Matching the Paytables
The first step for home practice is to write down the game name and paytable for the video poker game you want to play. Here’s the information you’ll need in order to locate the paytable on the casino’s video poker machine.
Single Game Machines: These are called stand alone or dedicated machines and there is only one video poker game that can be played. However, even though there is only a single game, you may choose from a machine that offers a single hand or up to 100 hands during the same game. Sometimes you’ll even see a menu of denomination options, such as nickels, quarters, dollars and so on. Make sure you record the paytable for the coin value you want to play. Often the paytable changes for different denominations, even though the game is the same.
Single Hand: Years ago this was the only option, machines where you play just one hand or line at a time. If there is only one denomination, then copy the paytable you see when you first walk up to the machine; if there is a choice of denominations, then make sure you copy the paytable for the denomination you want to play.
Multi-Play: Ernie Moody, founder and president of Action Gaming, patented Multi-Play Poker. Now you can play from three to 100 hands as part of the same game. The glass on the front of the machine will say Triple- Play, Five-Play or any other number of hands that are an option, along with the game name. The paytable appears in the left and right margins on the display screen, making it harder to read and copy. You should use the "See Pays" button on the bottom of the display screen to view and copy the game’s paytable. Be aware that when you’re actually ready to play a three-play, five-play or 10-play machine, you will be unable to play a single line. However, you can play a single line on either a 50-play or 100-play machine.
Multi-Game Machines: Today’s video poker machines offer a variety of options accessed by using the touch-screen menu. You’ll want to make sure the information you copy is accurate by carefully selecting both the game and denomination you want to play.
Single Hand: Even though it’s a single hand you need to use the menu on the display screen to select both the game and denomination. You can use either the paytable on the display screen, which will appear in a box above the last hand played, or the "See Pays" button.
Multi-Play: Here you have the most choices, select the game and denomination from the menu and then use the "See Pays" button. Make sure you use the "bet up / bet down" option to select the number of hands you want to play, you will see it highlighted on the paytable. Carefully copy the hand hierarchy along with the highlighted payout information.
Home to Practice
Once you have the paytable for the game or games you want to play, you’re ready for the next step, home practice.
You will need to put video poker practice software on your home computer, make sure you select one with a tutorial purpose. Currently there are three video poker training programs on the market; options that don’t instruct, but allow you to play games won’t improve your skills. I listed only software that you can use to play better. There are two new options that will become available in the near future. Although you need to go online to purchase or download the software, you don’t need to be online during play.
Optimum Video Poker
Developed by Dan Paymar, it’s an excellent training program. You can use Paymar’s software to calculate bankroll requirements. Most casual players, however, bring along an amount they’ve set aside for entertainment and when that’s gone, so are they. If you plan on buying more than one practice package, this is a good choice. Web address: www.optimumplay.com.
Frugal Gaming Software
Developed by Jim Wolf, this is another good choice for video poker home practice. You can choose from perfect play or less than perfect play modes. Web address: www.GamblingCatalog.com.
Wolf Video Poker
Currently being developed by Jim Wolf, and, based on Wolf’s level of expertise, I expect it to be a good one. Mr. Wolf offered to send me an Alpha release for evaluation, I’ll keep you posted on this software choice in my Midwest Gaming & Travel column.
Video Poker for Winners
Bob Dancer will be promoting this soon-to-be released training program, which will involve Action Gaming and will be published by Huntington Press. Just like the Wolf product, based on Dancer’s expertise, I expect the software to be top-notch.
Matching the Paytable
You’re now ready for the next step, that’s making sure the home practice paytable is the same as the paytable on the machine you plan on playing in the casino. Note that the instructions are for WinPoker, however, the other recommended software programs have similar features and ease of use.
Games: You’ll use this button, at the top of the program, to match the casino game with the one you want to practice, both should be the same. If you can’t find the game, then you’ll use the "user defined games" choice, this works for most, but not all games.
Options: Use this button and select "Change Paytables," you’ll make the new paytable the same as the one for the game in the casino.
Analyze: Press this button, located at the top of the display screen like the others, and select "Game." You then push the "Run Analysis" button and you will have the ER, that’s expected return, for the game you want to play. You may decide that you don’t want to play the game after all if the ER is too low for the game you copied from the machine inside the casino.
Learning Modes: The best way to reach most learners is to use a variety of delivery systems. In fact, sometimes several different approaches make the information clearer to the same person. That’s why you’ll want a practice program that offers several learning modes, and then select the choice best for you. Following are the learning modes offered in WinPoker, the modes may be different for other tutorials.
Auto-Hold: The software automatically holds the correct cards, you learn by trying to remember the hold for that type of dealt hand. If you don’t understand the reason for a hold, then select the "Analyze" choice at the top of the display screen and then choose "Any Hand," you’ll select the same hand as the one you’re questioning. Examining the detailed hierarchy of choices for the hand will shed some light on the reason plus you’ll be able to determine the cost of each error.
Warn: This is the mode I use, if you play correctly, then you just continue with no messages. However, if you make a mistake you’ll get an "Error" message along with an exclamation point, if it’s a big mistake.
Test: Practice in this mode and you will have no message as long as you play the hands correctly. However, if you make a mistake, then you’ll see "Hold" under the correct cards to keep and "Draw" under the correct discards. However, you can’t change from the incorrect choice to the correct one. To finish playing the hand you press the "Continue" button and the replacement cards, if any, are dealt.
Show: There are two ways to train using the show mode. You can select the hold cards, just like you did in the test mode, only now you see the correct holds whether you selected the right ones or not. Another way to use this mode is to push draw/deal, mentally decide what you would hold, push draw/deal again so you can see if you were right. If correct push "Continue," if incorrect push "Details." Be aware that the software will log all plays as "Errors" when you check the "Current Session" or "Overall Play" results, since you’re not actually holding anything.
Auto Play: The game is played correctly without the need to push buttons; you can even adjust the speed or program it to stop after a specified number of hands.
Multi-Play Practice: You can practice playing several hands at once as part of the same game, just like you may choose to do in the casino, right at home. Simply select the multi-play option and then choose to play three, four, five or 10 hands at once. I recommend that you use this option for practice if you plan on choosing multi-play games in the casino. Note that WinPoker is licensed from Action Gaming to include multi- play as a practice choice.
Other Training Features
You’ll find many other options that improve your skill as a player on each of the software programs that I recommended. However, the ones I described above are enough to get you started.
Bells and Whistles
Most people want to have fun while they’re practicing, in fact, some have a great time playing at home for free and don’t even go to a casino. If you’re spending too much time and money in the casino, consider home practice as a way to cut back on your time at the casino and to play better while you’re there. Special features add to the enjoyment of home practice even though they don’t improve your skill.
Here are a few of them so you’ll know what I’m talking about, again, this is for WinPoker. The other software choices may have similar features, but I think both the graphics and fun factor of WinPoker are the best on the market.
Four Color Suits: As the title implies, each of the four suits, hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, is in a different color. Personally, I find this distracting since the look is different from real cards; however, others say it helps them avoid mistakes or they just like the rainbow of colors.
Card Backs: You can change the design on the back of the virtual cards to your favorite pattern. Simply push the "options" button and select "card backs;" choose by clicking on the card you want. Sound: First push the options button and then push the "assign sounds" choice to enable the feature. Select from a menu of sounds options, like cards being dealt, coins dropping and so on. Although I don’t play with the sounds on, many people love this feature.
Strategy Charts and Cards: Casinos won’t allow any electronic device to be brought to the machines or even on the casino floor because they’re too afraid of cheating devices. They will, however, permit strategy charts or cards. There’s a world of difference between a software generated chart and a strategy card.
Hierarchy Charts: A computer generated hierarchy chart, also called a strategy chart, is a list of possible hands, from the best to the worst. To use the chart, you find the choices on the chart that match cards in your dealt hand. The combination that appears highest on the chart is the best choice. You will need to study the list of abbreviations as well as the color coding used on some charts, before you can use it. Most players don’t use charts during casino play because the most accurate ones have many lines and abbreviations, if the charts exclude a lot of hands, then they are also less accurate. Make sure you use the chart during home practice before going to the casino so you’ll know if you even want to take it with you.
Strategy Cards: A strategy card is very different from a chart, it’s designed to be used during casino play. A good card will include all possible dealt hands, have few if any abbreviations, be accurate, and be fast and easy to use during play. The only way you’ll know if the card has all of these features, is to use it during home practice. I spent many years writing and revising my strategy cards so they would work well during actual casino play. I’ve included free removable cards for the eight games I recommend in my book, "The Video Poker Edge," use them during home practice and bring them with you to the casino.
Final Thoughts: Practicing before playing video poker in a casino is similar to getting ready for the SAT exam, you can rely on getting lucky by guessing or you can study beforehand. Excellent software is available to improve your skill, I consider WinPoker a must have for any player. In addition, make sure you use any product you want to bring to the casino during your home practice sessions.
I want to thank Dean Zamzow, Bob Dancer and Jim Wolf for providing information about their software.
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