The good, bad and ugly of poker classes

August 14, 2001 1:50 AM
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Generally when a person becomes interested in an unfamiliar subject, reading books and articles, finding an interesting class to attend ”” or both ”” enters the mind. Learning video poker is really no different than anything else, at least at first, except that eventually this “game” usually becomes addictive and has the ability to cause financial distress. Thus, players need to make use of every weapon available in order that they may control how they play rather than having the game control them.

My own path in becoming a professional player included all of the above. I read everything available, I practiced the game on my computer whenever possible (although in retrospect I spent far too long doing so, and I now no longer practice), and I attended several classes ”” one in Las Vegas and the other in Laughlin ”” actually while I was already playing for profit. Why? Certainly, to become proficient in such a game of chance, a solid background is imperative, and while I may not agree with how the instructors utilize their knowledge as they chase their tiny win percentages over an inexplicable amount of time, for me it was like a refresher course on the mathematics of the game. Make no mistake ”” every little bit helps, regardless of your strategy.

Fortunately for the casinos, of the millions of people who play video poker, all but a very small percentage have any working knowledge of what they are really doing. How many times have you glanced down at a machine while walking the floor and saw the last hand played holding a small pair with a face card? What about all those 3-card flushes or inside straight attempts on regular games? Even when I just started out I never played like that, so this type behavior is particularly confusing to me.

Current classes available on video poker given by experts of the game offer excellent background information for those interested in obtaining an understanding of its basis in math. But students should be careful if they expect to take it any further, such as becoming a winning player because of it, or having new-found aspirations of becoming a professional. Most who attend the class are those tired of consistently losing, hoping to turn it around and win ”” similar to how the instructor claims to do. And this is where the problems begin.

Is it really possible for a player to play long enough, play often enough, play perfect enough, and to be lucky enough to attain that elusive microscopic win percentage at the end of the rainbow? Along with players being told they should be prepared to face many more losing sessions with few winning ones, is any of this really worth it? I tried the system for seven long years and it didn’t work, and I did everything right but win. That’s why I’ve always been a proponent of including a segment on the inherent dangers of this so-called “expert play strategy,” which I believe makes people play far more than they normally do as they wait and wait for that something good to happen that rarely ever will.

Would the casinos hold these classes if those who attended them were then capable of turning around and beating up the machines? Of course not! Having classes taught on property has one purpose only ”” to bring in more players and more play, because that’s exactly what the casino’s bottom line is built on. The student enters with questions and leaves with confidence. It’s the perfect marketing tool. If the classes ever cost the casinos one dime in profit or even theoretical profit, you’d see them disappear faster than Siegfried and Roy’s elephant. In contrast, I’ve approached several casinos about publicly teaching my goal oriented short-term strategy there. Upon review, however, I was turned down, being told that it was not in the best interest for customers to learn the discipline of how to go home a winner nearly every time they play.

So are these classes a good idea? Yes, they definitely are for the casinos. For the players? That’s a toss-up. If they are looking for an education that will help them make important decisions while they play and search for a realistic strategy that’s comfortable for them to follow while having fun, there’s no question they should go. But if they’re amongst the majority looking for that magical cure without the desire or ability to set goals while they play, they’d be better off looking for the elephant.