The trouble with optimal play

Feb 2, 2004 11:55 PM

A few weeks ago when I was playing Double Bonus Poker at the Aladdin, behind me were 2 people watching my every move. I don’t really like it, but I’m able to keep it from affecting my play. On one hand where I was dealt an Ace along with a pair of 5’s. I held the Ace, and before I could push the draw button the man rather loudly said "You’ve got a pair of 5’s"! — almost as if in an emergency.

I pushed the button anyway, and my draw was another Ace, a 5 and something else. Then I turned around to chat for a bit. I could already hear the next words out of his mouth before he spoke”¦." You would’ve had three 5’s, and you could’ve had four of them, you know, if you had made the ”˜correct’ play". Now it was my turn.

I asked him if that was the only reason he would have kept the 5’s, and he said yes, because that was the best mathematical play for the deal I received. He also said I was giving up an undetermined — but significant — amount per hour of play by making the hold that I did. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything dumber in my life. By the hour? For one play? Is this gambling or an exam laced with guru nonsense? I told him all that and they left — bewildered. I could only shake my head at their blaring incompetence and continue.

He probably didn’t realize it, but I do know all the expert plays in Double Bonus Poker. So what does that mean anyway? Am I obligated to ”˜play by the book’ because the book says to do it that way? Should my results be better or worse on this day based on whether or not I followed computer-perfect play? Or am I simply — as another video poker writer likes to say — a "guaranteed loser" over time because I choose not to play the way of the ”˜experts’?

I’m sure everyone who plays video poker already knows the truth about the game — whether willing to openly admit it or not. On the one play above I did lose out on 5 credits, but what if 3 more Aces flopped out on the draw — as has happened so many times in the past? In fact, because of my progressive denominational play, the one time I hit the 3 Aces draw on the $25 machine guarantees that I’ll never be a loser on that hand in my life.

Why the mystique behind playing every hand mathematically correct? Because it SOUNDS good, the gurus SAY it’s good because calculations throughout infinity with flawless play make it look like a winner, and let’s not forget how much money is made from the sale of all those ”˜expert-play’ products! And who can resist the illogic behind such statements as "If you make this perfect play instead of that less-than-perfect play, you’re giving up 13 cents per hour"”¦. Every time I read such nonsense I visualize the fool who said it begging the casino ATM’s not to deny them once again!

But let’s look at all this from Einstein’s point of view to be fair. He’d surely be on the side of the mathematician’s models and probability theories from the start — as long as these ”˜experts’ could guarantee he’d be playing into infinity. But he was also a man of extreme common sense, and he would be able to see through the holes right away. If he were around today and played video poker, there’s absolutely no question that he’d approach play in the exact same manner as I do: That EVERY session is a single, individual event, and there is no logical explanation available that can support long-term playing theory when involved in an activity such as gambling.

Similarly, how would our famous friend react to casino promotions, slot club cards, and those tempting mailings that every player looks forward to getting? That depends on his level of personal weakness. We’ve got a bunch of players running around every day chasing waste-of-time coupon deals, multi-point days, and Double-Royal-in-24 hrs. specials. To a seasoned, disciplined player, it’s so easy to see that these promotions are ONLY there to take more of the player’s money than they would normally be prepared to part with. But to a casino-weakened individual who listens to all the babble of those who have something to sell in order to keep gambling dollars in their pockets, the powerful marketing promos are very difficult to overcome.

I also have to wonder”¦.. Do the math people REALLY always make the computer-perfect play when they are losing and they need a big win? Just how much do they practice what they preach anyway? I say this because many, many ”˜optimal’ players have told me that they DO make the common sense play over the perfect play at times of need. If you don’t, you are certainly passing on so many of the larger winners. So who cares if that particular play isn’t optimal throughout time? IT JUST MAY BE THE RIGHT PLAY TO MAKE TODAY”¦”¦..

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 4 years talking with and writing to players about why it is they can’t seem to win as he or she says they do on TV, in some of the gaming publications, or on the Internet. The gurus like to say these type players just don’t put in the time they say is needed to ”˜skillfully master the game’ as they have. But I know better. That’s the perfect lead-in to "BUY SOMETHING PLEASE". They do fool a lot of people, but they are the wrong people.

This coming year you’re going to see more and more players understand the game this way. Yes, you’ll hear the "long-term theory" side moan and complain about the reduction in ”˜positive-play’ games. While they go through those predictable motions, I’ll be busy romping-through-town winning much more than I lose, and successfully playing my basic strategies regardless of the pay tables or promotions available. And I won’t be relying on ”˜the others’ to build my confidence when I say something. That’s how powerful the truth is, and that’s how it works