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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Should I use a different strategy in a video poker tournament?

25 September 2013

Love your stuff... don't ever stop!

I travel to Las Vegas 4-5 times per year, normally to participate in Double Double Bonus (DDB) Video Poker tournaments. These are on an invitational basis, with no entry fee, and have nice prizes, starting with $25K first prize and going down to $100. It's pretty hard NOT to win at least $100.

My problem is that I NEVER seem to do well. I consider myself an expert DDB player, having spent many hours on a tutorial computer program as well as having read a few books on the subject.

I wonder, is there a better strategy for these situations? Recently, I stood behind a player that ONLY tried for Royal Flushes or four Aces. For example, if he was dealt four clubs, he'd break them up or if he had two pair, he'd discard them. Funny thing....at the end of the session, he scored more than I usually do. Hmm-m-m-m.

Do you have any advice for me?

Jack

Dear Jack,

Thanks for the kind words about my column.

There is definitely a different strategy to use in video poker tournaments. A typical video poker strategy is designed to give you the highest expected value in the long run. There is no long run in a tournament. The run is only as long as the tournament lasts.

In the tournament, your expert strategy is actually doing you a disservice. You won't play anywhere near enough hands for the long run to apply. Instead of playing to maximize expected value, you have to play to maximize winnings.

Here is some general advice, some contradictory, for playing in video poker tournaments from my and other players' experiences:

  • Play as fast as you can. Some tournaments are hand-limited in addition to being time-limited. Ensure you play fast enough to get in the maximum number of hands you're allowed to play.
  • Don't spend too much time analyzing each hand. If you don't see the right combination of cards to hold right away, they're probably not likely to lead to a winning hand (e.g., a double inside straight flush). You're better off getting another hand.
  • Go with the first thing you see. You play enough that paying hands probably jump out at you.
  • Go for the royal flush. Break up paying hands to go for it. If you get one, you're almost guaranteed to win the tournament.
  • Don't just go for the royal flush. Don't break up a paying hand just for a chance at the royal. Your goal is to maximize your score in the tournament. If you just concentrate on the royal, you'll have very few tournaments with high scores and many, many more tournaments with very low scores. It's better to do well in many tournaments than to win one and finish in a low position in many.
  • Don't break up a paying hand. The expert strategy may say to break up a paying hand in favor of a shot at a better hand, but there is no long run in a tournament. Take the money and run.
  • Hold a paying hand. Otherwise, go for the royal.
  • Hold the combination of cards most likely to lead to a paying hand, which is not necessarily the combination with the highest expected value.
  • The only thing that matters is your score at the end of the tournament. There is no long run. Time starts and ends with your session in the tournament.
  • No matter what strategy you use, winning is still 90 percent (95 percent, 99 percent -- pick your percentage) luck.

There aren't that many video poker tournaments -- at least not as compared with the number of slot tournaments and not in the casinos I frequent or have frequented -- so I think I can count on one hand the number of video poker tournaments I've played in. The strategy I used was: play as quickly as possible; keep dealt paying hands; keep the first combination I see; and draw five new cards I don't see anything worth holding right away.

Here's hoping you win your next tournament,
John


John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots