Can video poker game’s outcome be (gulp) fixed?

Dec 1, 2009 5:05 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

The brain is the most powerful computer on the planet. I have always firmly believed that. The brain is an organic computer and thus has an ability that its mechanical counterparts cannot even fathom – it can get tricked by emotion.

Last week, I discussed how computers do exactly what they are told to do by their programmers. The human computer sometimes does whatever it feels like, despite the information it has at its disposal to process.

During my recent visit to Las Vegas for the G2E, I spent most of my casino time (about two hours per night) playing a multi-play, multi-strike video poker game. After my roughly 10 hours of play, I was CONVINCED that the game wasn’t fair. It seemed like every time I got up to the 4th line with all five hands, I got dealt a dud or my hand barely improved.

So, I might be dealt High Pairs, Two Pairs and Trips on the lower three lines, and some of these hands would improve to Full Houses, but when I got to the fourth line, it seemed like all I could get would be One High Card or a Razgu. I’m sure this happened more often than would be expected. What is my proof? My brain said so!

Unfortunately, I didn’t do a scientific survey that tracked the exact hands I was dealt when I had all five hands alive on the fourth row. If I had, I might be able to review them and tell whether or not what I was dealt was ‘normal.’

Of course, ‘normal’ doesn’t mean that I had exactly the number of each type of hand I would expect. Normal would have to just mean that I had a reasonable number of each type.

So, about 4% of all hands should be a Razgu, and if I had 100 hands dealt to me, four should be a Razgu. If I had six, I didn’t exactly set any records. If I had 10, I probably had a bad session, but I doubt I would have any reason to suspect that the machine was doing something wrong.

In reality, I can’t tell you whether I had four, six, 10 or 50 of these hands. My brain remembers my frustration of not getting dealt any huge winners in these cases, and instead is focusing on the non-winners. I have little doubt that had I been dealt just a SINGLE four of a kind on this top line (at 8x and five hands would be worth 40 times the normal payout), my brain would’ve forgotten all the other hands that were dealt to me completely! In other words, our brains tend to remember whatever we want to remember.

We’ve all been dealt 4-card Straights and 4-card Flushes where the draw card is of the same rank as the card we discarded. How many of us would swear this happens more often than is normal? It should happen about 7% of the time or one in 14 hands.

Just for fun, next time you play a long session (three hours or more), bring a notebook and keep track of it. Keep in mind that if it happens 10 times out of 100 hands, it doesn’t mean the machine is broken. It would probably take a couple of thousand hands to start seeing the number zero in the expected frequency.

Again, we remember what we want to remember, and discarding a 6 and drawing a King just doesn’t trigger any memories. Discarding a 6 and drawing a 6 has a tendency to make us all stop and pause for a second.

In the end, we can all be confident that the video poker machines in places like Las Vegas are in fact quite random. There is a big difference between not liking the results and the results being created to ‘cheat’ the player!

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Elliot Frome

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