Great expectations!

Jun 15, 2004 2:59 AM

There are three key components to becoming an expert player at any casino game. These are knowing what games to play, playing the right strategy and knowing what to expect. Each is an important part of becoming an expert player and enhancing your time playing.

How does knowing what to expect enhance our video poker experience? If you had no emotions, it wouldn’t. However, we are all human and not robots, and thus we are prone to human emotions. If we let these emotions get the better of us while playing, there’s a good chance we’re going to forget or at least partially ignore legs one and/or two.

By knowing what to expect, we can begin to realize that the hot and cold streaks we go through are actually normal random swings of a machine. With this, we can stay focused on the strategy we have learned and realize that while hot and cold streaks exist, we do not want to alter from our expert strategy.

So, what can we expect? Where does one start to answer this question? Because video poker uses a known random deck (okay, "pseudo" random deck), and uses a known and disclosed paytable, virtually everything about the game can be analyzed. Of course, all this analysis is over the long run, so we have no way of knowing what the next hand holds for us, or whether or not we’ll catch the royal when we hold four to a royal. It can, however, give us some idea of what we can expect when we sit down at a particular game.


The problem is there is so much information available that trying to figure out what’s important can actually be the tricky part. I’ve dug up some numbers that I hope you will find enlightening.

Assuming a jacks or better full-pay (9/6) machine, the accompanying table shows the frequency of post-draw hands.

Looking at this table, we can see how often we expect to wind up with certain hands. Also key in this table is the fact that more than half our hands will be losers. Roughly one in five hands will wind up as a high pair. Straights, flushes and full houses all occur at about the same rate, despite their different payouts. It should be noted that this table applies only to 9/6 jacks or better. Every change in the paytable causes changes in the strategy table, which in turn changes the frequency table.

As stated earlier, with all the computer programs out there, video poker can be analyzed in so many ways. There is no single answer to which numbers are the most important. Whichever figures give you a sense of what to expect and will keep you focused on your strategy are the ones you should strive to find. There are a couple of sets of numbers that I, personally, find helpful to keep me focused, besides the one listed above.

One is the frequency of pre-draw hands. This is an extension of the full strategy table. It lists how often you can expect each type of hand in a strategy table to occur. From this, you can get a sense of how often to expect each hand. For me, most importantly, you get a sense of what are the most common hands to expect. You can also tell how often to expect a Razgu (draw five cards), which of course can be an exasperating hand. Frequency tables can often be found in books and programs that list strategy tables.

The second set of numbers, less frequently found published, is the frequency of final hands given a particular pre-draw hand. In other words, how often will a low pair turn into a three of a kind or a full house? The numbers are relatively easy to calculate using computers. Of course, listing all the post-draw hands for each pre-draw hand would take page after page if published. I’ve put together a few key statistics in the accompanying tables. In jacks or better, these two pre-draw hands make up about 40 percent of all hands.


What can we learn from these tables? First, each will result in roughly the same percentage of losing hands. More than half of your non-losing hands with the one jack will result in a jacks or better win, returning your bet. A third of all hands starting with a low-pair will result in two pairs or three of a kind. The longer we review these tables, the more numbers we can come up with, and these are just two tables! It should be noted that the numbers above are just averages. It’s not uncommon for something that occurs 5 percent of the time (i.e. one in 20) to not occur for 30 or 40 times in a row, or perhaps you’ll hit it twice or even three times in a row!

The key to knowing what to expect is to realize that most everything that occurs while you’re playing video poker is well within the norm. Machines will have hot streaks and cold streaks and these are just the normal ups and downs of random numbers. Once you realize this, you’ll realize that the only thing you can do is to keep playing using the expert strategy that you have learned, which will maximize your chances to walk away a winner.

Over the past month, we’ve covered the three key components that my father, Lenny Frome, introduced more than a decade ago, that make up the three-legged stool of video poker. I added my own comfy cushion on top, suggesting that you make sure to play games that you enjoy as well. All that’s left to do is to remember the three keys to mastering expert strategy: practice, practice, practice!