Advice > Gaming Tips
for Video Poker
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3 | Part 4
is a strategy guide for connoisseurs of video poker; you know who
you are. You want to get the absolute maximum out of every session.
When faced with a hand that could be played more than one way, it
bothers you if you do not know which way is best. You want to know
what kind of return you are getting on your gambling dollar, and
which types of machines are the best to play.
good news is that you can have confidence that, in playing video
poker, you are playing the best game in the casino. Sometimes it
takes a little searching, but you can always find machines where
your return is at least 99.5%. Sure, you can get that return from
craps or blackjack, but those are games where the bet is essentially
even money. There is no possibility of a single large score. Elsewhere
in the casino, games that have large potential payout for a single
bet compensate by increasing the average house cut. For example,
the cut in Keno averages about 25%! Video poker has a jackpot possibility
of at least 800:1 (4000 coins for 5 coins bet), yet has a house
cut more in line with the 1:1 table games like craps. In fact, in
some places in Nevada you can actually find machines that are in
your favor when you play them optimally.
we start digging into the nuances of the various games, it is important
to stress the two basic rules. First, ALWAYS PLAY FIVE COINS. Second,
ONLY PLAY MACHINES WITH THE GOOD PAYOFFS. Five coins are necessary
to enable the full royal flush jackpot; even though you only hit
the jackpot on average once every 30,000 or 40,000 hands, it still
pays enough to make this about 2.5% of your total return. Straight
flushes, in contrast, account for only about 0.5% of your total
second principle, only paying machines with the correct pay table,
cannot be stressed too strongly. Some casinos will set the payoffs
on certain hands lower than the standard pay; this can increase
their total take by up to ten times what it would normally average
for the same amount of play. Of course, there is the rub: they risk
the amount of play falling off if players refuse to play the lower-paying
machines. Video poker payouts are shown on the front of the machine.
Better-paying machines usually pay equal or better in every single
category than the lower-paying machines. Players that ignore the
payout tables are the greedy casino's legitimate prey. Do not be
one of them!
final rule is less significant than the first two but still worth
observing: ALWAYS JOIN A SLOT CLUB if the casino offers it.
These clubs are marketing tools that the casinos use to build loyalty
and to identify their best customers. In return, they offer prizes
which generally amount to about 1/5th of a per cent of the amount
you gamble (more if you place a high value on tee shirts and coffee
mugs). If you are willing to spend an entire trip gambling at a
single casino, you may find you have triggered their often secret
threshold that makes you eligible for much more significant freebies,
like free rooms and/or meals, on that trip or the next. However,
never stick with a slot club if it leaves you gambling on an inferior
machine--the percentages do not justify it.
the Machines Deal Fairly?
the recommendations in this article and in its accompanying strategy
sheets are based on the assumption that the machines deal fairly,
but rumors and hearsay abound in this area. One undisputed fact
is that the Gaming Regulations of the State of Nevada, section 14.020,
require fair deals. (Specifically, they require a machine that simulates
a known manual gambling device like a deck of cards to have the
same odds as one would expect from the manual device.) Most other
jurisdictions, in the United States anyway, follow the lead of Nevada
in this respect.
author (Dan Paymar) reports that the machines can be jumpered to
deal unfairly, presumably for use in those jurisdictions that do
not have Nevada's scruples. He reports he has observed machines
that apparently cheat even in Nevada, specifically in the case of
drawing one card to a four-card straight. He reports finding machines
that are much more likely to return a card of the same rank as he
discarded than mere chance alone would suggest. In other words,
if he discarded a single four, he found he would draw another four
about 50% of the time. This is wildly more than the true odds, which
are 3 out of 47.
happens to me all the time," I can hear you say. I know; it seems
like it happens to me all the time, too. But when I actually measure
it carefully, the results are always consistent with the true odds.
I think the explanation is that when you play video poker, especially
when you play fast, you enter a zone where you simply do not notice
the normal events. Only the unusual things catch your attention.
So when I measure it, I never write down a result either way unless
I have picked up the pencil before I drew the card. Thus, I am not
unconsciously biasing the results to the event I am more likely
to notice--receiving a card of the same rank--rather than to the
normal event that may escape my notice. I figure that if I had not
noticed that I was drawing to a straight ahead of time and picked
up the pencil, I may not have noticed the normal result afterward.
But if you have measured it carefully, and still found a cheating
machine, I would be interested, send me a note.
exactly do the machines shuffle the deck? Many sources report that
the machine is "shuffling continuously" (spinning a random number
generator?) while you are dropping coins in it. When you press "deal"
or when you drop the fifth coin (I hope it is the latter if you
are playing by my first principle above), the entire deck's shuffle
is fixed. There is general agreement that the shuffle remains fixed
no matter how much time you take to figure out your discard. This
does not necessarily mean that you would have received the same
cards regardless of your discard, however. The rumor is that some
brands of machines have fixed a different "draw" card under each
card in the hand. You get that card "underneath" when you discard,
rather than picking your discard from the "top of the deck".
author, "Keno Lil", reports that in International Gaming Technology
(IGT) machines a chip is used to "shuffle the cards" rather than
the microprocessor. She reports that chip performs 1000 shuffles
per second. This seems very slow; even a software-based random number
spin would run tens to hundreds of times faster. Yet, she is adamant
about the "once per millisecond" figure.
you have even a passing interest in gambling, you have undoubtedly
played normal table poker. You know the names of the hands and their
ranks. You have developed a certain intuition about what to draw
and what to hold in draw poker. You will be happy to hear that,
for the most part, this intuition will serve you well in video poker.
There are a few exceptions, however, and we will cover them here.
first thing you need to know is the best card in the deck is not
the ace. (I am assuming a game without wild cards now.) The best
card is the lowest card that will make a winning pair--a jack in
the jacks-or-better game or a ten in the tens-or-better game. The
reason is simply that the lower cards have more possible straights
they can participate in. And, of course, a pair of aces pays no
more than a pair of jacks. Failure to realize this leads to a very
common error: many players know (or guess) that if they have an
ace-high hand with two other high cards all of different suits,
the best play is to save only two of the three cards. However, they
then wrongly save the two highest cards. The best play is to save
the two lowest cards. There is a greater chance of drawing a straight
old saying, "never draw to an inside straight," can also mislead
the video poker player. In deuces wild, you always draw to an inside
straight in preference to drawing five cards. And in jacks-or-better,
there are certain inside straight hands (three or more high cards)
where drawing to an inside straight is often the best play.
other big difference from the table game is the importance of two-
and three-card royal flushes, and three-card straight flushes. These
hands are of no consequence in regular poker, but learning to recognize
them and play them correctly is the key to expert video poker play.
Unfortunately, the rules for playing them correctly cannot be summed
up in a single sentence; the different hands differ significantly
in value based on a lot of factors. I will explain my "gap method"
for evaluating three-card straight flushes later, but value of the
two-card royal flushes can be pretty much understood by just remembering
the principle that aces are not particularly good cards. Thus, the
ace-king is actually a pretty bad two-card royal flush. The lowly
jack-ten is has many more straights (and, of course, straight flushes)
it can be part of. However, unless you are playing one of those
rare machines that pay on a pair of tens, the ten is a liability;
you are better off with the queen-jack, where either card can pair
up to make a winner. In jacks-or-better, the absolute worst two-card
royal flush is an ace-ten. In fact, you never save it, except in
those few machines with the 4700 (rather than 4000) coin royal flush
jackpot, and then only when there is absolutely nothing else to
save in your hand.
important is it to play correctly? Most hands have only one obvious
correct play. My calculations suggest that any person with a normal
ability to recognize poker hands and normal table-poker intuition
would not suffer by more than 1% over a person playing perfectly.
Yet, if you read annual reports from the larger casinos and game
manufacturers, you gain the impression that the machines return
about 2% more than what they would if everyone played perfectly.
It is certainly true that people play the machines with wild cards
more poorly than those without. This is the only reason that wild
card machines can be found that are actually in the player's favor
when played optimally.
is a Research Staff Member in the computer science department at
the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. You can
visit his site for a great listing of the whereabouts of Good
Video Poker Machines.
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