So I’m in the casino (as if I should be somewhere else) when the young fellah calls me up on the mobile to ask for words of wisdom on online video poker. I’m not exactly at my best, nursing a screwdriver. Time was, when I was a little hung over, I would just chug coffee, black and sweet as my lover’s kiss. But, now I’m a cranky baby boomer, the caffeine winds me up too much — don’t need that kind of a buzz no more, don’t find too many women offering free kisses neither, more’s the pity. So I turns to Jack here behind the bar. He now keeps a stock of real fresh oranges and mixes me a small jug of juice, a touch of vodka to keep it interesting and three of four of them Vitamin C tablets for effect.
Anyways, I’m not feeling enlightened, so don’t have the strength to tell the young fellah, “no”. Don’t play the video slots as much as I usta, but still carry my little strategy cards around with me. Looks kinda professional. Not like me at all, what with me being so frayed round the edges. But even I got a little mortified by the looks I got when I pulled out those pieces of paper, all scruffy and dog-eared. So I draws up another set and Jack here got it laminated for me — he’s real versatile when he’s a mind. It sits in my pocket, and if ever I see a machine with good-looking prospects, I can spend an hour or so getting better acquainted with it. No-one should ever pass up the chance when it comes knocking on your door.
Just one problem for me these days. Video poker strategy isn’t just about accuracy. Speed also is important. You gotta play fast enough to make your money per hour. I’m not fast enough no more. I need my thinking time and the reflexes have slowed. I can’t play enough hands per hour to make it really worth my while.
Some of you probably asking why play video poker at all. Well, it’s kinda second nature to me ’cause I live in one casino or another, so I pass the slots every time on my way to the tables. I create two-way traffic. Folks see me coming to the table, they feel the intimidation factor. Skill with the cards is one thing, but face-to-face is another thing. Guess the ones as knows me don’t want to make the wrong play and look more than a mite foolish so, as soon as they decently can, they’re on their way back to the video poker slots where they feel more comfortable on their ownsome. Fortunately there’s always more than a few newcomers and a few of the old hands as fancy their chances to keep me interested in the real thing.
But sticking with video poker, the most common machines simulate draw poker using one 52-card deck with a virtual shuffle after every hand. First off, you ante up — that’s coins in the slots or your credit balance taking a hit. Five random cards hit the virtual felt. You weigh up how many of the five you’re discarding, and random replacements are dealt from the remaining 47 cards. For those of you as likes hard numbers, there’s 2,598,960 possible hands as can be produced with a 52-card deck.
Now that is the kind of information that intimidates!
Playing video poker online, the virtual shuffle or random number generator (RNG) in the machine simulates the probabilities of drawing any one of the combinations of hands. The House edge comes from adjusting the pay tables in line with the probability set. And ’cause the House always does its sums right, that edge is clearly set and damned hard to beat.
Perhaps, you’ve been thinking that there’s no skill in this game. Well, you’re the one making the decision which cards to keep out of your first five. But that’s where we part company with the real world. In a regular poker game, you’re playing whoever’s sitting round that table. In video poker, all you’re trying to do is get one of the winning card combinations listed in the pay table. The game isn’t to beat anyone else’s hand.
That means there’s a proper mathematical playing strategy for video poker. For any five card deal, what you hold or discard can be calculated to give you the best outcome against the pay table for the machine you’re playing. Change the pay table and your proper playing strategy gotta change too. As the size of that old jackpot changes, your strategy’s changing right alongside.
So, that’s my jug empty and my hangover gone. Time for me to go earn my living. Catch ya ’round. Hey, look. This is me with my nice big smile coming right atcha.