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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

9 March 2010

Q. I often play Multi-Strike poker, which has random "free rides." It seems to me that the frequency of the free rides is controlled by the casino and can be adjusted to suit them. The frequency is not posted as part of the payback table, therefore, although the player has more payback information than a slot machine would give him, he has significantly less than regular video poker provides.

I have come to believe that, where I play, dollar machines are "free riding" more than the quarters. Apart from denominations, a machine could be programmed to free ride more with a max coin bet. A machine could be programmed to simply make more money.

Do you believe these games to be smart bets?

A. For those unfamiliar with Multi-Strike, it gives the player the potential for four hands, usually with a 20-coin maximum bet. Either a winner or a free ride on Hand No. 1 takes the player to a hand with double payouts, with the potential to advance to a hand with quadruple payouts, and finally to a hand with 8x payouts. A pair of Jacks or Better, which brings back just five coins with maximum bet, on the first hand, is worth 40 coins on the top hand. A royal flush, worth 4,000 coins on Hand No. 1, brings a 32,000-coin bonanza on No. 4.

The casino does not tinker with the frequency of free rides. They are designed by game manufacturer WMS Gaming to bring the frequency of reaching the next level to about 50%. In a game such as Deuces Wild, where about 46% of hands are winners, the free ride will come about 4% of the time. That does not change with coin denomination.

As with other video poker games, the casino changes payouts by changing pay tables. A 9/6 Jacks or Better game, with full houses paying 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1, pays more than an 8/5 Jacks or Better game. As for Multi-Strike being a good bet, it actually pays a little more than single-hand games with the same pay tables, provided you make necessary strategy adjustments. Advancing to higher-paying hands is of prime importance, so in Jacks or Better we don't hold four cards to a flush on hands Nos. 1 or 2. Our chances of reaching the next level are better if we hold a single high card, or tossing all five cards if there is no Jack or higher.

I like Multi-Strike a lot. Potential rewards are great, but with a 20-coin bet a streak of hands that don't take you to the higher levels will eat through your bankroll in a hurry. Be prepared for a volatile ride.

Q. Is there any advantage to playing blackjack head-to-head with the dealer instead of at a full table?

A. Only if you're a card counter and have a mathematical edge on the house. Fewer players means more hands per hour, and that favors whoever has the edge. Most of us are better off at a full table with fewer hands per hour and fewer chances for the house edge to work against us.

Q. Can you explain how comps work? I lost about $150 the last time I played, and got the same offers I did after the trip before, when I won about $60.

A. Most casino comps are how much the casino expects to win from you given the games you play, your average bet size and your playing time, rather than the amount you actually win or lose. Casino operators know that, over time, the mathematical edge on games will hold up. If you win, they don't want to deny you comps. They want to reward you at the level of your play in hopes of turning you into a loyal customer who will come back and let the house edge work against you again.

Let's say you play roulette at a busy table where the casino knows the wheel is spinning about 40 times per hour. You stay for a couple of hours and wager about $10 per spin. At $10 per spin at 80 spins per hour, you risk $800. The house edge is 5.26%, meaning in an average session, you'll lose about $42. Regardless of whether you actually win $50, lose $100 or any other result, the casino will base your comps on that $42 average.

Other factors are weighed, especially for direct-mail vouchers designed to bring you back to casinos. Repeat play is important to casinos. A customer who comes every week will see more, better offers in the mail than one who plays twice a year. But the starting point is your theoretical loss rather than your actual results. If the casino knows it's getting a shot at your money, it wants you to come back.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski