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by Frank Kneeland

Frank Kneeland was the manager of the largest progressive video poker team in Las Vegas, and has authored a book about his adventures entitled, "The Secret World of Video Poker Progressives". You can get the book as well as some extra info about Kneeland on his website In addition, there you'll find the show archive for his radio show on pro-gambling, "Gambling with an Edge" that he co-hosted with Bob Dancer for six months.

The natural world is unencumbered by need or obligation to reveal its secrets easily, or at all. Therefore, a quest for simplicity is often a quest for inaccuracy, and a fool's errand that will bear no fruit. Life simply isn't simple! ~FK 2010

This is a continuation of last month's article, where you learned several surprising things:

  1. Video Poker Trainer software, with the ability to create VP strategies and analyze true game return, was not around in the early days of VP in any form or known by anyone on either side of the equation.
  2. Neither the casinos nor even the game manufacturers themselves knew the true potential return of video poker games for the first decade of their existence.
  3. Originally, game manufacturers didn't even know it was possible to calculate exact game return, and resorted to such primitive methods as putting their employees in a room to play for a few weeks and tallying the results.
  4. Today, all new video poker games must have a combinatorial analysis backing them up before they can be released by a game manufacturer.
The Path Out of Darkness (Here "darkness" is a euphemism for "lack of statistical mathematics")

In reality, it was less of a path and more of a gnarly winding road with several dead ends. What changed, and when? Who was responsible for the change? You may be surprised to learn this, but the first people/person to try to analyze video poker strategy and return, using combinational math to succeed, were all professional gamblers—not game manufacturers or casinos. In our team, the work was done by a brilliant and eccentric man named Yakie, and it took him the better part of half a year just to do one single game evaluation for basic Jacks or Better...and he did it with nothing more than a calculator, pencil, and paper.

Though certainly worth mentioning, this great accomplishment by Yakie plays no actual part in the story of how game manufacturers became clued in to true VP return. Why? Because, like a proper self-respecting professional gambler primarily concerned with beating the casino, he kept the information totally to himself. Several other slot teams that were active in those days also did extensive analysis of VP strategy and return, and they also kept the knowledge totally internal and shared it with no one outside their own ranks. These are the dead ends to which I alluded earlier. Though strategies were shared and even taught to team players, the knowledge of game return was strictly secret and known only to managers (like me) and the team owners. It was a climate of "let's help the gander and to hell with the goose."

The number of people who independently cracked the code of video poker was somewhere around four to six, and they were all as silent about it like Switzerland at a United Nations meeting. That all changed when, in late 1991, Stanford Wong released VPexact. For the first time since VP's inception, it was now possible to calculate the exact return of a video poker game without the use of statistical math. VPexact cycled through all the hands one can get drawing to a 52-card deck, and used combinational math to calculate game return...nothing would ever be the same again.

Quantum Leaps

Prior to VPexact, Lenny Frome had published some video poker strategies, but he had not shared how he created them. Stanford Wong's first program, Video Poker Analyzer, could make strategies, if you took the time to manually compare every possible draw and potential hold. Not everyone could do this accurately or at all. This software in amateur hands wasn't really a threat to pro dominance, as it was more of a time saver than a D.I.Y. application.

If you wanted a program that could generate a strategy in a single step without requiring preexisting pro VP knowledge, that quantum leap didn't come until 1997, when TomSki and Dean Zamzow released VP Strategy Master. Of course, that program only created strategies, and was not a full featured VP trainer. Nevertheless, this changed everything since now the long-time professional VP players no longer had an exclusive edge with their more accurate strategies. Everyone, no matter how ignorant they were of VP math, could now make and use highly accurate strategies. The gap between pro and amateur was vanishing. It's no coincidence that right about this same time the large VP teams ceased to exist.

Only one year later, Jim Wolf put out Frugal Video Poker, with Jean Scott helping him market it. FVP was the first full-featured trainer to combine game analysis, training play, and single step strategy generation. All trainers that came after it modified and expanded on FVP's capabilities with more games and adding bankroll calculations, but they followed the basic well-established suite of features FVP set down. Most notable amongst these are Video Poker for Winners (VPW) and Wolf Video Poker (WVP). WVP, of course, being made by Jim Wolf, the creator of FVP. VPW, marketed by Bob Dancer and created by the programmers at Action Gaming, is still the current industry leader to this day.

Due to high production costs and minimal returns on investment, there are few plans by the major players to upgrade their current software, or come out with new versions. One independent VP trainer offering did recently come out with a new version, which indeed contains several features never seen before, that easily makes the grade as a quantum leap. Though I'm sure you are wondering what that software is, and what the features are that make it so revolutionary, that's going to have to wait until next month.

A programmer friend of mine once described software engineering as "nothing more than problem solving." To understand the solutions this new software offers will require a long explanation of what the problems were, and I'm afraid we are out of time.

See you next month, for the third and final installment of "They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To."

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