It may look like a slot machine, feel like a slot machine, and have all the bells and whistles of a slot machine, but video poker plays vastly different than the slots. Much like Texas Hold’em, Omaha, or even blackjack, video poker is a game of skill and strategy.
“If a player puts in the time and effort, and gains access to mathematically accurate analyzing and training tools, they can become a skilled player,” assures Greg Heim, a mathematician who specializes in games of chance. “It’s all muscle memory after that.”
Seems simple enough. Study hard, crunch the numbers, perfect your strategy, and then continue the process over and over until it becomes second nature. Rinse and repeat, as they say. Do all of that, like Heim has for the better part of a quarter century, and you’re off to the races.
“Resources are far more obtainable and accessible today than they were at the beginning of my career,” he says.
When it comes to video poker, Heim speaks with authority. By his own estimate, he’s played some six-million hands since 1997, when he began his successful, decade-long gambling career. All but 500,000 of those hands were played in Atlantic City, about 177 kilometres from his home town of South Plainfield, New Jersey, a two-hour-plus drive south along the Garden State Parkway he’s made more times than he can remember.
“It is not enough to know the correct strategies to master video poker. You must do so with accuracy and a brisk level of repetition. A player hasn’t mastered video poker until they can play at least 600 hands per hour.”
Ten hands per minute? Talk about quick fingers. It’s certainly doable, though, especially considering Heim’s current hand-per-hour rate is somewhere between 900 and 1,000, depending on the game, and it was the same during his playing days (1997-2007) despite antiquated technology.
Tricks of the Trade?
A mathematician by trade, Heim treats gambling like an education, and he’s gained an invaluable wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise over the years. One thing he’s learned for sure, with drive, dedication and devotion, you can transform yourself into an advantage player.
“There is money to be won, but added value is going to come from comps and cash offers from the casino more often than it will from the machines themselves. Obtaining a small player edge or something close to a 100% return through any added equity requires thorough knowledge and use of the complimentary system, both legally and ethically, and that applies to any casino patron regardless of what they play and/or wager.”
Again, it takes hard work, practice and study to become a winner. Team Maple is here to help. With Heim’s assistance, we’ve compiled a list of video poker tips designed to raise your skill level, improve your game, and increase your odds of turning a profit:
1. Cash In on Comps
As we’ve already mentioned, this is where you’ll realize much of your added equity. You must maximize your monetary and non-monetary bonuses, like “comping”, or complimentary items you’d pay cash for otherwise. Do your homework, be realistic based on your level of play, and have an excellent working relationship with the casino and/or your host. Yes, friends can be instrumental in benefiting your bottom line. Those free dinners add up, after all.
2. Play the Money Machines
Professional gamblers, the successful ones anyway, have an uncanny ability to spot a winner. They see an edge, and they take it. It’s the same with video poker. Learn which machines have the best overall rate of return, and the strategy required for each, before even going to the casino if possible. Some machines, progressive jackpots for instance, will only have an attractive rate of return if the jackpot level is high enough. It’s really important to know and understand those minimum values.
3. Understand the Pay Tables
The main classifications of a video poker machine, games like “Jacks or better” or “Deuces Wild” for example, along with their respective pay tables, will determine the overall rate of return, or payback, the player can expect with perfect strategy. Once this is calculated, a program can then devise an optimal strategy based on every possible hand combination. Through the pay table, you’ll be able to determine the degree of difficulty of each strategy, and whether an opportunity will have a greater level of statistical variance. In other words, it can tell you how volatile the game is before you even sit down with your hard-earned money.
4. Manage Your Bankroll
Always remember your money is finite. When Heim’s wife Lisa was pregnant with their first of three children, right as he was starting out with video poker, she uttered some words of wisdom he’ll never forget.
“The machines don’t accept air as a form of payment,” she said, as if reminding her husband, they had a newborn on the way and to watch their bankroll closely. If she was more well-known, like say Doyle Brunson or Phil Hellmuth, perhaps we’d be hailing it as one of the world’s classic gambling quotes today.
Video poker in its essence is a volatile game, but some games have higher short or long-term fluctuations than others. This is referred to colloquially as “the drain”. Machines with a big percentage drain will require a larger session or long-term bankroll. Be aware of this and don’t overextend yourself. To play is one thing, to play optimally is quite another.
5. Push Your Edges
“Early in my gaming career,” recalls Heim, flashing back to his glory days. “I was able to spot a progressive video poker game which had a rate of return of 101.5% without any comps or cash back. It was a single line, five-coin $1.00 game, and it was above my bankroll. So, my wife and I made it a direct offer to partner with another colleague for a forty per cent stake. I hit the jackpot in less than an hour.”
Regardless of the result, Heim’s decision to offset the risk was correct and it paid off. Luck is often described as when opportunity meets preparation. Perhaps he was lucky, but he was certainly knowledgeable enough to put himself in a winning position. He spotted an edge and took it.
6. Always Bet the Maximum
Playing the maximum number of coins per line is crucial. If you’re playing a game with a five coin per line maximum wager, the jackpot hand (usually a royal flush) will be worth more per coin wagered when the maximum is bet. If one-to-four coins are wagered, a royal flush will pay 250 coins for each, but a five-coin wager will pay 800 coins for each on a royal flush.
Wagering the maximum number of coins per line optimizes the overall payback with a correct strategy.
“Short coining”, as Heim labels it, might lead to a more serious problem on a progressive jackpot, as a non-maximum coin wager could make you ineligible to win the jackpot. Even worse, your play will “feed the meter”, because a percentage is taken out of every dollar wagered to increase the jackpot.
7. Practice Makes Perfect
According to Heim, the differences between slot machines and video poker are like night and day. Again, video poker is a skill game. In slots, once a player chooses a machine and the number of coins to play, their role is basically over. The machine will randomly determine a result from there. With video poker, the machine selects a starting hand randomly, and lets the player decide which cards to keep, and the number of cards, if any, to discard. With that choice comes the ability to choose wisely.
The goal of gambling is to win money, and hopefully these tips will help pad your bankroll. If you practice, study and work hard, you’ll be more prepared inside the casino. And, the better equipped you are, the better your odds of making a trip to the cashier’s cage.