A push is NOT a win

Dear Mark,
When playing Video Poker, I consistently win by getting high pairs but struggle for the higher hands. Can I successfully beat the house on a high pair alone? Rhonda T.

Rhonda, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff. One of the reasons video poker is so popular is that it returns your investment for a pair of jacks to aces. But, Rhonda, never consider a push a win. The psychological effect of returned coins from a push has at best, dubious value. All it does is make you feel like a winner, when in reality you're not. Treat even-money payoffs not as a win against the casino but just getting YOUR hard-earned money back.
Personally, I've always felt that this erroneous impression of winning is one of the most powerful false hope methods the casino has against you, not only with your high pair scenario but also when it's a push on a blackjack table or a one-cherry payoff on a pull handle slot machine.
So do you want to win more consistently, Rhonda? Find 9/6 video poker pay tables or 8/5 machines with progressives nearing $2,200, then play perfect basic strategy. A high pair now and then will make you consistent all right, a consistent loser.

Dear Mark,
In Las Vegas, I saw a casino advertise that on their selected video poker machines your return can be more than 100%. Is this possible? Isn't the casino going to lose money? Mary S.

Yes, Mary, the casinos would lose money if every player had unlimited access to "selected machines," plus understood and used perfect basic strategy. But because fewer than one percent effectively play perfect basic strategy, the casino won't lose money by making such an offer. You also answered part of your question by stating "on selected machines." Sometimes those "selected machines" can be as few as two on the whole casino floor. No chance of two expert players grinding away at the house and affecting the casino quarterly report. Plus, the casino will generally surround those "selected machines" with others that have pay tables offering significantly lower payoffs, guaranteeing even more winnings from the uneducated masses.
Like casino mogul Steve Wynn says, "If you wanna make money in a casino, own one."

Dear Mark,
I have found a couple of web sites that survey blackjack conditions at various casinos and sometimes they quote a "Penetration Percentage." Exactly what is that? Is there anything a player can do to influence it? Dennis L.

How many cards a dealer pitches from his deck before he shuffles is called penetration. If he deals all the cards out, that's 100 percent penetration. For the average Joe playing on the game, penetration has little significance. However, for the card counter, the depth of penetration is a key variable on whether to play on that game. The deeper a counter can go into a deck, the better.
You also asked, Dennis, if you can influence it? Sort of. Every casino has a set policy on how deep they will allow their dealers to go before they want them to shuffle-up. But casinos do have lazy dealers who don't like to shuffle. Shuffling forces them to be certified friendly and converse with the customer. Believe me, no amount of Prozac is going to get a stiff dealer yapping. One dealer told me that for 10 years, working in four different casinos, he always dealt to the bottom of the deck to avoid conversation. Not once did a pit boss or the "eye in the sky" ask him to change his rogue conduct.
By the way, that dealer is now running a casino in the Midwest.