Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Book Review: The Video Poker Edge by Linda Boyd - Part 3

Why do you need a video poker strategy and what is one? Well, a strategy is a set of directives that determine how you should play the hands you are dealt in VP.

You could certainly opt for the 'whack-a-mole' strategy, in which you would randomly bash at any of the hold buttons that catch your eye or flicker. You could certainly opt for the 'always hold everything' strategy. Or you could opt for the 'pretty colors!' strategy in which you hold only visually appealing cards. Unfortunately, any of these would likely lead you to become broke incredibly fast.

What VP beginners may not understand off the bat is the concept of playing for the longer run, not just for the current hand.

Each VP game has a statistically calculated average return with perfect play over the long run. For 9/6 Jacks or Better, this is 99.54%, roughly. So if you play for a very long time, your return will be very close to 99.54%, again, assuming perfect play.

Over the short term, your results will vary from this. But the secret to video poker is to always choose the best hand based on what you are dealt. You do that, and you get the maximum possible return in the longer run.

Here's an example. Suppose you are playing Double Double Bonus which pays 800 credits for four Aces, and 2000 credits for four Aces with a 2,3 or 4 kicker. You are dealt A A A 3 10. You might opt to hold just the three Aces, hoping you'll catch the fourth in one of the two remaining spots, and maybe a kicker if you are lucky. You might opt to hold the three Aces and the three, hoping you'll catch the fourth Ace in the last spot, and win 2000 credits.

What do you do?

Holding the three Aces returns, on average 62.45 coins on a 5 coin bet. Holding the three Aces with the kicker returns, on average, 59.15 coins.

So if you got this same hand all day, every day, you would end up with more money holding the three Aces, and not the kicker.

The savvy video poker plays the percentages. You may only be faced with this hand a few times in some hours of play. But consider that as you play video poker over many days and weeks, this same hand is going to come up that many more times - enough times that choosing the higher percentage play over the lower percentage play is the smart move.

If your goal is to win and keep as much money as possible while playing VP, you want a strategy that will give you the best possible results over the longer term, for any hand that you may be dealt.

And this is where it gets very tricky for strategy makers. I would say a good goal for a strategy maker is to create a strategy that has a minimal number of rules, and returns pretty close to 100% of the expected value of a particular game. This is what Linda Boyd has done.

With my next Vegas trip coming up, after the searing admonishment of Jimmy Poon, I knew I had to do some woodshedding in order to up my game, and lower my losses.

One thing the Quad Queen and I have noticed over the last couple years... and avid readers of this blog will recall... I have a bitch of a time getting straights flush. I can only conclude that it is because I am erroneously throwing away straight flush opportunities. And same with quads. She gets more than I do, and maybe its because I miss pairs.

So I need to do a couple of things with my game. I need a better technique to mentally process the cards so that I perceive what is there and not miss important holds, and I need to know the strategy hands down dead balls cold.

Can I remember strategy perfectly for all games? Can I get it steeled into my head hands down dead balls cold? No I can not. And that's why I plan to use a reference for those times when I'm not 100% sure of the right hold.

Some weeks ago I started playing sessions of 400 hands at a time on Jacks, Bonus Poker, Boner Deluxe, and Double Double. (I also did some blackjack training but that's another blog post.)

I did two things. First, I used a different mental strategy to review my holds. I'd deal a hand, assess, and hold the right cards. Then I'd look at what I was throwing away and say them in my head. Sometimes my lips move when I'm doing this. Sometimes I rock back and forth. Sometimes I grunt out loud or shout the cards and suits at the top of my lungs.

But it works. When I do this, I don't miss pairs, and I found I was seeing some straight flush opportunities I might not have noticed.

And for the many close hands that I have trouble with in terms of remembering the strategy, I would consult the strategy card from the book.

Generally, I like the way the information in the strategy is presented. There is some info about the game itself including the full-pay paytables for both 1 coin and 5 coin payouts. THANK YOU for this, Linda. Sometimes you can't see one or the other when you are scouting games in the casino.

Basically, like most strategy cards, you scan down through the list of hands starting from the highest - a dealt Royal Flush - down through the lower hands, until you find the first rule that matches what you have. Some of the rules have a set of exceptions to scan through that hone the strategy even further. And, there is information on progressives built in to help you adjust a few key holds if there is a Royal progressive over a certain number of coins. Not useful for everyone but when you need it, you need it.

And I had success with this, correcting mistakes I probably would have made when I wasn't sure of the hold, by using the card.

I could practically feel the extra credits I'd win bulging in my pockets!

Sometimes I would read the strategy card, make the hold, and it would be wrong. This was most vexing and it came down to two reasons.

On rare occasion, I'd hit a hand where the strategy recommended is less than perfect, in the interest of presenting a strategy that is practical. In such instances the differences in EV between the two holds is usually so tiny as to be pretty much negligible.

The second reason I'd get the wrong hold after consulting the strategy card is that I'd have mis-interpreted it. Most times this is due to my addled brain but in some cases, its due to wording that I'm not used to, such as "Open-Ended Four Straight". I'd tend to call this '4 to a straight, no gaps'. When I had J, Q, K, A, I wasn't sure if it qualified. It has no gaps, but it ain't open ended on both ends, just on one. So this makes it functionally equivelent to a gut-shot straight draw.

The point of all this is that practice reading and understanding the strategy cards is recommended.

The strategy for Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, and Boner Deluxe is combined on one card, with no changes. I think it would have been good to add an exception for Boner Deluxe to keep four to a straight with one gap if you have nothing else to hold.

Using Linda's strategy cards and paying better attention mentally, I've had some sessions of 200 or 300 hands with no errors, and one or two across 400 hands. This is a few percent better than the benchmark I took before embarking on this self-improvement exercise.

I think it's going to add up in Vegas next week! How well will the cards work 'under fire'? That remains to be seen.

After using them for a while, I have another observation. I find in most cases, I am only consulting the information on one panel out of four on the cards - just the tricky straight, straight flush, high cards type draws that I constantly have trouble with. For someone with a decent amount of VP expertise, most of the information on the card is obvious and not needed.

So I would love a condensed version of the card that would put the tough stuff for two games on each side of one single card. If you left off the progressive adjustments, you could maybe put Jacks/Bonus/Boner on one side, and Double Double on the other and you'd have a very portable reference for four key games.

Chapters on money management and casino etiquette and safety round out this book. I would have liked to have seen a section on how to get rid of obnoxious players sitting next to you through devious and passive aggressive means, but maybe in the next edition this will be covered.

Linda says, "My goal in both developing the strategy cards and writing this book was to substantially increase the amount of play on your bankroll..." And this was exactly my goal in applying the book, and the strategies, to my future Vegas trips.

I believe that Linda's book succeeds at doing exactly what she set out to do. In the end, that means more money for me, and less for the casino. That makes me less of a degenerate and more of a savvy player.
The Video Poker Edge is available on Amazon.com.

During the next trip report I'll put the strategy cards to the real test and see how it goes when the dough is on the line.

You'll be able to read all about it in The Spirit of Savvy Trip Report.

If you want to go backwards, here's Part 1 and Part 2 of the review.

Want more from Linda? Check out her Youtube video, 10 Reasons Why Jacks or Better is the Best Video Poker Game to Play.

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