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by: John G VP.
Video poker manufacturers already have the means to raise and lower payback percentages according to casino desires without monkeying with randomness standards. It's done by changing the pay tables--put two machines side by side with pay tables that are identical except that one pays 9-for-1 on full houses and the other pays 8-for-1.
Recent columns on video poker strategy brought a flurry of e-mail with questions from readers. Let's try to answer a few, starting with one of the most common questions asked about video poker:

Q. I’ve heard that video poker machines set all 10 cards that you could see in a hand before it deals the cards. Are those cards then dealt in order, or does your draw depend on which cards you discard?

A. Video poker machines deal the cards in sequence from the randomly shuffled electronic deck, but the deck is continually reshuffled after you see your initial five cards until you draw.

If you discard one card, you will get the next card off the top of the deck, and the position on the screen of your discard doesn't matter. Discard two, and you'll get the next two off the top of the deck, and so on.

Many players believe that video poker machines deal "shadow hands" behind the initial five cards, as if each position on the screen was actually a two-card stack. With a shadow hand, if you discarded the first card on the left, your draw would be the card directly underneath, and if you discarded the second card from the left, you'd get the card under that one, so that each draw would be unique.
 
That appears to be the way video poker originally was programmed—Dwight Crevelt wrote that was the way the game worked in Video Poker Mania and I picked up on that in a Sun-Times column in 1994--but video poker machines have not worked that way in years. 

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Q. I've had numerous occurrences that when I've drawn one card to a straight, or full house, I've had the same identical card returned to me on the draw that I had just discarded. Can you explain this?

A. By "same identical card," I'm assuming the draw is the same denomination of card in a different suit--for example, a 5 of clubs being replaced by a 5 of hearts. If it's the same suit and denomination, there's something wrong with the program and the game should be taken out of service until the computer chip is changed.

Now then, the phenomenon referred to is something every video poker player has experienced from time to time. There are streaks when it seems every time we're making a one-card draw for a straight or full house, we get the same denomination card and fail to improve the hand. The operative word is "seems." I've found that there's a little selective memory at work, and a few instances of what seems to be an odd occurrence will cause us to take note every time it happens, while the times it doesn't happen don't stick in our memories.

By random chance, when we make a one-card draw we should receive a card of the same denomination 3 times per 47 trials, or a little more often than 1 in 16 hands. Its well within random chance that such a thing could happen several times in a row, leading us to think it the machine is programmed for that to happen. But if you really keep track of what happens over a long period or in several sessions, keeping track of every one-card draw, the effect disappears.

Q. Why don't you tell your readers that the payback percentages with expert play would be attainable only if machines were programmed so that every card had an equal chance of appearing, but that's not the way they're programmed? For example, if they were programmed that way, expert play would bring a straight flush once per 9,000 hands, but the machines are programmed so that expert play will bring a straight flush only once per 10,000 hands. The payback percentage with expert play on Jacks or Better isn't really 99.5 percent, it's something less. Why don't casinos list the real potential payback percentages next to the machines?

A. I won't tell my readers that, because it's not true. Nevada regulations, which set the tone for most of the gaming industry, require that video poker be dealt from a randomly shuffled electronic deck in which each card has an equal chance of being dealt. The odds on video poker are the same as if the cards were a physical deck, randomly shuffled and dealt by a human dealer.

What about video poker machines in states other than Nevada? I've been over this often, and at length, with a source who is a programmer for a major slot manufacturer, and he says the chips that drive video poker machines in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Mississippi, Louisiana or anywhere else are identical to the chips used in Nevada. It is legal in New Jersey for a machine to be programmed as you suggest, but it isn't done. My source says flat out that video poker programs are not written that way.



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