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Video Poker Drawn Into A Multihand Revolution

12 January 2000

LAS VEGAS Just as video and bonusing games have sparked a revolution in slot machines, there's also a revolution going on in video poker.

It's a multihand revolution, one sparked by Triple Play Poker. In Triple Play, players start with one hand and choose which cards to hold. The held cards then appear on the screen in three hands. When the player hits the draw button, the hand is played out with three separate draws.

When the player is dealt a winning hand, it's a bonanza for the player, guaranteeing winners in all three hands. I've yet to triple my pleasure by hitting a royal flush on the initial deal, but I've spoken with two players who have done it.

Triple Play Poker, designed by Action Gaming and manufactured by IGT, has proven so popular that everyone wants to get in on the act. IGT has since come out with Five Play Poker and Ten Play Poker.

Let's look at some coming attractions, multihand games that were on display at the World Gaming Congress and Expo. We'll start with an Anchor theme - a game from the Anchor booth, and one touted by VLC, a company that recently was acquired by Anchor. Then we'll check out IGT, Williams and Bally games.

SOLITAIRE POKER: Anchor has designed an intriguing game, one that can wind up with anywhere from one to five hands.

One initial hand is dealt, and the player arranges the cards into solitairelike vertical stacks. (Anchor is considering an adjustment to make the stacks horizontal, allowing players to read the hands across the screen as usual.)

If the player is dealt two twos, two eights and a nine, he might want to put the two pairs in one stack and the nine in another, starting a separate hand. Once the stacks are set, the player hits the draw button and plays out the hands.

Each card can be used as a stack by itself, meaning the player could have up to five hands.

A complicating factor is that a portion of the total bet follows each card to its stack. If we have a four-card stack with two pairs and a one-card stack, four-fifths of the bet will wind up on the four-card stack and one-fifth of the bet will be on the single card.

That will lead to some interesting strategy decisions, as players must decide whether it's to their advantage to have a larger bet on a pat hand or take a chance they'll draw bigger hands or hit multiple winners.

A quick computer run showed that if two pairs pay 2-for-1 and a full house pays 9-for-1, the player is better off to have all coins bet on the pat two pairs than to divide the hand into two hands, hoping to draw a full house and perhaps hit a second winner. However, if the two-pair payoff is dropped to 1-for-1, the player is better off splitting off the single card and hoping to turn the two pairs into a full house.

That all might be a little confusing for novice players, but more experienced players will enjoy the challenge.

POWERHOUSE POKER: VLC's entry to the multihand fray starts by exposing two cards in each of four five-card hands. The player decides which two cards he likes best and chooses that hand to start a regular four-hand game of draw poker. If, for example, he chooses a hand that starts with a queen and jack of spades, he then sees a full five-card hand that includes those cards. He chooses which cards to keep, and they're held four times with separate draws.

Bally Gaming uses a similar concept in its single-hand game Pick 'Em Poker, which has become an Atlantic City favorite. In Pick 'Em Poker, the player sees the top three cards in two five-card hands and chooses which card to keep. However, Pick 'Em Poker is stud poker - there is no draw to increase the frequency of rare hands.

In Powerhouse Poker, the combination of seeing two cards at the beginning and still getting a draw greatly increases the chances of drawing big winners such as royal flushes. In fact, royal flushes will occur about once per 18,600 hands, more than twice as often in Powerhouse as in most other video poker games.

The increase in rare hands means that the bottom of the pay table must be decreased. That will leave an extremely volatile game with big wins and fast losses. Players have proven they like that volatility in games such as IGT's Double Double Bonus Poker, which focuses much of the payoff on the top of the pay table and decreases the bottom. Powerhouse Poker kicks that volatility up another notch.

FIFTY PLAY POKER: Triple Play Poker designer Ernest Moody along with manufacturer IGT push the original concept ahead on this game, in which players hold cards in one hand, then play it out 50 times.

To get 50 hands on a video screen, each hand has to be very small. Call them postage-stamp sized, and you'd be insulting postage stamps. Players are unlikely to watch the individual draws, so Fifty Play Poker gives them some help. At the bottom of each winning hand, a color-coded bar appears, telling type of hand and coins won. In addition, in the bottom left corner of the screen a tally chart appears, telling how many of each type of winning hand the player has hit.

It takes less time to get to the long run, and players will see rare hands more often. An average player who sees a royal flush about once per 80 hours of play will see one once per two or three hours on Fifty Play.

The cost of play? It depends. The version of Fifty Play on display at World Gaming Congress was multidenominational, accepting units ranging from pennies to $25 units.

Betting pennies, maximum-coin bettors at Fifty Play risk $2.50 per play, double the maximum on single-hand quarter games.

Make it nickels, and the maximum bet per hand is $12.50, or 2.5 times the bet on a five-coin $1 machine.

Quarters? I don't even want to think about it. Given a good pay table, Fifty Play Poker was my favorite game at World Gaming Congress, but make mine pennies or nickels, please.

SPIN POKER: Another Moody idea manufactured by IGT, Spin Poker mimics multicoin, multiline slot machines in presentation.

Players start with a single hand, but the cards they hold are kept on nine paylines instead of standard-looking video poker hands.

And when they push the button, instead of a regular draw, they get a spin of the video reels.

What they wind up with is nine video poker hands, along nine paylines - the diagonals, chevrons and zig-zags that boggle slot players daily. That may attract some crossover from slot players.

Video poker regulars probably will settle for 10 Play Poker with regular draws instead of spinning reels.

SUPER BONUS POKER: With Super Bonus Poker, Bally Gaming tries to induce the player to make maximum-coin bets by offering successively better pay tables on each of four hands. The fourth hand carries a theoretical payback of 106.3 percent, but the player must play all four hands to get that.

The game originally was designed so that the customer would play out one hand four times.

Worried about infringing on the Moody patent on Triple Play, Bally changed the game so that players are dealt four different initial hands.

That leaves a game that's more like playing four single-hand games at once than playing a multihand game.

BIG E POKER: Big E by Williams is an oddball game, one in which players attempt to create winning hands by arranging cards in the shape of a Big E.

There are four hands, one for the vertical column and three for the horizontal lines on the E.

Cards on the intersections are used both on the vertical column and in their horizontal lines, so that's where players will want to put potential royal flush cards.

Seventeen cards are dealt in all. At any given time, the player sees two cards - one card to be placed on the E, and the next card in line. The player places cards by touching a spot on the E.

None of the software commonly used by video poker analysts will handle the complexities of this game, so there are no published strategies. Play is slow as players puzzle over where to place the cards. Outside the expo, I played the Big E as a nickel game at the Reserve, and even managed to arrange a straight flush. But overall, the game is too complex to risk more than nickels, and play is too slow to satisfy casino needs for revenue. That leaves a novelty game, not one that will show up in casinos in great numbers.

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