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Best of John Grochowski

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Straight flushes

18 January 2014

QUESTION: Why are straight flushes so undervalued in video poker games? They're much rarer in four of a kinds, but in most games you get the same payback or more on the four of a kinds.

ANSWER. The goal of video poker game designers isn’t to reflect the true odds of the game. It’s to create a game that’s fun to play, one that will keep players in their seats and coming back for more.

It is true that payoffs on straight flushes are low given their rarity. Take 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker – which seems to have become the most commonly available full-pay game through much of the United States. Given expert strategy, straight flushes turn up an average of once per 9,123 hands, and a five-coin bet brings a 250-coin payoff. Meanwhile, four-of-a-kind occurs much, much more often at once per 488 hands. At a minimum, those quads match the 250-coin pay on a straight flush, and the payoffs rise to 400 coins on four 2s, 3s or 4s, 800 on four aces, 800 if the 2s, 3s or 4s are accompanied by an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card, or a 2,000-coin bonanza if four aces have a 2, 3, or 4 as the kicker.

Those payoffs don’t come anywhere close to reflecting the relative scarcity of the hands. But quads keep players entertained and engaged in a way straight flushes can’t. It’s much easier to build player interest with hands that at 800 hands per hour occur more than 1.5 times per hour, than with hands that come up less than once per 10 hours.


QUESTION: You’ve written about the high house edge on blackjack side bets, but aren’t they really win-win for everyone? Players who like them get what they want, players who know better don’t have to make them, and the house gets some extra profit and maybe can keep better games in the pit. If I ran a casino, I think I’d have several side bets on every table, and let the bad players take their pick. Wouldn’t you?

ANSWER: I can agree with the idea that high house-edge side bets don’t hurt players knowledgeable enough to avoid them. As for it being a win for players because of benefits to the main game, I’m dubious. We haven’t seen profits from side bets used to shore up the blackjack rules in the last decade or so. Instead, we’ve seen an erosion of rules, making for a tougher game than the one we played not so long ago.

The most notorious rules setback for players is 6-5 payouts on blackjacks. But the most far-reaching probably has been the virtual elimination of low-limit games where the dealer stands on all 17s, and even at a large segment of high-limit tables. Even with six or eight decks, blackjack has evolved to a hit-soft-17 game. There doesn’t seem to be any inclination on the part of operators to reverse that, with or without side bets.

Should operators put several side bets on the same table? Probably not. There are a couple of issues to consider. Operators have to pay a licensing fee to side bet owners. Putting multiple bets on the same table would mean multiple fees. Operators might be able to cut a deal to use more than one side bet from the same company – for example, 21 + 3 and Lucky Ladies from Galaxy Gaming, or Royal Match and Bet the Set 21 from Bally Technologies. But the side bets have to draw enough action to justify the fees, or the casino drops them.

Each side bet also requires some dealer training, and taking the time to settle the bets brings a reduction in hands per hour. Multiple side bets would slow the game, which is not a problem for the house if it gains enough action on the side to make up for the reduction of hands. But think about the possibility of four players each making a different side bet, and the dealer trying to keep it all straight. Some dealers would have to take it slow.

Blackjack games with multiple side bets have a natural home at tables with electronic wagering, where bets can be settled instantly, without mistakes. That’s already possible on DigiDeal tables or Bally’s iTables. But at dealer-paid tables, the cost-benefit ratio would have to be weighed carefully.
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