A very silly post of consequence whatsoever

That’s right: Another post about video poker (which means comments are off because most of them wouldn’t get through filters anyway).

Not completely about video poker, though: Also about a silly statement in a pretty good book about statistics, one I read when I was first pondering the possibility of writing a book about coping with everyday statistics.

Still pondering, as a recent post made clear. No decision yet.

Anyway: The book said–accurately–that neither (honest) dice nor (honest) cards (nor, for that matter, honest slot machines) have memories, any more than an honest coin does. Therefore, getting, say, fifty heads in a row when flipping a coin does not mean that the next flip is “nearly certain to be tails.” Assuming the coin’s legit, it means the odds are even–50% chance you’ll get tails, 50% chance heads.

Similarly, if you’ve played 40,000 hands of draw video poker and haven’t received a royal flush (which should come up roughly one out of every 40,000 hands), the chances of getting one on the next play are, well, 1 in about 40,000. And if you get two royal flushes in a row, the chances of getting a third one are 1 in about 40,000–even though the chances of that three-royal-flush streak are truly small.

All of that’s accurate. Here’s the part that’s not: The author says that there are no such things as streaks.

That’s nonsense. In fact, the nature of random play means that there almost have to be streaks–periods during which the randomness doesn’t seem random. What might have been said honestly is that a streak can end at any time, because it’s just a series of random events.

But there are streaks. The last time I played video poker for money (which was quite a while back, the last time ALA Annual was in New Orleans), I had a hot streak: Although I was playing machines with roughly 96% payback (because I wasn’t betting five coins at a time, so wouldn’t get the Big Payout for a royal flush), I was probably averaging 105% payback. For two days (maybe three hours total).

It works both ways, to be sure. And therein hangs the tale of the current silly post, a long way of saying “Aarrggh…”

Videopoker.com, the non-wagering video poker site run by the company that produces most video poker slot machines, just added a third contest to its other two (a daily \$50 contest and a monthly contest with several winners running up to \$500): A monthly contest to reward those of us who win a fair number of rounds (a round is 100 deals; a deal is usually three hands but sometimes only one and sometimes 25-100) but rarely get lucky enough to get the day’s top score. The new contest gives you a point each time you win a round at all–and gives you another round when you want it (you’re normally limited to either 5 or 8 rounds a day, depending). Whoever has the most points at the end of the month wins.

I’ve played when I felt like it, and did so-so, and saved my extra points for games that I really like and have usually done well at. Normally, I can figure to win 25%-40% of rounds; that’s reasonable for games with 98.5% payback [full Nevada odds, varying slightly depending on the game]. These two variants have actually been somewhat better, typically in the 40%-50% range.

So yesterday was one of the “good” ones. I figured to win 2 or 3 of the eight standard rounds and keep playing those extra credits until they were gone. Played eight rounds. Three of the eight had >90% payback; two of those three had >97% payback. But not one round was a winner. I used two existing extra credits to play ten rounds. Not one winner. That’s exceptionally bad for this particular variant–for any variant, actually.

Today? Another good one. So far, I’ve done five rounds. Every round >90%. Two rounds at 99% or higher.

Not one winner.

So, yes, there are streaks. Hot streaks and cold streaks. Right now, if you suggested going to a casino, all housing and travel expenses paid, I’d probably laugh: At least with videopoker.com, there’s no possibility of losing money. (And no second-hand smoke, and no music unless I want it…) My cold streak could snap any time–possibly the very next time I play–but right now, it’s making it remarkably easy to write, read, weed (I hate weeding!), watch TV…

The only lesson here: Of course there are streaks. If there are no streaks, you’re playing a crooked game–one that has memory*. But, also of course, streaks are neither predictable nor meaningful in the long run.

*Real-world blackjack and table poker do, of course, have a form of memory–cards that have already been played can’t be played again until the deck’s reshuffled. Different issue.

Update 7:30 p.m.: It is, of course, entirely coincidental that after posting this lament I managed to win four out of the next six rounds, after having lost 16 in a row. Doesn’t mean I’m suddenly on a hot streak, only that the cold streak seems to have ended. For now.