The Two Percent Club
Can mistakes in strategy delay a royal flush?
By Jerry Stich
Last month I wrote about my long term absence of a royal flush. As of the writing of that article I had gone over 166,000 hands without a royal flush.
I am sure I am not alone in this type of situation. Many others have gone years without ever snagging the ultimate prize for playing Jacks or Better video poker. It is all part of how random operates. For every hand played, there is a 1 in 40,391 chance of getting a royal flush. It is possible to get two, three, four or more in a single trip to Las Vegas. Or, unfortunately, it is possible to get the results I am experiencing now. You may recall that to go 166,000 hands without a royal flush puts me in a very “elite” group—the top (or more correctly the bottom) 2.13 percent of all players.
For the record, I have one more trip to the casinos under my belt since writing the last article. During that three day trip I played an additional 12,000 hands (approximately) and still no royal flush. That puts me at 178,000 hands without a royal flush. My standing among video poker players is now even more “elite.” 178,000 hands without a royal flush put me in the “top” 1.78 percent of all players. Think of it. For every 100 players, less than two of them are doing worse than I am. There is not a lot of solace in that fact.
Naturally, I have mentioned my highly painful experience to others. Most just express surprise and say, “keep at it, things will eventually even out.” Of course I know that and am ready for it to happen soon.
One of the more interesting comments came in the form of a question. “Are you sure you are playing the strategy correctly?” I was hurt by the question. How could anyone even suggest such a thing? “Of course I am playing the strategy correctly,” I responded. “I practice regularly with my video poker program on my computer and during that time have not made a single mistake.” The subject was dropped and the conversation went on to other topics.
Later I started thinking about mistakes that I have sometimes made. They don’t happen often and for the most part I catch them before hitting the “Deal/Draw” button. I do, however, sometimes make mistakes when I am very tired or have played for a few hours. I like to play fairly fast and average between 800 and 1,100 hands per hour. At this rate sometimes I don’t always catch everything I should (maybe taking some of my own advice in this column is in order).
With this in mind, I thought I would explore the mistakes I tend to make and see if they could contribute to the extreme dearth of royal flushes I have been experiencing. I strongly suspect that these mistakes are not that uncommon in other player’s experiences either.
By far the most common error involves not seeing a low pair, which is a pair of 2’s through 10’s. I never miss a low pair if there is nothing else in the hand as I spend a bit more time searching for something. In other words, I never completely discard a hand that has just a low pair in it. On rare occasions a low pair might be overlooked if there is one or more suited high card in the hand. I may then save the lone high card or two suited high cards rather than the low pair which is the proper play. Does this misplay of strategy reduce the chances of hitting a royal flush? It absolutely does not. It improves the chances of hitting a royal flush—maybe not by much, but an improvement nonetheless.
There are also some extremely rare instances where I will save one low pair and miss a second low pair. The reason this is extremely rare is that most video poker games will make a sound and flash a message (or highlight a row in the pay table) signifying you have been dealt a winning hand. The only time missing two pairs happens to me is when there is no sound and also no message flashes. My play is sometimes so fast that the “Two Pair” line in the pay table does not have time to highlight before I save one pair and hit the “Deal/Draw” button. Okay, another mistake in strategy. Does this mistake reduce the occurrence of a royal flush? No, it does not. All it does, most often, is cost some winnings.
The only other mistake in strategy I sometimes make is with a three card straight flush that includes an ace. Sometimes my save is the lone ace. This was a bad habit for me a while back. I even wrote an article about it. But, since re-instituting practice sessions and being especially wary of this hand, I don’t think I have made this mistake for months. But should this mistake be made, would it reduce the appearance of the royal flush? Again, no it would not. It would, in fact, slightly increase the occurrence of a royal flush.
And that, my good readers, is all of the strategy mistakes I can imagine making. In each instance, the appearance of a royal flush never decreases. It only stays the same or improves.
Conclusion: Mistakes in strategy are not causing my current slump. Randomness is.
Random is random. Sometimes you will do well, other times you will not do well, and other times you will just suck. Even while playing the lowest variance machine available, you can experience gigantic losing streaks. It is part of the game. Expect it.
HOW WOULD YOU PLAY THESE HANDS?
Since the accompanying article talked about Jacks or Better, all of these hands are for 9/6 Jacks or Better with the maximum of five coins played.
This hand really has only two possible holds; three cards of a straight flush (8 Q 9), and two cards of a royal flush (A K).
If you choose to save the 8 Q 9, your average return is 2.68 credits. If, on the other hand you hold the ace and king of diamonds your average return is 2.88 credits.
With this hand, you go for the royal flush and save the (A K).
This hand is very similar to the first hand. There are really only two possible saves. You can save three cards of a straight flush (5 2 A), or you can save two cards of a royal flush (J 10).
Saving for the straight flush (5 2 A) returns an average of 2.70 credits. Saving for the royal flush (J 10) returns an average of 2.52 credits.
The proper play for this hand is to go for the straight flush in diamonds.
Even with very similar potential hands, the saves for the above two hands are different. Would you have played these hands properly?