Two faces of luck

Aug 12, 2003 6:04 AM

Actually, we see them every hand. Not every hour, every session, or every visit to town. Every single hand. They are not identical twins, and no one in history has ever seen them together. You see, the same day the first video poker machine was created, so were the twins. Their last name is Luck, and their first names are Good and Bad.

Already I can hear the acid churning in the stomachs of those who never did release themselves from the confines of believing the world and all that happens within is solely and directly the result of mathematical formulas.

Yes, theories, probabilities and math models make for interesting discussion and analyses (to some) before and after play sessions, but whenever a player sits down and gambles at a machine, it’s the twins ”” and ONLY the twins ”” who will determine whether the player will sleep easy at night.

And what happened to cousin Expert Skill? He was there for the learning phase of the game. He was there during bankroll saving, goal setting, discipline build-up, and pre-game preparation. And he is always there to make sure the player pushes the correct buttons and uses common sense for the chosen game.

But he has little value beyond all that. He can only sit on the sidelines and wait for the session to be over with in order to deliver his final contribution of the day: Make sure he drives home safely without worrying about whether he was ”˜cheated’ out of 10 slot club points or not.

With the twins it’s a different story altogether. We see Bad a whole lot more. In fact, we rarely see a session where we don’t get plain sick and tired of his presence. Why? Because Bad shows up on every hand that pays nothing back, and we know that’s far greater than 50 percent of all hands played. At times it gets to the point where we start thinking that Good has gone for good! But just then he makes an appearance, and our confidence is back once again.

One of the most misunderstood concepts about the game of video poker is that a hand that pays five credits is the result of the same good fortune that pays 4,000. A winner is a winner (yes, a push is a winner too), and you would have never seen either win without Good Luck’s presence.

Bottom line: You win a hand ”” you’ve been lucky. You lose ”” you’re not. But what about those who claim a player needs at least 80 percent skill over the theoretical "long-term" in order to be on the receiving end of a tiny percentage take? Just reason it out. Each hand is a separate, unrelated occurrence. So you are dealt two Kings and three small cards. What do you keep”¦ and what skill was involved in getting dealt the high pair, guaranteeing a winner? Now you are dealt a seemingly useless Kc8h3dJc4d. Let’s see here ”” do you consult your recently purchased "strategy sheet" that lined some guru’s pockets with your money, or do you use common sense and keep the KJ like I would. Is this bad luck or what? Well, you really don’t know this time until the hand is played out. On the draw you are surprised by the Royal Flush that lined up in front of your eyes! It happens ””and not only to "the other guy." Here’s another flash: There’s NEVER been a Royal Flush in the history of the video poker that hasn’t been the direct result of good luck.

What does this all mean? It means you just met Good Luck again. It also means that beyond the menial skill used to push the buttons properly, the hand was nearly 100 percent luck ”” just as every winning hand always is. Did you need to be a computer-perfect/optimal-play expert to make this happen? Of course not! You simply played the hand as anyone would, and you hoped for the best draw.

And the next time you hit any button after being paid for the royal hopefully will not be on the same day, and will again hopefully be a lucky deal. If not, you’ll hope for the lucky draw. On and on. That’s the way the game is played, and that’s how every human being always goes about it. Fooling yourself into thinking that the famous person you saw on TV last night ranting and raving about how they are "advantage players" who "win a whole lot," has so much more playing ability than you or your friends, simply means you’ve been drawn into their marketing web. It doesn’t take a genius to make a profit at video poker. It takes bankroll, a short-term plan for every session, good luck, and the discipline to stick to the plan you had before walking through those casino doors. If you believe in anything else then you believe in fairy tales.

I know what some of you are saying. Long-term play, if done properly and optimally, is not a fairy tale. I agree if a perfect-play robot were hooked up to a v-p computer for billions of hands ”” that would be true. But we’re constantly subjected to irrational statements from so-called advantage players like "There’s no need to walk away from a positive game after hitting a Royal Flush. If it was a good play today then it is still a good play tomorrow." In essence, addicts who proclaim this just can’t stop. They don’t know how to acknowledge Good Luck when it comes along ”” nor how to handle it. Sure, it may happen that more winning will follow, but it overwhelmingly does not. The same people who say that advantage players can expect to see 7-8 out of 10 losing sessions now all of a sudden believe those percentages don’t apply after hitting a royal. Hypocrisies abound whenever math geeks try to take control.

I’ve seen enough of Bad Luck from 1990 to late 1996 to believe in what I’m saying. And actually, the percentage of bad luck to good luck isn’t really all that different in my play today. I simply changed my approach, I progress rationally in denomination, and I understand the role Good Luck should play towards the attainment of specific goals in the game. No longer do I play through royals or any other large jackpot. You play a fool’s game if you do. The last face I want to remember each and every session is that of Good Luck. His twin is usually too busy visiting the other guys!