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Best of John G. Brokopp

Gaming Guru

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With Video Poker, What You See Is What You Get

1 March 2006

Have you ever wondered about the technology behind video poker games and if the games we play are truly random?

A definitive expert on the subject is John Daley, Director of Video Poker for International Game Technology (IGT), manufacturer of the most popular and widely played video poker machines worldwide. He confirms every hand you are dealt and every card you draw is as random as a computer program will allow and as close to shuffling and dealing your own 52-card deck at the kitchen table.

Daley puts all the myths to rest with this analysis of what happens every time you play a hand of video poker:

"A 52-card virtual deck is constantly shuffling between plays. When you hit the deal/draw button, the shuffling stops and five cards are dealt from the top of the pile, popping up left to right on the screen. While you are deciding which cards you want to hold, the remaining 47 cards are shuffling. After you decide and hit the button again, the cards stop shuffling and the x-number of cards you need to fill your draw hand come off the top and occupy the vacated positions.

"Five new cards do not pop up left to right on every draw creating 'shadow' cards behind the ones they held as some people think. If you hold the cards in positions one, two and three, for example, only two cards come off the top of the 47-card pile and pop up left to right in the fourth and fifth positions on the screen. The only cards that are dealt on the draw are the number of cards needed to fill vacant positions.

"The best example I have is this: Say you're dealt three cards to a royal flush in positions one, three and four. Positions two and five are non-royal flush cards and you throw those away. Say you accidentally throw out card one as well and you come up with the nine of clubs in position one while the two cards that you needed to complete your royal flush pop up in positions two and five.

"Some players assume from this example that they would have hit the royal had they not made the mistake of throwing out one of the cards they needed. The truth is they wouldn't have hit it anyway because the card that would have been in position two would have been the nine of clubs."

Daley revealed that when video poker was first introduced, some manufacturers developed games in which 10 cards came out, five up and five behind. With some, five cards were dealt off the top and the cards remaining just sat there stagnant until the draws came out.

"There have been different ways of doing it over a period of time," he said, "but with advanced technology and the interest of keeping the complete randomness, the way I explained is how we operate."

Daley acknowledged that video poker games are available in a variety of percentages and that the individual operators select which percentage they want. But unlike video and reel slots, video poker games are an open book to educated players.

"The advantage with video poker is because there is only a 52-card deck, you can calculate the percentages based on the pay table," he said. "If you look at a Jacks or Better pay table, something that pays back 9/6 (nine coins for a full house and six for a flush) for example, that game is going to have a return to the player of 99.54 percent. Now if its 8/6, it's going to be roughly a percent less than that."

And if you happen to be a nickel or quarter player and thought you had a better chance of winning by playing the higher denomination games (dollar and five dollar), Daley puts your fears to rest:

"The randomness of playing a nickel or quarter game as opposed to a dollar or five-dollar game does not change," Daley said. "It will be exactly the same return percentage given the same pay table."

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp