Q. Some friends and I have a weekly poker game, and we have a question. Mostly we play ordinary stuff, with a lot of Hold'em and seven-card stud. Sometimes we have the high and low hands split the pot.
We don't go crazy with wild cards, except on the last hand of the night. For that, we play this goofy seven-card stud game with nine wild cards. (Don't ask.) I don't think I've ever seen less than four of a kind take the pot, and a lot of the time we're dealing with five of a kind, royal flushes and straight flushes. Silly, but fun as long as it's only once a night.
We had a strange situation come up that I was hoping you could decide. Two players had five aces. Everyone agreed they should split the pot, except one of the winners. He said he should win a tie-breaker because his sixth card was a 10, and the other guy's sixth card was only a 5. He also said he should win because three of his aces were natural, while the other guy had five wild cards.
They split the pot, because everybody else said they should, but there was a big argument, and the one guy didn't leave happy.
Was splitting the pot the right thing to do?
A. Your nine wild cards didn't happen to be aces, kacks and the man with the axe (king of diamonds), did they? No doubt thousands of home games have experimented with that one as a little change of pace. Once a night is plenty, though.
Splitting the pot is the normal way of dealing with exact ties on a five-card hand. The sixth card is not taken under consideration. The game is decided on five-card hands, and the other two cards don't matter. Also, a wild card is in no way inferior to a natural Ace. For your purposes, Ace-Ace-Ace-wild-wild and wild-wild-wild-wild-wild are the same hand.
If you want to make a house rule that ties are decided by a sixth card, there's nothing to stop you if all players are agreed from the start. Home games sometimes have odd house rules. But without an agreed-upon exception before the hand is dealt, the normal rules of poker should apply. And by the normal rules of poker, five-card hands that tie split the pot, without considering the sixth card.
Q. I'm heading to a casino in a couple of days. I plan on playing slot machines since I'm a novice gambler. Do you have any tips or advice on which machines have a higher winning percentage?
A. One message that comes through loud and clear practically every time I clear out my email box is that there always are new players getting into action. Those player need the foundation in the basics of gambling that some veterans take for granted.
Please bear with me if this is nothing new to you, but for the benefit of novice slot players and as a refresher for more experienced players, a few tips:
- There's no way to tell by looking at a machine whether it's a high-payer or a low-payer. Manufacturers have several versions of each machine, with different payback percentages. It's up to the casino operator to choose which version to buy.
- Three-reel games are more volatile than video games. They give you a better chance at a big jackpot, but they also take your money faster if you don't hit a big one.
- Video games with pick'em-type bonus rounds are designed to keep you in your seat the longest. Your chances at a big jackpot are lower, but you get far more small paybacks that keep you going.
- Video games with free-spin bonuses fall somewhere in between, more volatile than pick'em games but less volatile than three-reel games.
- In the long run, all those kinds of machines can have similar payback percentages, it's just the route they take to get there that's different. So it's up to you do decide whether you want to risk losing your money faster to get a better chance at a big jackpot.
- Overall, higher denominations have higher payback percentages. Quarters pay more than nickels, which pay more than pennies. But watch out. If your bet is larger, you still risk losing more money faster even if you're getting a larger payback percentage.
- My basic advice with slots is to play for fun. Play the games that entertain you, and if a jackpot comes, it's a nice surprise. But don't overbet your bankroll. Set a limit that you're willing to pay for your day's entertainment, and stick to it.