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‘Deviating’ from the norm
can be best strategy

Jul 13, 2004 3:02 AM

People want to win when they play video poker, and they want to win right now. Even those who become obsessed and often misled with so-called "computer perfect" long-term strategy go into casinos daily wanting to win immediately.

Whenever we hear someone say or write that "it doesn’t matter what happens today because in the long run you’ll be okay," we are hearing the words of a pathetic loser.

The entire issue revolves around common sense. Gamblers would be dogging Wall Street if they truly wanted to be involved with long-term investments. Similarly, those who market and sell video poker paraphernalia are for the most part the same bunch who tout mathematical-only play will get you to the promised land at the end of the very long rainbow.

I’ve said this many times, and I’m sure you have too: I hate to lose. I had my share of losing when I played expert strategy u through 1996. And today when I play I really don’t want to go home a loser.

But gambling, by definition, dictates that losing days are inevitable. I don’t buy into the baloney that others say about how they expect to lose somewhere around 70 percent of their sessions, because the few winning sessions will more than make up for the losses.

Curiously, the only people who believe this diatribe are those who stand to profit from the sale of products or services based on this position. Players who can think for themselves would always stay away from this type of trap.

Because I take playing video poker seriously and not as some kind of commercial business, developing and playing winning strategies is a reality for me. And not only do I not take other people’s money for the privilege of helping them understand why they haven’t been able to make the game a success for them, I enjoy doing it.

Although I consider each part of my play strategy of equal importance for winning, the most questioned and criticized revolves around the specials plays that deviate from expert strategy. Yes, folks, I do play 95 percent of my hands as a computer program would, but almost every one of them is simple common sense,anyway. But what of my so-called special plays? Well, in short, I would easily be without hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings without them.

Why are special plays needed? First, they have no place in the world of those who believe sitting at positive EV machines for the rest of their lives playing the same denomination will allow them to take 1.2 percent plus a roomful of freebies to their graves. These plays are designed for those who are committed to playing short-term strategy, i.e., for those who go in expecting to win every time they play. They are designed around setting and attaining goals, and are only successful if the player always does what he or she says they are going to do.

The knock on my special plays has been that, besides not following a computer model, I have never published a listing of them. Well, I just made a count, and there are exactly 1,744 of them, but if you gain an understanding of how I use them after reading this column today, you’ll be clear on why publishing them is not possible!

My favorite (and most rewarding) special play was made almost two years ago when playing a $25 Bonus Poker machine. I had lost with few cash outs at $1/$2/$5 and $10 denominations. Near the end of my 100 credits into this game I was dealt trips within 3-to-the-royal. If I held the three Qs and hit the quad, that would have meant $3,125, but it would not have allowed me to reach any particular goals — such as recovery down to $10 Bonus Poker. So my special play said to go for the royal, which would have allowed me to reach my win goal that session of $2,500. I tossed two of the Qs and hit the royal. That’s the first lesson.

The second is that if I had not been progressing in denomination as I was losing, I’d still be at dollars when the royal came, collecting a "measly" $4,000.

But special plays are not always that simple. In Double Bonus Poker, for example, being dealt A-A-A-5-5 is held in some cases, and not in others. If the full house allows me to reach a mini-goal or larger, I hold it. If not, I go for the four aces. And it’s further complicated by the fact that I alter this approach depending on the denomination I’m playing, where I stand with my session win goal, and the game’s pay table.

Many times I play games that include kicker bonuses. In such a game, 2-2-6-6-3 or 2-2-6-6-8 may seem simple to you, but to me they invoke a separate special play — depending upon, of course, the variables above as well as several the kickers also make possible.

Other games, such as Super Double Bonus Poker or Triple Bonus Poker Plus, involve several other variations within my special plays. And there is no denying that holding a lone ace in every game usually, but not always, is a special play over the optimal one in math models. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve hit four of them by holding just one in my career — and two came out with the kicker.

Special plays that deviate from computer-perfect strategy are certainly winning plays — many can be huge winning plays — when combined with other aspects of my play strategy. There is no other method of playing that allows the player to win consistently. You are not overcoming the house advantage at all when using them. What you are doing is giving each and every opportunity for good luck its maximum exposure on the hands that allow it.