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Best of John Grochowski

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Video poker: Luck or skill?

12 May 2009

The debate has long raged between a couple of video poker regulars.

"Video poker is a game of skill," says one. "If I play enough, and play well enough, the percentages are going to hold up, and I'm going to make money at the game."

Not so fast, says the other.

"This is still gambling, and at gambling there are no guarantees. A bad streak of luck, and there goes your profit."

Answers the first, "There will be bad streaks. But there also will be hot streaks when I win more than expected. In the long run, that will balance out and the percentages will hold up."

And so on, back to square one, with neither budging.

Video poker aficionados know that there are certain games in which a skilled player can gain a mathematical edge over the casino.

Making money at video poker requires knowledge, skill and bankroll. Knowledge starts with recognizing a game with profit potential. If Double Bonus Poker with its full 10/7/5 pay table, meaning full houses pay 10-for-1, flushes 7-for-1 and straights 5-for-1, you know you have a game that returns 100.17% with expert play. But if any of those payoffs is reduced, the game drops below 100%.

You also have to have the skill to make the best mathematical plays on every hand. That's harder than it sounds. Dealt jack of hearts, 3 of spades, 7 of hearts, queen of clubs, 9 of hearts in 10/7/5 Double Bonus Poker, what would you do? If you didn't answer "Hold the jack, 9 and 7," you're not ready to play at expert level. And there are dozens of such plays in any video poker game.

Bankroll? Well, you'd better have enough to withstand the inevitable losing streaks.

But let's say we have a player who has it all together. Is that player guaranteed to make money?

No, there are no guarantees. Chance does still play a big role.

Let's take full-pay Double Bonus Poker as an example. With expert play in that game, royal flushes occur an average of once per 48,084 hands, and account for 1.67% of our overall return. In a session in which you don't get a royal, you're not playing a 100.17% game; you're playing a 98.5% game. Even at expert level, you're a contributor to the casino cause in that session.

Does that mean that once you've played 48,084 hands, you're certain to have a royal flush? No, of course not. Sometimes you'll have two royals, or three in that time. Sometimes you'll have none. If it's none, your bankroll will take a hit.

In the super long run, the long royal-less stretch fades away into statistical insignificance. There are likely to be runs with multiple royals to go with the droughts, and the overall results will hover somewhere close to the expected percentage.

Does that guarantee profits for our expert? Not quite. In any realistic number of hands for one player at Double Bonus Poker, the majority of those playing at expert level will hover around 100.17%, some will win a bit more, some will win a bit less, and a some will drop below the 100% level.

Skill matters, and the skilled player sticking to the best games is likely to make money, given enough play. But guaranteed? No way. This is still gambling.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski