Back in March, I wrote about National Blackjack Day. March 2 was selected for this day because it is written as 3/2 and an major push for this day was to get casinos to go back to paying 3 to 2 on blackjacks. When I did a little bit of research on that day, I found that there is no organization that officially assigns ‘National’ anything day. Essentially, anyone can pick any day to be anything they want. There may be significance regarding which day is picked as in National Blackjack Day or with May 4th being Star Wars day. In some cases, it might be more random like ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’.Read More
Many, many years ago, in a former career that I had (as a Senior Director of IT for a Fortune 50 company), a colleague remarked to my boss how it was better to be lucky than to be good. To be clear, she was talking about work. I remember my boss telling me about this conversation and needing to be calmed down. That boss, who is still a good friend of mine to this day, is a person I consider to be one of the very best at what he does. The notion that someone would rather be less skilled but lucky drove him nuts. Quite frankly, it didn't do much for me either.Read More
Obviously, I got my math skills from my father, Lenny Frome. Not that my mother was so bad at math either. But, from my mom I got my skill to hunt down a bargain, use coupons and send away for rebates. There are times when it has become more of a game for me than it is about the money. When I first came to Las Vegas in 1984, casinos used to give out tons of stuff for free - keychains, pictures, food. I'm not sure what happened to the keychain with my initials on it from the Golden Goose Casino, but I still have the picture of my best friend and myself with the million dollars behind glass at Binion's.Read More
Recently, for my wife's birthday we went to see her favorite musical artist - Celine Dion. We got to Caesar's a bit early and had about 30 minutes to kill. We found a bank of 3 100-play video poker machines with 2 available and decided to play. When you play 100-play machines, playing 1 cent per hand really means playing $1.00 per deal, which makes you almost a max-coin quarter player on a single play machine. Unfortunately, penny machines don't tend to pay full-pay because there simply isn't enough house advantage for the casino to cover its cost on the machine. Add to this the fact that we were playing on the strip, and I really didn't want to think how bad the payback was of the game we played. It wasn't really about winning as much as it was about killing 30 minutes.Read More
I was a big fan of the tv show White Collar. One of the characters referred to members of the FBI and just about anybody else who worked in some corporate type of job as a "suit" and he clearly did not trust "suits." This week's column reminds me of that character (Mozzy). But, as is probably no surprise, it's not about guys who wear suits. It's about the value of a suited hand in Poker. In the end, I come to a similar conclusion - I don't trust suits.Read More
Recently, I listened to an industry leader talk about some upcoming changes to casino games. More specifically, he was talking about the proliferation of regulatory changes that were beginning to allow 'skill based' slot machines. One of the first things he mentioned was that we've had skill based games for many years, namely video poker. Okay, so I'm not fond of video poker being called a slot machine. But, to regulatory agencies, this is the category they generally fall under. The focus for this week is that this speaker so casually described video poker as a skill based game.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
There are many aspects to our lives to which people apply the notion of the importance of having a strategy. Very few of us actually use them for all aspects of our lives. We tend to focus on some important part and then formulate a strategy. Maybe you formulate a strategy for getting out of debt, or for paying for your kids' education. Perhaps you're the type of small businessman who makes sure he has a strategy to make his business a success. We all know there are tons of strategies for how to lose weight.Read More
One of the criticisms of almost any gambling strategy is that it requires you to play 'perfectly', and that this is not realistic of a human. There is some truth to this. For sure, the theoretical payback can only be achieved if you play the strategy perfectly. Sometimes, the strategies are present are not 'perfect'. They have already been altered to give a human a reasonable chance to play the strategy presented perfectly. For example, in the game of Ultimate Texas Hold'em, the strategy for the 2x Wager consists of about 10 or 12 'rules'. This can already prove challenging for a human. If a complete computer perfect strategy were presented, it would likely have hundreds of rules. No human, short of Rain Man, would be able to play this even close to perfect.Read More
This week's topic comes courtesy of my own experiences this past summer. My son was visiting from the East Coast for a couple of weeks. This means some time spent on a video poker machine, in between shooting pool, bowling and some movies. I had one of those frustrating nights that could've been so much better "if only". I like to play Double Double Bonus Poker if I'm out playing for a short period of time. In all honesty, it's not the best play, but if you're looking for a quick significant profit, Double Double offers this opportunity. But, you have to get Four of a Kinds and preferably Quad A's, 2's, 3's or 4's. If you get really lucky, you'll pull the right kicker and have a big payout!Read More
Facebook is usually a great place for me to get ideas for columns. Within any given week, the odds are someone has posted something absurd enough for me to use as a segue into a topic. This week, I had at least two of them. As they were loosely related, I'll use them as my lead in. One was about a study done about homeopathic medicines. Supposedly 68 different 'common' ones were studied and they did nothing significant to help the condition. The other was about the anti-vaccine movement that links vaccines to autism. This is not a political column, so I'm making no statement about either of these two issues (although I am willing to go on record as saying both of my kids had their vaccines). What I noticed in common for these topics was the number of people who simply dismissed the science behind the facts. Someone had a bad experience with a prescription but a good one with some homeopathic remedy so this becomes 'proof'.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
Just how important is it for Players to play the correct strategy in the casino? Most of my columns look at this aspect from only the Player's perspective. I put it in terms of a loss rate per hour to the Player. I turn this into an overall impact to the Player's bankroll over a weeklong trip to Vegas. Today, I want to look at strategy at a very different level. I'm going to look at how it has changed the landscape of gambling in the world.Read More