A VISIT WITH IMAGINARY FRIENDS
By Bob Dancer
Bob Dancer is America's best-known video poker writer and teacher. He has a variety of "how to play better video poker" products, including Winner's Guides, strategy cards, videos, and the award-winning computer software, Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker, his autobiography Million Dollar Video Poker, and his recent novel, Sex, Lies, and Video Poker. You can purchase Dancerís products at our web store at www.bjinsider.com/store.shtml.
I have two imaginary friends --- Stan and Pearl. I invented them a few years ago to illustrate a point in video poker. And they have developed a life of their own! First the basics of the original article, and then in a future article we can go into some of the letters this has generated.
Stan and Pearl are dollar 9/6 Jacks or Better players. As many of you know, 9/6 Jacks returns a little over 99.5% with perfect play. And since my imaginary friends have a very limited number of flaws, we can assume they play perfectly.
Case Study 1: They live near a casino, which they visit every day. Stan always plays 10 hands and then he stops. Whether he won all ten hands or lost all hands (neither event very likely), he always stops after ten hands.
Pearl on the other hand, looks for winning streaks so she can parlay her winnings and go on. In fact, if she has connected on a flush or higher, she plays 5 more hands. And in those 5 hands, if she connects on another flush or higher, she'll play another five hands. And she'll keep playing these 5-hand sets until eventually she goes through 5 hands flushlessly, and then she'll also stop for the day.
Stan stops. Pearl parlays.
Now my question to you. Whose strategy is likely to produce better results over the course of a year?
Every successful player I have ever given this problem to has given me the answer of STAN. Most unsuccessful players I have ever given this problem to have given me the answer of PEARL. The funny part of it is that everybody thinks the problem is easy and that his or her answer is correct!
Stan has the better strategy. After I give you the explanation, you will see that it really is a no-brainer. Anybody who thinks Pearl has the better strategy has no clue about winning at video poker, or blackjack for that matter.
Here's why. 9/6 Jacks or Better returns 99.5% and this means that the game is a loser for the player. The house has the advantage. On average, every bet you make into a losing situation is a losing bet. So since Stan bets less than Pearl, he figures to lose less. And figuring to lose less is what makes his strategy better than hers. Very easy.
Case Study II: Same Stan and Pearl. Same game. Same strategies. Except that now they play at a casino where the slot club returns 1% cash back to the players. My question to you now is: does this change who has the better strategy?
And my answer is ABSOLUTELY. 99.5% + 1% = 100.5%. Since this is over 100%, this means the player has the advantage. Now, on average, every bet is a winner. The person who bets more money into a winning situation figures, on average, to perform better than the person who bets less money. Since Pearl bets more money than Stan, in this game she has the better strategy.
The "secret" to winning at any gambling game, video poker included, is to only bet when you have the advantage. To be sure there are some bankroll considerations you need to be aware of to insure the short run swings don't wipe you out, but assuming you are betting within your bankroll, all you need to do is to bet when you are the favorite and don't bet when you don't. Period.
Have you heard the suggestion: "Bet more when you are winning"? Or how about "Quit while you are ahead"? Most of us have heard both of these pieces of advice. Several times. Notice that they give opposite advice about what to do when you get ahead. Winning players know they both are wrong. How well you have done today has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not it is good to place another bet. The only thing that matters is whether or not you have the advantage.
It should not surprise you that the key to winning at video poker is exactly the same as the key to winning at blackjack.
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