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Will Cruise Ship Video Poker Sink You?

26 November 2012

By John Grochowski

QUESTION: On a recent Mediterranean cruise, along with the usual bad pay schedules for video poker, I encountered a variant of bonus poker new to me. Two pairs paid only 1, but a flush paid 8 and a full house paid 10 (40 and 50 with full coin). Other pays were at the usual 8-5 level.

Initially I did OK, but later on results were poor. I am wondering to what degree the higher pays for a flush and full house offset the lower pay for two pairs. I might mention that this is the second time I have noticed an apparent difference in return between the first two days of a cruise and the later days, although I realize that theoretically there should be no difference and it may be simply that I did not play enough to produce an "average" result.

ANSWER: I’ve mentioned this game before in a column on games labeled “Bonus Poker,” but which vary from the paybacks on the classic 8-5 game that returns 99.2 percent with expert play. This particular version returns only 94.2 percent. In casinos on land, I’d walk away. Shipboard, I’d walk in with both eyes wide open, and perhaps play for small stakes and a little amusement.

Lowering the two-pair payoff from 2-for-1 on classic Bonus Poker to 1-for-1 on the game you encountered is a costly switch. If the lower two-pair pay was applied to an 8-5 Bonus Poker game with no compensating increases on other hands, we’d be left with a game that paid only 86.3 percent to experts. That one change costs us nearly 13 percent. That’s because two pairs is such a common hand. With expert play in 8-5 Bonus Poker, two pairs come up on 12.9 percent of hands and give us 25.9 percent of our return.

The increased pays on full houses and flushes make up some of that, but they can’t offset the entire difference. The two-pair reduction requires bigger increases to leave a playable game. The big increases in four of a kind pays on Double Bonus Poker and Double Double Bonus Poker are needed. If you just get your money back on two pairs and quad payoffs are maxing out at 400 coins on four Aces while paying only 125 on 5s through Kings, you’ve got a coin-gobbler on your hands.

QUESTION: I think I’m quoting you correctly that you say the house edge is the same on every play in every game. What’s already happened doesn’t affect what’s going to happen, right? So then why should raising and lowering your bets like blackjack card counters do make any difference?

ANSWER: Your premise is only partially correct. Every play is an independent trial on slot machines, video poker, roulette, keno, sic bo, craps in the absence of a controlled roller --- almost any casino game that you can think of. The wheel, reels or dice have no memory, and past results have no effect on future outcome.

That also goes for games in which cards are shuffled for every hand. Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, Ultimate Texas Hold’Em and any number of poker-based options fit here. Freshly shuffled cards have no memory.

That leaves blackjack and baccarat as games in which there are multiple hands between shuffles. In those games, the cards already played do have an effect on future outcomes. If an Ace has been dealt, that’s one fewer Ace that available as a component of the two-card 21s that pay players 3-2 --- or, in bad games, 6-5. If a whole bunch of low cards already have come out, that’s a whole bunch of low cards unavailable for future draws, or to spoil a double-down hand.

Here, past results DO have an effect on future outcome, because the conditions of the game change as the constitution of the deck remaining in play changes. Card counters bank on that, raising bets when there’s a higher than usual proportion of high cards to be played, and lowering bets or leaving the table when there’s a higher than usual proportion of low cards in the available deck.

The effect is much weaker in baccarat, where in theory, a bettor could get a very small edge, but not in any practical way. But in blackjack, the changing conditions of the game are larger. That’s why counting cards works.
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, with podcasts at Look for John Grochowski on Facebook ( and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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