Video poker often provides players with one of the lowest house edges at the
casino, but taking advantage of it requires both patience and persistence.
Unfortunately, beginning and intermediate gamblers frequently make the task even
more difficult by committing one or more mistakes. This has a major impact on
their long-term expected return, and it can mean the difference between winning
and losing during a period of play (whether weekly, monthly, or yearly).
In order to help you combat these annoying video poker errors, I’ve compiled
a list of the most frequent blunders and offered solutions for how to avoid
them. Even if you’re guilty of an embarrassing number of these mistakes, keep
your chin up and remember that you’re now taking steps to improve your quality
of play. As the old saying goes, “Better late than never.”
1 – Failure to Join the Slots Club
Whether you’re playing in Las Vegas, Macau, or one of the numerous other
casinos around the globe, it’s likely that a player’s club card will be made
available to you. All you have to do is sign up, get your free card, and then
insert it into the machine just before playing.
This allows the casino to track your wins and losses, as well as your overall
playing habits. It also gives them an opportunity to decide who might be a
valuable long-term customer, which often results in coupons and comps being
delivered through the mail.
Video poker players often experience lengthy dry spells while waiting for the
next royal flush payout, so promos and freebies have a major impact on their
overall success. In fact, some of the biggest names in the VP world have pointed
to slots club cards as the single most important item for advantage players to
2 – An Aversion to Grinding
If you’re serious about winning at video poker, you’ve got to be willing to
play thousands upon thousands of hands. Sure, any fool can get lucky on
occasion, but it’s the grinders who are going to stand the strongest chance of
making a profit.
Just keep this fact in mind: a royal flush usually turns up about every
40,000 hands. Are you willing to play through the other 39,999 in order to get
it? If the answer is “no,” then perhaps video poker isn’t the game for you. In
fact, you might want to quit the casinos entirely and just start buying lottery
3 – Not Checking the Pay Table
The pay table tells the player exactly what to expect from the game in terms
of potential prizes, and it’s the most vital piece of available information. It
also happens to be free, assuming, of course, that you bother to look at it.
I’m constantly amazed at the number of players who put money into a machine
without examining the information staring them in the face. Casinos often put
seemingly identical machines in a bank, although their pay tables can differ a
great deal from one game to the next.
When you’re playing a specific game, you always want to choose the machine
that offers the largest possible winnings. You can’t do this without examining
the pay table, so always make this your first order of business before sitting
4 – Drinking at the Casino
Casinos are more than happy to offer free alcoholic beverages to their
patrons. Why? Because when players start drinking, they make more errors than
usual. Even if you’re not feeling the effects of the alcohol, you can rest
assured that it’s working internally to slowly dull the effectiveness of your
brain. Stick with sodas, coffee, and water; your bankroll will thank you in the
If you do decide to partake in a few mixed drinks, always wait several hours
before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. I know this isn’t really related
to gambling, but it’s hard to enjoy video poker if you get blind stinking drunk
and subsequently get killed on the highway.
5 – Not Playing the Most Lucrative Machines
Before you take a trip to a casino, you should do some serious online
research and locate the most potentially profitable video poker machine on the
premises. Once you’ve located the game, learn about the rules and find the
corresponding strategy for perfect play.
Once you’ve accomplished the tasks above, either make yourself a strategy
card or set about memorizing the proper plays for every possible hand. When you
arrive at the casino, this combination of preparation and scouting should place
you in the best possible position for success.
6 – Failure to Practice
Once you’ve started committing the proper plays for a game to memory, you’ll
need to give your brain some help through the time-honored tradition of
practice. I have a couple of recommendations for how to do this, and both can be
an effective tool for the serious VP player.
The cheaper option is to make a series of flash cards. Put a certain hand on
one side of the card, then list the proper play on the back. Consult these cards
whenever you have some free time, always striving to commit their details to
The second option requires a modest investment, but it’s well worth it in the
long run. Buy yourself a video poker trainer, which is a product that allows you
to play through an unlimited number of VP hands. If you make an incorrect play,
the software alerts you to the mistake and shows the correct play. You’ll also
be graded on your overall accuracy, and it’s advisable to stay away from the
real thing until this number has surpassed 95%.
7 – Failure to Risk Maximum Coins
The ultimate goal in most video poker games is the royal flush, and you’ll
usually need to risk the highest possible number of coins in order to be
eligible for the bonus payout. I knew a gambler who once missed out on a
$100,000 payout because he’d decided to play four coins instead of five. Don’t
be like that guy.
8 – Avoiding Progressives
Some gamblers play nothing but progressive machines, while others avoid them
like the plague. The smartest approach, however, lies somewhere in the middle of
these two schools of thought.
In most cases, progressives do tend to pay out at a lower rate than other
video poker or slot machines. However, if you encounter two otherwise identical
machines and one of them offers a progressive jackpot, you’d be wise to give it
a try (just remember to wager the maximum number of coins per hand).
9 – Improper Bankroll Management
Noted video poker expert Bob Dancer once
remarked that anyone who’s relying on a royal flush to save their bankroll is
playing at a denomination that’s too high. Bankroll management is an important
skill for the serious gambler, and failure to guard your money can result in
devastating losses and a quick exit from the casino.
Before you play, always determine how much money you’re willing to lose. If
you reach that dubious milestone during the session, stop playing immediately.
The worst thing you can do is continue, especially if it means dipping into
money that’s earmarked for essentials like rent and insurance.
You should also be careful to play at a level you can afford. Video poker
players often have to endure long stretches without significant wins, so anyone
who’s not properly prepared is going to go broke while waiting for a big payout.
10 – Believing in Gambling Superstitions
Players often fall prey to common superstitions about gambling, and some
conjure up with nonsensical ideas all on their own. Here’s an example of the
latter: I have a friend who always stands on three-of-a-kind, regardless of the
game, pay table, or other cards. He’s convinced that this is the proper tactic,
even if he passes up a potentially larger payout in the process.
As far as superstitions and myths go, the world of gambling is full of them.
A lot of players used to be certain that warm coins resulted in a greater chance
of winning, so they would breathe on them or rub the coin between their fingers
before inserting it into the machine. Sure, this kind of silliness sounds
harmless, but anything that takes the player’s mind off the cards should always
Some beliefs are more detrimental, though, such as always drinking a certain
alcoholic beverage at the casino, playing a “lucky” machine, or choosing a game
because it’s “due” to pay out. This sort of behavior can result in losses at an
accelerated rate, so learn to think for yourself as soon as possible.
11 – Failure to Learn Proper Strategy
Proper strategy is the cornerstone of long-term success at video poker. By
making the best possible moves based on your initial draw, you put yourself in
the strongest position to wind up with a winning hand. It doesn’t matter if this
is done with memorization or a strategy card, just as long as you do it.
It should also be noted that each game requires a different strategy. What
works for Jacks or Better won’t be effective during a hand of Double Double
Bonus Poker. Always know your chosen game and plan any strategies accordingly.
12 – Lack of Concentration
Focus is important when playing video poker, whether you’re sitting in a
crowded casino or enjoying the virtual equivalent in your living room. While
it’s impossible to totally shut out the world around you, every effort should be
made to concentrate more on the cards than what your waitress is wearing or
what’s on television. This might sound like a minor detail, but a lack focus can
easily lead a gambler to make an incorrect play and blow an otherwise winnable
13 – Leaving Your Strategy Card at Home
A strategy card informs gamblers of the strongest play for every possible
hand on a specific video poker machine. The best cards are both unobtrusive and
laminated, and most casinos have no restrictions regarding their usage.
Despite this fact, a large number of players don’t bother to bring their
strategy cards to the casino. This can result in improper play, which, in turn,
can result in an unnecessary loss of money.
Unless you intend to commit every possible option to memory, a strategy card
is essential for success. Nobody is going to think less of you for using one,
especially when it helps you win more than everyone seated around you. That
being said, this is one item that should be packed even before your toothbrush
14 – Continuing to Play on a Problematic Machine
At brick-and-mortar casinos, the average slot or video poker machine
undergoes a significant amount of wear and tear. Cigarette smoke is constantly
trying to penetrate the outer shell, beverages are spilled on the control panel,
and irate customers have been known to punch or kick a less-than-generous game.
Machines on the casino floor generally weather this abuse without much issue.
There are times, however, when the video poker controls can succumb, which
results in a not-so-scientific term known as “sticky buttons.” This means that
one or more buttons can hang, causing the player to wind up with a card that’s
something other than what they wanted.
If you find yourself at such a machine, don’t continue to play like nothing’s
wrong. A button that’s sticking is bound to cost you money in the long term, so
either locate another machine to play or inform the casino staff and wait until
it’s been fixed.
Tuning a consistent profit at the casino is hard enough, but most gamblers
unwittingly make things more difficult for themselves. Fortunately, the most
common video poker mistakes can usually be corrected without too much anguish on
the part of the player.
Even if you’ve been committing the same video poker errors for years, it’s
never too late to make a change for the better. Once you take the initial steps
towards improving your overall game, you should experience more wins and a
greater sense of enjoyment. And, ultimately, isn’t that what a trip to the
casino is all about?
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