Golfing legend Arnold Palmer once quipped, “It’s a funny thing, the more I practice the luckier I get.” There is a whole lot of truth to what he said. Practice is important in developing and honing any skill.

The greats in sports have rigorous practice sessions. Tennis great Ivan Lendl once said, “If I don’t practice the way I should, then I won’t play the way I know I can.” Another tennis star, Andre Agassi, is quoted as saying, “If you don’t practice you don’t deserve to win.”

A good friend and fellow video poker player and I were talking about our video poker playing exploits. We both keep track of a variety of information during our playing sessions. Our records both include statistics used for supporting gambling wins and losses when reporting to the IRS. In addition, we both keep other information that can be helpful in analyzing our play. This information includes the number of hands played, number of four-of-a-kinds, number of straight flushes and number of royal flushes. In addition I keep track of the number of four to a flush dealt and the number of times that are filled.

According to the video poker software we use, for the game that he plays, he should have been getting a straight flush once every 9,000 hands or so and a royal flush once every 40,000 hands (on average over the long run). Upon reviewing his statistics he noted that he only got three straight flushes and two royal flushes over that last 135,000 hands.

Based on the long-term average, he should have hit at least three royal flushes and 15 straight flushes. Video Poker variance can easily account for the one royal flush that he is down and it could possibly also account for the 12 straight flush shortfall, but that is unlikely.

I told him to try playing a few hands on my video poker training software to see how well he had his strategy down. It didn’t take long before the source of his problem became clear. Whenever he had two or three high cards he would always hold them even though there was a three-card straight flush.

It is true that not every three card straight flush is a better hold than every two high card combination, but by not holding the proper cards he is dramatically reducing his chances of hitting the seemingly elusive straight flushes.

I have a lot of respect for my friend’s grasp of gambling odds and edges and know that he plays very carefully. I am sure he felt he was playing absolutely correctly – even though he was not doing so.

That got me thinking.

I have been playing video poker for years. I play several times a month and am very comfortable with the game. I carry a strategy card with me and look at it when I am unsure of a close call, but that is it. I feel I have the strategy mastered. However, after what I saw with my friend I decided to try my hand at the video poker training software myself. I felt it would be no problem playing about an hour to an hour-and-a-half (at least one thousand hands) error-free.

Was I ever in for a surprise.

To summarize:

  • I missed a low pair on occasion when I had a couple of high cards.
  • I, too, missed three of a straight flush on occasion.
  • I made all the same mistakes my friend made.

It was brutal. It was humbling.

Video poker player in front of a computer

But upon careful reflection, it was also inevitable. My “practice” was simply playing in a land-based or an online casino. I had no way of knowing when I made a mistake unless I happened to catch it myself. The more I played, the less I looked at the strategy card as I was more certain of close plays. Unless I took great care looking at the initial hands that were dealt, I would miss certain card combinations – especially when they were low cards.

It was at this point I remembered a couple of other quotes I have heard (and used). 

  • The first is by Ed Murrow. “We cannot make good news out of bad practice.”
  • The second is one I use when helping others attain their goals. The great Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

I had not followed this advice in my own play feeling I was too good to bother with training software. Because I played so frequently, I felt that I played perfectly. That obviously was not true. As I played more and more without using practice software, little mistakes crept into my play. Because I was so familiar with the game and the video poker strategy, I played faster. The faster play caused me to miss certain cards that should have been held. My ego kept me from realizing I needed to periodically have practice sessions even though I played regularly.

Confident Video Poker player

Well no more. From now on my practice will be perfect practice – not just playing in the casinos. By using my video poker practice software to highlight my mistaken tendencies, I can better hone my skills and produce the best results possible. I will use perfect practice to help me play perfectly. In the process, I just might find that I start becoming luckier.

A word to the wise: don’t feel you are too good for practice. You set yourself up for a fall when you do.

About the Author

Jerry “Stickman” has been involved in casino gambling for nearly 30 years. He is an expert in blackjack, craps, video poker and advantage slot machine play. He started playing blackjack in the late ‘80s, learned several card counting systems and used these skills to become an advantage blackjack player and overall winner of this game. He also acquired the skills necessary to become an overall winner in the game of craps, accomplishing this by a combination of throwing skill and proper betting techniques. Stich is also an overall winner playing video poker.