How many of you remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports from a few decades ago? It has a famous opening that talked about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Who can forget that image of the skier wiping out on the slope? Some days it seems like they could’ve been talking about video poker with that tag line. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to venture out and play some video poker.
Last week, I had a less than stellar outing. In the first 20 minutes I was handed numerous opportunities to crush the house. I was playing Double Double Bonus Poker and was dealt a plethora of Three of a Kinds right off the deal. What more can you ask for in this game that rewards so well for Quads?
I always promise myself I’ll keep detailed information about the frequencies of such phenomenon, but alas, I never do. I’m forced to approximate what took place and undoubtedly fall into the common trap of remembering things a bit differently than they actually took place. But, for illustrative purposes, we’ll go with my best recollections and take them with a grain of salt.
I would say in those first minutes I was dealt about 10 Three of a Kinds in the first 100 to 150 hands. The odds of being dealt Three of a Kind are just over 2%. But, being dealt 10 in 150 hands seemed like a lot (this is closer to 6.7%). I calculated the odds of this and it is about 1 in 959.
Certainly not a common occurrence, but hardly earth shattering. To add to my intrigue (and my less than successful evening), none of these 10 Trips resulted in a Four of a Kind. This seemed almost as bizarre. But, when I performed the calculation to determine the probability of this, I found that hitting zero Quads should happen about 67% of the time.
This is not for a single Trips, but for all 10 resulting in zero Four of a Kinds. That’s right, it is nearly twice as likely to get no Four of a Kinds as it is to get one or more. Only about 1 in 23 Trips will turn into Quads. What I thought was an unlucky streak in that I didn’t get any Four of a Kinds was probably actually a lucky streak that I got this many Three of a Kinds.
Unfortunately, by the end of the night, I seemed to struggle to get any Four of a Kinds, and eventually the Three of a Kinds dried up a bit too, and well, it just wasn’t pretty. You can be a skilled video poker player and still have bad nights if the cards just are not in your favor.
Fast forward to this week. I decided to play a less volatile version of video poker and went for Bonus Poker. This invariably leads me to hitting Four Aces almost every time I play. Why should it hit on the version that pays considerably more, when it can torture me by hitting it on a non-Double Double machine?
That night was no exception, and to add to the insult, I hit it with a Deuce kicker. But that’s not really the point of the story.
I initially was playing off some of my comp money from the casino. This is one of the reasons I was playing Bonus Poker. When playing comp money, I aim for high payback, low volatility games that tend to result in a higher likelihood I will wind up with a larger portion of my comp money in cash.
After having played about half of the comp, I had only had about an 80% return on my money – which is absolutely awful for a full-pay machine. I seemed to be getting a fair amount of Pairs through these hands, but noticed none had turned into Trips. This is a far worse fate than having Trips not turn into Quads as most Pair hands are losers. I would say about 20 of these happened in a row.
Back to my calculator I went. What is the likelihood 20 straight Pairs will not turn into Trips or Quads. It turns out the probability is about 8.2%. The probability of having any single hand turn into Trips or Quads is just over 11%. I was running cold, but we’re not exactly talking frigid. Then, as often is the case with video poker, things began to turn around.
Finally a Pair drew into a Trip. Then it happened again and again. I hit two or three in a row. Then a Pair picked up the other pair and I hit a Four of a Kind. Finally, I was dealt Three Aces and drew the fourth Ace plus the two. No, it didn’t pay the big bonus like in Double Double, but I gladly took my win.
By the time I was done playing my comp money, I had a return of 125%, which is, to say the least, not too shabby. If I look at only the second half of my mini-session, I actually had a return of nearly 200%. It is amazing how the agony of defeat can be turned into the thrill of victory when the machine starts to heat up.
While sitting there, did I think for a moment that maybe the machine was running particularly cold because I was using comp money. Yeah, I probably did. Then sanity came back to me and I realized video poker is a streaky game.
There will be cold and hot spells. Stick with the program and eventually it all evens out to where it is supposed to be.
When I first started gambling I only played blackjack. While sitting at the table one night I heard an ascending roar repeating over and over at a craps table. I cashed out at the blackjack table to see what the ruckus was about.
Evidently the roller had hit a few points and hit various numbers. The table had stacks of money everywhere. Before I even knew it was one of the best bets in the casino, I was hooked on the action and fun.
A couple years later a friend and I were planning a trip to one of the Caesars Entertainment (then Harrah’s) casinos in Atlantic City when he said we should book a room on his account because he was getting great offers. OK, great, less work for me.
On the drive from New York City I asked about how he got such better comps. We played with a similar bankroll but he played video poker. I played craps and blackjack. He explained to me that just because he played quarter video poker didn’t mean he was only playing 25 cents at one time.
Maximum credits for a hand of video poker is $1.25 per hand. Whoop dee doo, I thought. I usually had $45-$60 in play on any given roll. The $1.25 in video poker gets played over and over, so when you play a game with high returns the $20 entered into a video poker machine can be played for hours and comps add up much quicker than table games because hundreds of dollars may have been played.
After learning that, I decided to learn how to play video poker. This would get me more comps and offer potentially an excellent cash return on my money spent at the casino. This is also when I learned gaming odds.
Video poker can be boring to me so I just added it to the mix and split my time between that, blackjack, slot machines and craps. Money played in slot machines is similar to video poker and offers better comp points, but they have much worse returns. I decided to keep that to a minimum.
Every visit isn’t meant for me to maximize my comps but, just like knowing odds at casino games that I play, I want to know how comps factor into each game. There are video poker games such as Deluxe Deuces Wild that return over 100%. My brain can’t process the correct moves to master those games so I stick with 9/6 Jacks or Better, which has a return rate of 99.54% because it’s the easiest to play correctly.
If a casino doesn’t have 9/6 Jacks or Better, 8/5 Bonus Poker is a good option since the strategy and returns are similar. Gambling for comps is never a good idea, but it’s important to know what is available and how that fits into final returns. That “free” sandwich has value and shouldn’t be overlooked.
I have to concede that for the past few weeks I have been obsessed with the Buffalo slot machine. The Aristocrat game has been out for a long time. I am simply a late arrival.
Perhaps it was spending periods of time testing various penny slots and hearing the machine shout out “BUFF-AAH-LOW.” I turned around at one of those shouts and saw coins flying all over the place, indicating a big winner. Naturally, anything that produces money is something that interests me.
You have choices – play the game for 40 cents (a 1-reel bet), 80 cents (2), $1.25 (3), $2 (4) or $4 (5). At first I would invest $20 on one reel, then got brave and went to $40 on two reels, then three reels and finally $100 on five reels. I couldn’t quite get to the max $4 per roll, but it’s on my future agenda.
The real excitement is in the stacked Buffalo’s. They payout in two interesting ways. The first would be on just a normal, non-free spin, win. The pays are all grouped together as well. For instance, if you win on multiple “lines,” each win combination will group together.
For example, if you had 5 buffalo’s on 10 payline’s, the game groups all these lines together and flashes them all at once. The real kick to this game is in the free spins. You get 3-5 coin symbols on a scatter, which will give you 8, 10, or 15 free spins respectively. Any wild symbols act as multipliers.
That’s where the excitement starts. You can win big or come away empty. Each wild symbol will act as either a 2X or 3X multiplier. If you had two wilds showing 2X and 3X, the total multiplier would be 6X. The theoretical maximum multiplier would 27X, which unfortunately was never reached. I did once get to 8X and won over 26,000 credits, which was over $200.
Naturally, when you win that amount you starting getting brave. Reality then sets in and you look to break the bank. Instead the bank breaks you.
I received a tip from an insider who operates the games at a local casino, who said not to play the game at more than one or two reels (80-cent max). I listened for a while, then decided to go up to three reels. That’s when the $200 return happened. Since then, I’ve given it all back in later trips.
So I confess to having a Buffalo crush, but sadly slots wind up similar to dating. Too many one-night stands.
Anyway, when you now hit a big set of Buffalo symbols, the payout can get huge. I’m hooked now!
This past week, I received an e-mail from a reader who told me about some video poker machines at the Soboba Indian Casino in Banning, California, that sort of played themselves.
After being dealt the initial five cards, the machine would mark the cards that should be held (presumably according to some form of “perfect” strategy). If you wanted to hold a different set of cards, you had to “uncheck” the hold buttons on those cards and hold the ones you wanted. My reader wanted to know if this is the direction video poker is heading.
A little over a year ago, I received an e-mail from a company called Incredible Technologies that asked my opinion on a video poker game they were offering at Red Rock Station. It allowed the player to “earn” strategy tips through winning hands. This is not quite the same as the first situation as this only provides the player with tips he still has to listen to as opposed to going out of his way to ignore the strategy. Is this the direction video poker is heading?
I tend to doubt it. And, quite frankly, a significant part of me certainly hopes not. Just to be clear, my reasons for hoping this is not the new wave of video poker machines is NOT any fear of being made less relevant to video poker strategy or fear of losing some revenue.
While most of my columns for GamingToday deal with video poker, most of my income is derived from table games. In the 10-plus years I’ve been analyzing games, I think I’ve left my mark in that arena and don’t have to worry about being the video poker guru my father was.
No, my reason for hoping this is not a new trend is that I think it is bad for players. Well, bad for good players. I suppose it might be good for bad players. The problem with this is that it tends to move video poker machines a few steps closer to slot machines.
There will still be significant differences. The biggest being we will still be able to know the payback of a video poker machine by looking at the pay table. However, if all players begin to play very close to the theoretical payback because the casinos hand the player the strategy, then there will be NO way they will be able to continue to offer 99%-plus paybacks.
Casinos can offer games with high paybacks because they know such a small number of players utilize these strategies. They can rely on human error to drive profits while still (truthfully) claiming paybacks near 100%. It is the best of both worlds for them.
That brings me to the reason why I doubt this is going to be a new hot trend that will overwhelm the video poker market. Why would the casinos want to mess with what already is such a great situation?
They get to advertise machines with paybacks at near or over 100%. Yet, they know the games are almost never played anywhere near this amount. Just like blackjack has a 99.5% payback but holds 9-15%, video poker machines do about the same. Given the speed at which video poker can be played, the profits that can be gotten from even quarter machines can easily outpace blackjack.
Most casinos are well aware people such as me exist. We write articles trying to get people to play the proper strategy. We sell books and software to make players, well, better players. At the same time, casinos know that despite this wealth of knowledge that is out there, most players either don’t bother with it at all or make some half-hearted attempt to use it or use it and then abandon it when they don’t break the bank.
I’ve often surmised I could hand out free copies of “Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker” at the entrance of a casino and still 75% of the players who would sit down at a Three Card Poker table would not bother to follow the strategy in the least. So, on the whole, casinos are not very afraid of players bearing strategy because they are such a minority.
However, handing the player the strategy and then daring them to pick a different one may be far more than casinos are willing to do where strategy is concerned. It is one thing to question when a player wants to stand on a soft 16 in blackjack. It is something all together different when a big flashing light comes on to say stick when a player has a 16 vs. a dealer 2, and the only way the player can hit is if he is willing to turn off the stick sign and go out of his way to hit.
In the case of video poker, if a player really wants to not use the house strategy, then he is likely to find a different machine altogether. After all, who wants to have to turn off the machine’s decisions before entering his own on every hand?
So, there is a good chance the actual payback of the video poker machine is going to quickly approach whatever the theoretical payback is. Since the casinos will never allow games to be offered at 99% in this case, their only choice would be to greatly reduce the payback of video poker, which in turn would scare off all the good players while, at the same time, probably increase the payback of many of the bad players as their errors would no longer be a factor.
So, the only way I can see casinos adopting this concept is if they have some crazy reason to scare off some of their most loyal players and want to reduce profits. Nope. I don’t see this as a big trend. At best, perhaps some casinos will use them as a great marketing ploy, but that is it.
When my father developed the first strategies for video poker, a few surprises definitely showed up. Playing 4-card Flushes over Low Pairs was not such a surprise, but playing the Low Pair over 4-card Straights was.
One of the other significant surprises was how to play the numerous hands that contain High Cards. If you had three High Cards of the same suit, it wasn’t much of a surprise to hold all of them. Even if one of those high cards was only a 10. A 3-card Royal is a pretty strong hand, even if it takes a bit of a long shot to actually hit the Royal.
Without the mathematical analysis of video poker to guide the player, most found themselves holding on to all cards Jack or higher. This would probably be the right play if you were sitting at a poker table.
When playing poker, there is little benefit to drawing a Royal over a Straight or a Flush. All are very likely to leave you a winner and the amount you win will not change based on your final hand value. In the meantime, you’ll increase your chance (or will you?) of grabbing a High Pair, which may be enough to win the hand.
But video poker is not table poker and a Royal has a good deal more value than a Straight or a Flush (-200 to 130-plus times as much). This makes taking the risk of getting the Royal far more worthwhile in video than table poker.
As a result, the decision of what to do when you’re dealt a J-hearts, Q-diamonds, A-hearts is not as clear as one might think. Let’s take a look at the detailed analysis.
If the player holds the three High Cards, there are 1,081 possible resulting draws. It comes to 32.2% of the time that the player will wind up with a High Pair. If the player holds only the two suited High Cards, he will wind up with a High Pair 30.3% of the time. So, the probability is a little less, but we’re not talking a huge difference.
The player may only have two High Cards instead of three, but he will draw three cards instead of two, helping to even things out a bit.
Moving on, with the three High Cards, the player will draw a Two Pair about 2.5% of the time. With the two High Cards he will pull a Two Pair about 4.4% of the time. The score has been quickly settled with the High Pair frequencies.
As often as the player will wind up with fewer pairs he will have more Two Pairs. Given Two Pairs pay twice as much, this puts the two suited High Cards in the lead. The pattern continues with Trips, with the player drawing about twice as many by holding onto only the two suited High Cards.
Things turn around when we look at Straights. It should be no surprise the probability of drawing a Straight goes way up when you hold three High Cards as compared to two. The exact probabilities will be impacted by the specific cards, but in this particular case the probability with three High Cards is about 1.5% vs. 0.3% for two.
For the three High Card hands, the hands stop there. There is zero chance of drawing a Flush, Full House, Quads, a Straight Flush or the Royal. For the two High Card hand, we still have a 1% chance of drawing a Flush and slim, yet possible, chances to get a Full House, Quads or the elusive Royal.
In this particular case, there is no chance for a Straight Flush, but if I had chosen a suited J-K for my example this would exist as well.
If we were to ignore all the hands Flush and above, the two hands would have nearly identical expected values, with the three High Card hand slightly higher. However, there is no reason to ignore these hands.
In fact, we play the two High Card hand for the specific reason that we have the opportunity to draw all these relatively high paying hands simply by discarding the one off-suit card, all while barely impacting the overall expected value of the lower hands.
As a result, the decision is not really a hard one to make, even if it was an originally surprising part of the strategy. Our two-card Royal with an Ace has an expected value of about 0.58. Our three High Card expected value is a mere 0.46%.
This type of hand is a fairly common one and repeatedly playing it the wrong way will take a bite out of your bankroll. This is why the “seat of your pants” approach or using table poker strategy can be quite ruinous to your results. Sometimes, two can be better than three.
Only fifteen years ago the comics industry was a completely different beast; reserved only for the most die-hard fans that wore their anoraks proudly and trooped into the dank corners of their local comic book seller every Wednesday to get their hands on the latest releases. When the fourth Batman film, Batman and Robin, was released in 1997, its camp portrayal of the world of superheroes was seen as the final blow to an outdated and stale method of storytelling.
Fast forward to now and it couldn’t be more different; thanks to the releases of films like Christopher Nolan’s dark and postmodern take on the Batman character alongside big-budget, low-concept films like The Avengers, and comic books are finally back in the mainstream and enjoying their most popular spell in history.
What is it about superheroes that fans can so easily relate to these days? While some rely on the importance of actual events alongside which it can tell a story – The Dark Knight Rises for example can so easily provoke the spirit of Occupy Wall Street – others pitch their protagonists as someone to whom we can ourselves relate; the anguished teen-hood of Peter Parker aka Spiderman for one.
All of which would explain the popularity of superhero slot games on websites like www.galacasino.com – the combination of themes which we can relate to being explored by characters we always dreamed of playing ourselves. Who wouldn’t want to possess untold billions of dollars’ worth of expensive tech like that we see in the hands of Tony Stark in the Iron Man trilogy? As well as using his fortune to fight crime and injustice by taking to the skies in his suit, he’s also a bit of a playboy; never far from the nearest hot tub and bottle of champagne with a gorgeous model on each arm. If you would prefer something a little wilder, just look at how much fun the Hulk gets to have; would you pass up the chance to rampage across the city laying untold waste to buildings and property just because someone got you angry on a bad day at the office?
Superheroes are enjoying unmatched popularity at the cinema just as they are in print; it’s having the chance to relate to their experiences which gives them this popularity - and with the amount of superhero slot games available to play at online casinos, you too could be defending the earth from the bad guys with just a few spins!