THE NEED FOR SPEED
By Jerry “Stickman” Stich
Each video poker player has their own comfort level when it comes to how fast, or slow, to play their favorite game. Some set the speed of the machine on the slowest possible setting, hit the Deal button, study the cards that are dealt in great detail, and perhaps ask the player next to them what they would do… and then, they slowly and deliberately use one finger to select each card to be held and push the Draw but- ton slowly and deliberately with the same finger. And then study the final hand as if by staring at it long enough, they can somehow change the cards.
If the hand is a winner, they watch each credit register on the meter, pausing a while to make sure the final tally is correct. Then the process starts all over again. Their playing mantra could be best summed up by William Shakespeare who wrote, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run too fast.”
Then there are those players on the opposite end of the speed spectrum, who seem to attack the machines as Mario Andretti once described race car driving: “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”
These players set the machine to play as fast as possible. They position their hands so all the necessary buttons are covered by a different finger, in order to have the least amount of wasted motion (and time) during each play. One finger hits the Deal button. The cards rapidly reveal themselves. In the blink of an eye, this player presses all the buttons for the cards to be saved at once using a different finger for each card to be saved. The Draw button is then immediately hit by yet another finger.
This player knows that whatever hand appears will not be changed by looking at it, so he immediately starts hitting the Deal button to instantly record any credits won on the meter without taking the time to watch them add up. He immediately deals the next hand. The sole goal of this type of player is to get as many hands played in as short a time as possible.
If you’ve played video poker for any amount of time at all, I’m sure you’ve seen both of these types of players, as well as everything in between. So the question is, if you’re serious about playing video poker, what is the best speed to play at— slow and steady, or like a race car driver?
First and foremost, if you’re playing a machine where the house has the edge, you’re best off pacing your play. The more you play, the more you will lose. Sure, you may hit some big winners, but the more you play, the more the house will take of your hard-earned money. So if you don’t have an edge (which includes factoring in slot club points and possibly comps), take your time playing. Don’t rush to give the house any more money than you must.
If, however, you have an edge over the house, the more you play the more you will win over the long run. You want to play as fast as you can, but—and this is a big but—still maintain accuracy of play. It’s possible to play as many as 1,200 hands per hour (or even more) while still adhering to perfect strategy. However, it’s difficult to keep such a blistering pace for very long and maintain perfect play. At 1,200 hands per hour, you’re playing 20 hands per minute. That’s one hand every three seconds. In those three seconds you have to deal, examine the cards dealt, select the cards you decide to hold, and hit the Draw button.
This is a scorching pace to maintain, but it can be done for two or more hours if you’re rested and alert. Generally, the mechanics seldom cause errors, but the accuracy of analyzing the hands dealt and determining the best cards to hold tends to deteriorate over time. If you find yourself noticing something in the dealt hand after you held the cards and drew the replacements—something that would have changed your hold—it’s time to slow down.
Take a little extra time to make sure you are making the best play possible. The house makes enough money. Don’t give them more by being reckless. If you find yourself still making mistakes even after slowing down, then it’s time to take a break. Get up and leave the area. Take a walk around the casino or go outside. Go upstairs and take a nap, even. Completely refresh yourself before attacking the machines again.
When playing with an edge, Wyatt Earp probably said it best when he quipped, “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Don’t get killed. Make sure you are playing correctly.