It’s hard to believe that it’s been six years since my dad, Lenny Frome, passed away. I don’t typically write about personal information in my columns as my analytical mind likes to stick to the facts. But, with last week marking the anniversary of his passing, and this being the first year that I’ve delved deep into Compu-Flyers, I feel compelled to take the time to talk about my dad.
I realize that many of you read his columns for many years in a variety of sources. If you had told any member of my family that my dad would wind up spending his golden years in Las Vegas, writing gambling columns, performing gaming analysis and being called the Godfather of Video Poker, well, let’s just say, you would have gotten better odds that the Bulls were going to win the NBA championship this year!
For many in the gaming industry, there is usually some lifelong story about that person and gambling. Maybe he used to hang out at the tracks. Or maybe it was that he came to Las Vegas as a relatively young man and fell in love with the lights and the sounds of the chips. Not my dad.
After getting his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering he went to work for New York City Transit. The way I’m told the story, one of his first assignments was to solve some unsolvable electrical problem. A few months later, he invented some sort of electronic relay that may even still be in use today on the NYC subway system!
Later on, he worked on the unmanned space launches. Later yet, he worked on the guidance systems of the B1-Bomber. So, you see, when I tell people about my dad, their response is usually, "Wow, he really WAS a rocket scientist!" Of course, I only get around to telling them all this stuff after telling them about how he spent his final 10 years or so.
After 35 years in electrical engineering, my parents retired to Las Vegas. After a few months of being bored silly, dad bought himself an Atari color computer. This was back in the days when computers were first starting to routinely have color monitors and color printers. All those colors were still a novelty. Dad thought that maybe he would open a kiosk at the mall. He’d get one of those cameras that hooked up to the computer and print your picture in color and put them on things.
Today, this may seem mundane, but keep in mind in the mid to late 1980s, PC’s were supercharged if they were 12 mega hertz! Dad set out to make this a reality. The first thing he did was give the company a name: Compu-Flyers was born!
Of course, dad ran into a little trouble. He had a beautiful color picture on his monitor. He had a beautiful color printer. Unfortunately, the software for the Atari hadn’t caught up to the hardware. None of the printer drivers seemed to actually be able to print a screen picture in the right colors! No problem for Dad. He took the picture file and dumped the Hex version (essentially a binary version of the file) to the printer and figured out exactly how the software stored the picture, PIXEL BY PIXEL! He then figured out how the printer determined what color to print PIXEL BY PIXEL. Then this man, with no formal computer programming experience, sat down and wrote his own printer driver.
Of course, even the compiled version took something like six hours to print one 5 x 7 inch picture! I came out to Las Vegas during spring break and cleaned up the code a little and we got it down to 12 minutes for one picture. By the time we got this far, dad didn’t seem so excited about the kiosk idea anymore. I think he was hooked on the programming stuff!
It was at about this time that video poker starting making a more frequent appearance in the casinos. Dad initially worked on some blackjack programs but basically just about everything that could be written about blackjack had been.
Dad was intrigued by the pronouncements on some video poker machines of their paybacks. Unlike slot machines that could be set to any payback, dad quickly realized that a video poker machine playing a random deck would have it’s payback set by the payback table and the proper strategy. He went to work.
It didn’t take him long to find out that the advertised paybacks were, well, wrong. I’m not sure he ever knew specifically where the flaw in the logic was. Most likely, the early manufacturers assumed people would play hands certain ways, accidentally ignoring better plays. Armed with the proper paybacks and the proper strategies, Compu-Flyers first publication 50+ Tips on Video Poker hit the bookshelves. He started writing for some publications, and the orders started to come in (much to Mom’s surprise).
Over the next couple of years, dad wrote his first real books, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and it’s companion book Expert Video Poker for Atlantic City. By now, he was writing for several gaming magazines all over the country. Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance, a compilation of several dozen of his articles, puzzles and games, was his next major project. It was his first full-length book. He was contacted, by inventors of games, to perform the mathematical analysis required for the approval process. I didn’t realize until after he passed away and I was going through his files just how many games he worked on. There must have been at least 200 different games!
In the meantime, as new games were invented or became popular, he would quickly create an Expert Strategy booklet for it. In 1995, he released Winning Strategies for Video Poker, his best selling book. Along the way, he created a video and developed strategies for video poker software. He was an integral part of the creation and success of such games as Let It Ride and Three Card Poker.
But, most importantly, he was having a blast! For all that he accomplished as an electrical engineer, I believe he was even more proud of what he accomplished as a gaming analyst and author. He enjoyed the friends he met along the way. He enjoyed the sense of accomplishment. dad never promised anyone a get rich quick scheme for video poker or any other game. He always tried to answer his fan mail quickly and honestly. When his ISP switched systems and allowed the user to pick his own ID, my dad quickly picked playerspal. It was truly how he saw himself. He was just there to help.
Shortly after he passed away in March, 1998, my mom and I went out to Las Vegas to start the unenviable task of taking care of things. While there, I had to call numerous clients or take calls from clients and tell them that my dad has passed way. I remember one particular caller, after I told him, said to me, "That’s terrible news, for us," and then the line went dead. I would find out a few minutes later that we were disconnected and the person had NOT hung up, but in that moment as I stared at the phone is disbelief, all I could think was terrible news for YOU? We lost our dad/husband!
You see, my dad was not just a playerspal. He could have just as appropriately picked the ID bestdad or number1dad. He was always there when we needed him. He was firm when he needed to be firm. He was supportive when we needed him to be supportive. He was a big teddy bear when we needed him to be that. I’ll never forget our many nights of playing tennis together when I was a teen. I’ll never forget my dad bouncing his three-year-old grandson on his knee while they played on his computer. It didn’t matter what he was in the middle of, if his grandson was visiting and wanted to draw pictures on the computer, you could be sure dad would finish up in an instant. I’ll never forget my dad telling me how he picked apart a graphic file to build that printer driver.
For the past several months, I’ve begun to know the joy that dad felt in this profession. I’m just starting out. I’ve only written a few dozen articles. I’ve only written one booklet. I’ve only started to consult on new games. Yet, I can feel the excitement that my dad felt. I have only one regret, that I didn’t start my second profession sooner. How I wish that my dad and I could have worked together on all this. What a team we would have made. Instead I just get to hope he’s watching me from above, from his seat in the real VP Heaven. We love you dad. We miss 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 http://www.vpheaven.com for their full product catalog, or drop Elliot an e-mail at [email protected]