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The secret to video poker

Dear Mark,
If dealt A, K, Q, J, of hearts and a 10 of diamonds on a video poker machine, should I try for the royal flush or stick with the straight? This happened to me recently and I kept the straight, kicking myself ever since. How bad a move was it? Patricia M.

Stop kicking yourself, Patricia, but you did mess up.
When playing video poker, all experts will discard certain cards to optimize the "expected value" (win potential) of their hands. Herein lies the secret to winning at video poker-or another way of saying it, playing perfect basic strategy.

So what do I mean by "expected value?" Expected value is the average value of all the wins attainable (after the discards are replaced), assuming that the optimum cards are retained and each unique possible draw occurs. In your case, the Expected Value of a 4-Card Royal was 19 and straight is just a 4.

By now, Patricia, I suspect you think this expected value stuff isn't worth learning since I've mentioned previously that there are 2,459,076 possible hands you can be dealt in video poker. Not necessarily. In reality, there are only 35 workable combination of hands, from the naturally dealt royal flush to that crummy hand where you would discard all five cards. learn them and you'll lower the house edge to under one half of one percent.

My only solution at this time, Patricia, is to tell you that every hand you are dealt has some value and potential of winning money, with the expected value predetermined accurately by past computer studies. Hopefully by summers end I'll be bringing those computer studies to a four color, laminated chart form, which will identify each of those 35 combinations. I'll make sure you, and all the readers of this column, know when it's available.

Dear Mark,
I want to make some decent sized wagers (10-20K) on a few games this upcoming football season. Ideally, I would like to make them in Vegas, but that is not really practical for me. I know there are various internet off-shore books who will take bets via bank wire and telephone. I am willing to risk the legal implications of this, 18 USC 1084 notwithstanding, but I am worried about wiring $20,000 out of the country to some guy I've never met except for 3 minutes on the telephone.

Do you know which of these telebet books are reputable? Or not reputable? And how much do they generally take in wagers? Is $20,000 a great deal to them?

Any information that you care to share would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Arnold J.

Arnold, didn't you answer your own question when you stated "I am worried about wiring $20,000 out of the country to some guy I've never met except for 3 minutes on the telephone?" I think you summed up your potential risk quite well. Besides, as a syndicated columnist, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to dole out illegal advice on how to best beat the Interstate Wire Act.

Finally, I've mentioned this once before in a previous column, but I can't advise anyone to wire money thousands of miles away to an unregulated, uncontrolled, and probably illegal enterprise, give them a credit card and social security number, and hope everything is square. Sorry, Arnold, no vote of confidence here.

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