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Take luck over skill each and every time!

Aug 31, 2004 4:08 AM

There are many differences of opinions between video poker experts, but luck vs. skill seems to be the one that I get into more often than not. I do respect others’ position on the skill aspect of the game, but the whole thing would be more credible if some of them didn’t use the mathematical basis of the game to earn a living through the sales of math-themed products.

Hardly a fault of biblical proportions, but when we’re trying our best to help other players become more successful at a game that very possibly can become a problem for them, I believe we need to keep our focus centered on how to better play the game than on our own pockets.

So just why is it I am absolutely convinced that luck is far more important than any type of skill when playing video poker?

Well, I first have to look at this from a personal point of view. Without good luck — along with the nearly-as-important aspect of being able to manage it correctly to my complete advantage — I simply wouldn’t be here into my fourth year of writing this column.

How would I find the motivation? If I were still losing as I used to when playing computer-perfect optimal play, there’s no way I could muster up the will just to write make-believe stories of winning with theories that go no further than that.

The games are supposed to be in the casino and not in what people write. Thus, it has become very enjoyable writing about my many winning experiences — as well as the few losing ones that I grind through.

Some of you may have heard or read this before, but I believe it is important enough to write about once every couple of years in order to keep your perspective while playing. For every player — and yes, that includes those people who run into unhealthy, smoke filled casinos every day for reasons the rest of us cannot understand — winning is simply a matter of being prepared for what you intend to do (including taking the proper bankroll for your particular strategy), knowing how to handle the mechanics of the machine without a doubt, having a solid background in the basics of poker, and taking advantage of every single time good luck decides to shine upon you. But if you think this is a simple task, you’re probably one of the millions of players who live in or come to town and fill up the machines for the rest of us.

The expert play strategy says to play every hand mathematically perfect based on a standard deck of cards along with the machine being operated in a Random Numbers Generator format. Why? Because it’s well-known that the more hands played, the closer we’ll get to that theoretical pay back percentage dictated by the pay table, and if it’s over 100% then we can expect a tiny win percentage at the end of our playing days. But does this ring true when put to the test, and what are the rest of the parameters?

It stands to reason that many millions of hands are required in order for this ”˜skill method’ to approach the numbers (results) generated by the math models. So who plays that much? Lots of people do, only the main problem they face is then shifted over to being overly addicted to the game in a way that it becomes a negative in their lives. And the next level down isn’t so exciting a prospect either. All the probability theories assume flawless choices on which cards to hold throughout eternity. By definition, the more incorrect holds that are made - even if they produce huge winners - the more possible ”˜I-was-a-failure-at-video-poker’ will be staring them in the face as they step into their grave. How attractive is that to you?

But what ABOUT luck? Most of it is bad, isn’t it? Then how can our play results be so heavily controlled by simple luck? Folks, I hear these questions every day, and a lot of times they come in from people who I know are very well educated. Don’t forget, however, that we are talking about gambling here, and not about how to take a mid-term exam on probability theories. I’ve seen the video poker thinking process get sidetracked often by people who just can’t take those blinders off - many times until it’s too late.

Put yourself in this position: You’re sitting in front of a favorite 10/7 Double Bonus Poker machine; You fire in a twenty; You hit the ”˜play one credit’ or ”˜max play’ button. Any skill beyond basic operating theory required yet? Now you look at the hand you’ve been dealt - 665Q4. So what do you do? Obviously, you hold the low pair. It’s simple poker-playing common sense, is it not? The few hands that deal not-so-readily-apparent cards to hold are tougher to figure out and are the ones requiring a little more skill - which is why the game is an overall minimum 90% luck/maximum 10% skill proposition.

Back to your hold, the draw shows a final poker hand of three 6’s for a 10-credit profit over your initial 5-credit bet. So tell me Mr. Guru, exactly what kind of skill was required to draw that third 6? In a nutshell, hitting the last 6 was good luck, and if no winner came out of the draw then you’ve just experienced bad luck. End of story.

Similarly, ANY WINNING HAND IS ALWAYS THE RESULT OF GOOD LUCK, and losing hands are always the result of bad luck. Period. How can there be any question about any of that? You have no input as to what you’ll be dealt, and if you receive a winner on the draw -- even if 5% of the time you mistakenly or purposely make the non-computer-perfect hold -- you’ve been the latest recipient of good luck. And in concert with why it is that you came into the casino, you and every player alive want to walk out with a win TODAY. So doesn’t it stand to reason to make the holds that will allow that to happen, rather than trying to outperform the very perfect computer over some nebulous amount of very long time?

Having good luck isn’t always the only answer though. Smart players must know how to react to it when it arrives. Do you keep on playing? Do you move up in denomination to give the higher-limit machines a shot now that you’ve got a heavy profit in your pockets? What games do you now play, if any? And the all-important: Should I go home now? Consistently winning players have answers prepared for every one of these very valid questions because they came in with a plan, goals, and the discipline to carry them out. That’s what I mean by taking complete advantage of every bit of good fortune the machine affords you. It is always and only up to you to do the right thing.