The joy of drawing one to the royal!

September 17, 2002 7:09 AM
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   Ahhh, one of the most exciting and momentarily satisfying dealt hands in video poker-four-to-the-royal-can make, or break, any player’s day. If you happen to pull the fifth card on the draw, you’ll feel a slight touch of invincibility begin to take over. If not, then you might as well have been clobbered by the idiot stick, because you’ll swear you have no idea how you could be so unlucky. And while you find yourself hoping for a rematch, you know your overall chances at drawing that magic card pale in comparison to Clark Griswold finally getting a winning hand in Black Jack.

   What’s the story with getting that fifth card anyway? Why does it seem to be such a big deal when there are certainly plenty of other ways to not get a royal flush? A lot has to do with a player’s understanding of just what is going on when the hand is dealt. First, the math experts claim that in the theoretical long run, most play is based on skill. OK, that’s confusing enough, but just how much skill did it take to get dealt four royal cards anyway? In fact, how much skill does it take to get dealt any hand in video poker? So let’s say we lose that argument because we didn’t stay up all night cramming for the test. Now it’s time for more of that ”˜skill’. Now it’s time to show just how smart we all are. What do we hold? Should we keep four-to-the-royal, or just keep the 6 and go for the quad? Let me see, where’s my strategy card? Which hand has the higher EV, you know, which hold will pay me more per hour than the other? They tell me it doesn’t matter if I win the hand or not-my theoretical earnings will not change whether I win 4,000 credits or win nothing here. As long as I hold the right cards, right?

   Regardless of the above theories that have little to do with why we win or lose when we play the game, drawing a fifth royal card is as gratifying as it gets in video poker. I also hope that by now you have learned that the game is at least 90% luck, very little skill, and the remainder just plain common sense. So what does this say about this particular hand? Some will take the theoretical yet simple approach by telling the world that since there are still 47 cards left in the deck, there is always a 1 in 47 opportunity to draw that fifth card. While theoretically correct, that is not what is happening from a practical point of view. When the cards are dealt, 10-not 5-are released from the deck, leaving the remaining 42 cards dead in the water. You see 5, and 5 cards await the draw. In this case you will get to see only the sixth one because you are trying for that last royal card. Since the entire process is controlled by luck, the player must be lucky to have had that final card included in the second 5-card-deal, and he or she must be very lucky for it to have been dealt into the sixth position. When you’re talking about a math model that encompasses billions of hands, the royal can be expected to show up 1 in every 47 attempts. But in the practical situation players find themselves in the relatively few times four-to-the-royal is dealt, an explanation based on luck is far more appropriate because they will never see their royals without it.

   Much of the above discussion can be further exemplified by one of the newer bank-account-draining games to hit the casinos-Hundred-Play video poker. In this foolish game that attracts nothing but those who are looking for a quick way to spend their pennies-or those who are among the game’s very-addicted-it’s got to be an adrenaline rush whenever four-to-the-royal are served up on the deal. But is it possible to get stiffed 100 times on the draw? As a matter of fact it is. One person who regularly plays the game in pennies wrote me saying that she’s been dealt the exciting hand seven times and has yet to see one royal out of it! OK, that’s not according to game theory, is it? I mean, 700 hands (according to the long-term theorists) should yield around 14 royals, no? Um, so it’s that we only have a 1 in 47 chance to see any royal, right? So this unlucky lady is not yet into “the long-term”? If I buy that, then when will she be there-at her funeral? And will she have caught up by then just because the math models say that’s what should be the case? What if she doesn’t? Is the math wrong, or is she better off dead so she doesn’t have to think about it any more?

   The bottom line is that this lady has been unlucky to say the least. But where is it written that her past results will eventually be up to EV par on the day she finally enters her “long-run”? Anyone who buys that BS presents an automatic contradiction, since tomorrow’s results have nothing to do with what has already occurred. On her next seven four-to-the-royal deals, her chances are good that she’ll finally see at least one royal flush, but it is not written in stone, and she may NEVER see one. Let’s hope she does, but let’s also hope everyone understands that video poker is primarily a game of good & bad luck. Nowhere is that more visible than in being dealt four-to-the-royal.