Curing slot elbow!

Dec 23, 2003 1:43 AM

Nearly 15 years ago, my dad, Lenny Frome began the campaign to switch casino aficionados from "slots" to video poker, a game which for many reasons, we do not classify as just "slots." Based on the growth in popularity of video poker, we know we have had success, but we won’t rest until we have everyone convinced.

Clearly, the vast majority of casual casino-goers apparently are still very much in the dark about the virtues and vices of slot machines vs. video poker. Their lack of knowledge is causing them to lose money for no good reason and to miss out on much of the enjoyment which intelligent video poker play affords.

In Las Vegas, the locals are almost exclusively video poker players. Those who stayed on the slots are few and far between now. This is a matter of survival for locals, but even occasional players in these casinos, or riverboats and reservations will benefit from switching to this popular game.

In the time it takes you to read this article, I hope to convince you to kiss your slot-machine goodbye and to open your eyes to the wonderful world of video poker.

Video poker machines are much more liberal than slots, with paybacks ranging from 96 percent to over 100 percent, while slots range from 90 percent to 97 percent in comparable coin denominations. Thus, your chances of winning at Video Poker are far greater; many players have played for years and, with their comps and slot club benefits, are at break-even or better. Best of all, you can easily identify the most liberal machines and be certain of it. With "slots", you are at the mercy of the casino. Two slot machines standing next to each other, looking identical, may have vastly different paybacks ”” there is simply no way to know.

Video poker is a far more interesting and challenging form of amusement, allowing your skill to make you successful. Win or lose, every session will provide more genuine satisfaction you cannot expect from a slot machine. Today, every form of tutoring is available at very little cost, in the form of magazines, books, computer software and video cassettes, so it is easy to learn how to play expertly at one or more of the many versions offered.

Video poker expertise falls into three categories: What Machines to Play, How To Play Them (Strategy) and What Results to Expect.

What Machines to Play

Unlike slots, the payback of video poker is completely known just by looking at the pay schedule, which every jurisdiction requires to be shown prominently on the machine. Since we know the contents of a deck of cards, we can determine exactly what the long-term results will be if a player plays the cards (which must come up randomly) intelligently.

In short, what you see is what you get. This is not true of a slot machine because the reels do not stop at their positions in a truly random manner. You never know what is happening in a slot. With the advent of video slots, you don’t even know how many positions there really are on a real.

To illustrate the point, consider the most popular video poker version known as Jacks or Better Poker, which is a must learn for every beginner. Take a look at a typical pay table (see chart).

Note that these are the per-coin payoffs for five-coin play. Using computer analysis, every book on video poker would tip you off that with five coins played, the payback is 99.6% and that a decrease of one-unit payout on a flush or a full house would subtract 1.1%. With this information, you can easily search through the casino looking to find the highest paying machine. Just try to find that kind of information on a slot machine.

How to Play Them (Strategy)

The concept is extremely simple — we receive our first five cards, and then we must hold/discard in a way that gives the remaining cards the maximum Expected Value (EV). In most cases in Jacks or Better, that choice is fairly obvious because the cards speak for themselves. However, in about 25% of the pre-draw hands, there are several reasonable ways to play, but only one is the expert play. For example, if dealt:


6¨ 7¨ 8¨ 9© 9ª


In the Jacks game shown above, we might ponder whether to hold the 6D 7D 8D (a partial straight flush), or the 6D 7D 8D 9H (or 9S) looking at a four-card straight, or hold the pair of 9’s. This is where the "strategy" or "ranking table" comes into play.

Optimal strategies have been developed for nearly every version of video poker worth playing. These are readily available at a relatively small cost through books, software and/or strategy cards.

The strategy table for this version of video poker would tell the player that the best prospects are with the pair of nines and that the wrong choice is significantly lower in EV.

Some beginners take the strategy table right to their machine until they have developed their skill. The strategy table also tells the players what hands are totally discarded because a draw of five new cards has better prospects.

Keep in mind, there are no Strategy Cards for slot machines!

What Results to Expect

We have pointed out that once the pay schedule is defined, the overall payback can be determined accurately. In this process, much very useful information is derived, e.g., the frequency at which the winning hands of each type will occur, the streakiness of that particular version, the percent of losing hands and the bankrolling requirements. These figures are average values but they serve well to guide the player.

We know that the royal flush, on average, will show up once in 40,000 games and that 55% of the games end up as losers. Also that 21% will be simply a return of the bet. These figures are unalterable given a particular pay table.

With any form of gambling, being aware of the nature of the game will reinforce your enjoyment and prevent you from being "psyched out," because you know what is reasonable to expect. If you don’t know, you will probably depart from expert play when the normal hot or cold streaks show up.

Does any slot player really know anything about his machine?

You now have the fundamentals of video poker in hand. Whether you elect to get on the path to greater pleasure from your casino sessions is up to you. Learning to play well is much easier than you think and even during the learning process, you will be getting a better shot at winning than the slots ever can offer you.

(Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas (recently updated for 2003!) and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker, and the just released Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at for their full product catalog, or drop Elliot an e-mail at [email protected])