When 2 is better than 3

When my father developed the first strategies for video poker, a few surprises definitely showed up.  Playing 4-Card Flushes over Low Pairs was not such a surprise, but playing the Low Pair over 4-Card Straights was.   One of the other significant surprises was how to play the numerous hands that contain High Cards.   If you had 3 High Cards of the same suit, it wasn't much of a surprise to hold all three.  Even if one of those 'High' cards was only a 10.  A 3-Card Royal is a pretty strong hand, even if it takes a bit of a long shot to actually hit the Royal.

Without the mathematical analysis of video poker to guide the Player, most found themselves holding on to all cards Jack or Higher.  This would probably be the right play if you were sitting at a Poker table.  When playing Poker, there is little benefit to drawing a Royal over a Straight or a Flush.  All are very likely to leave you as a winner and the amount you win will not change based on your final hand value.  In the meantime, you'll increase your chance (or will you?) of grabbing a High Pair which will may be enough to win the hand.

But video poker is not table poker and a Royal has a good deal more value than a Straight or a Flush - 200 to 130+ times as much.  This makes taking the risk of getting the Royal far more worthwhile in video poker than table Poker.  As a result, the decision of what to do when you're dealt a J♥, Q♦, A♥ not as clear as one might think.  Let's take a look at the detailed analysis.

If the Player holds the 3 High Cards, there are 1081 possible resulting draws.  32.2% of the time the Player will wind up with a High Pair.  If the Player holds only the 2 suited High Cards, he will wind up with a High Pair 30.3% of the time.  So, the probability is a little less, but we're not talking a huge difference.  The Player may only have 2 High Cards instead of 3, but he will draw 3 cards instead of 2 helping to even things out a bit.

Moving on, with the 3 High Cards, the Player will draw a Two Pair about 2.5% of the time.  With the 2 High Cards he will pull a Two Pair about 4.4% of the time.  The score has been quickly settled with the High Pair frequencies.  For as often as the Player will wind up with fewer Pairs he will wind up with more Two Pairs.  Given Two Pairs pay twice as much, this puts the 2 suited High Cards in the lead.            The pattern continues with Trips, with the Player drawing about twice as many by holding onto only the 2 suited High Cards.

Things turn around when we look at Straights.  It should be no surprise that the probability of drawing a Straight goes way up when you hold 3 High Cards as compared to 2 High Cards.   The exact probabilities will be impacted by the specific cards, but in this particular case the probability with 3 High Cards is about 1.5% vs 0.3% for 2 High Cards.

For the 3 High Card hands, the hands stop there.  There is ZERO chance of drawing a Flush, Full House, Quads, a Straight Flush or the Royal.  For the 2 High Card hand, we still have a 1% chance of drawing a Flush and slim, yet possible chances to get a Full House, Quads or the elusive Royal.  In this particular case, there is no chance for a Straight Flush, but if I had chosen a suited J-K for my example, this would exist as well.

If we were to ignore all the hands Flush and above, the two hands would have nearly identical expected values, with the 3 High Card hand slightly higher, However, there is no reason to ignore these hands.  In fact, we specifically play the 2 High Card hand for the specific reason that we have the opportunity to draw all these relatively high paying hands simply by discarding the 1 off-suit card, all while barely impacting the overall expected value of the lower hands.

As a result, the decision is not really a hard one to make, even if it was an originally surprising part of the strategy.  Our 2-Card Royal with an Ace has an expected value of about 0.58.  Our 3 High Card expected value is a mere 0.46%.

This type of hand is a fairly common one and repeatedly playing it the wrong way will take a bite out of your bankroll.  This is why the 'seat of your pants' approach or using table Poker strategy can be quite ruinous to your results.  Sometimes, 2 can be better than 3.

Beware the Ides of March

I have to be honest, I had to look up the historical significance and meaning of the "Ides of March."  I knew it occurred on March 15th, but I had no idea what it meant.  It turns out that Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15th, more than 2000 years ago.  Not a good day for Rome.  2000 years later, it would be not a good day for Frome either.  It was 15 years ago, on March 15, 1998 that my father, Lenny Frome, passed away.  I say this somewhat tongue in cheek, but it is poosible that Las Vegas has changed more since my parents moved here in 1985 than Rome changed since Julius Caesar began his rule.

In 1985, there was no Bellagio, no Treasure Island, no Excalibur, no New York New York, no Luxor, no Stratosphere and no Venetian.  The hotels that still stand looked quite different than they do today.  Today they reach right out to the Strip. Then, many were set back hundreds of feet.  I believe Caesars was the first to attempt to build a 'people mover' (a moving walkway) to bring people from the street 'all the way' to their front door.  It didn't take long to realize that the walkway only worked in one direction.  There was no assistance in leaving the building.  The overhead walkways that now exist at Flamingo and Tropicana didn't exist either.  Of course, those streets weren't quite as wide as they are now.  If I recall correctly, there were about 500,000 people living in Las Vegas back then as compared to over 2 MILLION today.

When I tell my friends who live in Vegas that my parents lived on the East side, they want to know why not the 'newer' West side.  Well, the west side was mostly desert when they moved to Las Vegas.  Where I now live was only built in the early 1990's, several years after they moved here.  Some things have stayed the same.  There's still Harrie's Bagelmania (albeit without Harrie, who passed away a few years ago).  Ethel M is still here, although, I think their building got a bit larger in all these years.  The chocolate is still just as good!  Of course, the Hoover Dam is still here, but now it has an incredible concrete suspension bridge which overshadows it a bit.

Truth be told, my father had little to do with these changes.  But that doesn't mean he didn't leave an incredible impact on Las Vegas.  What he changed was the INSIDE of the casino.  In 1985, if you walked through a Strip casino, you'd hear the clinking of coins from slot machines.  As you meandered through, you'd see almost exclusively Craps, Blackjack and Roulette tables, with an occasional Big Wheel or maybe Pai Gow Tiles game.  Somedays I wonder how the casinos thrived on such meager offerings.

Today, you don't hear the clink of any coins because the slots take in cash and give back paper tickets.  If you pay attention, you'll note that many of those 'slots' aren't even slots, they are video poker machines.  Slots got an upgrade and the Player got a fighting chance.  Instead of 92-93% slot machines that require no thinking or skill, a significant amount of the casino floor has become video poker machines, where strategy rules and paybacks can go up over 100%.  Nothing is hidden from the Player and Player's can make informed choices.

On the table game side of things, the casinos went from effectively 3 choices to literally dozens.  It is a potpourri of games - Three Card Poker, Four Card Poker, Spanish 21, Blackjack Switch, Caribbean Stud Poker, Let It Ride, Crazy 4 Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold'em, Mississippi Stud Poker, etc....  If you are reading Gaming Today right now while still in a casino, please go down to the casino floor and take not of how many of the table games are NOT blackjack, roulette and craps.  Then think about how much more fun the casino is with all of these new games.   Back in the 90's, my father helped to develop Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud and Spanish 21.  These games opened the floodgates for all those that followed.

His impact to the casino was absolutely immeasurable.  About 15 months ago, I nominated my father to the American Gaming Association's Hall of Fame.  Much to my disappointment, they did not pick him.  Two years ago, they elected Blue Man Group to the Hall of Fame.   I recently saw their show at the Monte Carlo.  It was quite entertaining.  But, has Blue Man Group really changed the make up of Las Vegas or casinos in general the way Lenny Frome has?  If not for my father, it is highly likely that Video Poker would never have become nearly as popular as it is today.  Games like Three Card Poker and Let It Ride might not have succeeded, and all the games that followed may never have been given an opportunity to succeed if not for the impact one 'retired' electrical engineer had on the industry.

Many of you have written to me over the past decade telling me how much you enjoyed reading my father's column in Gaming Today way back when.  If you're one of those people who recognize the impact Lenny Frome had on the casino, then I'm asking you to send an e-mail to Brian Lehman at the American Gaming Association (blehman@americangaming.org) and let him know that you think it's time to induct my father into the Gaming Hall of Fame!

Vintage Lenny Frome - Video Poker is NOT Slots!

This article was first published in about 1992 by my father Lenny Frome.  Keep that in mind as you read through some of his comments and realize just how much has changed in the nearly 20 years since!

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".

Giving Thanks

I apologize to those of you who have been looking for my column the past couple of weeks and couldn't find it.  As some of you may have heard by now, my mother (and wife of Lenny Frome), passed away two weeks ago.  After the funeral, my brother recounted a story to me that I had never heard before.

When my father passed away in 1998, my brother was the first one who headed out to Las Vegas to be with our mom.  It took a day or two before all the arrangements were made for them to come back East for my dad's funeral.  Yet, of course, they still had to eat.  My brother asked my mom where she wanted to go to dinner and she responded with Hugo's Cellar at the Four Queens.  My family had already made that a regular dinner spot when anyone came to town - and it is a tradition that carries through until today.

As they walked through the casino from the parking garage to the restaurant, they passed by two women playing video poker.  They were each holding a copy of one of my dad's books.  My brother said he could not have staged it any better if he tried.  This was clearly a sign.  My father's impact to the industry would continue long after he was gone.

My father was informally called "the Godfather of Video Poker" by many in the industry.  To be sure, he played NO part in the invention of the game.  At the same time, no one can deny the impact he had on popularizing it.  Even if you are not a video poker expert or even a regular, I can't help but imagine that your play isn't just a tiny bit better from having read his articles - or any of the numerous writers who came after him - including me!  Would video poker have had the staying power if there wasn't someone telling the early Players how to play it?  Would video poker have eaten up as large a percentage of the casino floor as it does today?

Of course, my father could just have easily been called "the Godfather of Proprietary Table Games".  He had a hand in the development of Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Spanish 21 and Caribbean Stud Poker.  At their respective peaks, there must have been a combined 2500-3000 of these tables.  As I consider myself an extension of my father's work, we can add on Ultimate Texas Hold'em, Mississippi Stud and a host of smaller games to the total.  This brings the total to perhaps as high as 4000 proprietary tables that my father directly or indirectly had a hand in.  Imagine the casino floor without any of these games.

While my father was the public face of everything that went on, everyone that knew them (both personally and professionally) knew that my parents were always together.  My dad brought my mom to business meetings to size up the potential client.  My mother was the proofreader for all of my dad's books and booklets.  She was responsible for shipping orders and for the accounting.  In fact, it was my mother who was always listed as the "President" of their company.

With the help of Catherine Jaeger, the editor of Midwest Gaming and Travel, we have launched a campaign to get my father into the American Gaming Association's (AGA) Gaming Hall of Fame in 2012.  No disrespect to Blue Man Group (one of the inductees for this past year), but I truly believe Lenny Frome's impact on the industry has been far greater.  To this end, we are asking people to write to the AGA and urge them to induct my father into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

There are a number of ways to make your voice heard.  You can copy the sentence below or use your own experience to explain why you believe the time has come for Lenny Frome to be inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame. "Because of his many significant contributions to casino gaming, I respectfully request your consideration of Lenny Frome for induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame."

Mail it to:
American Gaming Association
Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., President/CEO
1299 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Suite 1175
Washington, DC 20004

Online:
E-mail to:
Brian Lehman/Communications Manager-AGA
blehman@americangaming.org

Over this Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I one again dined at Hugo's Cellar.  This time, for the first time we toasted the memory of both my father and my mother.  My dad may have been the "Godfather of Video Poker", but most importantly, they were the "Father/Mother and Grandfather/Grandmother of the Frome family."  Once again, they are "always together."

The Godfather of Video Poker

The November issue of Midwest Gaming and Travel is a tribute to my father, Lenny Frome.

I'd like to thank Catherine Jaeger (the editor) for coming up with this idea and using it as a means of launching a campaign to have my father inducted into the American Gaming Association's Gaming Hall of Fame.  Here is a little bit more about this campaign - Make 2012 Lenny's year!

My father changed the landscape of every casino in the world by helping to make video poker as popular as it is.  He also provided the original analysis for games like Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud Poker and Spanish 21.  Imagine the casino floor without any of these games.

Below is a link to the article I wrote for Midwest Gaming and Travel about my dad.

The Godfather of Video Poker

Vintage Lenny Frome - A's and 8's

When I have time I'm going to try and post up some of my father's (Lenny Frome) articles here as well.  The following article is about a rarely found (but I'm told there are still a few 50-cent machines at Circus Circus) version of video poker - Aces and Eights.  Its payback is about 100.25%.  This article is probably 15-20 years old, so some of the information may be dated:

Aces and 8's--From Green Felt to Video

Long, long ago before the world played Video Poker, the story of Aces and Eights, the dead man's hand was abroad in the land. It always conjured up a mental image of evil-- a hand that brought fear into the hearts of men, even the roughest, who made a living with the pasteboards and reckless gun slinging.

Leave it to the enterprising folks at CircusCircus to capitalize on this theme and then carry it out in high-tech fashion under their big top. They have come up with a sure winner in Aces and Eights, a 100% payback machine featuring four progressive Jackpots as added attractions which will frequently push the payback into positive territory.

The pay schedule  is very straight-forward for a multi-progressive (or is it just that we are getting adjusted to the new regimen in such lengthy tables?)  It is an 8/5 schedule Jacks or Better with these four bonuses to offset the 2.3% shortfall vis-a-vis full-pay 9/6ers:
·         Four 7's pay 50 for 1 on 1 to 5 coin-play non-progressive.
·         Four 8's or Four Aces pay on a single progressive which resets at 80 for 1 (5-coin play only).
·         A Royal Flush pays on an 800 for 1 minimum progressive jackpot.
·         Sequential Royals (either way) pay on a 10,000 for 1  minimum progressive

Looking at the payback situation, these bonuses work into the picture this way:

Four of a Kinds in any one specified suit occur on average only  once in 5,500 hands; a regular Royal once in 40,000 and in either    sequence once in 2,400,000 hands.  The extra 25 on the 7's adds .47%. The extra 55 on the 8's adds a  minimum of 1% as does the extra 55 on Aces. The Sequential Royal gives us an extra 9,200 which is worth .38%. As the meters climb  upward the value of these jackpots further increases the payback. Together, these bonuses,  take the payback up from 97.3% to 100.15%. With some minor changes in strategy, we can pick up a little bit more.

The first time we saw this machine, the Sequential was posting \$13,204, the Royal  \$1,030 and the Four Aces or Eights a whopping \$154. The game was close to 102% payback. While watching it, the jackpot was hit on 8's by one of the players seated at about 50 machines on the floor.  The Aces/Eights progressive had gone an unusually long time since the last hit. We cannot expect many such generous jackpots. Frankly, we were genuinely surprised when the meter reset at \$100, since that is more than three times the 25 for 1 normally paid on quads.

Even with this liberal machine we need all the savvy we can muster to play the game expertly. The extra value of Aces and 8's dictates these modifications in the ranking order of 8-pairs: Even at minimum meter value of \$100 on a quarter game (80 for 1), the pair of 8's is better than a 4-low-card flush and at \$120 beats those 4-card flushes with two high cards.

Incidentally, the player who hit the \$154 would have been right in breaking up 8's full to go for the quads. I'm happy to report that it wasn't necessary to wrestle with that problem--but if it were you, what would you have done?

Deja Vu All Over Again!

How many times does a person move from northern New Jersey to Las Vegas in a lifetime?

It was the summer of 1985 and the plans had been in the works for months.  My parents called me in my dorm one night to tell me that they’ve decided they were retiring to Las Vegas that summer.  At the time, they thought that I might transfer to UNLV or one of the UC schools.  But, having made many friends and in the middle of pursuing my degree, transferring just didn’t seem prudent.  I decided that I would stay at SUNY@Albany.

When I got home for summer break, I found much of our house already packed up.  Because they were moving across country, I convinced my parents to allow me to live off campus for my final two years, figuring I would need a place to stay at times when the dorms were closed.  In June, we took a trip up to Albany to set up my new room with much of my furniture from my room at home.  In early August, we began the 10-day drive across country.  We went thru Wilkes-Barre, Toledo, Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff and Kingman before arriving in Las Vegas.

Once we arrived, I spent an additional two to three weeks in Las Vegas before flying back to New York to get ready for school.  For the next two years, Las Vegas was essentially my home.  For the following ten years or so, I would visit 2-3 times a year.  My parents had an incredible ‘retirement’ in Las Vegas.  Well, maybe retirement isn’t the right word.  My father would go on to become the ‘godfather’ of video poker and change the casino floor forever with his work on games like Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud and Spanish 21.

It is now the summer of 2011, 26 years later.  To quote Yogi Berra – it’s déjà vu all over again.  My wife and I have spent the last 6 months staging our house and packing up our stuff in anticipation of our move to Las Vegas.  We promised that once my eldest son was in college that we would head out of the New York area.  After researching countless cities, we decided that Las Vegas had the most to offer us.  Most of our friends think we’re going because of my profession.  There are benefits there as well.  The ability to see games in person will certainly help me write about games and develop new games.  But, the primary reasons dealt with the quality of life that Las Vegas affords us.

As I write this column, we are 2-3 days away from the ‘hurricane of the century’ hitting us almost directly.  Of course, it is expected to come in as a Category 1 hurricane, so what we will endure will be seem like a light rain compared to what those in New Orleans dealt with a few years ago.  I’m likely to see more rain this weekend than I will the next 2-3 years in the Las Vegas valley.  If this wasn’t bad enough, we actually had an earthquake here too this past week.  I personally didn’t feel a thing, but about an hour before it hit, we were at the top of the Empire State Building, where I am told it WAS felt.  I can’t really say that I won’t deal with the same in Las Vegas.  I was there in 1992 when a significant earthquake hit between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and felt my parent’s apartment get shaken up quite a bit.

Several months ago, I announced that I was changing the name of Compu-Flyers to Gambatria.  I knew then, that that was the beginning of a good deal of change in our lives.  In about 2-3 weeks when we arrive in Las Vegas, the end phase of that change will begin.  Compu-Flyers, now known as Gambatria will return to Las Vegas after a 13-year hiatus.  From a base of operations in Las Vegas, I hope to be able to  write about more up and coming games and to write in more detail about what I see going on in the casinos.

I hope that Las Vegas will be as good to my family as it was to my parents.  I hope that I can be as good for Las Vegas as my father was.

Royal Alterations

Last week’s column discussed how by altering your strategy, you can make Royals appear more often.  Let’s face it, by altering your strategy, you can make any hand you want to appear more often.  Just because Royal Flushes are the highest paying hand does NOT mean that by getting more of them you will automatically win.  If your goal is the bragging rights as the King or Queen of Royal Flushes, it might be worth it to you.  In reality, however, you’ll also be ‘flushing’ your bankroll by doing this.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a right time to alter your strategy in order to make a Royal appear sooner.  The obvious case of this is when you are playing a Progressive, where the meter is considerably above the normal 800 for 1 payout.  The intriguing part about playing Progressives is that the strategy keeps changing as the meter increases.  Even under normal circumstances it would be unusual for the meter to get to double the normal payout, but nowadays with some professionals monitoring progressive payouts, the likelihood is even less.  As soon as the meter gets to the point where the game is positive, a team of Players can hit a bank of machines and just keep playing until the jackpot is hit.

The Expert Player realizes that as the jackpot goes up, the strategy changes and the frequency of a Royal Flush can increase, which can push the payback up even more.  Using Expert Strategy for a full-pay jacks or better machine will result in a Royal (on average) every 40,400 hands.   If the Royal is paying 1600 for 1, we alter our strategy to make a Royal appear (on average) every 32,700 hands.  This increase in frequency allows us to extract an additional 0.9% of payback out of the Royal Flush hand.  Of course, this change in strategy costs us about 0.7% of payback on all the other hands.  The net increase is 0.2%, however.  So, you can play the Progressive using the altered strategy at 99.5% or you can use standard (8-5) strategy and play it at 99.3%.  It doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me.

So, what are some of the changes we use when playing a Progressive paying 1600 for 1 on a Royal?  One of the biggest is that the 3-Card Royal now outranks a High Pair.  Yep, this one is going to hurt.  You going to throw away a sure winner (High Pair) and go for the Royal Flush.  Your odds of hitting that Royal is a bit more than 1000 to 1.  But, it’s paying 1600 for 1!  Throw in the fact that you still have many chances to hit a Straight Flush, a Flush, a Straight, Trips, Two Pair and a High Pair and quite frankly, the math isn’t even close.  The 3-Card Royal has an expected value of more than 2, while the High Pair is down at 1.5.

Another significant change in our strategy is that the A-10 Royal is now playable.  Normally, when playing jacks or better, we do NOT hold a 2-Card Royal consisting of A-10.  We only have 1 way to fill it for Straights and/or the Royal Flush (with the JQK), which greatly reduces its expected value.  However, with the Royal Flush’s payout pumped up to 1600, we’re still better off holding the 2-Card Royal vs. holding just the Ace.  Keep in mind, however, that this hand is just barely playable.  This means that many other combinations of cards might be held instead (such as a 3-Card Straight Flush), so don’t forget to look at your WHOLE hand before getting overly excited about a suited A-10.
Besides learning some of the changes to the strategy for a Progressive, another key point is learned.  Every change to the paytable can impact the strategy.  Now, if you sit down and play a full-pay bonus poker game using jacks or better strategy, I’m not saying you’ll get wiped out in 10 minutes.  But, what is the point of learning strategy if you’re just going to wing it when you change which type of game you’re playing.  0.1% or 0.2% might not seem like a lot to give up – but in reality, this may increase your loss rate by 20-50%!

One of the best ways to learn how to play all the different games out there is to learn the strategy tables from a book like Winning Strategies for Video Poker and then practice what you’ve learned on your PC using Masque’s Video Poker Strategy Pro.  For a limited time, we’re offering a package of both the book and the software for only \$14.95.  For an additional \$5 (\$19.95 in total) we’ll also include Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance which is 200 pages of Lenny Frome’s best articles, quizzes and stories.  If you’d like to order, please send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

As Plain as the Nose on my Face!

I have frequently stated in my column that the biggest difference between slots and video poker is that in video poker ‘everything is known’.  What does this mean?  Well, it DOES NOT mean that anyone knows exactly which cards are about to be dealt or drawn.  What it DOES mean is that because the cards are random, we know what will happen over the long run and we know the probability of winning hands forming.  Thus, we are able to create a strategy that maximizes the amount of money we can win by using these probabilities and the payouts of these winning hands.

When you walk up to a Roulette Wheel, everything is known also – and fairly simplistic.  If you bet a single number (and assuming a single zero wheel), you have a 1 in 37 chance of winning.  If you bet ‘Odd’ or ‘Black’, you have an 18 in 37 chance of winning.  If you sit down at a Blackjack table you know that the probability of you getting a blackjack is about 4.75%.  This information is all known because you’re dealing with real life objects that have a clear probability and are completely random.

The same is true of video poker.  The fact that it is a digital deck does not change the randomness.  Everything about the game would be the same if you could somehow play it with a real deck of cards.  The overall math is a bit more complex than figuring out the probability of a single number in Roulette or of getting a blackjack, but the concepts are the same.  Let’s start with a simple example.  Let’s say you are dealt the following:

3♥        4♦        5♣       6♠        10♥

The play is fairly obvious.  Discard the 10 and go for the Straight.  What is the probability of drawing the Straight?  There are 8 cards that will complete it, with 47 possible cards to be drawn.  Thus, the probability is 8/47 or about 0.17.  With a payout of 4, we multiply this by the probability to arrive at the Expected Value (EV) of this hand of 0.68.

What if we make the hand a bit more complex?  What if the 10 was another 6?  Now there are two possible plays.  We can do as we did before and go for the Straight or we can discard the 3-4-5 and hold the Low Pair.  We don’t have to guess what the right play is.  While the specific result for a single hand will be determined by the Random Number Generator of the machine, we can look at every possible outcome of each situation and determine which results in the higher Expected Value.  When we look at all the possible draws or use some combinatorial math, we find that starting from a Low Pair and drawing 3 cards (16,215 possible outcomes) will result in 45 Quads, 165 Full Houses, 1854 Trips, 2592 Two Pairs and 11,559 losing hands.  When we multiply each of these by the payouts of each hand, and divide the total by the total possibilities, we come up with our EV of a Low Pair, which is 0.82.

This is considerably higher than the EV of the 4-Card Straight (0.68).  Thus, the proper play is to hold the Low Pair.  By looking at every possible (2,598,960), every possible way of playing each one (32) and every possible draw for each of these ways (varying depending on how many cards are drawn), we can figure out the probability of absolutely everything that can happen in video poker.  In total, we have to look at more than 675 BILLION combinations of Deals/Draws.  Fortunately, with the help of today’s computers, this really isn’t all that daunting of a task (and there are some shortcuts to help!).

The important thing to realize is that there is no guesswork here.  There is hard, cold and very precise math based on a 52-card deck and the idea that the probability of any card appearing is the same as every other card.  A long time ago, I saw someone suggest that the way to tell if a slot machine is a ‘good one’ is to play 20 times and count the number of winners.  A machine set to pay more will have a higher win frequency than one set lower (I can’t even verify this much!), so based on how many winning hands you have in the 20 times gives you an idea of if the machine is a good payer or not!  HUH??

Show me a video poker machine’s paytable and I’ll tell you the win frequency and the payback in a matter of minutes (okay, if it’s something new, it might take a bit longer!)  This can be done because there is nothing hidden in video poker.  The payback is known.  The hit frequency is known.  The strategy is known.  Everything is known!

If you’d like to know more, one of the best ways to learn more about video poker is from my father’s book Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance.  It is 200 pages of dozens of some of my father’s best articles about video poker, all geared to teaching you how to play in a more laid back way.  It retails for \$19.95, but for a limited time, I’m making it available for ONLY \$6 each or 2 for \$10, which includes 1st class shipping and handling.  Send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

playerspal

The misconception about how slot machines work is truly staggering.  Recently I had a conversation about the current generation of video slots with some friends.  As I’ve stated many times before in my column, there seems to be near unanimous consensus that many of these video slots are so confusing that even knowledgeable people can’t figure out when they won and when they lost.  This, in my opinion, takes away from whatever ‘fun’ slots can be.  It does not change their very nature.

One of my friends in this conversation remarked how with the older mechanical slots, at least you know what your chance were of getting a particular symbol!  I had to explain to this person that this was not the case at all!  While the new video slots may have 30 or 40 different symbols on a ‘reel’, and the older mechanical ones may have only 10 or 15, this doesn’t really change a thing about how they operate.  It only gives them less combinations to show the Player, but it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the odds of any particular set of symbols from being the final ‘hand’.

Let me make sure everyone understands this completely.  Let’s take an older mechanical slot that has 12 different symbols on it.  For argument’s sake, let’s say they are Red 7, White 7, Blue 7, Triple Bar, Double Bar, Single Bar, Cherry, Plum, Orange, Lemon, Bell and space/nothing.  If each of these symbols appears on each reel exactly once, there would be 12 times 12 times 12 possible combinations of symbols, or 1728 combinations.  Assuming each symbol appears with the same probability, you’d get 3 Red 7s on average 1 in 1728 spins.  Of course, you’d also get 3 oranges just as often, which makes it difficult to pay 5 for one and 1000 for the other!

So, very quickly we learn that the odds of each symbol appearing are not the same.  Perhaps the Cherry is programmed (YES, even on mechanical slots) to appear 20 times more often than a Red 7.  Well, this by itself is not very surprising.  Of course, since no one but the casino and/or the manufacturer know the specific programming, the Player has no way of knowing what the odds of anything are.  But, it doesn’t stop there.  The symbols on the reels are not programmed independently.  Rather, each of the 1728 possible combinations is assigned a probability of occurring (many of the combinations may have ZERO chance of occurring).  In this manner, the casino can control the result completely!  It is much more compelling for the Player to get Bar, Bar, Plum instead of Plum, Bar, Bar.  Once the Player sees Plum, Bar he knows he has lost.  But, with Bar, Bar his adrenaline starts pumping.  When that Plum shows up, the sense of just barely missing is in full force and the Player is compelled to try again because he ‘just barely missed!’

Yes, I’m saying what you think I’m saying.  Near misses are programmed into slot machines.  I read an article a couple of years ago in The Economist that discussed how scientific testing shows that near misses can trigger a similar neurological response to actually winning.  So, by feeding you all those near misses, the casino is almost tricking you into feeling like you won.  Let me also be clear about another point.  This is absolutely and completely legal.  In reality, playing a slot machine is no different than buying a lottery scratch off ticket.  Whether you’ve won or lost is determined the moment you say ‘spin’.  You’ll get a few wins.  You’ll get some ugly losses.  Mostly, you’ll get a lot of just barely missed.

When we compare this to video poker, we find out that there is very little similarity.  Yes, the 5-card deal is determined the moment you say ‘Deal’, but the probability of each card being dealt is the same as every other card.  From there, you have 32 different ways you can play the hand, and the resulting draw will be based on randomness.  Each of the remaining 47 cards has the same probability as the others of showing up in the Draw.  Because of this, the ‘near misses’ you get in video poker are not pre-determined, but rather part of the excitement of a 5-card draw poker game.

This is just one of the many reasons my father, Lenny Frome, felt that video poker should officially be declared America’s National Game of Chance.  There’s nothing rigged about it.  There are no purposeful near misses.  Everything about the game is known and it offers high paybacks for those who learn the strategy required to play it.  One of the best ways to learn more about video poker is from my father’s book Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance.  It is 200 pages of dozens of some of my father’s best articles about video poker, all geared to teaching you how to play in a more laid back way.  It retails for \$19.95, but for a limited time, I’m making it available for ONLY \$6 each or 2 for \$10, which includes 1st class shipping and handling.  Send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Blurry Lines

Recently, one of my ‘friends’ on my Gambatria Facebook page posted up a poll.  They asked people what they play when they go into the casino – table games, slots or other.  I wasn’t sure what to answer.  I tend to split most of my time between blackjack and video poker.  In the end, I decided that video poker was probably the most appropriate answer for me, though.  So, my first reaction was to check the ‘other’ box, but then I began to wonder if maybe the creator of the poll may have included video poker in the choice for ‘slots’.

If you’ve read my column over the years, you know how much I hate it when people consider video poker to be slots.  They’ve been frequently categorized as such because of the physical similarity of the machines.  Once upon a time, slot machines meant mechanical reels in a wooden box, while video poker was a computer monitor in an identical wooden box.  Then slot machines went digital too and now both are essentially computers in a box.

But, is this REALLY how we categorize casino games?  By physical characteristics?  It is ironic that originally video poker machines were put into slot-machine boxes and then over time, slot machines were put onto video poker computers in those same boxes.  While they are not so easy to find anymore, if a Player plays a stand-alone video blackjack machine are they playing slots because of the hardware?  Not in my book!

As the technology of the casino has evolved, the lines have become even more blurred if we look only at the technology and/or hardware that the game is being played on.  Some jurisdictions don’t allow live dealers and/or actual cards, so they only allow some of the newer hardware in – fully electronic tables, where chips and cards are digital and there is either no dealer to speak of or perhaps just a moving image of one.  If you play blackjack on one of these machines are you still playing slots?  Or, are you only playing slots if the machine looks like a slot machine and you’re playing in a non-social environment?  On the other hand, if you’re sitting at something that looks like a blackjack table (or does it look like a set of new fangled slots all hooked together?) then you’re deemed to be playing a table game?

These new electronic tables have proven the folly of considering a video poker machine to be a slot machine.  We can’t categorize games by the technology that they are played on.  A mistake was made a long time ago to not consider video poker machines as their very own category.   In most ways, they are actually far more like table games than they are slot machines.
So, perhaps the real mistake was not considering video poker machines to be slots, but to not recognize that slot machines are like nothing else in the casino industry.  They are truly what their long nickname implies – one-armed bandits (only they no longer even have the one-arm!)

When you sit down at a table game or a video poker machine, I can tell you the exact payback of every wager on the table.  Some of the wagers require learning a complex strategy, others are simple and yet others require no strategy at all.  But, even this last category has known probabilities for each of the paying hands.  When you play Pair Plus (of Three Card Poker) you have nothing to do, but you know exactly what the odds of getting a Three of a Kind is.
Video poker fits this mold perfectly.  In fact, the strategy required to play video poker is on the complex end of the scale.  It could be argued that this is the exact reason why it was created for a digital platform.  In theory, a casino could put out a blackjack table and deal a paytable version of draw poker.  Each Player could get five cards face down and discard as few or as many as they want.  The payback of this game would be identical to that of a video poker game with the same paytable.  Voila!  ‘Video poker’ is now a table game!

None of this is true for slots.  Not only is there no strategy whatsoever, you also have absolutely no way of knowing what the payback of a machine.  Two machines sitting side by side appearing to be identical could be set to pay either identical paybacks or paybacks differing by 10% or more!  A machine could be changed overnight to pay 10% less than it was set to the day before and there’s no way of you knowing this.  Absolutely NOTHING is know about the probabilities of a slot machine by the Player and there is no way to get this information.

Saying that video poker is slots would be like saying the Space Shuttle and a coffee maker are the same thing because they are both machines.  It just doesn’t add up.  To help you better understand video poker machines and to break the slot habit, our special for June continues.  You can get Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for just \$7.95 (reg \$9.95) by sending a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

playerspal

This past weekend, we had some friends over for lunch.  Invariably, the conversation winds up on my relatively unique profession.  Somewhat ironic in this case as one of the other guys is a hedge fund manager who counts as one of his clients one of the top poker players in the world.  Then again, some would argue that we’re both in the same general profession – casino gambling!

I got asked the usual question of what the best games to play are and how I got started in the profession.  At one point, the subject turned to slot machines.  There was both good news and bad news to report here.  On one hand everyone seemed to agree that these were amongst the worst payers in the casino.  On the other hand, not everyone admitted that they would never play one.  For those whom are intimidated by the table games, the slots still are the mainstay – no matter how bad they pay.

I remarked how I had just read an article talking about a comeback that is being made by ‘old fashioned’ mechanical slots.  Everyone in the room agreed that the older slots were better than the newer ones.  A few reasons were cited.  One was that they actually had a handle to ‘pull’.  Another was the clinking of the coins coming out when you won.  I actually commented that I wasn’t sure if the machines making the comeback are ticket-in/ticket-out or truly old-fashioned in that they accept and pay out real coins.

One of the reasons I cited for the popularity of the mechanical machines was that you could actually tell when you won or lost.   As I’ve written many times in my column in Gaming Today, I have occasionally put a \$5 machine into a penny or nickel video slot machine in order to kill some time.  I then press a button that says “Play max lines” and press another that says “Spin”.  When the reels are done ‘spinning’, the machine then tells me that I either won some number of coins or that I lost.  No matter how many times I try to figure it out, I can’t tell on my own WHY I’ve won when I do!

I’ll see several identical symbols on the same line only to find that’s not really a line to this 5 ‘reel’, 27-line machine!  Someone should tell some of the slot manufacturers that a ‘line’ usually denotes a STRAIGHT line between two points, not an up and down line that looks more like a heart monitor!  Is it any wonder that people are not having fun playing slots anymore?  It wasn’t good enough when the casinos were essentially taking the Player’s money with 92-93% slot machines, now they have to do it in a way that most Players have absolutely no idea what is going on?  For anyone reading this, please tell me – are you really having fun playing the newer video slots?  I’m sure it’s a lot of fun when you get to a Bonus Round on something like Wheel of Fortune, but do you even know why you got there?

I remember playing one slot machine that put me into some sort of Bonus Round.  I won about \$25 (on a nickel machine) in under 5 minutes.  I couldn’t tell you why I wound up in the Bonus Round or what I was trying to do while in it!  It just kept telling me to pick boxes and I did.  Each time it opened one, I won more coins.  Hey, I was very happy to win \$25 in a few minutes, but I have to be honest.  I can’t really say I had any fun doing it.  I could’ve just as easily lost my bankroll (okay, it was only \$5 for the slot machine) and been just as clueless.

As I raised this point to my guests, there was universal agreement.  While some of them admitted to still playing them, none said they had fun while doing it.  My hedge fund manager friend does all he can to dissuade his wife from playing the slots at all – just based on their horrible paybacks.

Of course, I have mixed emotions about a comeback for the mechanical slots.  They still have the worst paybacks in the casinos and I would much prefer that slot machines go the way of the dodo bird.  There are SO many better games to play in the casino with better paybacks and that are more fun.  I know that one of the reasons people avoid them is sometimes they are intimidated to play new games that they don’t know how to play.  So, we try to make it a bit easier with our books and booklets.

Today, May 12th, 2011 would have been my father’s (Lenny Frome’s) 85th birthday.  So, for the rest of May, we’re offering some special prices on our titles:
•         Winning Strategies for Video Poker and Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance (both books) for \$19.26 (his birth year)
•          Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas or Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for just \$5.12 each.
•          Any of the Expert Strategy series books (Three Card Poker, Four Card Poker, Let It Ride, Spanish 21, Caribbean Stud Poker, Mississippi Stud or Blackjack Switch)  - 1 for \$4.85, 2 for \$8.85, 3 for \$11.85 or all 7 for \$19.26

To learn more about any of these titles, go to my website at www.gambatria.com and click on the “Products” tab.  If you would like to order any products, just send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Take A Stroll Through the Casino

It has been more than 20 years since my father, Lenny Frome, began writing about video poker. I think he had two goals when he started. The first was to tell people about this relatively new casino game which had paybacks about as high as any in the casino – and in some cases over 100%. The second goal was to get people away from slots which have arguably the absolute worst paybacks in the casino. Two decades later, it would appear that while much good work has been done, much more is needed.

The most common question I’m asked by friends is “what is the ‘best’ game to play in the casino?” In this case, ‘best’ means having the highest payback. Usually, most people start to answer the question before I can and start with blackjack – which is essentially a correct answer. With a payback of 99.5% (give or take, depending on the rules), blackjack must be described as being one of the ‘best’ games to play. Of course, the original version is a bit slow and requires a significant degree of strategy, but that really isn’t part of the equation at the moment.

Frequently, the next answer that comes up is Craps. This is a bit tougher to size up. Craps is really dozens of different independent wagers so determining the ‘payback’ of Craps is not only difficult (if not impossible), it is also meaningless. Avoid all the proposition wagers with horrible paybacks and you’ll have a much higher payback than the guy constantly buying ‘hard ways’ bets. Craps can be a really fun game with a lively table and when a shooter gets hot. Playing with just a couple of Players and/or during only cold or slightly warm streaks and it I prefer games where you can sit down!

After blackjack and Craps, the person who asked the question finally goes silent. It is almost as if the casino still only has about 4 options – blackjack, Craps, Roulette and slots. Well, I guess the good news is that the silence means the most people have figured out that you’re not going to win money playing slots. As for Roulette, well, it is a bit like Craps, but almost every wager has the same so-so payback. But what about the rest of the casino? Over the past 20 years, the casino floor has changed tremendously. Many of the people who ask me the question do go to the casino. Have they not noticed all the other games?

I don’t know who is more surprised. The person I’m talking to when I say “video poker” or me when they respond “what’s that?” I guess if you’ve always been a table game person maybe you haven’t noticed that not all the ‘slot machines’ look alike. Of course, this was truer when slot machines still had handles and video poker machines didn’t. With the advent of video slots, the casual observer may just see lots of lights and colors on a computer screen and think they are all the same. I’ve spent many columns explaining the vast differences between slots and video poker to need to do so again today.

Once I explain what video poker is to the person who asked the original question, they are even more surprised to find out that a ‘routine’ payback can be about the same as blackjack and that there are still a fair number that can be found that have paybacks over 100%. This, of course leads to an explanation of what it takes to exploit such a Player advantage. Yes, you can probably make 30k-40K a year playing quarter video poker, but it would take playing 40 hours a week in a smoky casino, playing very disciplined and it would be a lot like having a very streaky commission job. You might earn nothing one year and earn 50-60K the next. This is not necessarily an easy job or one suited for anyone. The ultimate irony comes when I find out the person I’m talking to is an attorney, here in the NYC area, who is probably pulling down at least a few hundred thousand a year. I don’t think he’s giving up his day job!

So, I guess after more than 20 years of trying to get people to break the slot habit, we can confidently say we have achieved some success. I think the number of people who think that they have a shot at the slots has gone way down. At the same time, the campaign to keep teaching people about all the other games in the casino goes on. From video poker to blackjack to many of the newer table games that offer higher paybacks than the traditional casino games – many while offering a good deal more excitement too. The next time you head out to the casino, before you sit down to play, just walk the casino floor and check out all the games you may not have known existed. Then, to learn more about it, head over to my website and there’s a good chance I already have written about it. If not, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll do my best to cover it in the near future.

How About That Strategy? It Works!

This pretty much speaks for itself:

Someone playing a \$2 full-pay max-coin Double Double Bonus Poker hits an \$8000 Royal Flush starting from a 2-Card Royal!  Without knowing who hit it (and I don’t), we really don’t know to what extent this Player follows Expert Strategy.  For all I know, he discarded a Pair of Jacks to go for the 2-Card Royal.  But, lacking this information, I’m going to use this picture to demonstrate some key components of Expert Strategy.

Play the right machine – Well, Double Double Bonus isn’t exactly the ideal machine to play with its 98.8% payback.  However, it multiple jackpots (Royal and 4 Aces w/kicker) has made it immensely popular.  From the picture we can see that the Player chose to play one that is full-pay (1/1/3/4/6/9).  Before the payout on this hand, the Player had about \$535 remaining in their bankroll.  If they play a short-pay machine, perhaps the bankroll is exhausted before they have the opportunity to win the \$8000!

Know the right strategy – This is really the crux of this column.  We don’t know what hand the Player was dealt, but we do know that he held the suited J-A.  2-Card Royals make up about 7-8% of our playable hands.  Misplaying them can be rather dangerous to your bankroll.  When my father, Lenny Frome, developed his first strategies for video poker, one of things that surprised him was that most 2-Card Royals outranked 3 High Cards.  Given the unlikely odds of hitting a Royal, intuitively, one might think that you’re better off having 3 High Cards increasing your chances of a Jacks or Better or a Straight.  But by holding 3 off-suited cards, you eliminate all chances of a Flush, reduce the likelihood of Trips and eliminate Quads and the Royal.

‘Unlikely’ is also a relative term.  The actual odds of hitting a Royal from a 2-Card Royal is ‘only’ 16,215 to 1.  In the grand scheme of the casino, this isn’t really all that rare.  If one out of 13 hands is a 2-Card Royal and 1 in 16,215 of these will result in a Royal Flush, then we’re talking about 1 in 210,000 hands will have this ‘fate’.  At 700 hands per hour, this means about 300 hours of play.  Depending on how serious of a Player you are, this might take weeks or months, but in a casino with hundreds of video poker machines being played 10-15 hours day each, it’s happening every day all over the place.  So, why not you?

Of course, you increase your chances of it being you if you play your 2-Card Royals correctly.  This will, of course, depend on the specific game and paytable you are playing.  In the case of Double Double, here are some key pointers:

-  A 10-A 2-Card Royal is NOT playable.  We hold only the Ace if we have no alternatives.
-  We Play J-Q-K-A (off suit) over a 2-Card Royal
-  Pay attention to all of your cards and don’t just focus on the 2-Card Royal.  You might be dealt 4-5-6 of one suit and a J-Q of another.  The 3-Card Straight Flush outranks the 2-Card Royal by a considerable margin.
-   Do NOT discard any Pairs to go for a 2-Card Royal

This list is hardly meant to be comprehensive.  If while reading it you realized that you didn’t know these things, you might want to brush up on your game before you spend real money.  As always, it is important to learn the strategy table of the game you intend to play and stick to it.

This way, maybe next time I post up a picture of a big jackpot, you can sit back and say “That’s MINE!”

Lenny Frome Left a Legacy to Casino Gambling World

(the following is a re-print of my column in this week's edition of Gaming Today)

There are days in our lives that we all have burned into our memories – weddings, births of our children and regrettably, the passing of someone dear.  As this article goes to print in Gaming Today, I will be remembering one of those days – the 13th anniversary of my father’s passing.  I will never forget my brother telling me that my dad had had a heart attack.  When I asked him how he was doing, he responded “he isn’t.”

I could fill up this entire edition of stories about my dad as a dad.  I’m not sure exactly how long he wrote for Gaming Today, but I believe it was 8 or 9 years, which means we could fill this edition with the hundreds of articles he wrote.  But, why think small?  If one wants to see the legacy my father left to the casino world, one only needs to walk into virtually any casino in the world.

A good gaming analyst doesn’t just crunch the numbers.  He works with the inventors to create the game.  You need the creative side to envision the cards and the betting, but the math is the glue that holds it all together.  So, the analyst may not have his name on the patent and he may not get technical credit for inventing the game, but there is no doubt that a good analyst helps to invent each game he works on.  So, try to walk into a casino and not see Lenny Frome’s handiwork.

You see some Let It Ride tables?  He worked with the founders of Shuffle Master to save that one from a horrible fate (a math error).  How about some Caribbean Stud tables?  Yep, his name is on the math for that one too.  Three Card Poker?  Yes, he worked with Derek Webb to refine the math and rules of the game.  He worked on Boston 5 from New Vision Gaming.  He worked on Spanish 21 with Masque Publishing.  He worked on dozens of other games that hit the casino floor but didn’t quite make it to success.  But even these failures opened up the doors to dozens more.  Imagine walking into a casino and having none of these games be there?  It would be like Las Vegas circa 1980!

Of course, on the other half of the floor, we’d all be stuck with nothing but slot machines!  Oh, the horror!  Where would the casino of 2011 be without Lenny Frome’s contributions to video poker?  I don’t know who first called him the ‘godfather of video poker’ but it’s a nickname that has stuck through the years.  You can even find this on his Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_Frome) – which, by the way, I DID NOT create!

Despite the accolades, when it came time for my father to choose an e-mail address – he didn’t choose “vpgodfather”, “vpguru” or “vpexpert”.  He chose “Playerspal”.  He tried very hard to create games that while they obviously had house advantages, at least gave the Player a fighting chance.  What he loved about table games and video poker was that everything was known and could be calculated using finite math.  He hated the slots because everything about them was a deep dark secret.  He called himself Playerspal because that’s how he saw himself.  He was there to educate the Players about how to play the games.

Well, so far this has been about my father as a gaming analyst.  As I said earlier, I could fill up this entire edition of Gaming Today with stories about my dad as a dad.  Of course, there would be some similarities.  Education was very important to my father.  It didn’t really matter what the topic was.  Shortly after arriving in Las Vegas, he wound up teaching at UNLV.  Here was a guy who could ace my AP Physics tests at the dinner table without a calculator and he was teaching a relatively low level algebra course in college.  Still, he had the patience to teach the kids to the best of his ability and he took it far more seriously than many full-time professors I had in college.  It meant so much to him.  This is one of the reasons why my family started the Leonard Frome Memorial Scholarship at UNLV after he died.

Another thing very important to my father was his family.  He adored his children and grandchildren.  So, in an attempt to put together two very important things in my father’s life – children and education, I’m asking my readers to help me with a little project.  I found out via twitter (@gambatria) that my friends at Shuffle Master are having a book drive to help a Las Vegas based organization called “Spread the Word Nevada” which promotes literacy by distributing books to elementary schools throughout Nevada.   My wife and I will be shipping to them a few dozen gently-used books  from my kids’ home library.  I’m asking my readers to check out their website and if you are so inclined to assist them in any way you can – whether via a monetary donation, donating books or volunteering.

I’ll get back to gaming tips next week.

A Wild Ride on the Positive Side

Frequently, people come up to me asking what is the best game to play in the casino and then answer it themselves by saying, “blackjack, right?”  By saying ‘best’, I usually assume they mean the best paying.  As table games go, they are essentially correct, although it may depend on the exact rules being used.  As for the best paying games (not just table games), the answer to that one is without a doubt video poker.  A decade ago, finding a video poker machine paying 99.6% or better in Las Vegas was easier than finding those little sheets of paper with semi-naked girls on them strewn on the strip.  Today, you have to search a little harder, but they are still there.

While my father, Lenny Frome, added greatly to the popularity of video poker through his hundreds of articles and numerous books, he is also probably partly responsible for the disappearance of these ‘positive’ games.  Let’s be real.  The casinos don’t exactly purposefully put out games over 100% very often.  No one knows exactly why ANY were allowed to hit the casino floor.  We can only assume that because so many players played so poorly in the early days that the casinos never bothered to notice the few who might take advantage of the situation.

Also, unlike a table game, which focuses more on a table minimum, video pokers focus on a machine maximum.  A \$5 blackjack table allows the player to frequently play up to at least \$500.  If that table were somehow created to allow a Player advantage, the Player could win a lot of money at \$500 per hand.  With a mere 0.65% Player advantage and playing 30 hands per hour, a \$500 blackjack Player could win \$110 per hour.  Not a bad salary.  A 25-cent video poker machine allows for the Player to play \$1.25 per hand.  At 800 hands per hour, this is still only \$1000.  A machine paying 100.65% will afford the player a \$6.50 per hour profit.  It beats losing, but tough to make a living off of it.

Why did I pick 0.65% as the Player advantage?  This happens to be the advantage for a relatively common form of video poker – Joker’s Wild (A-K).  When I say ‘common’, I don’t mean that you’ll find it at every casino.  I’m not sure you can find any 100+% payback machines along the mid-strip area of Las Vegas.  So long as the Players there are in awe of the marble statues while they play short-pay machines, there is no reason for the casino to offer anything but.  According to my friends at VPFREE, you can find these machines in about a half-dozen casinos in Las Vegas.

Now, before you go giving up your day job to go play these Player-friendly machines, I have to tell you that the highest denomination you’re going to find is a quarter machine – which will generate the \$6+ per hour I mentioned earlier.  The casinos have figured out that a quarter machine will not attract the professional video poker Players and thus they don’t care much if a couple of people walk away a winner every now and then.  But as I said earlier, it beats losing.

Learning Joker games can appear to be a bit challenging at first.  The strategy table has 50 entries on it which makes it rather long.  However, when you realize that the hands are broken down to Joker vs. Non-Joker, you realize that you actually have 2 relatively short tables to learn.  The fact that game pays for a Pair of Kings or Better (and not Jacks) means that the need to keep track of the number of High Cards is greatly diminished.

One of the toughest parts about playing a Joker’s Wild game is the volatility.  If you don’t get your Jokers frequently enough, you don’t stand much of a chance.  Joker hands account for just under 10% of the total number of hands.  The payback when you have a Joker is a whopping 286%!  For the other 90+% of the hands it is a mere 81.3%.  Expect to see wild swings in your bankroll with this one.

Double Bonus Video Poker Quiz

Double Bonus Video Poker Quiz

Is it any wonder we call Las Vegas, Video Poker Heaven? With this pay table widely available even on quarter machines, we can squeeze 100.1% out of this liberal game, plus the benefits of slot clubs, which put an additional 0.4- 0.7% return on the table.

 Royal Flush 4,000 Straight Flush 250 Four Aces 800 Four 2-3-4's 400 Four 5-K's 250 Full House 50 Flush 35 Straight 25 3 of a Kind 15 Two Pairs 5 Pair Jacks or Better 5

But it won't happen unless you learn the nuances of the strategy, which is more complex than what you would use on Draw Poker. To see how proficient you are, take this test and find the answers below. If you can get 5 or 6 right, you are ready to take on this challenging game.

 Hand Card A Card B Card C Card D Card E 1 3s 6s 9s Kd 8h 2 4c 7c 2h 3s 9c 3 5s 6s 7s 8s 9c 4 7s Js Qs As Kc 5 9d Jh Qc Kh 8d 6 4d 6c 7c 8s 2c

 Hand Cards Explanation 1 D A 3-card flush is playable but one high card is better 2 A,B and E Much better than drawing 5 new cards 3 A,B,C,D and E Paying 5 the straight is the play. 4 A, B,C and D Hold the 4 Card Flush; Try for the Royal only if the Royal pays 960 coins 5 A,B,C and D Those high cards make it the play 6 A,B,C and D Even a poor inside straight plays in this game

Gambatria Launched!

For years, I’ve been asked how my company got the name Compu-Flyers.  As many of you know, the company was started by my father, Lenny Frome.  My dad spent decades as an aerospace engineer before retiring with my mom to Las Vegas.  It didn’t take long for my dad to get completely bored with retirement.  So, he was one of the first people to buy one of the ‘new’ full-color computers/monitors and an expensive color printer.  He thought that he would open up a kiosk at the local mall and print out color t-shirts and calendars and thus, he registered a company called Compu-Flyers.
My father always found the math behind casino games to be quite intriguing and this probably explains why I was programming Blackjack on my high school computer when I was about 15.  Before he got a chance to rent a kiosk, my dad was walking through a casino when he came across a video poker machine, which at the time was relatively new to the casino.  A short time later he was in another casino, saw a video poker machine with the same paytables but they were advertising different paybacks.  “Impossible!”, my father thought.
He decided to put his ‘color’ computer to different use.  He created the first analysis of video poker.  While there were probably a couple of bugs in it, it was based on the same concepts that every gambling analyst has used since.  Look at every possible outcome and assign an expected value to each possible play.  Whichever play resulted in the highest expected value is the proper way to play the hand.  My father soon discovered that there was not much written about video poker, so he began going to some of the gambling magazines and offering to write about the topic.  Little by little it caught on.
It was suggested that he write a little tipsheet on video poker.  Rather than create another new business, he simply used the name of the one he had already created for any potential buyers.  When the checks started to come in for his ‘50+ tips on Video Poker’, and later on for Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas – the name was a permanent fixture.  It had absolutely nothing to do with gambling, but Compu-Flyers was here to stay.
It’s been more than 20 years since then, and my dad passed away nearly 13 years ago.   When he died, my family decided to keep the company going.  In reality, this meant that I would keep sending out orders, maintaining his website and try to keep his articles in circulation.  In 2003, I decided to opt for a career change.  I left my job as a Senior Director of Information Technology and decided to follow in my dad’s footsteps.  I’ve been privileged to write for Gaming Today, Midwest Gaming and Travel, Midwest Players, Gaming South and others.  I’ve helped launch numerous successful games including Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, Rabbit Hunter, Imperial Pai Gow, Mini Pai Gow and several sidebets for these and others.
It is 2011 and the world has changed a bit.  The internet and Social Media (facebook, twitter, et al) have changed the game a good deal.  The notion of “what’s in a name?” may be more important than ever.  After searching for a new name for Compu-Flyers for a while,  I finally came up with Gambatria.  Why and what is Gambatria?  It is a combination of Gambling and Gematria, which is a system whereby numerical values are assigned to letters and/or words.
According to Wikipedia, Gematria usually provides two meanings – the ‘revealed’ form which is the straight numerical equivalent of the word and the ‘mystical’ form generally associated with Kaballah (the mystical branch of Judaism that so engrossed Madonna!)  This seemed to apply to gambling too.  Parts of the math are quickly and easily revealed like the payback.  Then there are the parts like the strategy and what to expect that take on a more ‘mystical’ flavor.  So, I guess the mission of Gambatria is to de-mystify gaming math.
It may seem ironic that I turned to a word that is at least several hundred years old in order to bring my company into the new decade.   The mission is still the same – to do the best I can to educate Players about the right way to play all the games in the casino.  The medium is just changing a bit.  Besides writing my weekly column here at Gaming Today, I’m happy to launch this blog  (the one you're on) "Gambatria"ot.com) and I hope you’ll all follow me on Twitter (also “Gambatria”).  Probably no surprise, but you can now find my website at (www.gambatria.com), although http://www.vpheaven.com/ works as well.
I hope you will all bear with me as these sites probably experience some growing pains, and I get accustomed to using these new 21st century social media concepts to keep in contact with all of you and vice versa.  As a Gambatria Launch Special, you can order Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for just \$7.95 (reg. \$9.95).  This includes 1st class postage and handling.  Send a check to:  Compu-Flyers (sorry, haven’t gotten account cut over yet!), P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.