Does doubling down make sense?

May 28, 2002 2:03 AM

It seems every six months or so the subject of doubling down ”” and whether or not it is a smart play in video poker ”” comes up on any number of chat boards and forums as a heated topic of discussion. I’ve seen every video poker expert comment on the play, and the consensus seems to be that since a double down bet is a 50-50 affair, if Einstein were playing the game he wouldn’t make the play simply because it is not in his favor to do so ”” regardless of the fact that neither is it in the casino’s favor. Or so they say. Another school of thought says that if a player is playing a game with a less than 100 percent EV, a 50-50 bet would be to the player’s advantage. But these authors have never been questioned about such a shallow statement until now.

Before we delve any further, let’s take a good look at the various methods this play option is offered in video poker machines. First, a machine can be programmed and set up to offer the option on any hand that shows a winner. The player needs to push either the "Yes" or "No" button to play double down or to move onto the next game. I never play these machines because they become tedious. Those who play mathematically also ignore these games, but their reason is that it "slows" them down in their quest to play as many hands as they can in order to reach their theoretical long-term plateau. Secondly, a machine may offer the option only when the player chooses to activate it after a win. And finally, there are some machines that are set up in a very slick manner. They only pop the question after a taxable win appears. I have two separate hands-on experiences with this method, and it is very disturbing to have had to go through both of them. More on this later.

One thing I have never understood is why there should even be a discussion about whether or not doubling down is the right thing to do. The experts tell us it’s a 50-50 bet. Yes it is, but for some reason they’ve never looked beyond the bet itself for a more thorough understanding as to just what’s going on. Why do machines offer the play? Simply because it is an advantage play for the casinos, and if it were not a clear profit-maker the play would disappear forever. So how can a 50-50 bet be at such an advantage for the casino? Well, think about when you see the play offered. IT IS MADE AVAILABLE ONLY WHEN A HAND IS WON. Why is that? Because winning hands contribute a massive amount to the player’s overall game EV, and when a player is dumb enough to give the casino a 50-50 opportunity to win the money back, he has for all practical purposes conceded a loss for that session. Even when a player does win the first double down match, the machine always comes back and tempts the player to keep on trying. While the law of averages tells him not to keep on trying, the confidence of the prior win or wins just keeps building”¦until it all crumbles down in the flip of a card. A well thought-out strategy for the casino, and a poor plan for those who choose to be drawn in by it all.

Now let’s see this from the other side of the table. Did you ever see a machine go into double down option after you’ve LOST a hand? Why do you think it is that the casino doesn’t want you to have the chance of recovering the $5 or whatever that you’ve just lost? How about the resulting EV would then be very favorable to the player, and the casino no longer would hold the advantage? So if you plan on winning it is a grave mistake to assume the casino is ever offering anything close to a good deal with the double down option. In fact, since most people misunderstand the concept, their deposits are made that much easier.

Earlier I mentioned how I’ve had several bad experiences with the double down option. The first occurred nearly two years ago on a $5 DDB game that had no discernible notification of doubling down, and I received a hand pay winner of $2,000. As I reached for my identifications my hand accidentally swiped across the "Yes". I was at one of those dreaded machines that only sneak in the offer after a large hand pay winner is shown. I think the machine gave me a ten, and I pulled a nine after repeated pleas on deaf ears to stop the play failed. This was a mistake that couldn’t be helped, but a more disturbing episode happened just a few weeks ago on the Strip. I was playing $2 DDB and was lucky to hit four aces with the kicker for $4,000. That was more than enough to send me home a winner. But I again was facing a devious machine that only offered double down on taxable winners. In the confusion I somehow mistook the "No" button for a "Yes" and proceeded to be dealt a stress-relieving 3. Although I was already counting my $8,000, I was unhappy at my lack of concentration that is so important to my game as a professional player. So I hit, and to my horror another 3 showed up resulting in a push. The machine boldly asked me if I wanted to "Try Again". Now my discipline strictly says to quit and go home at this point, but I completely broke down and did the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in 5½ years. I tried again. The reason? Because I let the heat of the moment, the action, and my anger at the machine’s trickery in popping the original question get to me. I completely fell into a place I haven’t been in nearly 6 years ”” right into the casino’s arms. I was embarrassed.

But the play still was made. The machine dealt me a 7, and I drew a King for $8,000 and a trip home with an overall profit of $7,440. Winning was of course nice ”” and such a large amount. But my drive to Arizona was in shame, as I had no explanation for my breakdown. It just goes to show: The power the machines have over gamblers is mighty. Doubling down may not make a whole lot of sense in video poker, but neither did I for that short moment in time. And for some, that moment may be all it takes to do more damage than you can realize. Think twice about that.