Not all errors are made in strategy.
Avoid these common mishaps.
Serious video poker players spend a lot of time learning strategies, studying penalty card situations and practicing on their computer. With enough study and practice, one can learn to play perfect strategy video poker.
But in the real world of playing video poker, we make mistakes that have nothing to do with playing strategy. These mistakes are what I call “mechanical” mistakes, and they take a bigger toll on our bankroll than strategy mistakes. The most common of these mistakes are: not seeing a pair and pressing the redraw button; a sticky button “unholds” a card you intended to hold; or pressing the wrong “hold” button. Then there’s the worst mistake–throwing away a hand you didn’t evaluate.
When I found myself making too many mechanical mistakes, I decided to do a study by counting these mistakes and analyzing what caused them. To my astonishment, I found I was making anywhere from two to 10 mistakes on a typical day of playing 3,000 to 5,000 hands.
The only mistakes I could count in this study are the ones I was aware of; it’s likely that I made mistakes I didn’t detect. For the most part, my mind momentarily “freezes” an image of the cards I discard and I can spot the mistake. Some mistakes are obvious, like discarding a pair you should have held or missing one of the “hold” buttons. Other mistakes, like holding an inside straight and then seeing a three-card double inside straight flush that I should have held, are less obvious, but still detectable.
In my study, I didn’t count strategy mistakes. The strategy mistakes I did make were usually on “close call” hands and the difference in expected value between the chosen play and the proper play was negligible.
After each detected mistake, I took a moment and put a mark on a little piece of cardboard I kept in my shirt pocket. At the beginning and end of the playing session, I recorded the point count from the slot card reader and could thus get an accurate count of the hands I played. The hand count and number of mistakes were then entered into the playing log I keep in my computer.
I found that lack of concentration and external distractions were the major causes of these mechanical errors. Almost every mistake I made was caused by a distraction. The most common was continuing to play while having a conversation. I often missed a pair or hit the wrong button while I was doing this.
Other distractions were caused by annoying people who sat next to me. It could be a person who lights up a cigarette and the smoke blows my way. Then there’s the “plunk and dump” person. You know, the one who puts a roll of quarters through the machine, cashes out, puts the quarters back in again and repeats the process ad infinitum. Another annoyance to me is the person with a “coin in” system; he sits next to me and plays anywhere from one to five coins in some ritual sequence. The sounds of these actions caused my mind to wander and I made mistakes.
I know that the annoyances and distractions caused by someone sitting next to me are my issues, not the person’s fault. The fact is, unless I focus intensely on the game and try to block out residual sounds, I’ll make these occasional mechanical mistakes. What I find helps me to concentrate is focusing on the visual and audible cues from the machine–not only do I watch the cards, but I look at the posted win on the screen and listen for the ringing up of the credits. Because of this, I prefer machines with sound.
I also prefer fast machines. Machine speeds and fast play, I discovered, didn’t cause me to make “mistakes.” It goes back to concentration–if you don’t focus, you’ll make mistakes, regardless of whether you’re playing fast or slow.
What I find most devastating is when your opening hand is dealt, the cocktail waitress brings you a drink, you give her a tip, and when you return to the game, you hit the “deal/draw” button, throwing away a hand that you didn’t evaluate. My defense against this is to always take a moment to complete the hand before you turn your attention to someone who interrupts you.
Another obvious, but very important rule is to avoid fatigue and take a break from your play.
The Machine Matters
One of the surprising things I found in my study was that the physical characteristics of the machine influenced the number of mistakes I made. I found I made more mistakes playing large- screen machines than playing small-screen ones.
Most of the video poker machines in service today are over three years old and use a standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ screen. These machines are, for me, more user friendly; consequently, I make less mistakes playing on them. I believe this has to do with display area of the cards. The card display area on these machines is approximately 8″ x 2 3/4″ and I can see all five cards without shifting my eyes. That seems to be the key to minimizing mechanical errors. Also, the more comfortable the playing environment, the less errors I made.
So factors such as screen glare and seat comfort influence the number of errors I made. When the new IGT large-screen machines with 13 1/2″ x 10″ screens first came out, I was making errors at a rate of one to three errors per 1,000 hands. The card display area on these machines is about 13″ x 3″ and the “eye shifting” problem was apparent. After some practice, I found that moving back a few inches and adjusting my arm position improved my playing accuracy considerably.
I also found that using the touch- screen feature on these machines reduced errors caused by not seeing certain cards. This is because using the touch-screen forces me to focus directly on the cards and reinforces the image of the cards in my mind. The downside of using the touch-screen is that it is touch and pressure sensitive and while gliding your hand over the screen, you may hit a wrong card or unhold a card you meant to keep.
Of all the various machines I play, I play most accurately on the original Triple Play standard size screen, where the hold buttons do not line up. This may sound strange but the card display area is only about 6 1/2″ x 2″ and the touch-screen feature is easy to use. This allows complete concentration on the cards with minimum eye or hand motion.
Here’s another group of video poker mistakes I’ve made that has nothing to do with the actual play of the game.
How many times have you played Deuces Wild, decided to change machines, and on your first four of a kind you only get paid 20 coins rather than 25? This is quite common because casinos like to mix look-alike full-pay machines with short-pay machines. This is not too costly a mistake, as you quickly realize your error after the first four of a kind.
Another one related to changing machines happens when you insert your players card without paying attention and look up a half-hour later to discover your points didn’t register. Again, not necessarily too costly a mistake, but very annoying. Also, at some casinos, if you take a break from play that is more than a few minutes, the card reader automatically disables and points don’t register. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll lose points.
Then you have this situation: You put your money in the machine and hit the “deal/draw” button without realizing you’re playing less than full coin. This can easily happen on the newer machines that have a “max coin” button and a “deal/draw” button. The “deal/draw” button will replay the same coins in as the previous hand played. If the last player to leave the machine was playing short coins, you, too, will play short coins if you hit the “deal/draw” button instead of the “max coin” button. This may not sound like a big deal, but if the short-coin hand you just played happens to be a royal flush, you’ve made the biggest video poker blunder of your career.
The granddaddy of nonplaying video poker mistakes is leaving a machine that still has credits in it. This is most likely to happen when you get a hand-pay just prior to a dinner engagement you’re late for. In your haste to get to dinner, you completely forget that you have money in the machine. This has happened to me on two occasions and in each case, I was fortunate enough to find my money in the machine.
In summary, if you want to be your best at playing video poker, do the obvious, fundamental things, such as selecting the games with the right pay tables, studying and learning the strategies for these games and a lot of computer practicing. To these fundamentals you must add staying focused when playing, avoiding distractions and choosing machines and playing environments that aid in these practices.
Then again, if doing all these things takes the fun out of the game, do what you want, enjoy yourself and be prepared to lose lots of money.