Beating Video Poker

            In our book, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas, Chapter 11 is entitled "Beating Video Poker."  Is this really possible?  Can you beat video poker?  I think this really depends on your definition of 'beat' is.  Can you win money in the short term?  I believe you can.  Can you break even, or lose minimally over the long term?  Most definitely.  Can you make a living from playing video poker?  Not so easily would be the fairest answer.


            My father listed five things you had to do to beat video poker.  He did not clearly define the definition of 'beat'.  I think he meant could you win money over the long haul.  Let's look at those five items and see if they still apply today.  The first was to become an Expert Player, and not necessarily at every variation of the game.


            An Expert Player knows which games to play, knows how to play them and knows what to expect.  When my dad wrote those words 20+ years ago, there were a handful of variations of the game.  Today there are probably 5-10 times as many variants.  You have very little chance of mastering them all.  Your goal should be to become an Expert Player at just one or two.  If over time, you master three of four, great.  If your goal is to master 'all' of them, you are likely to fail.


            The second item is to play games with paybacks over 100% or very close to 100%.  Well, this technically falls under being an Expert Player.  An Expert Player will seek out the right games to play which means those with the highest paybacks.  Deuces Wild is amongst the most common that meet this criteria with multiple versions over 100%.  Even a full-pay jacks or better at 99.5% will do.  But, remember that different machines may have different paybacks for the same variant.  Check the paytables.


            The next item in our list is to enter video poker tournaments which award 100% or more of the entry fees in prizes.  As an Expert Player, you should have an advantage over most of the competition and thus win more than your fair share of the prizes.  This item may be tough to follow through on these days.  I know of some video poker tournaments, but I don't believe there are as many as there used to be and not so many are on the strip.  I do see many 'slot' tournaments however!  The same rules don't apply to these as there is no way to gain an advantage by being an 'Expert' Slot Player.


            Next up is to join the promotional slot clubs and get your Player's card.  While some of the specifics of how these programs work have changed, the basic idea is the same.  You get a percentage of your total play back in some form of comps.  You can also get absurd amounts of comps from barely playing.  Free meals, reduced price hotel rooms, extra cashback are all available when you become a member of the casinos slot clubs.  I just spent a night with my family at the Casablanca Resort in Mesquite.  We got a FREE Room (okay, I paid my $5 'resort' fee) and discounts on the ice cream joint (which had the LARGEST Triple scoop ice cream I had ever seen).  I got this without even wagering a DIME in the casino.  Even if you're not much of a gambler, just by being a member of the slot clubs, you are likely eligible for 10-20% off some of the hotel rates.  It is hard to put a value on some of these items and it varies from person to person.  But, overall, you can expect to get back 0.3% of your wager in freebies.  This takes a 99.5% game and pushes it to 99.8% or higher.  If you're playing a 100%+ game, it just reduce the margin of error and you're that much more likely to end up a winner.  I can't stress this one enough.


            Last but not least is the 'easiest' one of them all.  Get your fair share of Royals.  Well, I guess this goes back to being an Expert Player and knowing the right strategy.  The paybacks near or over 100% assume perfect play by the Player.  You have to know the strategy for the game you are playing to do this.  But, video poker still has an element of luck associated with it.  Using the right strategy, you'll get a Royal about every 40,000 hands in jacks or better.  This accounts for 2% of the payback.  A 99.5% game becomes a 97.5% game while you're waiting for the Royal.  As a rule of thumb you can use a factor of 3 to figure out what to expect when it comes to something like this.  If the 'average' is one in 40,000, it will not be unusual to potentially get 3 in 40,000 or go 120,000 (40,000 times 3) hands without getting one.  If you're doing the former, you're probably winning.  If you're doing the latter, you've probably been losing.  In the long run, it will even out and you WILL get your fair share.  It just might not feel like it in the short run.


            So, it would seem that these five items are still as relevant as they were 20 years ago.  You won't get rich playing video poker, but you can get a lot of entertainment for a tiny portion of your bankroll or better yet, a chance to increase your bankroll.