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Do the math...but keep the rabbit’s foot

Dec 4, 2001 3:04 AM

Pick yourself up any deck of cards and you’ll find what you really have is a mathematical puzzle. For ages, people have been trying to figure out how to have the cards fall their way. Nowhere is that more a challenge than in the world of gambling, and nowhere is that challenge more profound than in the game of video poker.

While all casino games are a direct derivative of mathematics in one form or another, video poker pits you the player up against a very perfect computer. Not being enough of a dare, however, the computer then allows you to make a human choice prior to delivering each individual hand’s results. What started out as a statistician’s dream has evolved into a good old twentieth century contest of man vs. computer. To even out the odds some, the machine manufacturers have allowed some games to offer a greater than 100% pay back schedule. So who has the real advantage in this most popular of all casino games?

Although the answer to this question of questions has been the subject of heated debates for some time now, and enough mathematical analysis has been performed to bedazzle a roomful of Ph.D’s, the real answer lies within the realms of any player who has ever sat in front of a machine Âí­”” through pure common sense. What’s more, we’re all given this simple information as a matter of policy by all casinos via their advertising schemes that draw in customers. It’s called “Come in, play our slots and games”¦you can win too!”

OK, that’s not much of an answer, but I think you get the point. Nearly all casino games come with a mathematical advantage for the house. Over the long run, the house is very happy to take a tiny win percentage out of each game, simply because each game gets a tremendous amount of play. Many people have written about certain games such as Blackjack, where if you are an exceptionally gifted advanced card counter, the percentage is said to statistically swing in favor of the player. But is this really true? Not in my book, because that tiny win percentage is more than countered by imperfect decisions during the course of play, brought on by fatigue, alcohol, or the number one nemesis ”” distraction. Yet go onto the Internet and you’ll find numerous sites touting ways to defeat casino games by theoretically making them over 100%. What they don’t tell you is that your very slight advantage may last for only an hour if you are of clear mind. In short, if you have a lucky session you will win, and if you are unlucky you will lose. This, my friends, is both as difficult and simple as it gets.

But what of those machines that have an expected value of over 100%? Now we’re talking about video poker games such as Full Pay Deuces Wild, 10/7 Double Bonus Poker, Full Pay Jokers Wild, and a handful of others ”” although they are few and far between. Naturally, if a game advertises 100.7%, it will attract anyone who can count. Taking this a bit further, these type games have infatuated the video poker experts ”” so much so that they have created a very comprehensive video poker business out of it. The only problem is, they make it appear far too easy, and easy is always the first step in a trip to the poor house.

Facing the facts, mathematics is always on the side of the house in casino gambling. Because they are stable and always there, the games can all be measured in the long term since they are there for the long term. And over time, they always win. Just take a look at your favorite mega-casino the next time you visit. Then tell me they offer games where the casino can lose on. The bottom line is no one beats the house without good luck. While this kind of luck surfaces to most players nearly every time they play, most have no clue how to deal with it other than do what the gurus say to do and keep on playing ”” falling right into the hands of the infinite casino gods. Every player alive only plays in short-term bursts, while the house adds all that up into one very long run. What baffles me, however, is why players would therefore not strive to understand that goal-oriented short-term play is the only plausible method of going home with a profit. If you get into the ring with unbeatable mathematics, depending on the size of your wallet, it won’t be long before you’re just another victim of a TKO. Why even bother fighting it? But once you choose to learn how to take constant advantage of any luck afforded, you’ll always be there for the final bell ”” and you’ll see a profit nearly every time you play. Positive EV or not, an individual will never conquer the math owned exclusively by the house. Since gambling’s inception, the casinos have been telling us this over and over again by the continued construction of incredible structures. Isn’t it about time you started to look up”¦and listen?