I've been writing for Gaming Today for about 12 years now. I'm not sure of the total number of articles I've written, but it's been about 550 of them. The majority of them have been about video poker. It is almost hard to believe that I have been able to come up with 350 or 400 different topics. Then again, I really haven't. I do repeat topics from time to time. This is for two reasons. The first is that there's a good chance that the people who read a column in 2008 are not necessarily the same readers in 2014. The second is that some topics need to be repeated over and over and over again because it is very obvious that the vast number of Players haven't gotten the message, even when they are regular Players.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to someone in my community who is a regular at the locals casinos here in Vegas. Admittedly, he's not a big Player, but he does play $20 or $40 on a regular basis. He plays a variety of games, including Slots and Video Poker. Despite being a regular, it was fairly obvious that he didn't understand the basic workings of either. He wondered why he noticed that certain (slot) machines seemingly payout more than others on a regular basis. He also wondered why it seemed as if the person who plays after him on a particular machine would frequently do much better than he did. Both of his concerns show a lack of basic understanding of slot machines.
First, his first observation that certain machines pay more often than others may be very real. A casino can have a bank of a particular set of slot machines that all look identical, but one may be programmed for a 94% payback while the others for 86%. Slot machines are programmed for multiple potential paybacks according to a set of approved paytables AND winning combination frequency. This is a major point of difference between slots and video poker. With slot machines, the frequency of a winning combination can be changed at will (per approval of regulating body). Video poker does not allow the frequency of winning hands to change in order to control the payback. The only way to do it is to change the payout of hands. Slots do not have to be what you see is what you get. A winning combination of 5 symbols can be set to occur 0.055% on one machine and 0.058% on another, which will impact the overall payback of the machine. In theory, if a casino has 10 machines of a particular type, it could rotate on a periodic basis which one pays 94% while the other continue to pay 86%. I don't know that any casino actually does this, but it is quite possible, not very difficult and quite legal. The Player may never know this is what is happening.
To my friend's second observation, I would say that this just a part of selective memory. The casinos don't have favorite patrons. Well, okay, maybe they do, but they don't pick the winners and losers at the slot machine. Every hand/spin is completely independent of every other. This means that it doesn't matter if the last 10 spins were winners or losers, the probability of the next hand/spin being a winner is whatever the machine was programmed for.
On the video poker front, my friend seemed to not realize that it is completely math driven. The concept wasn't completely lost on him. He certainly realized that it was quite different than poker room poker. There's no bluffing a video poker machine. But, his strategy to this point was a bit similar to the one he would use in a 5-card draw poker game. If you have a Pair of 3's with a 4-card Straight draw in a poker game, there's a good chance you'll go for the Straight. A Low Pair has little value and even Trip 3's can easily can get burnt. But, if you pull the Straight, you may be looking at a big win.
Video Poker math looks at things quite differently. First of all, you don't have to take into account how many Players are still in or how large the pot is. A Straight pays what a Straight pays no matter what. There is no chance that you get beat by a Flush. Thus, a Straight has a set 'value' to a Player and in turn, so does a 4-Card Straight draw. In similar fashion, a Pair of 3's has a set 'value' as well (Zero to be exact). A pair of 3's before the Draw, however, has a value based on the probability of drawing Two Pair, Trips, Quads or a Full House. To determine if you should play for the Low Pair or the 4-Card Straight, you simply need to compare the 'value' of each of the pre-draw hands. Whichever has the higher value is the right play.
To prove my point to my friend, I asked the age-old question. Which do you hold - the Low Pair or the 4-Card Straight? The Low Pair or the 4-Card Flush? I was not surprised when my friend answered essentially the same for both. He goes for the 4-Card Straight or Flush. The problem is that he is only half right. The proper strategy is go for the 4-Card Flush over the Low Pair, but to go for the Low Pair over the 4-Card Straight. In simple terms, the Flush has 9 cards that can complete the Flush (and potentially a few that will give you a High Straight). The Straight only has 8 cards that complete the Straight and you are not as likely to have High Cards if you had a Low Pair. Also, a Flush pays 6 and a Straight pays 4. So, you have less chances and you get paid less for the Straight. The impact is that the Low Pair is now worth more than the 4-Card Straight but less than the 4-Card Flush.
The good news is that by the end of our discussion my friend wanted to get a copy of my books so that he could increase his knowledge of video poker. It's a good place for him to start.