INTRODUCTION TO ADVANTAGE VIDEO POKER
By Skip Hughes
Skip Hughes has been playing video poker for more than 20 years and has written regular columns for Casino Play, Strictly Slots, Double Down magazine and other publications. Skip publishes the online ezine Video Poker Player (www.vpplayer.com) and is co-host of vpinsider.com. Skip also publishes Frugal Strategy Cards for Video Poker, which is available from his skiphughes.com web site.
While itís common, in fact a daily occurrence, for video poker players to go online to wail and moan about the loss of good video poker, there are still plenty of decent positive plays available. Itís true that the opportunities are not nearly as good or as common as they used to be, but there are plenty of positive plays that yield not only a profit, but a steady stream of comps. In fact, there are still pro players who make a 6-figure annual income, but this is becoming more difficult each year.
For those who have less ambitious goals, itís much easier to eke out a nice 20K a year supplement to oneís income while enjoying more free meals and rooms than one can usually take advantage of. I could go on about how cool it used to be, but thatís not my purpose here. My purpose is to define the requirements for a good video poker play, and a good video poker player.
A good video poker play
Positive base game
The easiest way to have a good play is simply to have a positive game in an adequate denomination. Most experienced, serious players can easily average 800 hands per hour these days. In fact, the tremendous increase in speed of video poker machines over the years has helped mitigate some of the decline in the higher percentage games. A game such as "full pay" Deuces Wild, played at 800 HPH with an edge of .76%, would return 800 * $5 * 0.76%, or about $30 an hour on a dollar denomination machine, without considering other factors. However, itís difficult to find a dollar Deuces Wild game these days. In fact itís very hard to find any games that have an edge of more than 0.2% or so in the higher denominations, but still fairly easy to find them in quarters at the local casinos. Besides the full pay Deuces Wild game, the top games are Kings or Better Joker Poker (100.65% return), and All-American (100.72%).
Much more common these days are games that return just a little under 100%, such as NSU Deuces (99.73%), Super Aces (99.92%), Triple Bonus Plus (99.8%) and Super Double Bonus (99.69%). In the higher denominations, Jacks or Better (99.54%) continues to be the primary game.
Slot club benefits
Obviously, with many of the best base games above being under 100%, other factors are required to bring the games positive. Among these factors are cashback, multipoints, Bounceback cash, retail gift cards, drawings and card of the day (COD) promos. Let me review these factors in more detail.
The most common form to boost the return of a game is "direct" (same day) cashback. Base direct cashback varies in Las Vegas from nothing to 0.5% and may take the form of actual cash or free play.
Many casinos offer multipoint days that can bring cashback much higher, occasionally over 1%. Most of them also place restrictions on which machines are eligible for multipoints, but nevertheless the combination of cashback and multipoints provide some of the best dollar and higher plays available.
Bounceback cash or free play
Formerly, monthly bounceback came in the form of mailed coupons from localsí casinos that were redeemed for cash, usually one coupon per week, based on play the previous month or quarter. These days itís usually in the form of free play and while formerly only localsí casinos offered this form of benefit, some of the best bounceback programs now are at luxury Strip casinos (one offers up to $1,000 a week).
Drawings that award tickets based on coin-in are excellent opportunities for video poker players when there are already positive plays available.
Card of the day and other promotions.
A common promotion awards a bonus for a four of a kind of a certain card. Often the award is a 100-coin bonus. This type of COD is worth 0.34% or more if itís a high card. Other promos might award a bonus for any four of a kind, 4 to a royal, or royal flushes. Sometimes there is a bonus for a suited royal or straight flush.
An example of a play that uses several of these factors is a localsí casino that offers a game that is well below 100%, but with cashback, multipoints and other promotions is at about $75 an hour and is easily available a couple of days a week. Sometimes, promotions can drive it to well over $100 an hour.
Characteristics of a good video poker player
The ability to learn a fairly detailed strategy
Video Poker is a straightforward game. A machine deals you a 5-card hand randomly and the player may discard and draw up to 5 cards (also dealt randomly). A schedule of payouts for the different final hands completes the design. Since the game is random, the best way to play any hand can be calculated based on the payouts and strategies that will yield (over time) a winning percentage can be constructed.
Actually, almost anyone can learn a strategy pretty well. One of the real breakthroughs in video poker came a few years back with the introduction of Jim Wolfís Frugal Video Poker software. Jean Scott helps market this program. The program was a seminal moment in VP on two fronts: It allowed a user to create and modify a strategy for almost any game and it demonstrated that strategies can be much simpler, ignoring complications called "interference" or "penalty cards", while still producing accurate strategies (to within 0.001 - 0.005 percent of optimum).
The best method to learn video poker strategies is the use of practice software. Some of the best are Frugal Video Poker, Winpoker and Cap Richardsís specialized trainers. All of these programs alert you when you make a mistake, and allow you to analyze the hand. They also keep statistics so you can track how high a percentage of the gameís Expected Return you are achieving.
Among other methods that help players are strategy cards that can be taken to the casino and referred to. Mine are the best, in case you were wondering.
The ability to play a learned strategy
Video Poker is unlike any other game. Knowing a strategy is one thing. Being able to play thousands of hands a day accurately requires a lot of concentration and discipline. Nobody plays a strategy perfectly, even if they know it perfectly. Inevitably, a hand will be misread, or there will be some kind of disconnect between the brain and the fingers. Good players can limit these mistakes to 0.02% (of ER) or less.
Playing within your bankroll
Most recreational players play games that stretch their bankroll. Because of the high variance of video poker, the most common dollar plays require a long-term bankroll of mid-five figures or even six figures. On the low end, a quarter Deuces Wild player who is willing to accept a 10% risk of ruin, can get by with about a $3,500 bankroll. Obviously, all the factors mentioned above enter in to these calculations. By far, the best tool a video poker play has for calculating both short-term stake risk and long-term risk is Dunbarís Video Poker Analyzer.
Finding the best plays
One way to find most good games easily is vpinsider.com, a searchable database of all the casinos in the U.S. There are other Internet sites, which offer help.
Pro players have their own networks and try to limit public knowledge of the lucrative plays.
Discipline ("psychological bankroll")
As I have mentioned, video poker is a very high variance game and many of them are even more so. The top payout for a royal flush occurs, on average, about every 40,000 hands, yet still constitutes about 2% of the return. Other top hands (four aces, four deuces, etc.) occur every few thousand hands, on average. What this means for the player is that you can be playing good, positive plays, highly accurately and still be on a losing streak for a period of more than a hundred thousand hands. In fact, if you play a lot of video poker this is guaranteed to happen to you. Long losing streaks are the nature of video poker. So are periods in which royal flushes come at a rapid pace, but these are much less frequent. Being able to withstand those roller-coaster streaks requires a lot of discipline. Playing well within your financial bankroll helps a great deal.
Editors note: See our BJI store to purchase some of the video products mentioned by Skip at discount prices.
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