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Myths Surround Video Poker

21 April 2006

My favorite subject on almost any casino game is the myths and fallacies surrounding that particular game. Just like blackjack, video poker is not exempt from myths.

One of the most widespread myths is someone believing that another player "stole" his royal flush. For example, Player A has been faithfully playing perfect strategy at a positive expectation machine for hours; he is barely staying even or may even be ahead of the game a little, but the big jackpot still eludes him. He gets up to take a break. Player B sits down at the same machine, plays just a few hands and then hits a royal. Player A comes back just in time to hear the bells and whistles going off and wistfully watches as Player B is hand paid a jackpot of $1,000.

"If only I had stayed at MY machine a few minutes longer; that would have been MY money being paid out." Not so. It's time to explain how a video poker machine works.

Actually, I like the way Frank Scoblete explains the "dealer in the machine" in his book, Victory at Video Poker. Sitting inside every video-poker machine is a dealer. Just as in any card game played in a casino, the dealer shuffles the cards, deals the cards, collects the discards and determines who gets paid when the hand is completed. The dealer is uninterested in who wins or loses, as his job is only to shuffle and deal and collect those cards - and keep the game moving."

He goes on to say that this "dealer" is a microchip that is programmed to select random numbers or cards. The sequence of the cards corresponds to the various hands that are dealt. This microchip is called a Random Number Generator, or RNG. But this RNG is not programmed to pick a jackpot after so many spins or hands. It is constantly running, even when no one is playing the machine. The RNG selects a combination of cards in a split second, and if no one has hit the spin or deal button, then it goes on to the next combination.

So Player A would have had to hit the deal button at the exact same nanosecond that Player B hit it. Can you imagine the odds against that happening? But I can tell you from experience that those odds don't help Player A feel any better.

John Grochowski, in The Video Poker Answer Book, likens the random numbers to a 52-card electronic deck. In Nevada, each electronic card must have an equal chance of being dealt. Plus, to a point, Nevada law also protects players in other gaming jurisdictions. If a VP machine manufacturer wants to sell to any casino in Nevada, the manufacturer must install the same random, fair program in every machine it sells to any casino outside Nevada.

One question that keeps coming up is whether video poker machines deal cards in a parallel manner or sequentially. In other words as you look at the screen, is there a card waiting underneath each one you see or will the next card come off the top of the remaining 47 cards.

I've always read that most modern manufacturers program the cards to be dealt sequentially, off the top of the remaining cards in the deck, but that there may be some old programs still out there that deal in a parallel manner. I've recently learned, however, that one major manufacturer does write its programs so that there is a card waiting under each card visible. I stand corrected.

Another interesting variation of that same question is whether all ten cards have already been selected, waiting for you to hit the draw button, or is the Random Number Generator spinning constantly, in effect shuffling the remaining 47 cards until you hit the draw button.

I had always thought that all ten cards are already dealt: the five you see and the five waiting to pop up. However, either manner of dealing is legal according to Nevada gaming law and different manufacturers use different techniques. Some of the bigger manufacturers now program their RNGs to deal five cards then continue shuffling. The next cards are then selected as soon as the player hits the draw button.

But the bottom line is that playing strategy is the same, no matter what system is used. It does no good to try to second-guess your options, so just play by the book.

Until next week, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com