1 error is okay in video poker strategy

Dec 16, 2008 5:07 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

Last week, I focused on the occasional mistake we are prone to make and what happens when repeating a specific error in strategy for a game like video poker.

Sometimes, a single repeated mistake, such as splitting 10’s in Blackjack can be significant in terms of the payback of the game. My goal is to focus on the idea that making occasional errors by misreading a hand won’t end chances of earning anywhere near the theoretical payback of the game.

A single mistake will cost you only that which that particular hand denies you, and thus has a negligible impact on the overall payback of the machine. That said, this does not mean you can sit at a video poker machine and continually make the same mistakes with it not impacting your bankroll.

This past week, I had a conversation with a colleague about what the actual average payback is of video poker based on how people really play. I believed that about 10 percent of video poker players play the game in the ballpark of Expert Strategy.

This means that playing on a full-pay video poker machine (which could pay 99.5 percent) these people can achieve 99+ paybacks. While this may mean that some are giving up nearly double in house advantage, I’ll still count these people as playing with some semblance of a good strategy.

Next come the people who have read up on video poker, learned a few key strategy plays, but miss a good deal of the right way to play. These people probably play video poker in the 96-99 percent range. Next comes an even larger group of people who play video poker in the 90-95 range mostly playing by the seat of their pants.

Last, we have the people who are playing video poker with no idea of what they are doing. I’d be surprised if they can manage even 90 percent paybacks. These people keep kickers, throw pairs to chase 2-Card Royals and play every 4-Card Inside Straight.

To me, this is akin to going into the supermarket and paying $4 for the 12-ounce box of cereal, while the 18-ounce box is on sale for $3! It is just throwing away money. When you consider that playing Expertly means a house advantage of just 0.5 percent, playing at the high end of average play means a house advantage 10 times that amount. For a max-coin quarter player, it’s an average loss of $50 per hour instead of $5.

In 20 hours of play, you can expect to lose $1,000 instead of $100. By comparison, paying an extra $1 for a smaller box of cereal doesn’t sound so bad all of a sudden.

The picture only gets worse for those playing at a lower payback or a higher denomination. Refusing to use Expert Strategy can easily cost a player more than the entire price for the trip to Las Vegas. It’s great to get the hotel room for $59 a night, but your method of playing video poker is costing an extra $200/day.

The irony is that for the slot player, a 95 percent payback would be a good thing. Of course, you’ll never know what the slot machine is capable paying back. With Video Poker, you know the machine’s payback and settling for only 90-95 percent is as bad as soggy corn flakes for breakfast.