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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Planning the $1000 Las Vegas Vacation - part 9 How to be a Machine Pro Advantage Player at Video Poker

My approach to each Vegas trip changes. Sometimes I try this, sometimes that. Sometimes choices are based on where the good games are, sometimes on where I want to be even if the games suck.

I get a lot of unsolicited advice about what I play, and where. I guess I can understand that, as I am passionate about Vegas and gambling, and people want me to do better.

And, a portion of the readership of the blog comes from vpfree, which has probably the most vocal, talented, dedicated, and video-poker obsessed people around. These folks know how to ferret out and take advantage of a good play.

But here's the thing.

I don't want to be an video poker advantage player.

Now, if you do, here's how you go about it:
  • only play when your total expected return is over 100%
That seems simple, right? So how do you do that?
  • play only the games with the best paytables around
  • combine game return with promotions - cash back, free play, giveaways, bounce back cash, point multiplier days
  • construct your play so that your choice of game and denom are all supported by a large enough bankroll to remove the risk of ruin, if possible
  • train on your chosen game(s) until you are accurate and fast. Then train some more until you are near perfect. Then train more. Then train some more.
There are many more nuances but that's the heart of it.

If I was retired and lived in Vegas, or somewhere where enough advantages could be found, I might consider being an advantage player.

But for the purposes of my Vegas trips, when you are playing games you might not enjoy that much, when you are putting long hours in on possibly uncomfortable machines, in properties you may not like that much... becomes work. A job.
Vegas - it's a vacation, not a job. And that vacation includes gratuitously placed pictures of gorgeous women with money.

The Dollar 9/6 Jacks Experiment

For a few trips, I played heavy dollar full pay Jacks at a property where, when combined with free play offers, and cash back, the play was positive. I had to do about $10K coin in per day, on uprights. I got free rooms but don't like the hotel.

After about four or five iterations of doing this, I was losing. I never hit a Royal, and that's pretty much why.

I found it interesting at first, and challenging, but then grueling. It wasn't much fun and it wasn't working and I didn't like the hotel rooms and I was losing and getting frustrated. And they kept changing the play requirements.

Why would I give up on a great positive play? Because it became work. It was stressing me out.

No thanks, time to regroup.

Shortened Paytables

The Golden Nugget has some of the worst paytables downtown. Some people go ballistic when they see I am playing them.

Guess what, life time, I am a winner at the Nugget. I've hit more Royals there than anywhere else, and I've hit more dollar Royals there than anywhere else (three, including two on the same machine).
Short pay Jacks Royal
What does this really tell me, though? I know paytables matter.

Well, I think it means that in the short term, anything can happen. In the long term, it does matter that you pick better paytables, to assure a better long term return.

But how long is the long term? As a vacation going to Vegas, I think it takes many years before I get to the mathematical long term.


I like staying at the Nugget. I like the rooms, I like the food. I hate the paytables. Until recently, I was willing to give up a percent on paytables to have a comped stay. They throw free play, free nights, and pick up some food on the back end.

This is how I liked it, and I think it was pretty good value for money, overall.

That said, they continue to lower and lower the paytables and now they are among the worst - worse even than many strip locations.

So, I think our days there are numbered. We'll use up the free play and free rooms, and play elsewhere. When the offers dry up, we'll see what we want to do.

I'm willing to be sheered a little, but not slaughtered.

Anyway, the point I'm making here is, I never professed to be an advantage player, I never professed to be a professional at this, and I don't profess to make all decisions purely on the basis of the EV of the play.

There are other things besides the money it costs to play the game that are important to me.

And with that out of the way, an interesting play has come my way, and doing some math has made me think a bit differently about those short paytables.

More to come.


    1. You hit on the head, what I have thought and said for a long time. Short term players don't really see much of an impact playing lesser pay tables. Everyone has an opinion on what the short term is and based on EV where you should on average statistically land per gaming session. My luck has fared the same as you, in that I have more winning sessions logged on shitty vegas pay tables then those near full pay ones at certain downtown properties. Lucky for me my local casino has much better VP pay tables so its not a tough decision. I play where I want to stay, take the comps, and hope for the best in short term.

    2. Good article. I agree that the danger of becoming obsessed with advantage play is that it becomes grueling and destroys the reason most of us play. I especially resist playing fast or wanting to learn to play fast. I can't keep the right plays in my head anyway, so on occasion I take a long time to study a pay table. I like the puzzle of the game. This may cut into my EV per hour. I don't care. Whenever I hit anything big I take a drink while the machine is dinging away the win. This annoys my buddy Wild Bill. He wants me to hit the button and skip the dinging and he does not like to play next to me. He got very annoyed when I was playing full pay nickel Deuces at Sam's Town last trip. That being said, I play full pay because I don't want to pay the extra rake to the casino. I was at Turning Stone this past week where there are no decent pay tables. I played an 8-5 JOB in quarters and even that was hard to locate. Most were 7-5. I just played a frugal game, just for a taste of the puzzle. I lost $20, and when I put my second $20 in, I promised to quit if I got even. I did. I stopped at $40. Then I figured out the short pay. Had I played with the same luck on a 9-6 at my $40 break even point I would have been paid $50. I played perhaps for a half hour or forty minutes. Short pay is a huge rake on these games. I have not played VP at Turning Stone for many years. They sent me free nights. I don't know why. Live poker play does not usually generate free nights. I usually play live poker now. The rake is clear although some places have better rakes than others. Wins depend on the competition at the table and luck. However, even when choosing a poker room it often pays to play when there are good promotions. Turning Stone has a new $100 payout for the highest hand in the room every half hour. My poker play lost me a good bit of money. But I hit 4 of those promotional pays, 3 in one day. $400 in my pocket. I try to only play in poker rooms with good promotions. The Golden Nugget is one of my favorite poker rooms. They pay something on all high hands. The amount progresses from $50. In the early morning, the house doubles the payment. To take advantage of that, I nap in the early evening and join the early morning game. I once won $600 on quad jacks. For me, chasing the better paytables and playing the better promotions makes sense. In live poker, promotions create an advantage providing it does not attract better players whose skill offsets the promotion. I learned not to play for the football promotions at Monte Carlo. They attracted all the local rocks. The game was better when the promotion was over and they left the game. VP is not as complicated.

    3. On my last trip, most of my bigger wins were on Keno and Buffalo slots. Gambling is fun, vacation is for visiting places you like. I am not going to Vegas to seek out pay tables. I get that people want to do this, and for that reason they should. Doesn't mean everyone wants to though.

    4. I agree. If I lived in Las Vegas I would probably try to be an advantage player, but on vacation I just want to have fun. When Caesars gives me 5 FREE nights in the Augusta tower is that worth 8/5 DDB instead of 9/5 DDB? To me the 1k in comps is way worth it. I have also hit many wins on short pay machines and lost plenty on full pays. I agree the long term is usually longer than my vacation.


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