Last week, I discussed cursorily two scenarios that occurred recently at a blackjack table I was playing at. This week, I'm going to explain a bit more about each of these circumstances and why they are both rather egregious. The two situations were splitting 10's and hitting a 'soft' 21. We'll deal with splitting 10's first.Read More
Expert Strategy consists of three key components - (1) Know which games to play, (2) know the right strategy for those games and (3) know what to expect. I find the third one to be the most intriguing. When it comes to video poker, I realize I'm hardly the only source for video poker information. There are other writers and there is a variety of practice software out there. These will all help you to learn the first two. But, I think it is a combination of my math skill and the ability to explain it to the masses that help to separate me from some of these other sources. One doesn't really need to know what to expect in order to master the first two, but learning it is what keeps the Player disciplined to stick to the plan.Read More
I love the look on people's faces when they hear me say that there are some video poker machines with paybacks over 100%. First, it goes against what we all know to be true - that all games have a casino advantage. Second, they don't even fully realize what I'm saying. So, let me make it quite clear. A payback over 100% means that in the long run, the Player will win money. This is the total opposite of our thinking for virtually every type of game. Normally, a casino game offers the Player the opportunity to win in the short run but the Player will still lose over the long run. With these games over 100%, or what we call positive games, the Player might lose in the short run, but his bankroll should increase over time.Read More
This is not a topic I cover often. They were ignored by my father, Lenny Frome. There are some that took this as an error he made in his video poker analyses. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was quite aware of them. His goal for video poker - and all other games - was to give the Player a strategy he could utilize in the casino. Video Poker strategy is complex enough for most versions. Not everyone can master it. Adding another layer of complexity for a relatively tiny additional return just didn't seem prudent to him. For the most part, I agree.Read More
Invariably when I get into a discussion with someone about the gaming industry, whether it is someone in the industry or not, the game of War comes up. To be more accurate the name of the game you see in the casino is Casino War. It really isn't much different than the game you used to play as a kid. You get one card, Dealer gets one card. High Card wins. If you tie, you go to war. In the casino version it ends at one war in order to keep the speed up and as a means of creating a house edge. You play for money instead of trying to win the whole deck, which in this case is usually a shoe of 6 or 8 decks of cards.Read More
This past week, I received a letter from a reader who found some 'errors' in my Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas book. I'm a bit skeptical when someone tells me these things as the numbers have been out there for so many years and looked at by so many people. As it turns out, they were more like typos, which I guess technically is an error, but I put it into a different category. Fortunately, neither of the typos would lead a Player to go very far astray. One of the typos listed the number of Four of a Kinds from the Draw on a Three of a Kind. Right below the typo is the correct number which was used in the actual calculation of the Expected Value. So, it might have been a bit confusing, but most readers would probably realize it was just a typo. Also, I don't think too many people are confused about how to play a Three of a Kind. It is one of the more self-explanatory hands.Read More
Maybe somebody beat my father to it, but I think the was the first person to use the expression 'expected value' when referring to gambling options. The concept pre-dated him as my father was hardly the first person to analyze blackjack. In blackjack, when a strategy was developed that told the Player to double on an 11 looking into a 10, this decision was based on which of the two options (hit or double) had the higher expected value. Well, sort of. Since the wager amounts are not the same when you hit vs. double, this had to be taken into account as well. In reality, in blackjack, it is not possible for the expected value (without taking into account the wager size) to be higher on a double vs. a hit. But that's for another time.Read More
This column is mostly about video poker. Ironically, I haven't taken a definitive count, but I'd guess and say that I write about video poker about 2/3 of the time. My father's first full-length book was titled America's National Game of Chance: Video Poker. He used to occasionally write about how video poker should be made America's official game of chance. I don't think he really expected Congress to take it up. It was more about the popular notion of just how perfect of a game video poker is.
Video Poker may look a lot like slots - or at least it did 20 years ago when the first video slot machines came out. Back then, they each played on what appeared to be simplistic computer screens. Nowadays, many slots play on gigantic flat screen monitors, while I think most video poker machines still use up the old-style computer monitors. Very little is hi-tech in terms of what you see. For as much as they used to look like one another, the similarity ended there. Slot machines are 100% luck. You can't argue this. This might be exactly what you want and thus it is perfect for you. My problem has never been that there is no skill factor. It is that you have ZERO knowledge about the game. Two slot machines sitting side by side with identical paytables might have two totally different paybacks and you'll never know. It is just the way they are programmed. A week later, the two machines and their respective paybacks could've been swapped or changed to be completely different - and you'll never know.
This is not possible with video poker. In most of the United States, video poker machines MUST play as randomly as if you took a deck of cards and used them instead. There can be no manipulation of the frequencies of winning hands. The frequencies are determined by the nature of the deck and the paytable which drives player strategy. Since these are both completely known, the payback of a video poker table can be calculated down to the most exact figure. The only way it can be changes is if the deck is changed (i.e. add a Joker or make something wild) or the paytable is changed. Both of these types of changes would be immediately known to the Player and again allow for an exact calculation of the payback. You can't change the payback of a video poker machine without the Player knowing about it.
The result is that video poker plays far more like a table game than a slot machine. Table games generally have some form of strategy, too. Most use a deck (or shoe) of cards, with the composition known to the Player. Payouts and betting rules are all spelled out. As a result, every table game has a known payback too that cannot be changed without changing the paytable. Video poker shares with slots the medium in which it is played (video machine) and speed of play. You're not getting hundreds of hands of a table game dealt in an hour no matter how fast everyone is playing!
The fact that video poker plays more like a table game is what makes video poker so fascinating. Now we throw one additional layer on top of our argument to make it America's National Game of Chance. The number of different combinations of games is nearly endless. Blackjack has several rules that can be done as either X or Y. When you look at ALL the possible combinations, there might be in theory a couple of hundred ways that it can be played (many of these combinations don't exist in the real world). Also, some of these rules don't impact the game much or at all. Whether you can split to 2 hands, 3 hands or 4 hands simply doesn't change much in our strategy. Yes, it impacts the payback (very slightly), but that is all.
For most other table games, you're only going to find a handful of possible paytables out there across the country. Ultimate Texas Hold'em has only so many Blind paytables and Sidebet paytables. None of them impact the strategy we use to play the game. So, again, they change the payback, but they don't really change the game.
Video poker on the other hand has a seemingly endless variety of games. Changing the paytable slightly might make slight changes to our strategy without changing the nature of the game much. But, if you start ramping up the payouts for Quads and push them higher by adding in the kicker value, you not only change the strategy, you change the entire feel of the game. If you are a regular player, you know all too well how different bonus poker is from double double bonus poker. Reducing the payout on the Two Pair from 2 to 1 and increasing greatly the payouts on the Quads turns a relatively slow game into a high volatility one. You don't win at double double unless you get your four of a kinds. In fact, you still may have a tough time winning unless you can pick up some of the bonus four of a kinds.
The bottom line is that video poker offers something for every type of player while staying true to a game based on a combination of chance and skill. There is the relatively low volatility of jacks or better to the far greater thrill of double double bonus. There are one-play machines all the way up to 100-play machines. You can play with Deuces Wild, Joker wild or both! They might all be video poker, but these might as well all be different games. Nothing else in the casino compares to video poker and what it can offer the Player.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about a friend who texted me late one night looking for some video poker advice. I wound up taking a picture of a strategy chart and texting him back. Just to be clear, this was a good personal friend. Please don't send me e-mails expecting immediate turnaround! This past week, he needed more help and call this time. He was a dealt a 4-Card Straight Flush which was also a Straight and wanted to know what the right play was. Just to make sure I gave him the right answer, I looked it up and told him the correct play and what the expected values of each hand was.Read More
When playing jacks or better video poker, all it takes is to have ONE High Card and you can eliminate the choice of throwing all five cards. My father, Lenny Frome, called this a Razgu hand. Shortly before my mother died, I actually found out that the term was created (or at least popularized) by a friend of theirs. A Razgu is just a hand in which you wish you could start all over again. It is to poker what a mulligan is to golf.Read More
The internet is a wonderful thing. You can look up almost anything in an instant. You can get sports scores, movie times, restaurant maps and loads of news. Of course, one of the problems is that the quality of news on the internet is not quite what it used to be in the printed newspapers. I'm an avid baseball fan (Mets specifically). The number of times I've read a recap of a game and wondered if the writer had even watched the game is staggering. The article will have wrong information about what happened in the game and wrong background information. This past season, I flipped through a headline that blared "(Ryan) Howard hits eighth home run against the Mets." Interesting as Howard plays for the Phillies and the Mets played the Cardinals that night! It turns out the home run was against the Rockies.Read More
In last week's column I discussed Four of a Kinds and the probabilities of drawing one from a Pair vs. drawing one from Trips. It's interesting stuff, but not necessarily overly useful. We very rarely throw away a Pair to go for Quads. If you have a 4-Card Flush, a 3-Card Royal or the rare - J-Q-K-A you would do so. But not a lot of thought needs to go into playing Pairs.Read More
Last week, I alluded to the notion that Players play Ultimate Texas Hold'em more timidly than they should. While a portion of this is probably based in the relatively complex strategy of the game, I believe the larger portion is in the decision itself. It takes nerves of steel to put down 4 times your initial Ante wager. Give me a High Pair or a suited A-J and I'm willing to risk it. But what about offsuit A-8 or suited K-10. How good are these hands? Even if the strategy says to Play 4x, UTH allows the Player to wait for more information and then either Play 2x or wait longer. So, why rush my decision?Read More
Last week I discussed the importance of net win vs. expected value when looking at wagers of different sizes. The term expected value was originally used mostly to describe video poker hands. Since the wager size is the same from hand to hand and the payouts are all essentially odds based - meaning they pay a certain amount for each unit wagered as opposed to a fixed dollar amount, using the expected value works fine. But, in a game like blackjack where the Player has the option to double down, we need to look at net win (or loss) and not expected value. We lower our win frequency (which lowers the expected value) when we double down, but we still do so because in the end we win more money, which is the real goal.Read More
Over the years, I've worked with a lot of inventors and seen a lot of games. Most of the games never made it into a casino at all. While casinos are more receptive to new games today than they were years ago, the odds of getting your game into a casino are pretty long. The odds of the game being successful are even longer. If you look at the games that are in the casino, most of them are poker based and nearly all the rest are blackjack variants. Once in a while, I'll get an inventor who will try and convince me how desperately the casino needs a game based on neither of those - whether it be dominoes, backgammon, 3 dice or a 14-sided die.Read More
Have you ever been dealt a hand that contains 3 of one suit and 2 of another and wondered why you don't get paid for this type of 'Full house'? Imagine if video poker paid for this type of hand. It is hard to say the exact probability of getting this type of hand after a draw. I know that a little over 10% of hands are dealt this way, but a fair number of them are other winning hands or near winners. If you had 3 diamonds to a Royal and 2 clubs would you go for the Royal or would you just take your suit Full House and be content. You can't answer this until you know how much this hand pays. If I said it paid 1, you might go for the Royal. If I said it pays 4, you'd probably keep the suit Full House.Read More
When my father passed away in 1998, he was just about ready to place an order for the 2nd printing of the 2nd edition of his book Winning Strategies for Video Poker. It was with a little bit of trepidation that we went ahead and ordered the full 2000 copies. I'm not sure how many copies were sold in total before he passed away, but based on what records I can find plus the fact that the full 2000 sold out and I have had it reprinted yet again, I'd say it is fair to say that somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 copies were sold, which is absolutely remarkable for a self-published book from what I'm told.Read More
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Mississippi Stud, which is a relatively new game that has been growing quickly in popularity. Mississippi Stud was based on one of the granddaddy games - Let It Ride. I have frequently referred to Mississippi Stud as Let It Ride on Speed. The critical difference between the two games is that in Let It Ride, one wager is mandatory and the other two are optional. Your choice is to let it ride or to pull it back. In Mississippi Stud, your choice is to make a wager or to Fold. The math - and thus the strategy - is vastly different for these two scenarios.Read More