Bob Dancer is one of the most successful Video Poker players of all time. Is he the best? If not he’s unquestionably one of the best and certainly the most talented player to share their expertise with the public. We’re very lucky that Bob’s agreed to take some time away from the machines, the dance floor and the radio mic to tell us all about his experiences winning and losing at a game that’s easy to play but exceptionally tough to master.
Unlike most of the players I’ve had the chance to pitch questions to you focused your efforts on Video Poker rather that Blackjack though you have made some money at both games. How do you feel the skills required to beat the two games differ? What skills transfer? Are there any necessary traits for beating one game that could be a disadvantage when playing the other?
Malcolm Gladwell, in his ‘Outliers’ book said to master anything you need to spend 10,000 hours actively trying to master it. While that’s not a precise number, the best players at any game have invested a whole lot of time and energy doing so. The best players in both video poker and blackjack are smarter than average. The best players have the discipline to master the games down to the tiniest degree.
Otherwise the games have little in common. Blackjack has more interaction required with other players and casino personnel, so social skills are more important in that game.
While blackjack games have rule variations, the correct strategy for most of the variations is pretty similar. In video poker this isn’t true at all. Deuces Wild is played very differently than Double Double Bonus, for example. There are hands I could create that would be played four different ways in four different video poker games.
Although casinos kick out successful players at both games, you’re generally allowed to last longer at playing video poker well than counting cards at blackjack. Part of this is because it takes longer to identify competent video poker players. A card counter can be identified in less than 10 hands.
In blackjack, many of the best players play without giving their names. In video poker, you can’t really intelligently do this. Player’s clubs offer cash back, comp dollars, and various other goodies. There have been several different years where I lost $100,000 or so at the machines but received $300,000 or so from the player’s clubs in the form of cash back, drawings, free tickets that I can sell, whatever. Learning the Player’s Clubs inside out and backwards is every bit as important as learning the play video poker games well.
You’re also an accomplished Backgammon player that spent a reasonable time playing for and winning money. Backgammon is a game that I know little about. How do you feel that your experiences playing Backgammon helped you develop into a winning player in other games? Do you ever play Backgammon today? Is there much potential for a player who was prepared to travel to make a living playing Backgammon or is it too dependent on knowing the opponents you need to play?
“Accomplished” is a more generous word than I deserve. I haven’t played serious backgammon for more than 20 years — and the game is much different today than it was when I played. Today a variety of computer programs exist so that a student can become as competent in three months as players with 10 years of experience were in my day.
I’m not knowledgeable about how easy it is to make money in backgammon these days. On the Gambling with an Edge radio show, we had two backgammon heavyweights in 2013 and you can listen to their views on this subject. Kent Goulding – http://www.bobdancer.com/mp3/gwae072613.mp3?CFID=141190497&CFTOKEN=84637887 –
and Bill Robertie – http://www.bobdancer.com/mp3/gwae090513.mp3?CFID=141190497&CFTOKEN=84637887.
There are other backgammon guests invited for the show and sooner or later will have some additional experts to talk to our listeners.
On the cover of Million Dollar Video Poker there’s a photo of a Royal Flush in hearts that resulted in a $4000 win on a 9/6 Jacks of Better machine. Could you tell us where and when this photo was taken? Was it specifically taken for the cover of Million Dollar Video Poker? The stakes seem small for your play at the time you would have been writing the book?
The book cover shows a 4,000-coin win and replicates the draw my then-wife Shirley made on a $100 machine — which came out to be $400,000. This was about a half hour after I hit a $100,000 royal on a $25 machine. That remains my most lucrative gambling win.
I’ve just finished reading your book ‘Million Dollar Video Poker’ and I’ve got to say that having read hundreds of books on gambling and advantage play it’s the one that I feel most closely reflects my own experiences. For those readers not familiar with Bob or Million Dollar Video Poker, the book recounts his experiences over a seven year period from learning the basics and scraping a living out of playing with an edge and building up to a six month period where he and his ex-wife won over a million dollars. While the book covers a long period of times and substantial bankroll fluctuations in both the positive and negative directions, it culminates with the discovery of a game at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas that, when combined with incorrectly accruing comp points and a vastly overgenerous promotional program resulted in you being able to gain a significant edge over the casino. While I don’t get a lot of time to play these days with running of ThePOGG.com, when I was playing a substantial proportion of my financial success came from the discovery of a low edge Video Poker game at a specific online casino software brand where the comp point programs at several casinos took the game to a slightly positive proposition. By playing extensively on this slightly positive game, I was included in several high tier VIP programs where the additional promotions took this game from slightly positive to very positive. While ultimately only netting me a fraction of what you and your wife took from the MGM promotions and games this game earned me enough capital to set up and run ThePOGG. And this has lead me to wonder what impact these sort of “gift horse” opportunities have on the success of advantage players in general? Do you feel that in general successful players are the ones that find an exceptional situation that allows them to build their bankroll to substantially more than required or do most successful players simply grind their way up with hard work being the key to their success?
I’m glad you liked the book. Thank you.
Every player’s road to success is a little different. Personally I was definitely a grinder — although always looking for what you’re calling a gift horse.
Getting lucky at the right time is a key part of success. Royal flushes in Jacks or Better come about every 40,000 hands on average. Sometimes you get more than that. Sometimes less. But over millions and millions of hands, it comes out approximately correct. But even finding this gift horse at the MGM, it was fortunate that we hit the $400,000 royal after only about 10,000 hands at that denomination. It could very well have happened that we never hit that royal. How close to zero we would have gotten before we pulled the plug was never decided upon. Yet. We could have easily lost another $100K or $200K and then given up. Even though we had the advantage, luck at the right time was required.
I know a lot more about bankroll calculations today than I did in 2001-2002, which is when my $1,000,000 six months took place.(The Video Poker for Winners software has an excellent bankroll calculator in it.) I was somewhat underfinanced to play a $100 machine (which means $500 per hand). The MGM restricted my play before I could give it all back.
Don’t think that all gift horses are easy to recognize as such. If somebody today told you that a particular $100 machine was worth about $800 per hour in profit over the long run, but you could easily lose a quarter of a million dollars over the next couple of weeks going for it if things went badly, would you consider that a gift horse? That was what mine looked like.
From my understanding of offline play and specifically Video Poker play, casinos have traditionally been more tolerant of skilled Video Poker players than they have of players capable of beating other games. Do you feel that’s accurate or is it simply that the high variance involved in Video Poker does more to mask the skill of the player (jackpot type wins look more like luck than a steady grind up the way that counting, tracking or hole card play are likely to create)? How do you feel the casinos approach to skilled Video Poker players has changed over the years?
Casinos do restrict players for a variety of reasons and that is MUCH more common today than it was 10 years ago. In addition to winning too much, some casinos restrict you if you only play their best machine and almost always do it on days with point multipliers.
Many players sometimes come in and play on days without special incentives and periodically play a small amount on slot machines just so that they don’t fit the profile of a player who is ALWAYS grinding out an edge. It’s not cheap to “advertise” like this, but it can save your welcome.
It happens to most professional players at some point, an error of judgement that leads to a painful experience. I personally remember one particular time where I took insufficient account of the risk involved in a play and wound up losing 20% of my bankroll. This was early in my playing days and had a substantial impact on what I could afford to risk for a good length of time after this. During your career what’s the biggest error of judgement you’ve made and how did it impact you?
Losing 20% of your bankroll may or may not have been an error of judgement. Did you have the advantage? Did you know how to play the game well? Did you have the bankroll to survive most swings? In gambling you need to decide BEFORE you know the result whether it’s a good risk or not. Sometimes it pans out. Sometimes it doesn’t. But just because you lost doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.
In 2013 I lost more than $100,000 playing Ultimate X video poker at the Palms casino in Las Vegas. I felt (still do) that combined with their other promotions, it was a smart play. I just ran bad. I don’t consider that an error of judgement at all.
As much as it seems very recent, Million Dollar Video Poker was published over 10 years ago now. Can you tell us a little about your successes since? How do you feel the market’s changed since the period discussed in your book? Have you found anything nearly as exciting as the MGM opportunity (that you can talk about lol)?
“Exciting” is a tough word to define. I still enjoy what I do and find numerous opportunities. The ones I enjoy most are when there’s an unusual promotion and I need to figure out how to exploit it better than the hundreds of other players who are trying to do the same thing.
I regularly write about my adventures and old articles are archived on www.bobdancer.com.
If a play is still lucrative, I rarely write much about it until it’s over.
You’ve been quoted on numerous occasions criticising players who complain about games not being as good as they used to be and have been consistent in your view that players should expect playing conditions to get consistently tougher and games harder to beat. This is something I strongly agree with, those that evolve with the conditions and raise their game to beat what’s on offer now are those who’ll survive. Spending time lamenting lost opportunities of the past isn’t a fruitful use of time. That said, do you feel that it’s likely that their will come a time when casinos get so clued up and game conditions get so tight that it becomes unrealistic for any player to reasonable expect to be able to make a living gambling in casinos?
I don’t see such a day coming. There are A LOT of games where the casino has the edge over most players and proficient players can win. Since casinos are competing with each other, they frequently add new games. Every time they do is an opportunity for some casino employee to mess up. In a modern video poker machine, there might be 500 settings to make when it is being set up. Employees are human. Mistakes are made.
In table games, sometimes a game is designed to run as a single deck but the casino puts it into a shoe instead. Depending on the game, this can provide a big advantage for the player.
The marketing departments of most casinos are filled with imaginative right-brained people who are often mathematically challenged. The best players have left brain orientations. Although exceptions exist, the best players are often quite a bit brighter than the casino managers they are competing against.
I’ve been co-hosting the Gambling with an Edge radio show for more than three years now. What’s continually fascinating to me is that there are a LOT of different ways to beat the casino. Any particular one may dry up, but having all of them dry up is not very likely.
Playing professionally is a taxing endeavour both physically and emotionally. Physically you face the travelling and awkward hours, the bad food and smoky environment. Even if you play online your still faced with the psychological highs and lows that come with the wins and losses. Emotionally it can be very difficult to sustain any form of stable family life with so much time spent playing away from home and sleeping when everyone else is awake. How do you feel your lifestyle choices have impacted on you physical wellbeing and family life? Is there any advice you’d give to someone considering trying to play professionally to help them sustain an equilibrium between health, family and play?
My answer two years ago would have been different. Basically out of the blue, my wife of 17 years said she had had enough of the smoke in Vegas and she was moving to California. Period. If I wanted to give up gambling I could go with her.
I’m still in Vegas.
I remarried a year and a half later. Bonnie doesn’t gamble. We’re active in square dancing. It doesn’t really matter what activity you’re in together — but you should find something to do together.
Healthwise, smoke is a real issue. I have a mild form of COPD, which is thought to be caused by second-hand smoke. I avoid the smokiest casinos. I try to play during off hours to avoid most of the smoke. I work out at the gym.
Although it would be nice if casinos were smoke-free, I don’t think that will be happening in the near future. Most experiments on that have proven to be a failure, from the casino’s point of view.
In Million Dollar Video Poker you express an aversion to online play due to the unregulated nature of the market. This was in the early days of online gambling and much has changed since then, including the US exit from the online gambling market and their slow return right now. Has your opinion changed any in the interceding years? How would you like to see the online market develop over the next 5-10 years? Can you ever see yourself doing any serious play online?
I can envision online opportunities in the future. Right now, in Nevada the only online games are poker — which is not my strength. There will probably be different online games in the future, but it’s murky right now.
There is a big national debate going on over whether to expand online gaming or to shut it down. The guy leading the charge against online gambling is Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire who is willing to invest many many millions of dollars in this fight. How it will end up is anybody’s guess.
Alongside writing books about you own exploits playing Video Poker and books aimed at educating players about how to improve their Video Poker game, you’ve also written a couple of novels – ‘Sex, Lies, and Video Poker’ and ‘More Sex, Lies, and Video Poker’. What lead you to write in the fiction genre? How does writing fiction compare to writing non-fiction? Are there more novels on the way?
The two novels are mildly pornographic. I thought it would be a hoot to see if I could come up with an erotic novel. So I did. Twice.
Writing fiction is considerably different than writing non-fiction. My editor, Deke Castleman, was a big help along the way.
I don’t know if any more novels are on the way. I have some ideas, but none are past the idea stage. The future ones, if any, probably won’t be so erotic. Been there done that.
You write columns for numerous gambling publications and even host your own radio show in the Las Vegas area. Can you tell us a little about where readers can find your commentary and what you have coming up in the near future on your radio show?
Most of my articles are archived on bobdancer.com.
Beginning in a few months, I’m going from an article format to a blog format associated with the Las Vegas Advisor. That will be more interactive with readers able to post responses. It will be moderated — possibly by me — trying to keep out various haters and trolls. I hope we have a decent amount of dissent without a lot of “you’re a jerk” kind of comments.
My radio show co-host, Richard Munchkin, and I often scramble to get guests. We have several slots on the radio already booked but if you wanted a schedule one month out, we couldn’t give it to you. Old radio shows are archived on bobdancer.com and richardmunchkin.com and you can subscribe for free for podcasts to be delivered directly to your mobile device.
You used to teach Video Poker classes, helping players to improve their game. Is this something you still do? If so what do you feel you gain out of doing so and where can players find your classes? I’ve often found that real understanding has only been reached when I’ve had to teach someone else. Do you feel that teaching classes has helped improve your game?
I teach two 10-week semesters a year at the South Point casino in Las Vegas. I’m writing this in August 2014 and the next semester there will begin September 10, 2014 at noon in the Grandview Lounge. I do teach elsewhere periodically. The schedule may be found on bobdancer.com.
Writing and teaching are clearly “secrets” to my success. The level of knowledge you need to have in order to teach a class is considerably higher than most players seek to obtain. By signing up to teach classes and publish articles, I “force” myself to study these things far more than I would if I didn’t have such commitments.
Even if you don’t intend to publish, each person can write articles about some part of video poker. You’ll likely find you have to go back and check something before you write it down. This process helps you understand the game better.
Another key part of the process is to have somebody read what you wrote and offer criticism. Constructive criticism is very useful if you want to improve. Once your ideas are written out, it’s easy for somebody to read it and say, “you’re wrong about that because . . . .” Sometimes that person is correct. Sometimes not so much. But just the debate about it can sharpen your skills.
Finally, I used to do some work in the music journalism field and I’m always interested to hear about people’s tastes in music. Could you give us your top 5 albums?
I don’t listen to albums.
My favorite musical genre is classical country with my favorite artists being Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Vern Gosdin, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Oak Ridge Boys, Statler Brothers and a whole bunch more. On the radio I listen to Sirius XM’s “Willie’s Rdhouse” even though I think they should spell out “Roadhouse.”
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