NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW
By Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the smartgaming.com website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter.
Note from Henry: This article appeared in Strictly Slots Magazine. I wrote it as a tribute to my Father-in-Law Peter. Even though it deals with video poker, the article shows by example that we are never too old to learn something new.
The reason senior citizens often give me for not learning how to play video poker is that they are "too old." Well, I want to dispel this myth with a real-world example of how one senior citizen decided to learn video poker at 86 years of age, and how he benefited from that decision. That person was my father-in-law, Peter.
Peter and my mother-in-law, Helen, lived in New Jersey all their lives. In 2004 when they were 86 and 80 years old respectively, they decided to sell their house in New Jersey and move to Alabama to be closer to us.
When they lived in New Jersey, Peter and Helen use to enjoy taking trips to Atlantic City to play the slots. Peter started to play a little video poker but he would be the first to admit that he didnít know what he was doing. However, after moving to Alabama (and knowing that the Mississippi casinos were only a one-hour drive away) Peter surprised me one day when he said that he wanted to learn how to be a good video poker player. I said Iíd teach him, with one caveat: he would have to learn how to use a computer, something he had never done before. His response was, "When can we get started?"
The first thing I did was to teach Peter how to play one video poker game and play it well. The game I selected was jacks-or-better. Why? Because the playing strategy is relatively easy to learn, the variance is low compared to other games (thus he would need less bankroll), and the high-return 9/6 jacks-or-better version (with a 99.54% ER) was available at several local casinos in Mississippi and also in Las Vegas, where he visited on occasion.
After we reviewed the playing strategy, I taught him how to use my computer so he could practice the strategy using commercially available software programs (back then, he practiced using WinPoker and Frugal Video Poker). The software tracked his playing accuracy, and I told him he would have to consistently achieve a 99.5% playing accuracy before I would take him to a casino to play with real money. He set that as a goal, and every time he visited us (even at 86, Peter still drove), he would slip away to my office and practice on my computer.
It didnít take Peter long to master the playing strategy for jacks-or-better. However, sometimes heíd make a minor mistake. One particular hand that gave him fits was when he was dealt a three-card straight flush that also contained two high cards. The playing strategy for this hand depends on how many gaps and high cards are present in the three-card straight flush, and whether the two high cards are suited or unsuited. After some additional tutoring, Peter was finally able to remember the strategy for this hand.
I explained to Peter that even though he would be playing a game with a 99.5% ER, he would still have losing sessions. Therefore, it was important that he had an adequate playing bankroll. I convinced him to open up a money market account at his local bank with money that he would use only for his gambling trips (we affectionately called this account his 401G, where the letter G stands for gambling). Every time he would go to the casino to play video poker, he would take some money from his 401G and use it solely for his playing bankroll. Whatever he had left after playing he put back into his 401G (including any cash back or bounce back he would receive from the casino).
I also set up a gambling log for him. After every casino trip, he recorded the date of the trip, the name of the casino that he played in, what game he played, the denomination and name of the game he played, how long he played, how much he won and lost, and the amount of cash back and bounce back he received. He updated his logbook after each trip and over time it showed the history of how his bankroll gradually increased (yes, there were some losing sessions, but over time his bankroll grew).
Peter learned the importance of using a playerís card when he played video poker and, even more importantly, to schedule his play times when casinos offered multiple point promotions to take full advantage of cash back, bounce back, and comps that would soon come his way. Since I drove Peter to the casinos, I had a lot of control over when we played, so he never played at a casino that did not offer some multiple-point or other player-beneficial promotion. In fact, he only played when the return on the game plus the cash back and/or bounce back exceeded 100% (meaning Peter became an advantage player).
Over the years, Peter loved going to Biloxi with me to play video poker and I enjoyed his company. Weíd go about three to four times a month. He and Helen also visited us twice a year at our home in Vegas and stayed for about two weeks each time. Peter use to tell me he enjoyed playing video poker because it would keep his mind active. (Even at 91 years of age, Peterís mind was as sharp as a tack.)
Peter surprised us at how long he could sit and play video poker without getting tired. When he was in his apartment, he would usually take a few catnaps during the day. However, when we went to the casinos, he would play three hours in the morning and usually 3-4 hours in the afternoon (with an hour or so break between for lunch) and he never tired. My video poker playing friends in Biloxi (and those in Vegas) all got to know Peter, and they got a kick out of watching a 91-year-old advantage video poker player.
Peterís accomplishments at video poker, especially his knack for getting royal flushes, are legendary. Iíve written at least half a dozen articles in different publications about his adventures and successes. To be clear, Peter also took his lumps with several prolonged losing streaks but his big wins were memorable (including twice hitting royal flushes on two consecutive days). But the remarkable accomplishment for Peter is this: after playing jacks-or-better for five years (when he was 86 to 91 years old), his bankroll increased threefold (that includes all the cash back and bounce back that he received from casinos as well as his return from playing the game). During this time, he also never paid for a meal, room, or show in any casino, and I canít begin to list all the wonderful gifts he received from casinos just for playing.
Peter always looked forward to our trips to Biloxi (my neighbor Bob often joined us, and he also got a kick out of Peter playing video poker). All of my other video-poker playing friends in Biloxi and Vegas got to know Peter and they loved him. They all knew how much he enjoyed playing, and they marveled at how successful he was for a person his age.
Iím sorry to say, however, that Peter will not be playing video poker anymore (at least not in this life). At age 91, his heart stopped beating on Easter morning and he passed away peacefully in his sleep. Iím going to miss my video poker buddy.
Peter was a stellar example, of the saying that we are never too old to learn something new, whether itís learning how to use a computer or learning how to become an advantage video poker player. And if there are video poker machines in heaven, Iím sure heís already hit a few royal flushes.
Three days after I wrote this article, I took my wife and my mother-in-law, Helen to a well-deserved, relaxing, overnight trip to a Biloxi casino. We ate dinner at an upscale restaurant and toasted Peter (he always liked eating in this restaurant). Afterwards, we went to play video poker and I told them that to honor Peter, I was going to play on one of the video poker machines that he used to play and hit a royal flush, just like he had done many times. I was soon dealt a hand containing a three-card straight flush with one gap (no high cards) along with two suited high cards (the very hand that I mentioned in this article that use to cause Peter fits). I held the two suited high cards--exactly as Peter learned to do--and the machine dealt me the three cards I needed for a royal flush. That, dear readers, is one royal flush that I will never forget.
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