Video Poker Superstitions

Within the world of casino gambling, video poker players largely stand apart
from the pack.

Video poker is widely regarded as a game of skill, so unlike chance based
gambles like roulette or craps, players actually have the ability to influence
the result. For this reason, the typical video poker expert employs a cold and
calculated style, simply inputting the correct decision given their cards and
waiting for variance to even out in their favor.

Video Poker

Those are the experts, but for rank and file video poker enthusiasts, the
game’s status as a skill-based affair doesn’t always compute. Your average video
poker fanatic probably knows all about the odds inherent to any given hand, and
even how to apply optimal strategy when making decisions – but that doesn’t give
them immunity to gambling’s greatest temptation.

Superstition is a fickle mistress, one which can lay its grip on even the
most logical of players. And while video poker doesn’t involve tumbling dice,
spinning wheels, or the other trappings of gambling games that inspire
superstitious practice – many players cling to their own private “lucky charms.”

Perhaps you’re one of the millions out there who prefer to play on the “end”
machines – or those situated at either end of a cluster or bank. Maybe you only
play on Mondays because you believe casinos “loosen” their machines on slower
weekdays. You may even try to time your button clicking perfectly, or use the
“vulture” technique to claim jackpots after a machine has been goosed with
coins.

All of these superstitions and plenty more, are quite common amongst the
video poker community. Even for a game that depends largely on skill to excel
over the long run, luck always plays a factor in short sessions. Holding fast to
superstitious practices provides regular players with a way of mitigating that
variance – in their own mind anyway.

We can’t pretend to be immune when it comes to superstitions, and if you spot
us at the casino without our “lucky” blackjack token from Don Laughlin’s
Riverside Resort, you know we’ve messed up somewhere along the way.

With that said, we recognize that superstitions don’t really work – aside
from some sort of placebo effect. In other words, if you believe that a certain
machine, day of the week, or indeed, a lucky coin in hand, can help you play
better – perhaps they can.

This page wasn’t written to rain on anybody’s parade, so if you see something
you do often down below, don’t take it personally. Like we said, we only feel
comfortable playing with our lucky gold coin stashed safely in a pocket – and
obviously that has no effect on our results.

Superstition is a universal human practice, and for good reason. Our brains
are constantly seeking to make sense out of an often chaotic world, and nothing
defines chaos better than the inherent randomness of a gambling game. When cold
hard cash is added to the mix, along with the adrenaline release that comes with
competition, holding on to a superstitious belief or two is really just a
natural coping mechanism.

The trick is straddling that fine line between harmless superstition and
genuinely held faith in certain “strategies” or “systems.” It’s fine to hope
that something like a lucky coin gives you a bit of additional confidence, but
if you truly think that holds the magic that makes you a winner – you’re on the
path to bankroll ruin.

Below you’ll find entries on several common video poker superstitions, along
with a few myths and misconceptions that have taken hold within the game. Like
we said, the superstitions themselves aren’t all that harmful – provided you
maintain a firm grip on reality – but the myths are a different story.

As you’ll learn a little later on, many down on their luck gamblers have
turned themselves into snake oil salesmen over the years. These people have
discovered the ugly truth – they’re inferior players who will never win
consistently – and their only recourse is to turn the proverbial tables. Rather
than trying to beat the house, these charlatans develop systems, strategies, and
other schemes that purport to be “foolproof.”

Preying on the hopes of rookies and recreational players, these self-styled
experts sell books, videos, and webinars purporting to unlock the secret to
sustained video poker success.

As you can probably tell by our tone, that industry is defined by a
despicable bunch of hucksters who give gamblers a bad name. So while this page
simply highlights a few common superstitions, more as curiosities than anything
else, it definitely seeks to expose the worst myths and misconceptions that have
been pawned off on unsuspecting players.

Without further ado, check out our list and see if any of your video poker
peccadillos made the cut:

Superstitions

Playing End Machines

As you stroll through any casino in America, the video poker parlor – and the
slot machine floor for that matter – is likely to follow a similar seating
arrangement. At any particular bank or cluster of machines, you’ll invariably
see people sitting at one end machine or another.

For the visually inclined, imagine the following symbols as a bank of video
poker machines, with the “O” representing an occupied machine, and the “X”
signifying empty seats:

O – X – X – X – X – O

And if you asked these players what brought them to their current seat,
you’ll invariably hear an amalgamation of the same superstitious belief.

As the story goes, casino managers are among the shrewdest businesspeople on
the block, so they study player habits thoroughly in search of patterns. After
determining that most players who win on their first few tries wind up coming
back for more, casinos decided to “loosen” the end machines – or adjust their
odds to ensure payouts are hit more frequently.

According to this oft told tale, casinos purposefully set the machines on
either end of a bank – and especially those straddling the walkway where streams
of players pass by – with higher hit frequencies. A casino newcomer, a spouse
accompanying their gamble-happy significant other perhaps, decides to rest their
legs and takes a seat – at an end machine of course, as it’s the closest to the
walkway. With coins in hand, one thing leads to another, and lo and behold – a
few hands produce a sizable payout.

That sacrifice is more than worth it for the casino, as they know these
players are highly likely to be “hooked” – at least while they’re still in Sin
City. After all, video poker seemed to come so naturally to them, and they won
without giving the game much thought – so why not try again?

Eventually, the winnings head back from whence they came, along with a few
bucks that the player never intended to spend.

This all sounds well and good, and indeed, if casinos could enact such a
strategy, we’re sure that they would.

The problem is, video poker machines can’t be “loosened” like that. Once the
manufacturer has installed a machine’s random number generator, which is set to
predetermined fixed odds based on the game(s) carried, that machine will always
dispense results based on those odds.

There’s no all-powerful control room overhead, or a cabal of casino owners
pulling levers to set “hot” or “cold” machines. Instead, the fixed odds and
probabilities inherent to a 52-card deck – 53 cards in the case of Joker Poker –
ensure that every single hand of every video poker variant is dealt out on equal
ground.

Even so, why do so many players swear up and down that they win more often
when playing on end machines?

That’s nothing more than confirmation bias of course. These players already
believe that end machines will produce more frequent payouts, so they naturally
choose end machines whenever possible. And when those four-aces-with-a-kicker or
royal flush hands inevitably appear on the screen, end machine players are
provided with all of the “proof” they need that their superstition of choice
holds water.

There’s no other way to put this, but if you play end machines more than
others, you’ll win on end machines more than others. That’s called common sense.

Another reason that this superstition has taken root is basic human behavior.

When you enter a crowded train car, or anywhere that offers optional seating
and large crowds, we’re willing to wager that you lean towards the end seats.
That way, you’ll avoid being sandwiched between two strangers, allowing for a
bit of breathing room and space to stretch out.

This phenomenon applies to the casino floor too, which is why players
naturally gravitate toward the end machines. Even with a packed house, and
players lining the machine bank, grabbing an end seat ensures you’ll have elbow
room – and unencumbered access to passing cocktail waitresses.

And what do you know? Players sitting on the end inevitably experience big
wins and profitable sessions there, so they come back for more – and the cycle
of superstition repeats itself.

We suggest sitting wherever you feel most comfortable, because comfort begets
confidence, and confident players are better prepared to apply proper strategy.

Just remember, every video poker machine in the house spreads the same games
– and those games rely on the same rules – so the odds and probabilities can
never differ based on location alone.

Playing on Specific Days

This common practice is an offshoot of the first entry, as players tend to
believe in the idea of “loose” and “tight” machines.

As the legend holds, casino operators in their infinite wisdom have run the
numbers on daily patronage, deducing accurately that people gamble more often on
the weekends. If the place will already be packed on Friday, Saturday, and
Sunday, managers can set their machines to payout less frequently, secure in the
knowledge that their player base isn’t going anywhere.

Conversely, a Tuesday morning at the local casino can be akin to a graveyard
– just a few zombified gamblers shuffling across the floor, while sullen
employees stare into the ether. From the operator’s perspective, setting their
machines to payout more often during these dead periods doesn’t hurt much
either.

If some straggler manages to make a royal flush on the “loose” weekday
machines, it’s nothing but free advertising to help boost weekday attendance.
But if nobody bothers to play, the operator can cycle through a machine’s “hot
zone” without paying out large jackpots.

Once again, this is a pretty good yarn, and it makes sense in a devious sort
of way.

Fortunately for players, however, casinos simply don’t exert that level of
control over a machine’s odds. Once they purchase a bank of video poker machines
and install them on the floor, those machines will always offer the exact same
odds and probabilities – as based on the fixed odds of the card game in
question.

The question remains then: why do so many video poker fans report inordinate
win rates on weekdays?

Imagine a video poker player who takes the game seriously, tracking their
results through the W2-G tax forms and searching for patterns in the data. A
player like this may discover that the bulk of their big wins over the last two
years took place on Thursday.

That’s just a random flux in a short-term data set, but as a result, they
start heading to the casino every Thursday – hoping to take advantage of their
favorite venue’s “loose” weekday play.

You know what happens next… the player generates a big win at some point, and
it occurs on a Thursday. Confirmation bias does its dirty deed, and before you
know it, a seemingly sober and logical player begins to believe that their
chances of winning go up on a certain day of the week.

This superstition can also be reversed quite easily, with players who hit the
casino on weekends noticing that the jackpot siren goes off far more frequently
than on weekdays.

These players start to suspect the opposite, thinking that casinos “loosen”
their machines to keep the weekend crowds happy – all while knowing they’ll blow
it all back at some point anyhow.

Of course, jackpots do hit more often on weekends, but that’s only because
more people are playing at those times. More people on the machines means more
hands being played per hour, which inevitably results in more big hand pays
being awarded.

It’s all a derivative of the same old confirmation bias bugaboo, so do your
best to avoid that temptation. By all means, play on your preferred day of the
week – just do so with the knowledge that the calendar has absolutely no control
over video poker machines.

Avoiding Alternative Variants

Using the umbrella term “video poker” can be deceptive, as the game really
encompasses a wide family of related variants and offshoots.

The base game known to most non-gamblers as video poker is Jacks or Better,
the standard five-card draw poker game which uses one pair of jacks as the hand
strength threshold for payouts. But as we all know, slight adjustments to the
rules, pay table, or deck construction have created a long lineup of additional
video poker offerings.

Everything from Joker Poker and its addition of a wild joker card, to Double
Double Bonus and its prioritized payouts, and games like Deuces Wild or Aces and
Eights – all of these video poker variants include their own preset odds and
probabilities.

Unfortunately for many players, their lack of understanding as to how these
odds stack up have created some enduring superstitions.

Take that standard Jacks or Better game and examine its expected return rate
of 99.54 percent (0.46 percent house edge) for those using perfect strategy.

That’s an extremely low house edge, slightly better than the 99.50 percent
return (0.50 percent house edge) enjoyed by basic strategy blackjack experts in
fact. As one of the best bets on the casino floor, Jacks or Better is rightfully
viewed by most casual casino gamblers as a player-friendly game that rewards
skill and strategy.

For this reason, many video poker fans have sworn allegiance to Jacks or
Better, under the mistaken belief that any other version of the game must be a
“gimmick.” This is accurate when it comes to table games, as most blackjack
offshoots take a player-friendly game and add house-friendly rules in the name
of excitement.

But in the video poker world, many of the variants that have become
popularized over the last decade actually offer a better bet.

The aforementioned Deuces Wild concept – which turns the deck’s four 2s into
wild cards – can seem quite gimmicky to a video poker purist. But what if we
told you these machines are really some of the rarest sights on any casino
floor: games that offer a positive expectation to the player.

If you can apply perfect Deuces Wild strategy on the fly, this game offers an
expected return of 100.67 percent. That equates to a negative house edge of 0.67
percent, or a player edge in other words.

You just don’t find gambles that favor the player anymore, because casinos
are in the business of making money – not giving it away. But that positive
expectation for the player is the real deal, so provided you can make optimal
decisions, you’ll actually enjoy far better odds by ditching Jacks or Better for
Deuces Wild.

Take a look at the table below to compare the expected return rate – also
known as payback percentage within the video poker world – for several of the
most common variants:

Game Return
Triple Double Bonus 102.56%
Double Bonus 100.71%
Deuces Wild 100.67%
Double Double Bonus 100.67%
Jacks or Better 99.54%
Bonus Poker 99.16%
Bonus Poker Deluxe 98.49%

This table doesn’t cover the several dozen video poker variants out there,
but as you can see, Jacks or Better is far from the best game on the block.

Even so, the rank and file members of the video poker community are still
beholden to this standard gameplay setting – even though positive expectation
machines are sitting idle just a few feet away.

Some players just don’t believe that a game like Deuces Wild – in which
strong hands are inherently easier to complete – can offer better odds than the
more difficult Jacks or Better. These players aren’t necessarily superstitious,
but they surely lack a complete understanding of how pay tables work.

Sure, the ability to turn deuces into wild cards does make forming a Royal
Flush that much easier. But that ease is reflected in the much lower payout for
making what’s known as a “wild royal” – 25 credits to the 800 credits paid in a
Jacks or Better game. Adjustments like this made to the pay table create
adjustments in the odds players face, which is why Deuces Wild and its lower
degree of difficulty can create more favorable conditions.

Take your time and research the relationship between pay tables and expected
return, along with the widely disparate rates offered by different video poker
variants. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the lay of the land, avoiding
this common superstition will be a breeze.

Myths & Misconceptions

Faster is Better

One of the more dangerous “systems” sold by disreputable sources of video
poker strategy advises players to pick up the pace.

And if you’ve spent any amount of time in a video poker parlor, surely you’ve
seen somebody putting this advice into action. Their fingers are a blur,
whizzing to and fro as they instantly assess the cards, make a decision, and
click through to hold and draw. The sound these players make is akin to a court
stenographer clicking away at the typewriter, the patter continuing unabated
until the credit count hits zero – or a big winner appears onscreen.

This “go big or go home” style of play is based on the old myth that video
poker machines are programmed to payout only after a certain number of hands
have been dealt. Slot machine enthusiasts subscribe to the same theory,
mistakenly believing that a big win is only a matter of timing.

If only they can put in enough hands or spins to reach the magic number, the
machine will be forced to release its bounty on command.

This myth forms the basis for several speed-based “systems,” with the
underlying claim suggesting that wins are a byproduct of brute force. According
to their theory, if you can increase your speed to complete one hand every three
seconds, forcing the machine to cycle through 20 hands per minute rather than
just 10, you’ll work twice as quickly toward the threshold required to trigger
big winners.

As is usually the case, this myth is so effective because it seems plausible.
After all, skill-based gambling games like blackjack do reward players who are
more efficient. By playing faster and putting in more hands per hour, blackjack
sharps can exploit their hard-earned edges with increased volume – thereby
mitigating the house’s precious edge.

But video poker is far from blackjack, and those random number generators
simply don’t care how many hands you’ve cycled through. In fact, as anybody who
understands the complex circuitry of a gambling machine can attest, a random
number generator is always cycling through millions upon millions of
permutations.

We’ll go visual once again to give you a better idea of what we mean. Most
players envision a video poker machine being setup something like the figure
below, with “X” representing losing hands, “Y” representing small winners, and
“Z” representing the big hand pay:

X – X – Y – X – Y – X – X – X – Y – X – X – X – Z

As these players see things, the only path to reaching “Z” entails pushing
through those 12 hands that must come before it. That wouldn’t be random though,
and it’s just not how random number generators work.

Instead, the machine is constantly cycling through the multitude of
combinations which can be made with a 52- or 53-card deck. Those combinations
are set and switched out by the millisecond, over and over again, into
perpetuity. Only when a player presses the “DEAL” button does the random number
generator “stop” in place, selecting that particular string of cards and
displaying them on the screen.

If there’s no ladder to climb in terms of hands needed to trigger a jackpot,
it stands to reason that playing faster or slower has no effect on the results.
Whenever you choose to press the “DEAL” button, and at whichever pace, that push
will instantly stop the random number generator and dispense a hand – and the
results of that hand will have no relationship to preceding or future hands.

Finally, for the mathematically inclined, think about the consequences of
playing a negative expectation game faster for a moment.

Remember, aside from Deuces Wild and a few other variants, most video poker
games run at a slight edge for the house. If every hand you play incurs a
negative expectation, playing more hands at a brisker pace serves to magnify it
further.

With that in mind, the best way to approach video poker efficiency would
really involve slowing things down. By stretching out the time it takes in
between hands, and reducing your hands per hour rate in kind, you’ll essentially
spread the consequences of negative expectation out over a more manageable
period.

Search for Streaks

Other video poker “systems” are based on the tried and untrue method of
streak-hunting.

According to this theory, when a machine finds a “hot” cycle within its
complex algorithms, big hand pays will be closely clustered together. This is
why you’ll often see players sit down at a machine, drop a few coins in to test
the waters, and quickly depart for the next bank over.

In their view, unless a machine shows a propensity for streaky payouts right
off the bat, it’s time to move on and find the one that will.

Other “systems” simply reverse this advice, instructing players to seek out
machines that start out with an extended run of losing hands. The belief here
stems from the idea that machines can be “due” to hit after dispensing a long
run of fruitless results.

After finding a machine that is spitting out way more losers than winners,
users of this “system” stay planted in place. They then play hand after hand in
hope of unlocking the win that must be “due” to appear at any time now.

Other streak-based systems advise avoiding machines that have recently paid
out big winners, scanning the screen for high-value aces and face cards, or
looking for long strings of matching cards. Or using a more macro-view, some
streak-hunters look for patterns in their performance at individual games,
casinos, or even cities.

No matter which way you view the streak theory, it’s all hogwash.

It doesn’t matter if we’re flipping coins or playing poker through pixelated
graphics and random number generators -one result has nothing to do with
another.

Think about a coin-flipping challenge, for example. If you watched us flip a
legitimate coin on heads five times straight, and we then asked for 2 to 1 odds
on the coin coming up tails next time because it’s “due” to hit, what would you
say?

Obviously, that sixth flip will still offer the same fixed odds of 50 / 50
for heads versus tails. Those first five flips, while interesting in their
streaky nature, have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the sixth flip. On the
same note, that sixth flip is in no way, shape, or form connected to, or reliant
on, the flips that came before.

It’s an entirely independent event, one offering fixed odds – so your best
play would be to take the usual 50 / 50 odds and avoid laying us the extra
juice.

This extended analogy applies directly to video poker machines as well. One
hand, or a series of hands in a row, have nothing to do with how the next hand
will be dealt. You may see valuable suited face cards appearing at an inordinate
rate, several small payouts in a row, or any number of random streaks during a
session.

Those streaks are meaningless though, as the next time you press “DEAL”
constitutes a completely independent event.

The Vulture Technique

A classic maneuver used by grannies everywhere, the Vulture Technique was
pioneered by those regulars haunting slot machine parlors from Las Vegas to
Atlantic City.

You’ll see a vulture lurking nearby, appearing to all the world to be playing
while they watch the room instead.

These players have been taught all about the debunked idea that machine games
are “due” to payout, provided they take in a certain sum in coins first. With
this myth in mind, they wait around for recreational players to take a seat,
dump a bucket of coins in the machine, and leave empty-handed.

Now, with the machine primed and ready to pay, they head over and play a few
hands until the looming jackpot is triggered.

The Vulture Technique is a common trope in pop culture portrayals of casino
gambling, and most comedic scenes set on the gaming floor involve one version or
another. Perhaps this is why so many players, even seemingly reasonable souls,
seem to think that swooping to claim somebody else’s win is a possibility.

Of course, you will find anecdotal evidence which seems to support the
Vulture Technique. Maybe a pal pocketed a big hand pay minutes after sitting
down, only to see a stranger lament their bad luck from a few seats away. Many
winners report that their good fortune was found after following another
player’s run, and these occurrences only perpetuate the idea that machines are
somehow “due” to hit.

Common sense should tell you how those cases work.

Obviously, any thriving casino will have players moving through the room,
trying out different games as they explore the floor. With this happening all
around, and all through the day and night, the chances that you’ll take a seat
somewhere that nobody else has been playing are slim to none. Then, when a win
is inevitably triggered, the player who previously sat at the lucky machine will
look over to see the bad news.

This can make it seem like machines dispense winners only after heavy
activity, but that’s just confirmation bias rearing its ugly head. If you play
at less popular casinos, and your wins occur in an empty room, you’ll probably
begin to believe that machines only pay out when they’ve sat idle for a while.

The human mind can play some funny tricks, but don’t fall for them.

If somebody tries to sell you on the Vulture Technique, or any other “system”
for video poker success predicated on machines being “due,” just ignore them and
play your game.

The Hit and Run

An inverse of the Vulture Theory known as the Hit and Run is also quite
common among video poker enthusiasts – and for once, we can see why.

After all, if we play for an hour and finally find four aces with a kicker
for a nice hand pay, it’s only natural to believe that the machine in question
has been “tapped out.” A jackpot was just delivered only minutes before, so what
would the odds be of a second big winner appearing so soon?

Well, by now we’d hope you know how this game works.

Immediately after a hand pay is dispensed, your odds of winning on the same
machine remain the exact same as they were before.

Think about it like this… the random number generator doesn’t “know” that it
just triggered a jackpot. It doesn’t know anything, in fact, except that a 52-
or 53-card deck holds X or Y number of possible combinations.

If one of those combinations happened to pay you 800 credits moments ago, the
odds of landing that same combination don’t suddenly change in kind. Instead,
you collect your winnings, press “DEAL,” begin the process anew.

Most players just refuse to grasp this basic point of logic though, so when
they land a big winner, their natural instinct is to get up and leave. They
don’t necessarily stop playing, mind you, but they damned sure don’t drop
another coin into the machine that just hit.

In their estimation, that machine finally reached its “due” point, and it
will be a long while before enough hands are played to bring it back to the
brink of big payouts again.

Players using the Hit and Run “system” are known to take things to the
extreme, avoiding entire casinos after a successful session because they think
their luck there has been exhausted. In reality, they’re only exhausting
themselves by moving around the room, or the city, in search of the next “due”
machine.

We’re only human, so if you can’t bring yourself to play on the same machine
that just paid out, we understand. Just know that you’re not avoiding additional
losses, or bringing yourself closer to surefire wins – you’re simply falling
into one of the most common fallacies in the gambling world.

Conclusion

Everybody who risks money on a game of chance or skill desperately wants the
same thing: to win. Losing is never fun, but unfortunately, it’s part and parcel
of gambling. Superstitions can be a harmless way to lend the illusion of
control, but your logical side should tell you that they don’t really work.

Myths and misconceptions purposefully spread by snake oil salesmen are a
different story altogether. You should always be prepared to think critically
about any “system” or “strategy” that promises surefire video poker success.
They don’t work, first and foremost, but more importantly, schemes of this
nature can serve to get you off your best game.

Hunting for streaks in the numbers, running around town scouring the floor
for “loose” machines, and trying to vulture somebody else’s win are all
distractions, pure and simple. And if you’re distracted by nonsense, it’ll be
that much more difficult to apply perfect optimal strategy – which is the only
legitimate method to ensuring sustained success at this skill game.