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Best of John Grochowski

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Video poker mythbusters

13 March 2007

When we think about myths and legends surrounding electronic gaming devices, we mostly think about the odd things people believe about slots. Is there a jackpot button an operator can push to reward a deserving player? Is a machine due to pay off after a long losing streak? Do games pay higher percentages on weekdays than weekends?

The answers: No, no, and no.

There's less mystery about video poker games. After all, the pay tables tell us what the long-term payback percentages on video poker games should be, something we can't tell by looking at a slot machine.

Still, video poker players have come up with their own set of myths. Let's try to bust a few:

MYTH: Higher denomination games pay more than lower denomination games.

FACT: Games of the same pay table return the same percentages in the long run, regardless of coin denomination.

The myth seems plausible enough, doesn't it? It's usually true that $5 slots pay more than $1 slots, which pay more than quarters, which pay more than nickels, which pay more than pennies. Shouldn't that apply to video poker, too?

It doesn't. A 9-6 Jacks or Better machine, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1, pays the same 99.5 percent with expert play regardless of whether you're playing for pennies, $100 or anything in between. Drop the full house and flush paybacks to 8-5, and the return drops to 97.3 percent, again regardless of coin denomination.

In most casinos, you'll find a mix of higher and lower-paying games within each denomination. In Las Vegas, you're even more likely to find some higher-paying games at the lower coin values. Full-pay Deuces Wild, a 100.8 percent game with expert play, is fairly easy to find on quarters, but rare on dollar games. A game that good at high denominations is seen as an invitation to the pros.

MYTH: Games that offer big jackpots on four Aces deal fewer four-Ace hands.

FACT: Players actually get four Aces more often on games such as Double Bonus Poker and Super Aces than they do on games without four-Ace jackpots. The machine doesn't have to deal four Aces less often to make up for the jackpots. That's all taken care of elsewhere on the pay tables, with lower paybacks on other hands such as full houses, flushes and two pairs.

Smart players adjust their strategy to the pay table, and play for the Aces more often. In 8-5 Super Aces, for instance, we'll draw four Aces about once per 4,209 hands, while in 9-6 Jacks or Better, the average is more than 5,100 hands between four-Ace hands.

Why? Because in Super Aces, we'll hold just the Aces in two-pair hands, break up a full house to hold three Aces, and hold just an Ace instead of two or three unsuited high cards. We make the opposite plays in Jacks or Better.

The machine just deals us the cards randomly. If we used the same strategy for all pay tables, we'd get four Aces with the same frequency on different games. When our strategy favors Aces, we get the Ace quads more often.

MYTH: When you discard just one card, it's usually replaced with a card of the same denomination.

FACT: When you discard just one card, you'll get a card of the same denomination about 3 times per 47 plays.

Let's say you have 4-5-6-7 of mixed suits, and you throw away a 10. You've seen five of the 52 cards in the deck, leaving 47 possible draws. Three of those remaining 47 cards is a 10. Your chances of drawing another 10 are 3 in 47.

Sometimes the chances are less. If you have 4-5-6-7 of hearts and a 7 of spades, you discard the spade and hope for a flush or straight flush. The 7s of clubs and diamonds remain, so you have a 2 in 47 chance of drawing another 7.

But streaks happen, and humans have a gift for selective memory. Two or three or four instances in a short time of a draw bringing a card of the same denomination can leave someone muttering that he or she always gets the same card on the draw.

Players have been telling me about same-card draws for years, and I always suggest they keep track, keep an exact count of how many one-card draws they make, and how often they get a same-denomination replacement. With real scrutiny, the effect disappears.

MYTH: After a big-paying hand, the machine stops paying.

FACT: Odds are the same after a big hand as they were before.

This is a myth video poker players share with slot players. Everyone seems to think a machine needs to go into makeup mode after a big pay. It doesn't. In the long run, any big hit just fades into statistical insignificance.

Now, I always recommend putting away a good chunk of any big hit. But if you're going to continue playing, there's nothing in video poker programming that suggests you should do it at a different machine. The deal continues to be random. A low-paying makeup time --- well, that's just one of those video poker myths.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.

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