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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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The Slot Expert's Guide to Winning at Slots and Video Poker

1 April 2002

You can hear me give my slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer with Frank Scoblete, which is broadcast from Memphis on WMC 790AM Saturday morning from 10-12 CT.


This week I'll finish my tribute to St. Patrick's Day, when everyone hopes to have "the luck of the Irish," with my tips for making your own luck while playing video poker.

Play the highest-paying paytables you can find. It's true that it takes tens of thousands of hands for a few percentage point decrease in payback to have a greater effect on your winnings at video poker than randomness (the luck of the draw, if you will), but a couple of coins here and there do add up. On a Jacks or Better machine, it may not seem like much of a hit to drop from 9 coins for a full house and 6 for a flush to 8 and 5 respectively, but the long-term paybacks drop from 99.5% (a nearly breakeven game) to 97.2%. I remember playing at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas a few years ago. Caesars had a number of 9/6 Jacks machines sprinkled in among 8/5 Jacks machines. I saw people playing the 8/5 machines even though right next to them was a machine that would pay them a little bit more for full houses and flushes. Even if you don't learn a strategy and play by your intuition, you will still win more money playing the higher-paying machine.

Play with the best strategy you can learn. Speaking of intuition, the combination of cards that will win the most money in the long run is not always intuitively obvious and, unfortunately, experience is a very poor teacher in the sort of statistical decision-making that one uses to win the most money possible when playing video poker. As an example, the better play or most Jacks or Better machines is to ditch a dealt flush in favor of a 4-card royal. Because you have only a 1 in 47 chance of completing the royal and because this situation doesn't arise frequently, you'll most likely be left with the impression that every time you break a dealt flush in favor of a 4-card royal, you end up with nothing because that's what happens most of the time. Every once in a while (1 in 47 times on the average, to be more exact), you do draw the card you need for the royal and that happened to me once on a dollar progressive machine at Bellagio the day it opened.

Strategies can be as easy to use as the ones Frank gives in Victory at Video Poker and they can be full-page monsters that take into account the cards you're discarding in addition to the cards you're holding. Fortunately, even the simplest of strategies deliver most of the payback potential from a video poker machine, so you can start with a simple strategy and gradually work up to the more complicated ones if you desire.

The rest of the tips are the same as the ones I gave for slots. They apply equally as well to table games too.

Have a sufficient bankroll. Video poker machines tend to have higher hit frequencies than slot machines, so I'm comfortable with a smaller session bankroll for video poker. I like having enough for 50-60 hands. That's usually enough to keep me playing for a few hours, but I have to admit that there have been times when I've burned through that stake in the blink of an eye and have had to go up to the 100-hand bankroll I like to have for slots.

Cut your losses. Last week I mentioned that I was caught up in the tech stock euphoria a few years ago and that I could have cut my losses had I bailed out when the stocks started nosediving. Had I done that instead of riding the stocks down to penny-stock levels, I would have had more money available to invest in other stocks--or play video poker with.

Now, I admit that there is a big difference between the stock market and a video poker machine in that your chances of making money on any stock or fund is constantly changing while your chances of making money on a hand at video poker is always the same. And there is no mathematical justification for stopping after you've lost a certain amount money because the probabilities haven't changed. Still, there's a huge emotional justification for using a "stop loss" when you play and quitting while you're behind before you get even further behind. It feels better to leave a machine with some of your session stake still intact than to leave completely broke.

Use your players card. Any cashback, comps, gifts, rooms, shows, and other benefits you get from the players club go straight to your bottom line. Sometimes, the benefits are even enough to offset the house edge on high-paying video poker machines and you'll be playing with a positive long-term expectation.

I wish I could give you the secret for winning every time you play video poker, but I can't because there is no secret. If you follow these tips for making your own luck when playing video poker, however, you'll have a good chance at having more money in your pocket when you leave the casino.


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots by John Robison
Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski
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