Putting Bills Into a Machine

I recently posted a few blogs concerning some fine points for the strategy of 9-5 Triple Bonus Poker Plus. They discussed somewhat complicated decisions with relatively small financial impacts. After the second blog came out, a reader posted the following:

I have read posts from you before that refer to getting the best value from your time. Sometimes travel time is considered, sometimes how fast the machines are is considered and more. Have you ever considered the time to create and memorize these detailed parts of a strategy compared to the return for your time invested? Perhaps there is a game nearby that would return more per hour than the detailed strategy does or ever could.

Dollars per hour is one consideration. There are a lot of other considerations as well. Different players will have different conclusions about this subject. I’ll explain as best as I can why and when I learn every last penalty card situation — and when I don’t. In the end, no matter how I do it, you’ll have to decide for yourself how you’re going to address this subject.

I’ve had a lot of education, and enjoy studying for tests. Preparing to play video poker correctly has a lot in common with getting ready to take a test. On most tests I took in school, my goal was to score 100% on that test. That goal continues today. I understand many students/players don’t share that goal.

Currently I’m able to create and master a strategy relatively easily — partly because I’ve been doing this with video poker for almost three decades, following doing  this with other games for almost that long. Someone starting from the beginning today would need to work a lot harder and longer to master a strategy than I would. 

I’ve been hired to teach a player this game and several times he has said something like, “Your brain works differently than mine does.” Probably true. Everybody addresses problems in a slightly different way. The strategies I create make sense to somebody who thinks like I do. It’s not a big struggle for me to consider straight and flush penalties to a suited JT in the same five cards as one or more straight and/or flush penalties to holding a solitary ace. For some people, that’s too confusing. 

I’ve been told that your brain is like a muscle — if you don’t use it today, you lose the ability to use it in the future. I’m currently 76 years old, and my brain is slowly deteriorating as I age. If I have to exercise my brain for something to ward off senility —why not this? 

Age, combined with bankroll, also matters. If I were 22 years old with a relatively small bankroll, it might be worthwhile to take some risks to build up my bankroll. I would play every opportunity I can find returning more than 100% up to 16 hours a day, even if I don’t know the strategies for some or all the games perfectly. If I go broke at age 22, there are a lot of ways to recover. 

At almost 3½ times that age, with a sizeable bankroll already amassed, if I go broke today it’s a lot more serious. I can’t move in with Mom and Dad. There are limited ways to re-accumulate bankroll as a senior citizen. It’s hard to directly measure how much reducing or eliminating the chance of going broke is actually worth, but it’s not trivial. 

Triple Bonus Poker Plus is a game where mastering a strategy at the 100% accuracy level is feasible. NSU Deuces Wild is not such a game. There are so many exceptions in the latter game that virtually nobody, including me, plays perfectly. Playing that game at the 99.9% accuracy level is within my capabilities — and I can live with that. On games like Ultimate X, even playing at the 99.9% accuracy level is impossible — for me at least. Still the rewards from this game can be high enough that it can make sense to play this game at a lesser level.

A friend’s daughter is a high school sophomore, and she competes on her school track team in the shot put.  In a meet, they heave 8-pound hunks of metal (four kilograms, actually, which means 8.8 pounds).  In practice, she regularly tosses 12-pound shots (I think this is six kilograms, meaning 13.2 pounds) which is what the high school boys throw.  Since she’s practicing at a more difficult level than what she is competing at, when it comes to the actual meet, she does better than most of the girls she’s up against. One of her goals is to get a college athletic scholarship at a good school. I see her over-preparation as similar to what I do in video poker strategy. For essentially the same reasons.

In general, if I’m going to be playing a particular game for several hundred hours over the next year or so, mastering it is relatively important. If I’m going to be playing this game for one two-hour promotion, and then probably never playing it again, I’m not going to be spending so much time on it.

Also, in general, if a game is found for low stakes only, I’m not going to concentrate on mastering it as much as I would if I were playing it for higher stakes. Phrased differently, mistakes are a lot more costly when you’re playing a $25 game than when you’re playing a 25¢ version of the same game.

Using the wizardofodds.com video poker strategy calculator, you can get a figure for many games showing how much a basic strategy is worth and how much an advanced strategy is worth. This gives you a measure of the potential gain from learning an advanced strategy over using the basic strategy.

The problem is, however, that most players don’t even play the basic strategy completely correctly. Practicing the advanced hands gives you practice on the lesser hands as well, assuming you’re using a computer to help you. 

In addition to the two types of hands discussed in recent blogposts, here are the hands I practice:

  1. Every possible combination of 3-card straight flush and two high cards — suited or not.
  2. Every possible combination of 3-card straight flush and 4-card inside straight.
  3. Every possible combination of 3-card royal flush versus a high pair.
  4. Every possible combination of 3-card royal flush and 4-card flush.
  5. Every possible combination of low pair versus 4-card open-ended straight.
  6. Every possible combination of low pair versus 3-card straight flush.

These aren’t very interesting hands to practice, but they are the meat and potatoes of playing video poker well. In the TBPP game I’m playing, for a single coin, flush=5 and straight flush=100. This affects the value of every 3-card and 4-card straight flush, and the correct answers in this game are different than they are in any other game I’ve played.

A lot of players argue that they’ll just take the strategy with them and when they come across a hand they don’t know, they’ll look it up. That’s all well and good if you can read a strategy correctly. You also have to know the strategy very well to know where the problem hands lie, so you can look them up. I know from my experience as a teacher, when every class ends with a quiz consisting of 20-or-so different hands, that even though it’s an open-book quiz, almost no player gets all the answers correct. Just having a strategy in your hand is no guarantee that you will play the way the strategy demands.

This might not be true for you, but I get paid for studying! Sometimes as a tutor. Sometimes as a blogpost writer. This is in addition to earning a higher return on the game because I know all the plays.


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