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Ladders go both up and down

28 January 2003

Dear Mark,
I feel I am decent player at video poker. I also feel I am ready to move up the ladder to the poker room. Are there enough similarities between the two to make me a successful player? Clarence M.

Before you thrust your hand into that beehive, I got to tell ya, Clarence, you might not enjoy the honey. BEE-sides, Clarence, proficiency at table poker takes years of practice — a sort of beekeeper's protection, lacking which you will be stung senseless by the killer drones that swarm over poker tables.

Skill aside, there are subtle differences — far too many for this column's space limits. But for starters, in video poker, you are playing against a machine that doesn't talk back, nor snicker at shabby play, nor give a hoot whether and how much you win or lose. In table poker, you are facing thinking and skill-rich adversaries, some of whom make their living off of "video poker graduates." They who can bluff you into giving up a winning hand and as easily get you to fold what would have been a winning hand, in both cases easing you into Livin' La Vida Broka.

Video poker's other valuable variables include no "ante" with the exception of the coins you initially risk on the game. There are no bets to call or raise to build a pot. The video poker pot is predetermined never changes, except for progressive machines. With video poker, the higher the hand, the more you win, with royal flushes paying sweet and heavy buckaroos, while on the table game, the best you can do is to win the pot — often a starved and measly mess. With video poker, you set your own pace and more importantly, decide how much to invest in each hand and selecting a machine consistent with your plan.

Not so on a table game. In a spread limit game, any wagers between the two limits are allowed. Also, hand totals can be different and discouraging. In video poker, three deuces are just as powerful as three aces.

That constitutes the Preface to the Poker 101 text. Do consider this brief shower of words before they evaporate, Clarence, and learn by heart: "Self-proclaimed aptitude at video poker isn't in a class with expertise at the human poker table."

Dear Mark,
One of the more difficult decisions to make in pai gow poker is what to do when you have two pairs. How do you recommend setting your hands when you get them? Adrian G.

Initially, Adrian, let's clue in some of the readers as to what you mean by "setting your hands."

Pai gow poker begins with the dealer dealing seven cards to each player. Each player must then arrange his seven cards into two hands. One hand, called the high hand, consists of the five cards. The other is aptly named the low hand, and consists of the remaining two cards. The object of the game is to form a high hand and a low hand that are BOTH higher in rank than the dealer's corresponding hands. As your question intimates, Adrian, setting a two-pair hand can lead the novice player into costly errors.

Foremost, your playing strategy depends on the rank of your pairs. If one of your two pairs is aces, kings or queens, then split the pairs by putting the As, Ks or Qs in the high hand and the other pair in the low hand. But if you have a sole king or ace that could be used in your low hand, place your two pair in the high hand. If you have neither, then split the pairs with the higher pair in the high hand, and the lower pair in the low hand.

Gambling quote of the week: "In games of pure chance the tension felt by the player is only feebly communicated to the onlooker." Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1949)

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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.