Are You Still Up to Snuff?

In Las Vegas, there was a 70-day break for the pandemic, assuming you played in the casinos on March 17 and returned on June 4. If you socially distanced before March 17, or didn’t rush back as soon as the casinos reopened, the break was longer.

Certain casino venues elsewhere in the country opened earlier or later than June 4, but for now, let’s assume we all had a 2¼ -month break, minimum. It’s close enough for today’s purposes.

If your head has been away from thinking about video poker, 2¼ months is plenty of time to forget a lot of what you knew. If you previously played at the 99% accuracy level, you may well now be at the 98% accuracy level. A one percent decrease in accuracy is very difficult to overcome, given the small edges we’re forced to deal with.

Make no mistake. I’m talking to myself here as much as I’m talking to you.

Prior to March 17, I was primarily playing eight games — with two of them being progressives. Although enquiring minds may want to know exactly which eight games were on my list, it really doesn’t matter unless you are exactly in my shoes. Which you aren’t. 

My list includes the best games available for the stakes I want to play at the casinos where I choose to play and am welcome to play. The list is different from the games I played a year ago — with overlap, of course. And more than 50% different from what I was playing six years ago. I expect the list in another year to be different still.

For 9/6 Jacks and NSU, I haven’t lost a thing. I’ve studied, written about, taught, and played those games for thousands of hours. It’ll take more than 2¼ months for my long-term memory to fade.

But the newer games I’ve played aren’t at the same level in my long-term memory. I simply don’t remember all the fine points.

My strategy when the casinos opened was that for the first few weeks, go in and pick up accumulated free play without playing a lot more. Yes, this will hurt my offers in the future. That’s unfortunate, but it’s a cost I’m prepared to fade. I’m waiting until I’m more convinced that the casinos didn’t re-open too early before I start spending a lot of hours in them. And for picking up free play, even if I am playing at 99% of my former level, it’s enough.

What I also did was to scout the casinos to see what has changed. If a game I played in early March was no longer on the floor, I wasn’t spending time to relearn it. If the rate of progression changed, I knew I wouldn’t be playing it as often. I didn’t see a lot of “new” games added that were attractive. But I couldn’t know that for sure until I went and looked. And I looked.

I wasn’t scouting for everybody. I was scouting for me. So, I ignored small denomination machines and games where the return was too low. At most places, once you see a few of the games on a box, you know if this is a “loose box” (meaning all the games are 99% or so) or higher or whether this is a “tight box” meaning the games are much worse than that. If they snuck a great game in a tight box, I probably missed it. But checking every game on every machine without some shortcuts takes more hours than I want to spend right now.

At almost every casino where I’m a regular, I had some unredeemed free play in March simply because the casinos weren’t open after the 17th and some of the free play offers weren’t scheduled to become activated until after that. Each casino made up its own rules for dealing with this.

Some casinos paid off the old offers in full. Some re-issued offers for June that were at least as big as the ones in March, and any unredeemed offers in March were forfeited. Some casinos put it all on the kiosk without comment and you had to figure out whether it was the correct amount or not. And if not, you had to bring in your old offers and talk to the booth.

Another thing that can be forgotten is how the slot clubs work. For example, how much is 5x points? At some houses it’s 0.25%, some 0.50%, and some 1.5%. (These aren’t the only possibilities.) When you’re trying to calculate whether or not a game is playable, this matters.

Some casinos have calendar periods by which you need to achieve a certain number of points to earn a particular tier level. Did the casino change some rules to give you extra time to meet these levels since it was closed for 2¼ months? Some did and some didn’t. Some expressly said so in literature at the booth. Some didn’t. A savvy player finds this out if a) he hasn’t already reached the desired tier anyway, and b) he values the extras he gets from the higher tier.

Is it difficult to get up to speed on all of this? Well, it wasn’t for me, once I figured out what the game was. But I needed to sit and think about things first. This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation and so none of us can figure out what’s going to happen based on experience.

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