Video Poker is NOT Slots!
by Lenny Frome
Every time we write a column for a new publication, we do so with a great deal of uneasy feeling. After all, the readers who pick up this journal after a session at the poker tables or in the Bingo parlors look at Video Poker players with disdain. No matter how special we consider our machines, they look at them as "just slots".
In 1988 Las Vegas had a poker room paper called of all things, POKER ROOM. Within days of accepting our very first Video Poker article, the publication closed its doors. Imagine our guilt feelings as we contemplated that just planning to put Video Poker into print could cause a gambling paper to close. Maybe they were "just slots" then.
In the four short years since , Video Poker has come of age. From just a handful of game versions, there are at least 50 unique versions, which with their various pay-tables, create literally hundreds of different games. Today, the term "Video Poker" doesn't hardly give a clue as to what kind of game we're referring to.
The public by and large has learned to respect this family of games for several reasons. Most analysts attribute its popularity to the man-machine interaction--the decision making by the player which affects the outcome. Others claim the players enjoy their privacy and are never intimidated. Those reasons don't satisfy me because for a long time Video Poker languished in Las Vegas. When the machines paid on on two-pair or better, they were a drug on the market. Nobody knew how to play them and even when they did approach expert play, the payback of 90% disenchanted the public.
When the pay-table was revised to pay on Jacks or Better, the public flocked to them. Nobody, including the casinos really could explain this phenomenon because it took quite a while before the 99.6% payback on expert play was proven. Meanwhile, the public could sense that they won much more often and played longer. In the long run, players still left money in the machines but they enjoyed the time on them. Today, one-third of casino revenue is derived from Video Poker.
Outside of Las Vegas the payback is necessary lower which makes it even more important for players to learn how to play correctly. To become a good player is easy once becomes be aware of several key factors:
ELEMENTS OF EXPERT VIDEO POKER PLAY
(A) The game is governed purely by known mathematical probability; if you don't believe that, you cannot become a good player.
(B) Once the deck is defined and a pay-schedule displayed, the optimum strategy for hold/discards on every hand is known, along with the payback percentage and the average number of each level of winners.
(C) Unlike reel-slots, which can have their payback altered almost at the whim of the casino with absolutely no warning to the players, Video Poker payback is not variable unless the posted rules and/or pay table is revised. Stated another way, all machines which play the same game and have the same pay table, must have the same payback.
(D) It follows that players can tell which machines are the most liberal and can learn the strategy to optimize the payback.
(E) The essence of Video Poker strategy is that every hand must be played (cards held) in the way that the hand has the maximum win-potential.
(F) The win-potential of a hand is indicated by a numerical value known as EXPECTED VALUE (EV). Players do not have to remember exactly how EV is derived or even what the EV of any hand is, but they have to know the proper way to hold/discard so that the EV is highest.
(G) Once the deck and paytable are defined, a ranking table is available in Video Poker books which shows the way to play every hand that can be dealt and played in that version.
Learning the ranking tables is a lot easier than you might imagine since most hands are playable in only one way, which is obvious.
We'll continue this treatise soon; in the meantime, practice on the kitchen table by dealing out 10 cards, five down and five up on top of them. That's how the machines do it. Rember that the caveat "Play With Your Head" translates into "Learn How First".