal button.

So, is this a video poker machine or a slot machine? On one hand, it will play a lot like a slot machine. You put a $20 bill in and press a button. The machine determines how much, if any, to pay and you press the button again. So, I guess maybe it is a slot machine.

On the other hand, there are at least two ways in which it behaves more like a video poker machine. First, most likely you will know why you won if you win. This does take a little bit of poker knowledge to recognize Two Pair out of the seven cards, but I think this is not asking too much.

Whenever I see slots today, I think I need to write a computer program just to figure out why any particular spin is a winning hand. On the new style video slots with 27 different lines to wager on, I donít even know what I would be looking for. Even as the symbols appear, I donít know if Iím winning.

The second reason why this resembles a video poker machine is because given the paytable, I can quickly tell you the exact payback of the machine. If two machines are sitting side by side with identical paytables, then they have identical paybacks.

Video poker machines must be completely random. This doesnít mean just that winning hands are not predetermined, but that each card in a deal or draw must be 100 percent random, with an equal likelihood of any non-discarded card appearing as the next card.

Any machine that uses what appears to be a real-life object (a deck of cards, a pair of dice) must have the machine play as randomly as the real life object would. This does not apply to slot machines. It is 100 percent permissible for slot machines to be pre-programmed for near misses. If a reel has 20 symbols on it, each does not have to show up 5 percent of the time in the long run.

As a result, there is no way to tell what the payback of a slot machine is. Not only can two machines that appear to be identical in every way have very different paybacks, but the machine that appears to have the superior paytable may very well be programmed to have a far lower payback.

To me, this is a critical difference between slots and video poker Ė perhaps the most critical difference.

My hypothetical version of video poker might be the most boring one ever created, but I would still consider this to be video poker and not a slot machine. Why? It is that final element of knowing the payback with certainty that keeps this game in the video poker column.

What constitutes an exciting game is subjective. But, at least someone choosing to play this game would be able to do so with his eyes wide open. He can choose between different paytables and will know exactly what the theoretical payback of the machine is.

With slots, youíre playing 100 percent blind. Not only is there no strategy, you donít know why youíve won when you do win. Plus, you have no idea what the payback of any particular machine is! Quite frankly, the odds of winning might be astronomical.

As we celebrate the 232nd year of American independence this week, I implore each of you to declare your independence from slot machines and give video poker a try. You may just find it to be quite liberating.