Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: The Video Poker Edge by Linda Boyd - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my review of The Video Poker Edge by Linda Boyd.

The Video Poker Edge excels at bootstrapping the beginning video poker player from the ground up. If you are a complete beginner, this book will teach you everything you know to get better results than probably 90% of the casual players out there. There is also information that experienced players (like The Flusher) will find useful.

One of the things that drew me to this book was the fact that the strategy is simplified, and presented in a different way. There are certainly many books on video poker out there, and many of them are very good. And there are even strategy card products that you can buy that will present near-perfect strategies to wring every last micro-sub-thousandth of a percent of EV out of your game. But these strategies often suffer from three problems. One, the wording (Jimmy Poon told me to use the word 'nomenclature' here), anyway, the wording is arcane and difficult to decipher, two, there are too many (some have 80 or more!) complex fiddly rules, and three, I can't fucking remember them in any case.

I was hoping that Linda's more verbal approach would suit me better. And, indeed, with her strong background in math, and consulting with some highly regarded industry professionals (excluding, sadly, me and Jimmy Poon), she cobbled together optimized, compact strategies for key VP games.

So let's look under the cover, as it were, at some of what Linda's book offers.

As mentioned, the book provides a good overview of video poker suitable for the complete beginner and includes chapters describing the game, what the physical characteristics of a VP machine are, and a description of what a strategy is, and why you need one.

The basics of how you find the right games by checking out the paytables, and saddle up to a machine in a casino are covered too. This can be tricky, because, as she says 'you will never find a machine marked "9/6 Jacks or Better"'. I beg to differ, but the point is generally true, except at the Four Queens.

Paytables are critical, and generally, non-savvy players will unknowningly play bad ones. Somewhat savvier vacation players like me will play them knowingly, for bad reasons. Like the fact that I like staying at Wynn so I can steal upscale condiments off the abandoned room-service trays in the softly carpeted hallways.

But the point is clearly made. Go from a 9/6 paytable to an 8/5 and you are losing 2.2% of your return. Put another way, on Jacks or Better, the casino hold goes up by over five times - from about a half a percent, to 2.7%. Another reason why I stay downtown in Vegas...

One casino tip that baffled me was the warning not to leave cash-out tickets on the windshield of the car. Yes, they are heat sensitive and would be ruined by the blazing desert sun of some climes... but who would do that? Maybe Norbert, the scofflaw ne'er-do-well that married the bosses daughter and ended up running the Royal Canadian Veeblefetzer plant, but not me.

A big area of general bafflement amongst video poker players is the technology that drives VP (and slot) machines. Most people really don't understand what a random number generator (RNG) is and Jimmy Poon tells me he's seen many lame, speculative explanations. He thought Linda did this topic justice, giving a pretty good explanation of how the machines pick the results of each hand (or spin).

"It could be a little clearer by pointing out that and RNG is really a combination of two things - an algorithm expressed in terms of a program and some data, and the hardware needed to execute the programming," says Jimmy.

When Jimmy talks this kind of computer smack, I usually break out the whoopie cushion. Lighten up, Jimmy Poon, lighten up!

Once the basics are laid down, Video Poker Edge gets into descriptions of the key (and best widely available games), and their strategies:
  • Jacks or Better
  • Bonus (sic) Deluxe (You know I call it Boner Deluxe, but that is because I have the puerile mind of a 7 year old)
  • Bonus Poker
  • Double Bonus
  • Double Double Bonus
  • Deuces Wild
  • Not so Ugly Ducks (a particular Deuces Wild paytable)
  • Pick 'Em (not so available anymore)

I wish Linda had underscored the point that you should play max coins. There's just no reason not to if you are in any way serious about not pissing away your money needlessly, in my view.

Getting into more advanced topics, there are discussions of Expected Return, and cool things like what the effect of a progressive Royal Flush jackpot has on the overall return of a game. I'm going to put this to use when I look at the Royal progressive amount of the 50 cent Bonus Poker game at The Cal next week.

Next up, the strategies themselves, and practicing with same, in Part 3 of my review.

If you want to go backwards, here's Part 1.

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