A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:
Q. I can usually get a royal flush every 30 days. Can I be a professional player? I play video poker every day.
A. How often you get royal flushes gives me nowhere near enough information about how good a player you are, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Playing video poker professionally takes not only skill, knowledge, discipline and the right temperament, it takes an enormous bankroll. Video poker games are highly volatile and there are huge bankroll swings for the best of players. You need enough money in reserve to withstand large losses — you can’t afford to play video poker professionally if you can’t afford to live with long stretches of negative income.
Opportunities to play for long-term profit are small, and becoming smaller all the time. A pro sticks to games such as full-pay Deuces Wild and 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker with expected returns of more than 100 percent. Those are rare outside Nevada, and becoming hard to find even in Las Vegas.
Even where the full-pay games exist, they’re almost always at quarter level or less, and available only on single-hand games. If you bet the maximum five coins per hand for 800 hands an hour on a quarter game, you risk $1,000 per hour. If you play at expert level and average a 100.76 percent return, your $1,000 in wagers bring back $1,007.60 — an average hourly “wage” of $7.60. You’d be better off slinging burgers at a fast food joint.
Player rewards can add a tad to that, but most casinos give back less to video poker players than to slot players, and some exempt high-paying video poker games from earning rewards.
Back to your skill level. Frequency of royals is not an indicator of skill. You could play a royal-or-bust strategy where, for example, you break up a pair of Kings to keep one as a royal starter, or break up a flush to hold two royal cards. That would increase the number of royals, but it would decrease your overall return. The necessary skill is in making the plays that bring back the most money overall, not always the most royals.
The bottom line is that I do not recommend trying to play video poker professionally. You’d need the skill to always make the mathematically best play, the discipline to play only at pay tables with positive expectation, the temperament to not let short-term losses bother you and to stick with program, and a bankroll large enough that doing anything professionally was unnecessary.
Q. I'm a new fan of baccarat. Do you have any suggestions on beating baccarat?
A. Baccarat has one of the lowest house edges among casino games, with a 1.06 percent edge when you bet on banker and a 1.24 percent edge when you bet on player. However, there is no skill involved, so there is no way for the player to get an edge.
The house edge is lowest if you stick to betting banker on every hand, but most players find that boring. You can add some interest by betting streaks — sticking with banker until it loses, or sticking with player until it loses. That can lead to some nice wins in hot streaks, but it doesn’t actually reduce the house edge.
Because the house edge is low, winning sessions are frequent. But ultimately, it’s the house that has the mathematical advantage on the game, and you can’t change that. It’s a fun game to play with a reasonable shot to win, but don’t look at it as a long-term profit opportunity.