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Changing Video Poker Machines

9 February 2013

By Henry Tamburin

One of the most controversial topics among video poker players is changing machines. I’m going to throw my two cents into this issue and share with you a slightly different perspective from Frank Kneeland, who is the author of the book “The Secret World of Video Poker Progressives.” (Kneeland also writes a video poker column for my Blackjack Insider Newsletter.)

Many video poker players will change machines when they are losing. They believe that their machine is “cold” and by switching to another machine, they, hopefully, will land on a “hot machine.”

Here’s my two cents on switching machines.

There are some perfectly good reasons for switching but doing it “to change your luck” isn’t one of them. The cards on a video poker machine are selected randomly. The cards don’t know (and don’t care) whether you are on a cold (or hot) steak. Therefore, from a strictly mathematical viewpoint, changing machines from a game you are currently playing to another machine to play the same game with the same pay table isn’t a guarantee that your luck will change. You will get most likely, different results in the short term on your new machine but you don’t know beforehand whether it will better or worse.

However, there are some other reasons why you might consider switching machines. These include a “sticking” button on the machine, a blurry screen, cold air blowing on you from an overhead air conditioner vent, smoke being blown in your direction from a smoker, or having an “overly chatty” player next to you. However, the bottom line is this: If the expected return (ER) for the game you are playing on machine A is the same as machine B, from a mathematical viewpoint, it doesn’t make any difference which machine you play.

I often add this caveat: If you don’t have an expected return (ER) over 100%, changing machines could lower your hourly loss because it will decrease the number of hands you play per hour (this assumes you would hop around from one machine to another several times during a session). In addition, by pausing from the action and giving your brain a rest when you switch machines, it could help you avoid making playing mistakes, which often occurs when players play video poker machines non-stop for long periods.

As you can see, I take a rather hard-line, scientific view on the topic of switching machines. (I am a trained scientist, after all.) Enter Frank Kneeland, who wrote an article about changing machines as a strategy in the August 2012 issue of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter titled “The Lucky Underwear Phenomena.” I’ve summarized below what he had to say on this topic.

1. When a player is sure he will do better after changing machines, they really have no data to compare with simply because they can’t clone themselves and continue playing on the first machine, and then compare the results with the second machine.

2. If a player happens to get “better” results after changing machines, he will point to this fact as proof that changing machines makes a difference. This is a natural human tendency to overrate how much control a player thinks he has over an event, such as the output of the results of the random number generator (RNG) in a video poker machine (this is known in psychological circles as Illusionary Control).

3. Toss in Hindsight Bias, which is the tendency to see past events as more predictable than they really were, and you have a nearly complete picture of why players, in retrospect, believe changing machines is anything other than a waste of time.

4. The common advice to players goes something like this: “It doesn’t matter if you change machines or not, because the machines are random and each hand is an independent event. Furthermore, it is neither good nor bad, so do it if you like.” I disagree for this reason. According to Dr. William G. McCown, who is the author of a book on gambling psychology, cognitive distortions are a risk factor for problem gambling. Therefore, knowing this, there is simply no reason to tempt fate.

5. Our less-than-perfect human minds are primed to look for patterns. Suppose instead of changing machines, you changed underwear. Some of your underwear will result in a “hot session” while other result in a “cold session.” You might start favoring your “lucky” underwear when you play video poker. I hope you realize that your choice of underwear doesn’t affect what hands you are dealt or what draw cards you get when you play video poker. Neither does changing machines.

So there you have two views on changing machines with a similar recommendation: Changing machines as a playing strategy won’t work in the long run.

Note: You can read Frank Kneeland’s entire insightful article (“The Lucky Underwear Phenomena”) by going to www.bjinsider.com/changemachines.


Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of the smartgaming.com website and the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter.
Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

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