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Who’s advantage is it?

Feb 17, 2004 12:01 AM

Over the past year or so we’ve been hearing about how casinos are starting to zero in on so-called players who are perceived to be playing with some sort of an advantage at the casinos. This all started with blackjack, but has since evolved into including video poker players.

So let’s take a closer look at why this is, how it works, and what being an advantage player in video poker really means.

The basic premise surrounding any side with an advantage is that they will win. He with the advantage is not 100% guaranteed to win, but by and large he will be an overall winner when the chips are finally counted.

If we first take a good look at what the casinos’ role in this might be, I think we’ll all begin to understand this issue a whole lot better. Let’s see”¦.almost every one of them are big, they’re spectacular, and they’re not only constantly growing.

To even the simplest of minds, that has got to suggest one thing only: The casinos are thriving, and thriving big time. What’s the more advanced translation? Yes, the casinos hold a solid and constant advantage over the players. Doesn’t that make sense? Well, it does to most, but some don’t quite see it that way.

Or better put, they DON’T WANT to see it that way. People who go into casinos all the time simply don’t want it to be a negative thing on their to-do list, so they create reasons to go. Video poker players face a more powerful challenge: It is the most habit-forming of all casino games.

In other words, if you are a player and seek to gain some sort of long-term advantage over the casino game of your choice, you will never succeed if you try to beat them at their own near-perfect long-term game. Video poker is an interesting case-in-point study. In the early to mid 90’s, "professional" players used to tell us every chance they could that they would NEVER play a game that didn’t have a theoretical pay out of over 100%.

As these games became less plentiful, we started hearing about how they now were including comps and cash back into the formula. Then I came along and started talking about the hypocrisy of many of their statements. But the reduction didn’t stop, and higher limit positive games were becoming non-existent.

So the famous names desperately began adding in year-end gifts, airline miles, free-play coupons, tournament invites, VIP hostess smiles, and even a sunny day as part of the overall formula to create an advantage play. It has all been so very amusing to follow.

Casinos don’t fool around, and they don’t have to. Game limits are set, machine payouts are set, and ground rules are set in their favor at all times. No player comes into a casino with a GAMBLING bankroll larger than the casinos. Playing a video poker game with a theoretical payout of 100.9 percent over many millions of perfectly played hands ”” regardless of the denomination ”” will almost always result in a loss for the player who puts in many hours of play each day.

And no, the infrequent winning days will, over time, never compensate for the many losing sessions. If they did, then the many brilliant mathematical minds across our great country — and the world — would indeed be living in Las Vegas, thriving off of the casinos, and enjoying a life they’ve never dreamed of.

Has anybody ever wondered just why that doesn’t seem to ever materialize after reading about advantage players? And when you’re finished understanding that, go on over and visit with any former ex-blackjack pro who is now nothing more than a has-been doing something else, and simply ask "What Happened?"

One method that will never work at casino gaming is trying to obtain a playing advantage over a long period of time. Those who do have good records do so only because of better-than-average luck, but the longer and more they play the more probable they will eventually wind up losers.

Once I accepted this fact, my interest didn’t die. It only motivated me more to see if I could figure out some way to do what seemed impossible. I attribute my ability to understand that short-term playing strategy is the only way to approach winning video poker play - to the fact that I accepted my brain was a far superior ”˜machine’ to the video poker computers. Are you going to outwit and outsmart a perfect machine? Do you think you can outperform and outlast one of these things over ANY amount of time? No, you can only play within the ground rules laid out for you by each machine, and once you accept that the machines were only put there to make a profit over a long period of time, it doesn’t take long for that light to go on upstairs.

If you stop to think about it, what’s wrong with approaching every single session as something on its own? Even people who constantly play the same denomination are ahead at some point in each session more than 70% of the time, but because they don’t, won’t or can’t cash out when they are, the only time they realize this fact is when they read my columns. The nature of the game is for you to keep playing and the casino to win. But if you incorporate cash out goals, an adequate bankroll and progression coupled with moving up in game volatility within each denomination played, that percentage goes to above 90%. This strategy also eliminates the so-called "video poker play is just one long session" cry, because you are not doing the same thing over and over again — aimlessly pounding away on machines for hours on end.

When you read or hear about advantage video poker players being tossed out, restricted, or banned from playing at casinos, take it with a grain of salt. The casino ALWAYS will take them back sooner or later — and it may not be advantage play that was the real cause for restriction in the first place.

I myself have been stopped at two Strip casinos — even though I do not play with the traditional mathematical advantage — but they eventually asked me to come back. I did go back during the restriction periods, but since I then didn’t use a slot club card they never did put it together. So who’s got the true advantage? If you take the time to think things through in a common sense format, the answer is YOU.