How Special Is It? - Gambling With An Edge

In a recent blog post I wrote:

Another factor that is true for me that isn’t universally true for other players is that I have the ability to figure out and master strategies and I enjoy doing so. Thinking about, writing about, studying, and playing video poker occupies a much larger part of my waking hours, even after about 30 years of doing this, than these things occupy in the lives of most other players.

A poster named Jerry apparently thought I was too full of myself and responded:

No offense, but what you do is really not that special. But keep thinking it is if that is what floats your boat.

I didn’t make the original statement in the sense of, “Hey! Look at me! I’m so clever!” I am not contending that being a competent video poker player makes me unique, or worthy of a Nobel Prize, or anything of the sort, but I do think skill level is something that differentiates me from most other players.

In my classes, I’d get a large number of players who would come up and tell me they practiced on the computer all the time and the best they could do was 98% accuracy. They’d want to know if that was good enough.

My answer was that it was plenty good enough if they wanted to enjoy video poker for a hobby and were playing for relatively small stakes considering to their bankroll. But at that accuracy level, they were playing a losing game. If their ambition was to make money at video poker, 98% was nowhere near a level that would help them attain that goal.

I don’t have any accurate numbers on how many players are net winners. Tax data is the only place such information is collected and I don’t have access to it. Plus, every player has an incentive to understate wins and overstate losses. And every player decides for himself how to keep records. (Do you, for example, report every bit of free play, or all wins of less than $1,200? I suggest you’re in the minority if you do, even though the IRS rules say you should do both of these things. And do you consider comps as winnings? Or free meals? Or . . . ?)

Given that every estimate somebody makes on this sort of thing must be taken with a huge grain of salt, my experience is that less than 20% of players are actually winners at this game on a long-term basis.

But let’s say 20% even. The players who are in this more-successful 20% have skills that the other 80% don’t. Different people have different skills, of course. I listed a few skills in the original quotation, but we could also include such things as the ability to obtain and retain a bankroll, the psychological ability to put up with losing sessions and losing streaks, competence in a number of different games, access to good games, the willingness to scout, a network of other players where you talk about opportunities at various casinos, the ability to figure out promotions, and the ability to adjust your sleep schedule so that if there is a juicy promotion on the graveyard shift, you’re able to take advantage of it. Knowing the correct play on every hand when you study it as a test question is one thing. Correctly executing that play when you’re in the casino playing quickly is another. Playing progressives properly is an entirely different skill than playing games with a 4,000-coin royal.

To be successful at video poker, you don’t have to be good at all of those things — but it helps if you are. High intelligence isn’t mandatory. But it helps.

 I don’t know who the poster “Jerry” is. Perhaps I know him under a different name. Perhaps I would recognize him if I saw him. Maybe he’s in the successful 20%. I don’t know. But somebody who is in that 20% and has been so for decades is a relatively rare individual. And such a player can master a strategy better than players who are not in that 20%.

That’s what I was trying to say.


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