Video Poker Superstitions

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.

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.

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