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Playing Pick'Em Poker

20 June 2011

It was just like old times, staying and playing in Las Vegas with my dad Jerry and brother Jay. It used to be an annual tradition, until Jay's kids and mine got to the age where school activities were taking too much of our time for a guys-only getaway.

We were staying at Boyd Gaming's Fremont in Las Vegas' older, downtown area. In days of yore, we used to stay on the Strip, but that was before a freefall in video poker pay tables and the scourge of 6-5 payoffs on blackjacks ruined the Strip gambling experience for us. Downtown, we could find good video poker, even on 25-cent, one-hand machines, and decent double-deck blackjack with full 3-2 payoffs, even on $5 tables.

Besides, Fremont Street is good for casino-hopping on foot, and we were in the hotel at a casino rate of just about $30 a night, and slot shift manager Don Wargo comped us to a sumptuous dinner for three at Tony Roma's — and all three of us can put away a few ribs.

Early in the morning, I walked into the casino to find my dad already up and on the move. I asked if he wanted to try something different. I'd spotted an ancient Bally Game Maker machine, old enough that it still had a slot to drop coins. Like most casinos these days, the Fremont has a good selection of modern video slots, especially on pennies. But it also has a number of old coin-dropping video poker favorites, and there are still stacks of coin cups around the casino.

One of the Game Maker options was full-pay Pick'Em Poker. Pick'Em is a different take on video poker than the usual five-card draw. On the deal, you see four cards. Two of them are yours, the start to a five-card hand. The other two are the tops of three-card stacks. You choose a stack to complete your hand.

Payoffs start at 2-for-1 for a pair of 9s or better, so every paying hand is an actual winner, compared with draw poker games in which a pair of jacks or better just gets you your money back — the video poker equivalent of a push in blackjack. The pay table maxes out at 1,200-for-1 on a royal flush, bringing a 6,000-coin bonanza with a five-coin wager.

With expert play, full-pay Pick'em returns 99.95% to players, making it one of the best games around. Add in comps and cash back, and the player who knows his stuff can take this game into the black.

Dad and I each slid $20 into the bill validator, and split play. One would play until he drew a losing hand, then the other took over.

After about 10 minutes, we were holding our own. I drew a flush on my first hand, and we each had some two-pair winners, but most of our winning hands were pairs of 9s and up.

"It seems like it would be hard to draw a big winner on this game," my dad observed.

He was right. The big hands do come less often on Pick'em than on five-card draw, Jacks or Better-based games. But the big ones aren't out of the question, and that pay table that goes all the way down to 9s keeps you in the game.

Two hands later, it was my turn. I got two cards to start my hand, a 5 and 7 of clubs. The top card was exposed on each of two three-card stacks, and I had to pick one stack to complete my hand. I picked a stack that showed an 8 of clubs. Then I saw two more clubs turn up, and I figured, cool, a flush, and looked up to check the payout.

Before I could check the pay table, I heard coins starting to drop into the tray. Now there was a sound I hadn't heard in a while. THEN I saw that the two clubs were a 6 and a 9. STRAIGHT FLUSH!! And 1,199 quarters clattering into the tray.

That's a sound you don't hear every day anymore. And while I like ticket printers for day to day play, the clanking of coins was a welcome noise.

The surprise must have shown in my face, because Dad said, "I don't know who was more shocked there, you or me."

Probably me. But there was one more shock to come.

About 20 hands later, Dad was dealt a queen and a 6. He picked a stack topped by a queen, and up popped the other two ladies. This time, 600 credits were added to the meter. Soon, it was time to cash out. More coins, more clatter. Bring on the noise.

And yes, there was a hopper fill part way into the payoff. Just like old times.

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:

The Craps Answer Book

> 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:

> More Books By John Grochowski