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Deal Me In: The wise and benevolent reign of strategy

28 November 2007

Dear Mark: Do you feel that video poker is a good place to start learning poker skills for the table game? I figure it's about the cheapest way to learn. Gary A.

Video poker is based on the classic game five-card stud, which challenges players to compose the best possible five-card hand. The player is dealt five cards with the option of discarding any or all of them for replacement with newly dealt cards. Although video poker and five-card stud are kissing cousins, good video poker players don't necessarily make for good poker players, and vice versa.

There are many important differences, Gary, between video poker and its table game relative. For starters, video poker payoffs are based on a scale, paying players for hands as low as a pair of tens or jacks all the way up to a royal flush.

In video poker, a machine, not a dealer, represents the house.

There are no opponents to bluff, nor any 21-year-old whippersnapper who, on every other hand, goes all in. If you have jacks-or-better, you win. But in table poker, you could have two pair and lose to another player who has three-of-a-kind.

A good decision in Jacks or Better can be a bad one on a table game. For instance, a kicker, a high card with a pair, can be at times advantageous to hold in table poker, but should always be discarded on a video poker machine. I could keep going, Gary, but I figure by now you're getting the gist.

A better way of acquiring poker skills without spending a boatload of quarters on a video poker game is with a computer. A decent poker software program can be far superior to even my yakking in your ear, for both training and drilling. The benefit of computer training is its ability to test different strategies at no financial risk, even with simulated high-speed play. Whether at high speeds or at a live game pace, the software accumulates plenty of data for later review. This will enable you to spot costly trends that you could have been making on a live poker game. The key here, Gary, is that any knowledge obtained without a casino outlay will make you more dough down the road.

And then there's the Lazy Boy way, with a good book on poker – Doyle Brunson's Super System 2 is a good start – or just watching it on the boob tube. Why, at this very moment some poker tournament is showing on at least a half dozen cable stations.

Dear Mark: In general, do you feel it is better to be lucky or good when it comes to casino gambling? Tom D.

That saying, Tom, "It's better to be lucky than good," has some merit if you're perched in front of a Megabucks progressive, but to be successful long-term at casino gambling, I would go with being good over being lucky.

My oft-stated phrase in this column, "The smarter you play, the luckier you'll be," is based on the certainty that since casino games are based on probabilities and percentages, so mathematical strategy, and not serendipity, is needed to be successful against the house.

I have found, Tom, that in almost three decades that I have been in this business, gamblers who maintain their success for long periods of time are not the 'luckiest' individuals I know. It's a solid grasp of the odds and probabilities that will bring you far more success than any misplaced reliance on a rabbit's foot. (Look what it did for the rabbit.)

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:
"A card player should learn that once the money is in the pot, it isn't his any longer." -- Herbert Yardley (1957)

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.