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Ask the Slot Expert: The worst video poker instruction tape14 September 2016
You may have seen the recent announcement that the last company making VHS videocassette recorders discontinued making the units. I discovered the limited availability of new VHS VCRs last year when I needed to buy a new deck for converting old tapes to digital files.
I recently started converting some of my gambling tapes and I discovered — re-discovered, actually — the worst video poker instruction tape. It's called Win More at Video Poker and, being about 20 years old, is no longer available. The presenter is Jimmy "The Scot" Jordan. This tape and another about slots featuring Mr. Jordan were produced and sold by Casino Journal Publishing Group, which at the time published Casino Player magazine. The editors at Casino Player fact-checked the statements made in the print magazine, so I'm shocked that the group didn't do even minimal fact-checking on the statements made by the presenter.
Jordan starts with misinformation about the way video poker machines choose the cards that will be used in a hand and then goes on to misplay seven of his 20 example hands. He never seems to have heard of the random number generator function or using expected value to choose which cards to hold, despite the fact that Video Poker Mania by Dwight Crevelt and, I'm pretty sure, Winning Strategies for Video Poker by Lenny Frome were both in print when the tape was made.
Instead of using an RNG function, the presenter claims that a video poker machine has a chip with 150,000 "zits" on it. Each one of these zits represents a set of 10 cards. There is a laser flashlight that is constantly "wigglin'-and-a-squigglin'" over the chip. When you start a hand, the zit that the laser is pointing to determines the 10 cards that will be used for this hand.
One of the main advantages of an electronic gaming device over a mechanical or electro-mechanical device is the elimination of moving parts that can break down. Why would a video poker manufacturer make a game with a constantly moving laser when it is completely unnecessary? The cards can be chosen using software in the machine.
Now, Jordan did say that he thinks this is the best way to describe what is happening. He may not mean that this is literally how the machine chooses the cards, but he never says that the machines don't actually work this way. And he repeats the same description on his tape on slot machines.
Why 150,000 zits? Because there are four royal flushes and your chances of hitting a royal are about 40,000 to 1. Four times 40,000 equals — never mind.
Jordan says that "some kid in California" assigns the cards to the zits. He may make one chip favor straights over full houses or quad threes over quad fours. Some chips may even have long-term paybacks over 100% and the casino may rotate the chips among the video poker machines so players occasionally have to go on a treasure hunt to find the machines with the good chips.
Jordan has apparently never heard of the Nevada regulation that all video poker machines manufactured or operated in Nevada must deal the cards from a fair deck and the chances of hitting any particular hand must be the same as if you dealt the cards at your kitchen table.
I will forgive him for saying that the machines choose 10 cards at the start of a hand and that five cards are displayed and that one of the other five cards is placed behind each of the displayed cards, a procedure known as a parallel deal. Early video poker machines did work this way. Over 10 years ago, however, video poker machines were changed to choose only five cards on the deal, continue shuffling the remaining cards, and choose cards to replace the discards when the Draw button is pressed.
Next, Jordan puts some money in a 9/6 Jacks machine and plays — misplays — some hands. You can discount any video poker instruction program that depends solely on playing live hands for examples. It's impossible to do a coherent and complete discussion of the strategy for a pay table when you depend on randomly generated hands. Many situations will not occur. At one point he even says that he's hoping to get some interesting hands. Why not just choose the hands that you want to discuss? That's the way I've always conducted my video poker seminars.
The second hand he's dealt is 10h-10c-8d-Qs-Ah. The two obvious choices are the low pair and two-card royal. The better play, by far, is holding the low pair. One never holds a suited A-10 in 9/6 Jacks. Jordan says that he "goes for the royal all the time" and holds the A-10.
The fourth hand is Kd-7s-3c-9s-Js. The odds are too high for the double-inside straight flush, he says, and you can't get a royal flush, straight flush or flush if you hold the two high cards. His choice is the jack, because it leads to more straights than the king. That's true, but the correct play is to go for the straight flush.
The next hand is 8s-9d-5s-6s-Jc. He holds the inside straight. There's only one inside straight you hold in 9/6 Jacks (9-J-Q-K) and this ain't it. The correct play is to hold the inside straight flush, 5s-6s-8s.
The next hand is Ks-2c-Ac-8c-4d. He doesn't like holding two high cards, which is the correct play for this hand, so he holds only the king.
The next hand is 9s-Kd-4s-6h-Js. He usually holds the lower of two unsuited high cards, but this time he's also discarding two spades that could be used in a flush with the jack. He holds the king for that reason and because he thinks "Kings have been running on this machine," as if the kid in California put more kings in the zits. The correct play is to hold the two high cards.
A few hands later he gets 4s-Jh-9s-6s-Ad. He holds the jack only instead of both that jack and the ace.
Three hands later he gets Jd-Kc-4d-9s-10d. He says, "Use common sense." He holds the J-10 two-card royal. I use mathematics, which tells me that the play with the highest expected value — the one that will win more money in the long run — is to hold the two high cards.
One final piece of bad advice he gives in passing is that he would throw away a pair of jacks in order to go for a four-card flush — a four-card straight flush or royal flush yes, but not for just a flush.
For sound video poker advice, look for books, programs and strategy cards from Frank Scoblete, John Grochowski, Bob Dancer and Dan Paymar.
Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert™, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't reply to every question.
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