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# Sometimes It's Better to Be Lucky than Smart

5 June 2001

Listen up, video poker players! A show of hands of how many of you have ever experienced the thrill of a royal flush. Nope, I'm not raising my hand, but I hope a lot of you are. I've come close a few times. Once, while playing a Triple Play quarter machine, I was dealt four-to-a-royal in spades with max coins (\$1.25) bet on each of the three lines. If I had drawn the jack on any hand, it would have been worth 4,000 coins or a cool grand. The jack of spades on every hand? Three thousand dollars! My heart beat a little faster as I tapped the play button. No jack of spades. Not even any spade to win a flush consolation prize. Nothing. It just wasn't in the cards.

It was a glaring example of sometimes, when playing casino games, it's better to be lucky than smart. It mattered not what the machine's percentage payback was. What it boiled down to is this: Since each of the three hands uses a randomly dealt 52-card deck, there were 47 cards remaining in each of them, which means the odds against me pulling to a royal on any one hand was 46 to 1.

Perhaps I had used up my luck coming one short of a royal on the five cards I was dealt. The odds against being dealt a royal flush are something like 40,000 to 1! The odds against drawing three-to-a-royal and pulling the two cards that you need are roughly 1,100 to 1. If we knew we had to play 40,000 hands every time we sat down at a video poker machine to even have a prayer of hitting a royal, who could bother (or even afford) to play the game?

And even though it's mathematically probable you'd hit a royal in 40,000 hands, it isn't a guarantee. Conceivably you could play 80,000 hands and not have the pleasure of welcoming the royal family. But over the course of hundreds of thousands of hands, a royal will show up on an average of once every 40,000 hands.

We all know that it's possible to hit a royal on your first hand after sitting down to play a machine. It's also possible to catch a couple of royals during the course of a single gaming session. You just "gotta be lucky." That's all there is to it. The advertised percentage payback on video poker machines is true and accurate, but only for the long term over the course of many, many, many hands.

For example, say you are playing a 5-coin machine that has a payback percentage of 97 percent. This figure includes the probability of collecting on premium hands, such as four-of-a-kind, straight flushes, and royal flushes. If, during your playing session, you hit just full houses or less, the payback percentage you enjoyed drops something like 10 percent to about 87 percent.

Then there is the scenario of playing until you collect on a premium hand. Mathematically you have to have a bankroll sufficient to sustain play for thousands of hands. Many times the monetary reward does not even make it worth your while if in fact you had to wait for 10,000 hands before you collected on a straight flush, for example. Thank goodness luck comes into play.

None of this diminishes the importance of playing video poker using optimum strategy. When you learn to play the games correctly, you are giving yourself the best possible edge to take advantage of mathematical probability. Remember that the percentage return on any video poker machine is based heavily on lesser winning hands, such as flushes, straights, and full houses. Knowing how to play each game correctly to give yourself the best chance of getting max value from your hands is of prime importance. Knowing what to hold and what to discard in each situation according to the game you are playing and the pay table you are working with is crucial. As a good friend of mine once told me, "the harder you work, the luckier you'll get."

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John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insiderâ€™s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

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John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insiderâ€™s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.