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Best of John Grochowski

Gaming Guru

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

8 February 2011

Q. I play almost exclusively video poker (on a "keep perspective and play for fun" basis only). I have wondered if it is worth the effort to try to find the machines that pay the best odds, and what the best way to do that is. What do I look for? The full house odds, the straight odds, the flush odds, or a combination of all?

A. The primary place to look is on full house and flush paybacks. Those are the payoffs that are most often changed to change the payback percentage.

It's worth a walk through any casino before you play. Each game has its own optimal pay table, and a casino might have several variations of the game. I've seen Jacks or Better games with 9/6 pay tables — meaning they pay 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes — in the same casino as 8/5 and even 7/5 games. I've seen Double Bonus Poker with 10/7, 9/7 and 9/6 pay tables in the same casino, and Bonus Poker with 8/5, 7/5, and 6/5 pay tables in the same casino.

Each unit that the full house or flush payoff drops costs you a little over 1% of your overall payback. I find that something worth looking for. An 8/5 Bonus Poker machine returns 99.2% with optimal play, while a 6/5 machine pays only 97%.

I'll change casinos if I don't like the pay tables where I am. A casual player might not go to that extreme, but it's worth your while to at least get the best available pay table where you're playing.

Q. Are the images on slot reels exactly the same for the same slot machine, even in different casinos? I have played the same type of slot machine in four different casinos and have found that the images that appear on the very important first reel, farthest to the left, are different. Does this not impact the payouts listed? The payouts appear the same, but the reel images seem different.

A. A video slot reel can contain different numbers of a given reel symbol on different machines of the same type. And yes, that can have an impact on the returns.

On a slot with mechanical reels, where space and size of reels are constraints, an 85% version and 95% version of the same game might look identical, with the same reel symbols in the same positions. The manufacturer will alter the payback percentage through the "virtual reel" programmed in all modern reel-spinning slots. To make up a simple example, the programmer could tell the virtual reel to show a triple bar on the first reel whenever the random number generator comes up with 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 on the 95% game, but to show the triple bar only on 1, 2 or 3 on the 85-percent version.

On a video slot, that kind of jockeying is not necessary. The programmer can just program different video reels. Again, to make up a simple example, the programmer could decide to give us a 128-symbol video reel, and design six wild symbols into the reel on a high-paying version, but only four wilds on a low-paying version of the same game.

Every payoff advertised on the pay table has to be available, so you'll never find any symbol or set of symbols eliminated entirely. But as you surmised, the symbols being present in different proportions will yield different payback percentages. The payback percentages will differ if the proportions of winning spins vary.

Q. I was playing blackjack and noticed many people playing the Perfect Pairs gimmick bet. It pays 25 to 1 on suited pairs, 12 to 1 on either both black or both red pairs and 6 to 1 on any pair. Just a brief calculation seems that this is the worst bet in the casino. Do you have any exact figures on the casino edge for this bet?

A. Like all side bets, Perfect Pairs is there to give a little extra to the house. On the pay table you saw, the house edge is 6.1% on a six-deck game. The house edge goes down a bit, to 4.1%, on an eight-deck game.

That's far from the worst bet in the house. Some one-roll craps wagers have house edges as high as 16.67%, house edges on Big Six wheels start at 11.1% and go up from there, and penny slots typically have house edges in excess of 10%.

But when you're playing blackjack, you're already playing a game with a low house edge. If you take the time to learn basic strategy, you're playing a game with a house edge of around half a percent on a six-deck game, a few tenths more or less depending on house rules. Making an additional side bet with a house edge around 10 times as high is not something I'd choose to do.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski