Winning at poker isn’t rocket science

Nov 12, 2002 12:58 AM

   I remember back 1990 at the Gold Coast when I was first introduced to video poker. I bought a roll of quarters and put a few coins in several machines before a cocktail waitress told me I’d never hit the big payoff for a royal flush if I didn’t play five coins.

   She must have thought I was a bit on the stupid side, and looking back I’d have to agree. But I instantly became one of the smartest players in town two machines later, as I hit my first ever royal on my first ever roll of quarters!

   I felt like a genius. My tutor apparently thought the same of herself as she came by for a well-deserved $80 tip, instantly zooming in on the flashing lights.

   But how smart was I, really? And what journey was I about to embark upon? Although I’d never touched a video poker machine before, I knew how to play poker from my college days — when the guys would get together on a Friday night with a keg, some small change, and before sunrise broke, several brawls as we searched our wallets for the inevitable big bills.

   A video poker machine is really nothing more than a one-on-one modification of those fun times from the past. My dad — a physicist and mathematician — had lived in Las Vegas at the time, and I looked to him for direction on how to beat the game that I felt was easy money.

   He taught me expert play, he lent me the books touting mathematical approaches to the game, and I was off and running. As the next 7 years passed, I continued my education by learning how to take full advantage of the slot clubs, learning the new positive EV games that were introduced, and buying and practicing on computer programs that I believed would enhance my chances of winning the more I played.

   In essence, I let the “other guys” mislead me into believing it would be as easy as they made it sound. I lost for seven straight years, and up until 1996 I thought all they did was win.

   That was then and this is now. It’s unfortunate that my dad isn’t with us any longer to have seen my becoming a successful professional and a consistent winner. But I really can thank him for leading me in the right direction, as well as the writers who pounded expert play into my head.

   It is one of the six main and equal parts of my Play Strategy, and I’ve learned and have come to accept that expert play alone will get you nowhere in the game of video poker. Winning players have to be much smarter than that. They need to think as casinos would think first, rather than in terms of theoretical computer models. The casinos are always two steps ahead of players, yet those who preach strict math like to have us believe they have a step up on the casinos.

   What I do know is the resorts just keep popping up or are upgrading, more positive EV machines are installed every day, and I don’t see the experts or those who think like them driving around in Bentleys.

   Many players write me asking just how smart one needs to be in order to win. For years they’ve read how the only way to win was to buy a program & practice long hours at home, study EV charts, understand game payback percentages, go to classes, review laminated strategy cards, and walk the floors searching for machines that, over billions of hands will theoretically produce a tiny victory if you make few or no mistakes.

   I respond to this rhetoric simply by telling players they only need to understand that the game is based on mathematics, and if they use their God-given common sense in conjunction with an adequate bankroll, pre-set goals and several other equal traits, they will never again experience another losing year.

   I teach strong discipline and determination, working within one’s bankroll, setting win and loss goals, learning expert play, an understanding of why specialized plays greatly increase chances of big wins, and what role simple common sense plays in the game. Although computer perfect play is essential to know, working yourself into a stiff neck searching for an attendant when your play is slowed down by a machine fill, or worrying whether or not you’re playing a 100.17% machine or a 99.7% game on any given day, can seriously affect the other aspects that need to be concentrated on in order to be successful.

   The smart player knows any machine is a good play if they understand how to handle both good and bad luck, because they will also understand that we all play only in short-term sessions. If you say you are going to quit and go home at a certain win point and you do it, you’re one of the most intelligent players in the building. If you continue trying to build on a winner or chase a loser because you believe the math will take care of you, you are among the most unintelligent of players.

   Think about these traits the next time you play. Think about your own history and how often you’ve lost vs. how often you’ve won. Think about how many times you’ve been ahead and ended up losing vs. the times that you were ahead a good amount and wound up winning more. Then think of how smart you are. If it doesn’t add up, you’re being led down the wrong path. Myself? I’m no genius, but I know how to win. Why? Short-term, goal-oriented strategy. There’s nothing to buy or nothing to do at home. And you don’t need a royal flush to win or have fun.