Video poker versus blackjack and slot strategy

This is probably going to blow my mind more than it will yours.
It was 11 years ago that I began writing for GamingToday. I’m not sure of the exact number of columns, but it has been roughly around 550. It’s a staggering number to me.
I didn’t know I could come up with that many topics! Of course, I do repeat some, realizing the nature of a gaming magazine is that many of the readers will pick up a copy while they are in the casino and may not see another until their next trip. Today is one of those weeks where I’m going back to the beginning.
It all started with video poker. Well, it sort of started with blackjack. When my father, Lenny Frome, started going to the Atlantic City casinos with my mom, he used to play blackjack. This was in the late 1970’s.
Personal computers were in their infancy. So, my father surmised that perhaps any blackjack analyses done to that point had not taken full advantage of computers. My high school happened to have one of the top computer programs in the country and I immediately fell in love with it.
So, my dad asked me to start analyzing blackjack on the high school computer. As a result, I can accurately state I have been doing gaming analysis for more than 30 years. However, where blackjack was concerned, there really wasn’t much to add. Analyses that had relied on mostly math models had very accurately determined strategy and payback of the game.
Several years passed and my parents retired to Las Vegas. Here Dad discovered video poker. This time he did the computer analysis himself and discovered that whatever was done before was, well, way off.
No one has ever explained what was done by the manufacturers to determine the paybacks of games in the early years. It would appear somehow no one realized video poker was no different than blackjack – just a bit more complex.
There is only one way to play each hand correctly. In blackjack there are usually two – Hit or Stick. In video poker, there are theoretically 32 different ways to play each hand. Once you are dealt 5 cards, you can discard none of them, all five or anything in between. In total there are 32 different combinations of cards you could hold.
Based on the remaining 47 cards in the deck, there is a value that is assigned to each of these 32 ways. If you choose to hold the cards that were dealt, this value will be the payout of whatever hand you have.
So, if you were dealt a Straight and a Straight pays 4, then this value, which is called the Expected Value (or EV for short) will be 4.0. If you hold 4 cards to a Straight (5, 6, 7, 8) then there are 47 possible draws. Eight of these will wind up as a Straight. We sum up the payouts (8 times 4 = 32) divide by the possible draws (47) and we get 0.68.
This process is completed for each of the 32 possible ways a player can play a hand. Whichever of these ways has the highest Expected Value is the proper way. While it may be called video “poker,” you are not playing against any other players. There is no one to bluff, no raising and no tells. Only one thing matters – probability.
In blackjack, you can card count. The game is played with a shoe, and while the cards are being dealt there is a certain “ebb and flow” of the cards. It is not so much a hot or cold streak as it is that what is left of the shoe changes the probability of certain cards and/or hands from occurring.
Players who learn how to count can take advantage of this. Video poker uses a single deck and shuffles between every deal. At any point, any card not yet dealt has the same probability of being dealt as any other card.
Given this, we can calculate with absolute precision the probability of being dealt any hand from any point in the game. Thus, the strategy does not change from hand to hand (as it might in blackjack by counting). It is a constant and what should be essentially the only driving force in the game.
With his work completed, Dad discovered no one knew how to play video poker. Because the box the game was housed in was similar to that used by slots, everyone just assumed it worked like a slot machine.
Ironically, in those early days, video poker used monitors and computer chips. Slot machines used mechanical parts and potentially some computer components to drive its own type of randomness.
It took my father a long time to convince people video poker is not slots. That crusade, now carried on by me, is in its third decade.
Next week, I’ll explain more how you use expected values and strategy tables to become an Expert Player at video poker.

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Poker Run to benefit police and military related orgs

The Dave Austin Memorial Poker Run will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27, beginning and ending at the Boulevard Brew Fest located at the MGM Resort Festival Village.
This year, 100% of the event’s proceeds are being donated to local law enforcement and military related organizations such as Henry’s Place Foundation, formed in 2006 to honor Las Vegas Metro Sergeant Henry Prendes who gave his life protecting his hometown community, the Injured Police Officers Fund on behalf of fallen Metro officers Soldo and Beck, and the U.S. Air Force’s, That Others May Live Foundation.
The entry fee is $30 per driver and $30 per passenger. Each entry includes a Poker Run commemorative t-shirt, ride pin and an individual meal during the event. The first 200 registrants also receive a complimentary ticket to the Boulevard Brew Fest, which features more than 50 Oregon brews and live music from Kings of Leon, Young The Giant and more.
Over the years, family, friends and bike enthusiasts have gathered to celebrate the life and passions of Austin, a well-known security executive with the Las Vegas Hilton and MGM Grand Resort & Casino.
The route is approximately two hours and the last bike is expected back by 3 p.m. Prizes will be awarded to “Best Hand” and “Worst Hand” and a raffle will be held for a variety of items totaling more than $25,000. To register now or for more information, call 702-499-2488 or visit austinride.org.
Station Casinos: Texas Station has dealt its last hand and closed its doors on poker. Sunset Station closed its poker room a few months back. Five Station Casinos remain offering live poker: Boulder, Green Valley Ranch, Palace Station, Red Rock and Santa Fe Station.
ME vs. U: Episode 10 of the new competitive online reality show launched by Ultimate Poker (www.UltimatePoker.com) can be viewed at GamingToday.com on the Casino Games page. Each episode, Ultimate poker pros Dan O’Brien and Danielle Andersen face off in a head to head competition. The winner gets the glory while the loser gets humiliated. New episodes will continue to debut every other Thursday.
Good luck, and may the “nuts” be with you!

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Ronaldo, Nadal to face off in poker event

They are outstanding leaders in their individual sports but they want to show the world they also excel at poker. Featured in what has been dubbed “The Duel” are Ronaldo, the Brazilian soccer star, and Rafael Nadal, the 14-time tennis Grand Slam winner.
“The Duel” will be held in London on Nov. 6 and will be broadcast live.
The two sports stars first clashed at the poker table last December in the European Poker tour Prague Charity Challenge, which raised about $175,000 for charity. On that occasion, Nadal, helped by world poker star Daniel Negreanu, won the tournament.
Ronaldo, who is hoping to take top honors this time, said, “I challenged Rafa to a rematch after finding out he was preparing for another live poker game. The last time we played together Rafael won the match and it was a lot of fun. This time it will be different, though, because I have been improving on my own poker strategy and will be more prepared.”

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Specializing in one poker game will make you a winner

Look at every major profession. Each of the top “players” has his specialty. Take, for example, the medical profession.
There are specialists in every aspect of medicine, ranging from cardiac surgery to repairing broken bones. Yes, there are general practitioners in the medical profession; they too are specialists in a sense. They serve to steer the patients to the appropriate specialist.
There is a good reason for this arrangement: It has been found to be ideal for all concerned. The same is true in other professions.
If you divide your time and learning experiences among several different – albeit somewhat related – specialties, you may become competent at one or more of these, but never as skilled as you would be if you focused all of your attention on just one.
Be the best you can – and the rewards will follow.
Specializing permits us to do that.
What about Poker?
Even some of the top players compete in a variety of poker games. There are even tournaments where the players compete in several different games of poker. Indeed, many years ago, in my first poker book (“The Greatest Book of Poker for WINNERS!”), we encouraged players to select one game and strive to become the best (most skilled) they could can at that game.
Most – but not all, I must admit – of my students do follow this advice. They play the alternate poker games for such low stakes it is really just a form of recreation and social interaction.
As for myself, I will always specialize in one poker game because “winning is great fun, and the more I win, the more fun it is.” (I quote my dear departed wife, who was a winner.)
Varieties of Poker
You may be surprised to see the following list of different poker games, and there are variations within each. In addition, tournament play is quite different from cash games, and the stakes make a big difference.
A no-limit game involves significant differences from a low-limit game of the same type. There are different strategies, tactics, thinking, and playing issues – different skills.
• Texas Hold’em; Omaha; Omaha Hi-Lo (8 or Better); 7 card Stud; 7 card Stud Hi-Lo; Cold Omaha; Razz; 5 card Draw; Badugi.
• 2 to 7 Triple Draw Poker; A to 5 Triple Draw; Crazy Pineapple; Chinese Poker; Mexican Poker; Heads Up Poker; Crazy Pineapple, Eight or Better.
• Double Flop Hold’em; Royal Hold’em; HORSE Poker (involves five different games played in sequence); HOE Poker; HO Poker; OE Poker; Strip Poker.
There are so many different varieties of the basic game of poker, it’s almost hard to imagine. But, relatively few of these are played in casinos – only the most popular. (Often, the casino will set up a table for a game if enough players request it.)
Each variety of poker, no matter what it is called, has its own unique rules. Often the term “poker” is only associated with its current most popular variety, Texas Hold’em. It is important to note there are over 100 different game variations. As for the rules, some are quite similar; some, on the other hand, are nothing alike.
Case for Specializing
Getting acquainted with new games of poker can be fun when it’s done at the home-games level – more of a social occasion. But, if you are playing to win – no matter the stakes – it pays to be the most skilled you can be.
Our brains do have somewhat limited capacity. Make the best use of it by focusing your attention – reading, discussions, thinking, playing – on the one game you prefer (assuming it is available in your local casino).
Just as the career professional has learned it is best to specialize, follow suit. Learn from success.

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32 ways to play a hand of poker

In last week’s column, I explained a bit about the 32 different ways a video poker hand can be played. This accounts for all the different ways a player can discard 0 to 5 cards from a five card deal.
Each of these 32 ways is assigned an expected value by looking at every possible draw for that discard combination. Whichever of these 32 has the highest expected value is the right way to play the hand.
Now, if there was an app on your smartphone where you could plug in the five cards dealt to you – and assuming the casinos would actually allow the use of such an app – this is essentially what the app would do. It would look at your specific cards, calculate the expected value for each of the 32 and spit out the one that has the highest expected value. You would then discard the cards the app tells you to.
Maybe somebody has built this app, but as I said, you wouldn’t be able to use it in the casino. You obviously can’t calculate the expected value of each of the 32 ways in your head. So, what are you going to do to learn to play video poker the right way? That’s where a strategy table comes into play.
A strategy table lists all the playable hands in expected value order. So, way up at the top we have a Royal Flush with an expected value of 800. Not much decision making going on here. Just remember to hit all 5 “Hold” buttons! At the bottom we have the dreaded Razgu, which means discard all 5 cards. It doesn’t get any worse than this.
In between there are about 30 entries on our table. The exact number and definition of the entry is dependent on the type of video poker game you are playing (Jacks or Better, Double Bonus, Joker’s Wild, etc.) and the pay table. Changes in the pay table may have minor or large impacts to our strategy table. But more on this in a coming week.
The strategy table is important because this becomes our guide. Since the hands are listed in expected value order, from high to low, the goal is to play the hand you are dealt in the way that corresponds to the highest entry on the strategy table applicable to the hand.
This is easier than it sounds. Of the 32 ways you can play a hand, the human brain can quickly discard 28-31 of them. Rarely are there more than three ways that hand can realistically be played. You’re not going to discard a Three of a Kind to go for a 3-Card Flush!
So, you need to look at your 5-card hand and quickly decide the small subset of playable hands. Then you review the strategy table. Some casinos may allow you to bring in a printed strategy table. But, you’re best off memorizing one. It is much easier to do this than it sounds. Of the 32 entries, most are fairly obvious. You do not need to memorize the expected value of each hand. You only need to memorize the order of the hands.
You compare the possible ways your dealt hand can be played and compare it to the strategy table. You start at the top and work your way down. You stop when you hit a hand on the strategy table that exists within your 5-card dealt hand.
So, if as your scanning down the strategy table, you come to 4-Card Flush and your hand IS a 4-Card Flush, you can stop right there. If you keep going, you’ll see a Low Pair, which your hand may be as well. But this is meaningless as you play the hand that occurs first on the table as it will have the higher expected value.
In order to speed this up, it will be helpful if you study the strategy table and become familiar with the hands that occur frequently and the ones that are playable vs. not playable. You don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking a 3-Card Flush or 3-Card Straight is playable. But, 3-Card Straight Flushes are most definitely playable and probably the most overlooked hand that is dealt fairly often.
There are a variety of different software packages and/or apps you can use to practice the strategy. I strongly advise you to practice with no money until you have mastered the strategy. You’ll find this will be a lot easier on your bankroll.

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What is the best way to play a big pair pre-flop?

Playing Texas Hold’em, from a middle position, you are dealt a pair of Queens. That’s regarded as a made hand; it could win without further improvement. You raise preflop to reduce the size of the playing field, and are called by three opponents.
Great, so far!
Now the flop. Aw shucks! An overcard falls – a King. How good is your hand now? If an opponent has connected with a bigger pair, you have only two outs to improve your hand. So what is the best way to play a big pair in the hole before the flop?
A Typical Example
Let’s look at a slightly different situation: In a $4-$8 limit game at a full table of nine players, you are in a middle position, and have been dealt J-J; that’s a premium drawing hand. If no overcard falls on the board, your pocket Jacks could hold up to the showdown; but, quite often, it must improve to take the pot (more so, of course, with smaller pocket pairs).
What’s the chance an opponent has been dealt a higher pair? With J-J in the hole, the odds are about 8-to-1 in your favor that none of your eight opponents has a higher pair. Most likely you hold the best hand preflop. This often is confirmed when no opponent raises preflop. (Discount a raise by a “maniac” who could raise with almost anything!) You are certain your pocket Jacks is the best hand so far.
Preflop, you properly decide to raise, hoping to force out any players behind you who hold A-rag, K-rag, or Q-rag, thereby protecting your J-J, and gaining a better chance to win the pot if an Ace, King, or Queen should fall on the board.
On the flop, there are three overcards possible that represent a serious threat to your J-J. Suppose an Ace flops. With eight opponents, the odds are at least one of them has an Ace in the hole. Likewise for a King or a Queen. According to Tom Green’s “Texas Hold’em Poker Textbook” (visit: www.PokerTextbook.Info), with eight opponents, the probability one has another Ace in the hole is 79.6%.
Odds are 4-to-1 in favor. And, of course, the same applies if a King or a Queen falls on the flop. So, if an overcard to your J-J falls on the flop, you are likely to be in trouble. So now what? It depends.
Caution
If an opponent has caught an overpair, you have become a big underdog, with only two outs. In making your decision, it is important to know your opponents; what kind of player is each? How does he play his hands? Any betting patterns?
If a tight player, especially in an early position, comes out betting, you would be wise to fold – rather than chase him all the way to the river. (Chasing is expensive!) His overpair (assumed) has you beat!
If the bettor is deceptive (“tricky”), a call is appropriate; he may not have the overpair he is representing. In fact, if no one else has called, consider raising him. That could serve to isolate him should everyone else fold. On the other hand, if there’s a bet and raise before you, a fold likely would be the smart move. Even if the “tricky” player is bluffing, the raiser most likely “has the goods.”
Bottom Line
Starting with a middle pair, like J-J, in the hole, raise preflop to encourage opponents with higher cards to fold. Then pray for no overcards on the flop. Be extra cautious if there is an overcard to your pocket pair. Consider the type of player who is betting/raising and the pot odds; then decide whether to fold or call.

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The Venetian’s progressive poker jackpot exceeds $500k

The Venetian and The Palazzo recently rolled out a multi-game linked progressive jackpot that as of Sept. 15 had exceeded $500,000.
The three brand games included in the progressive are Caribbean Stud Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, and Three Card Poker, and it is found at both casinos.
When playing any of these three table games, players can make an optional $5 side bet to be eligible for the progressive payout, of which a portion or all of the jackpot will be paid out when a player receives a straight flush or higher. Any player who is dealt a royal flush will win 100% of the linked progressive jackpot.
“Incorporating this linked progressive jackpot to our poker-variant table games gives players the ability to win a large sum of money while playing their favorite games,” said Sean McCreery, senior vice president of casino operations at both casinos. “By linking the games, the jackpot increases faster and gives players the chance to win whether they’re playing at The Venetian or The Palazzo.”
The progressive jackpots are based on a five-card poker hand; the odds of winning the entire progressive jackpot with a Royal Flush are the same across all three games. Progressive amounts continually fluctuate based upon play and jackpot payouts.
New York
Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, continues to distinguish itself as a premier destination for poker. With celebrity players, quarter million dollar jackpots, frequent tournaments with $125,000 payouts, high stakes and low buy-in tables, the casino has the hottest poker room in the state.
If offers a bad beat jackpot, which is awarded to the player with a hand that typically should have won, but lost to an unlikely stronger hand. The current jackpot is more than $215,000. The casino has paid more than $385,000 in bad beat jackpots within the past year.
Good luck, and may the “nuts” be with you!

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Real Gaming teams up with 7-Eleven to make life easier

Real Gaming Now Accepts Deposits From Any 7-Eleven Store Making Online Poker Play More Accessible Than Ever. Players Can Deposit at Hundreds of Locations Throughout Nevada with PayNearMe Technology
Real Gaming has increased player convenience once again by becoming the first online poker site in Nevada to offer the option of depositing funds at any 7-Eleven store in Nevada through the PayNearMe cash transaction network. In addition to the more than 200 7-Eleven stores statewide, players can also deposit at any Family Dollar store. To make a deposit on-site at any of these locations, the process is easy and only requires customers to print or download to a mobile device a payment barcode from RealGaming.com. Once a player scans the barcode at the store and makes their deposit, the funds are immediately credited to the player’s Real Gaming account.
The addition of this deposit method, coupled with first-of-its-kind technology allowing for play on any device, anytime, anywhere in Nevada, enhances Real Gaming’s user friendly platform to all consumers. Real Gaming is the first and only online poker site in the country to allow for play on any mobile device, including mobile phones and tablets with iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and even Linux operating systems.
Real Gaming is backed by a partnership with South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa legend Michael Gaughan, so players can feel safe and secure with the United States-based platform, which combines the very best Las Vegas casino practices with the latest technologies. Real Gaming also offers live, local support based in Las Vegas to its players to deliver the best customer service in the industry.
In addition to mobile play, Real Gaming offers interactive play on desktop computers without the need to download an application or plug-in. Players have the ability to deposit funds by ACH check, wire transfer, by mail, by depositing cash at the South Point Casino’s cashier, and now on-site at any 7-Eleven or Family Dollar store in Nevada. Players must be in the State of Nevada to play online poker. To learn more visit www.RealGaming.com or connect with Real Gaming on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Get excercise while you play poker

The Mayo Clinic has identified seven benefits from regular physical activity, including controlling your weight; preventing high blood pressure and other medical problems; improving your mood and how you feel about yourself; having more energy during daily tasks; sleeping better (without taking any medication); and it can be fun.
You may even live longer, it suggests.
Seated at the poker table, you are bound to get plenty of mental exercise. That’s great, but where is the physical exercise for our bodies? Hours on end at the table – as the hours roll on. Lots of decisions to make. Should I stay in with these hole cards?
Hand after hand, analyzing and recalling your opponents’ playing traits. Based on my read of their hands, and my position, should I raise or reraise? You can almost feel the “screws turning” as you mentally figure the pot odds vs. your card odds; do I have a Positive Expectation?
So much to think about. Exercise for the mind! Meanwhile, you sit there in your seat at the table and barely move a muscle. Need to go to the restroom; not much exercise there. So, what’s the solution?
One answer is to make it your business to plan some time each day or two for a workout. Try to work it into your busy schedule. (That, in itself, could be a mental challenge.) Go for a jog near your home every morning. A brisk walk will do. Join a gym. Go with a buddy to help you keep your resolve. That may work for some.
But I have a suggestion that will absolutely help you get your exercise even while playing poker in your favorite casino. Now you can’t beat that, can you? Besides, wouldn’t you rather spend your spare time playing poker than driving to the gym? Avoid the pitfalls of driving through the traffic gridlock and then trying to find a parking space. And, you won’t have to work up a sweat.
At the poker table: It’s called isometrics. It’s a system of exercises that involve the straining by stretching or contracting of muscles without significant body movements. One muscle or part of the body is pitted against another or against an immovable surface in a strong but practically motionless pressing, pulling, pushing, stretching, bending, or contraction.
An example: Grab the bottom of your poker chair while seated, and pull upward. You can do the same by grabbing the railing of your table; and, at the same time, press your feet against the floor, and pull/push.
Kegel exercises are less familiar to most people. They are simple clench-and-release exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor – a series of muscles between your hips that holds your reproductive organs in place.
Suffer from arthritis in some of your joints? An occupational therapist recommended this simple exercise when the arthritis suddenly acts up in one of my finger joints: Use my other hand to press the arthritic finger against the palm; release it, and then press it to form a tight fist.
As we age, it is common to develop aches and pains. Similar exercises while seated at the poker table can help to relieve the pain. You may even devise some isometric exercises for your own use and benefit.
If you are sitting out most of the hands dealt – as you should if you are skilled – you have plenty of time while observing your opponents to learn more about their playing traits and tactics. And, you won’t be disturbing others at the table.
Caution: If you feel pain or significant discomfort, stop doing that exercise. Taking a brisk walk outside of the casino every hour or two is not only good exercise but it can also help you be a bigger winner.
As you walk, suck in the fresh air, and think about your opponents and the game: How should I best play against each? Should I change seats? Am I making any mistakes?

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No one has friends at the poker table

There are many ways playing poker is different than playing gambling games like slots and roulette. One way is you are competing against live people.
Just like you, they seek to go home winners; but few achieve that goal. It has been estimated 80-90 percent of the players are losers. An occasional win keeps them coming back for more.
Playing poker, you are matching your skills against those of the opposition. They may act friendly and be all smiles, but they are your opponents – the enemy – and have a hankering for your chips. You can almost feel it as they size up your stacks. They may seem friendly and engage you in pleasant talk, but, make no mistake, they are your foes at the poker table.
PokerPigeons
Fortunately for you, the majority are PokerPigeons. The term was coined by a dear, departed friend. Dr. Phil T. was a highly successful medical doctor who owned a large medical treatment facility and several healthcare facilities. It was he who taught my wife and me how to play winning poker.
For the most part, he emphasized starting-hand selection. That’s the biggest mistake PokerPigeons make. Were it not for them, we could not expect to go home winners most of the time.
Most are recreational players. Unlike pros, they do not play to earn a living, so they usually can afford to lose. And most of them will lose. One of the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group asked me a logical question: How can you tell who are the PokerPigeons at your table?
Good question. My response was straight to the point. Just look to see who are the players who consistently pay to see the flop more than one out of four hands dealt, especially from an early position. I don’t think it’s any secret. According to the Hold’em Algorithm, the vast majority of hole cards dealt to you are not worth your investment. Save your money. Muck your hand; then sit and watch the game as it is played out.
At the showdown
Here is an opportunity to get valuable information. At the end of the hand, even if you are just an observer, try to see the hand each player started with. If nothing else, it will confirm your assessment of each opponent.
The Table
We love to have lots of PokerPigeons at our table. They provide the money to make the game profitable as well as enjoyable for the rest of us. We call the winners PokerSharks. Fortunately, there are relatively few at most poker tables.
Indeed, if there are three or more PokerSharks at your table, you may want to change tables. It is hard to win against the PokerSharks. Why try? If you prefer, you can always take a break from the table. Sometimes, as players come and go, the character of the table will change during that time. Incidentally, that’s one reason I prefer cash games over tournaments.
Sometimes they win
Of course, there will be occasions when the Pigeon has a great starting hand; and then, too, he is entitled to his share of good luck. If you happen to lose a hand to him, just grin and bear it. “Nice hand,” you smile to him – while deep down you think, “Darn it!”
But, remember, in the long run, you are the PokerShark and will add his chips to your stacks. Besides, if he never wins, he may decide to quit the game. Let’s keep him coming back for more.

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