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Best of John Grochowski
It was a Friday morning in Joliet, and I'd been playing a little video poker aboard Empress II, waiting for the 11 a.m. opening of Empress I and its video poker room. Soon, if it hasn't already happened by the time you read this, Empress' new barge will open, ending such little scheduling inconveniences, but on this day, I found myself passing time with a little quarter Triple Play Poker.
As I started to move toward the Empress II exit, a friendly security guard stopped me.
"If you're interested in video poker, they have some new games on the other boat," he said. "In the video poker room. One of them has four hands, you get more on each hand. You might want to look, if you're interested."
I was interested, indeed. That sounded like Multi Strike Poker, which I've mentioned in this column a couple of times. Designed locally by Leading Edge Design Group and distributed by IGT, Multi Strike Poker caused quite a buzz when it was introduced at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas last fall. It's a game I expect to develop a loyal following, but I didn't expect to see it in the Chicago area this soon.
It's here, at Harrah's Joliet and Hollywood in Aurora as well as at Empress. The Empress machines are multidenominational--players can choose to play for quarters, half dollars or dollars--and have several games. I settled in for a little 7-5 Bonus Poker--not the best game at Empress but one that pays 2-for-1 on two pairs, damping the volatility a bit on a machine that is extremely volatile. This is not a machine to play while short-bankrolled.
The maximum bet is 20 coins instead of the five-coin maximums that are standard on single-hand machines. Sometimes you'll play only one hand and lose all 20 coins at once. But a winner on the first hand brings a second hand, at double the pay table. A winner on hand No. 2 brings a third hand, worth four times the first. And a winner on No. 3 brings a fourth hand, worth eight times the first.
Sometimes, the player will get a free pass to the next hand. The free passes bring the likelihood that the player will advance to the next level up to 50 percent. The effect of that is to add about 0.2 percent to the average payback percentage with expert play--7-5 Bonus Poker is a 98-percent game on single-hand games, but a 98.2 percent game on Multi Strike.
Winners at any level are nice, but winners that are multiplied 2, 4 or 8 times can bring a bonanza. In one hand, I started with two pair (10-coin return), had a pair of Jacks on level 2 (10 coins with the double payout), a pair of Aces on level 3 (20 coins with the quadruple payout) and two pair on level 4 (payoff multiplied by 8, bringing 80 coins). That's a total return of 120 coins, with nothing better than two pair.
That puts a premium on getting to the next level, and we have to adjust strategy accordingly. We play hand No. 4 normally, but early in the game, we'll hold a high card instead of a four-card straight or a four-card flush with no high cards. We're looking to advance for a chance to make money on later hands.
A FAIR DEAL: In recent months, I've received several letters from a fellow who insists that video poker games in Illinois are programmed differently than those in Nevada. He's under the impression that they're programmed like slot machines, random in that you don't know when a winning combination is going to show up, but that the programming suppresses the frequency of winning combinations.
He filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Illinois Gaming Board, which confirmed that it's the random number generator, and not the pay table, that determines payback percentages.
My information from manufacturers and casino slot directors over the years has always been that video poker games in Illinois casinos are programmed in the same way as those in Nevada. Cards are dealt from a randomly shuffled electronic deck in which each card has an equal chance of being dealt.
That doesn't contradict the gaming board's reply. The random number generator determines payback in that it determines which cards are dealt. However, it deals cards in such a way that frequency of hands can be calculated just as if a human dealer was shuffling a real deck of cards.
Just to confirm, I put the question to Mike Fields, in charge of video poker at IGT, which makes most of the video poker games on casino floors.
Fields' return e-mail said, "[The letter writer] is completely wrong. The games operate the same everywhere in this regard."
Nevada has the toughest video poker randomness standard in the country, requiring that every card have an equal chance of being dealt. IGT says all its machines live up to that standard. And when we take the frequency of winning hands and combine it with the payoffs per hand, we can calculate long-term payback percentages with expert strategy-regardless of whether you're playing in casinos in Illinois, Nevada or anywhere else.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.