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28 April 2000

Dear John,

I play a lot of video poker. Next week I am going to play in a video poker tournament. Is this a different way to play? Do you go for a royal every time, or do you wait for the last round? Or just play conservatively. Need some help.

Thanks,
Steve

Dear Steve:

Tournaments are the only times it makes sense to deviate from the mathematically correct strategy for a paytable. The tournament is truly the short-term and your results in the tournament have no effect on your lifetime video poker payback.

A few suggestions:

Find out whether there is a hand limit in addition to a time limit. Some tournaments have both. Faster players would be able to play more hands in the session than slower players and would therefore have an edge over them. The hand limit takes away that edge.

Find out the paytable beforehand and study the strategy for it if you don't already know it.

Play as quickly as you can. If there is a hand limit, you can play more slowly but make sure you get in all the hands. Usually, the first combination you see in your hand will be the best combination of cards to hold.

Don't sweat the small stuff. If nothing jumps out at you right away and you have to go searching for cards to hold (like a 3-card double inside straight flush with 0 high cards), just draw five cards. Spending time analyzing that hand may mean you'll be able to play one less hand in your session. Better to save the time for getting in another hand than spend it looking for a combination of cards that have a low probability of drawing to a paying hand.

Now, to your real question: Should one play a different strategy in a tournament?

If you go for the royal all the time, you'll either win the tournament or come in near the bottom. And your wins will be few and far between.

The strategy that will give you highest payback is the mathematically correct strategy. And your payback after a certain number of hands will fall in a range that we can calculate using statistics. We might be able to devise a tournament strategy that has a narrower range (has less volatility). So, even though its expected payback is less than the payback of the mathematically correct strategy, you have a better chance of being near it.

For example, after 1000 hands of 9/6 Jacks played perfectly, I'm 90% sure your payback will be between 76% and 123%. The midpoint is at 99.5%, the payback of the mathematically perfect strategy.

It might be possible to devise a strategy that has a range, say, of 86% to 106%. The midpoint is at only 96%, but you're more likely to be closer to it.

I don't know of anyone who has tried to devise such a strategy. I always play as closely as I can to the mathematically correct strategy when I play in a tournament.

Of course, if you know someone is well ahead of you near the end and you're going to lose otherwise, you can shift into aggressive mode and go for the royal even when it's not the best play.

John

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@home.com.

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John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

#### Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

#### Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots