Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Don't Call It Spanish Blackjack

Until the recent emergence of Blackjack Switch, Spanish 21 was the only blackjack variant to make a significant impact to the casino floor. The trash heap is filled with the names of games using only numbers (i.e. 7, 11, 31, 41 and probably everything in between).
Spanish 21 (NEVER call it Spanish Blackjack!) is owned by Masque Publishing, a company you’ve probably never heard of. They are predominately a software company (www.masque.com) and license numerous variations of casino software. For fair disclosure, they have two titles (Video Poker Strategy Pro and Caribbean Stud Knowledge Pro) that were done in concert with my father’s strategies.
Spanish 21 is essentially a very liberal form of Blackjack. Here are some of the highlights of these rules:
Player Blackjack beats a Dealer Blackjack (and is still paid 3 to 2)
Player 21 beats a Dealer 21 (all other ties are pushes)
Player may Double Down on ANY number of cards
Player may Double Down after splitting
Late Surrender is allowed
Numerous Bonus 21 payoffs – 5-plus card 21, 6-7-8 and 7-7-7
‘Free’ Super Jackpot Bonus of $1,000 if player has suited 7-7-7 and dealer has 7 upcard.
As is always the case with table games, rules may vary a bit from one casino to the next, so keep your eyes open for the specific set of rules you’re playing.
So, how does Spanish 21 manage to give the player such a liberal game? Very easily. It uses a big shoe (six to eight decks) and removes the 10’s (NOT the face cards) from the shoe. For anyone who plays blackjack regularly, you know the big cards are good for the player and the little cards are good for the dealer. So, removing 24-32 10’s from a shoe can’t be good for the player.
The rule and deck changes combine to make significant shifts in how we play many hands. The removal of the 10’s causes the dealer to bust far less frequently. Thus, we find the player hits much more frequently against traditional "bust" upcards.
The 5-plus card 21 bonus causes us to hit some very ugly hands, IF we have 4-plus cards, in attempt to secure one of these bonuses. It should be noted, however, that we NEVER hit a hard 17 or greater to go for one of these bonuses. The payouts are simply not compelling enough in these cases.
The removal of the 10’s also causes us to re-think some of our double down situations. We don’t double on a 10 vs. 8 or 9 as we would in regular blackjack. At the same time, we have to be alert to the cases where we have three or more cards and get to a 10 or 11. In Spanish 21, you get to double in these cases.
The bottom line is you have to take your strategy for regular blackjack and throw it out the window.
 While there are, of course, similarities, the differences are significant. They affect every part of the game – when to hit, when to stick, when to double down and when to split.
 Spanish 21 offers the player a livelier version of the game at about the same payback as regular blackjack (99 percent-plus depending on the exact rules) but only if you learn the proper strategy. Fortunately, we’ve already done the hard part!
Availability: For $4.95 you can order Expert Strategy for Spanish 21 with a full-color pocket-sized strategy card. Send check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How About a Comp System that works?

            A lot of noise was made recently by Las Vegas Sands announcing that they were making significant changes to their comps program.  They were going to greatly reduce the number of free rooms and other things they give out to the masses.  A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about this, expressing that under the conditions that the Sands operates, it really may not be a bad move on their part.  While I think it is a bad idea for casinos that cater to locals to cut back on things like this, I think that the casinos that rely on the out-of-town tourists should have a very different model.

            A few weeks ago, I saw an article that talked about how the Sands was changing its cashback as well.  If I recall correctly, they would now be giving video poker Players back 8% of the theoretical house advantage.  So, if the machine you’re playing has a 1% house edge (99% payback), you be getting back 0.08% of your total wager.  If you’re a max-coin quarter Player, playing 800 hands per hour, you’ll get 80 cents back for each $1000 you drop into the machine.  The expectation is that you’ve lost $10 of that $1000 over the hour.

            I saw a tweet that commented on this, using a full-pay jacks or better as an example.  With a house edge of just 0.4%, the Player will be getting back 0.032% of his total wager.  In my prior example – 32 cents per hour or just under $1 for a 3-hour session.  So, if you go to Las Vegas and play at the Sands, you’ll get back just over $6 if you play every night for 3 hours per night.   I responded to the tweet that this case was non-existent.  Las Vegas Sands does not offer full-pay machines, so their Players will get back far more.  This really is not a good thing, on the whole, for Players.  I’d rather play a full-pay machine then get 3 times the cashback by playing a poor machine.

            That said, I have to go on the record as saying that I think this is the most ridiculous way to calculate cash back.  I’m not blaming the Sands.  Casinos have used ‘cash in’ as the deciding factor for years.  They combine this with a more generic ‘payback’ of a game to determine a percent of ‘cash in’ that Player should receive as a rebate.   To figure out a better system, we should first ask, what is the point of such a rebate?

            Over the past decade or two, many companies have instituted similar such rebates of one type or another.  I have a key ring full of ‘loyalty cards’ that I carry – from my supermarket, drug store and other retailers.  One drugstore gives me a 2% rebate on most of my purchases.  Does this really make me go there for my purchases?  I don’t think so.  But, once a quarter, I get a coupon for a couple of dollars and I feel compelled to use it before it expires.  If I’m disciplined, I buy only things I truly need or buy something that costs only the amount of the coupon.  Of course, we know that it doesn’t always work out so well.  The goal of this cash back is to get me back into the store at a time when I may not really need much of anything and then spend more than the coupon is worth.  This would seem to be similar to the casino model.

            There is, of course, one major difference.  When I buy something in a store, I bring home something tangible.  In the casino, it is not quite the same.  I hope you all enjoy the entertainment you get there, but you’re not bringing a specific item home.  Also, the need for discipline is far greater in the casino.  $2 is $2 in the drugstore.  In the casino, some can make their money last much longer than others.

            So, if we have two players who play identical video poker machines and one plays it ‘Expertly’ and plays at 99% and the other plays it rather poorly and plays only 95%, why should they receive the same cashback.  Mind you, I’m not talking about how they ACTUALLY do with their bankroll.  I’m talking about the theoretical payback of how they play each hand.  The machine can be easily programmed to keep tabs on this.  In this scenario, the Player who plays poorly will actually receive more money than the one who plays properly.  From a casino perspective, I would think this would be a no-brainer!

            Let’s be real, here.  If I’m playing the machine, why would the casino want to give me much money back?  I’ll drop $30 in 3 hours and then they’ll give me $2.40 cents back.  Realistically, they can’t give me much more.  Also, if I’m a good Player, I’m losing relatively little and just how much incentive do I need to come back?  Will $2.40 really bring me back to this casino?

However, if I’m a bad player and my play would dictate that I should lose $150 in those 3 hours, I would now get back a $12 rebate.  If I’m that casino, I want to bring back this Player more than the Expert Player.  Give him $12 to play with.  He’ll likely lose far more than that while playing at 95%. 

            So, yes, I AM advocating that bad Players get more cashback than good Players.  However, I’d still rather be a good Player getting less in cash back than a bad Player getting more.  Some of you may wonder about a system that pays cashback based on how much the Player actually wins or loses.  In a future column, I’ll discuss my thoughts on that.

            I’d like to hear what you have to say about this, so PLEASE feel free to leave comments – but let’s all be civil!

Friday, March 18, 2011

How About That Strategy? It Works!

            This pretty much speaks for itself:

             Someone playing a $2 full-pay max-coin Double Double Bonus Poker hits an $8000 Royal Flush starting from a 2-Card Royal!  Without knowing who hit it (and I don’t), we really don’t know to what extent this Player follows Expert Strategy.  For all I know, he discarded a Pair of Jacks to go for the 2-Card Royal.  But, lacking this information, I’m going to use this picture to demonstrate some key components of Expert Strategy.

            Play the right machine – Well, Double Double Bonus isn’t exactly the ideal machine to play with its 98.8% payback.  However, it multiple jackpots (Royal and 4 Aces w/kicker) has made it immensely popular.  From the picture we can see that the Player chose to play one that is full-pay (1/1/3/4/6/9).  Before the payout on this hand, the Player had about $535 remaining in their bankroll.  If they play a short-pay machine, perhaps the bankroll is exhausted before they have the opportunity to win the $8000!

            Know the right strategy – This is really the crux of this column.  We don’t know what hand the Player was dealt, but we do know that he held the suited J-A.  2-Card Royals make up about 7-8% of our playable hands.  Misplaying them can be rather dangerous to your bankroll.  When my father, Lenny Frome, developed his first strategies for video poker, one of things that surprised him was that most 2-Card Royals outranked 3 High Cards.  Given the unlikely odds of hitting a Royal, intuitively, one might think that you’re better off having 3 High Cards increasing your chances of a Jacks or Better or a Straight.  But by holding 3 off-suited cards, you eliminate all chances of a Flush, reduce the likelihood of Trips and eliminate Quads and the Royal.

            ‘Unlikely’ is also a relative term.  The actual odds of hitting a Royal from a 2-Card Royal is ‘only’ 16,215 to 1.  In the grand scheme of the casino, this isn’t really all that rare.  If one out of 13 hands is a 2-Card Royal and 1 in 16,215 of these will result in a Royal Flush, then we’re talking about 1 in 210,000 hands will have this ‘fate’.  At 700 hands per hour, this means about 300 hours of play.  Depending on how serious of a Player you are, this might take weeks or months, but in a casino with hundreds of video poker machines being played 10-15 hours day each, it’s happening every day all over the place.  So, why not you?

            Of course, you increase your chances of it being you if you play your 2-Card Royals correctly.  This will, of course, depend on the specific game and paytable you are playing.  In the case of Double Double, here are some key pointers:

            -  A 10-A 2-Card Royal is NOT playable.  We hold only the Ace if we have no alternatives.
            -  We Play J-Q-K-A (off suit) over a 2-Card Royal
            -  Pay attention to all of your cards and don’t just focus on the 2-Card Royal.  You might be dealt 4-5-6 of one suit and a J-Q of another.  The 3-Card Straight Flush outranks the 2-Card Royal by a considerable margin.
            -   Do NOT discard any Pairs to go for a 2-Card Royal

            This list is hardly meant to be comprehensive.  If while reading it you realized that you didn’t know these things, you might want to brush up on your game before you spend real money.  As always, it is important to learn the strategy table of the game you intend to play and stick to it. 

            This way, maybe next time I post up a picture of a big jackpot, you can sit back and say “That’s MINE!”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lenny Frome Left a Legacy to Casino Gambling World

(the following is a re-print of my column in this week's edition of Gaming Today)  

            There are days in our lives that we all have burned into our memories – weddings, births of our children and regrettably, the passing of someone dear.  As this article goes to print in Gaming Today, I will be remembering one of those days – the 13th anniversary of my father’s passing.  I will never forget my brother telling me that my dad had had a heart attack.  When I asked him how he was doing, he responded “he isn’t.”

            I could fill up this entire edition of stories about my dad as a dad.  I’m not sure exactly how long he wrote for Gaming Today, but I believe it was 8 or 9 years, which means we could fill this edition with the hundreds of articles he wrote.  But, why think small?  If one wants to see the legacy my father left to the casino world, one only needs to walk into virtually any casino in the world.

            A good gaming analyst doesn’t just crunch the numbers.  He works with the inventors to create the game.  You need the creative side to envision the cards and the betting, but the math is the glue that holds it all together.  So, the analyst may not have his name on the patent and he may not get technical credit for inventing the game, but there is no doubt that a good analyst helps to invent each game he works on.  So, try to walk into a casino and not see Lenny Frome’s handiwork. 

            You see some Let It Ride tables?  He worked with the founders of Shuffle Master to save that one from a horrible fate (a math error).  How about some Caribbean Stud tables?  Yep, his name is on the math for that one too.  Three Card Poker?  Yes, he worked with Derek Webb to refine the math and rules of the game.  He worked on Boston 5 from New Vision Gaming.  He worked on Spanish 21 with Masque Publishing.  He worked on dozens of other games that hit the casino floor but didn’t quite make it to success.  But even these failures opened up the doors to dozens more.  Imagine walking into a casino and having none of these games be there?  It would be like Las Vegas circa 1980!

            Of course, on the other half of the floor, we’d all be stuck with nothing but slot machines!  Oh, the horror!  Where would the casino of 2011 be without Lenny Frome’s contributions to video poker?  I don’t know who first called him the ‘godfather of video poker’ but it’s a nickname that has stuck through the years.  You can even find this on his Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_Frome) – which, by the way, I DID NOT create!

            Despite the accolades, when it came time for my father to choose an e-mail address – he didn’t choose “vpgodfather”, “vpguru” or “vpexpert”.  He chose “Playerspal”.  He tried very hard to create games that while they obviously had house advantages, at least gave the Player a fighting chance.  What he loved about table games and video poker was that everything was known and could be calculated using finite math.  He hated the slots because everything about them was a deep dark secret.  He called himself Playerspal because that’s how he saw himself.  He was there to educate the Players about how to play the games.

            Well, so far this has been about my father as a gaming analyst.  As I said earlier, I could fill up this entire edition of Gaming Today with stories about my dad as a dad.  Of course, there would be some similarities.  Education was very important to my father.  It didn’t really matter what the topic was.  Shortly after arriving in Las Vegas, he wound up teaching at UNLV.  Here was a guy who could ace my AP Physics tests at the dinner table without a calculator and he was teaching a relatively low level algebra course in college.  Still, he had the patience to teach the kids to the best of his ability and he took it far more seriously than many full-time professors I had in college.  It meant so much to him.  This is one of the reasons why my family started the Leonard Frome Memorial Scholarship at UNLV after he died. 

            Another thing very important to my father was his family.  He adored his children and grandchildren.  So, in an attempt to put together two very important things in my father’s life – children and education, I’m asking my readers to help me with a little project.  I found out via twitter (@gambatria) that my friends at Shuffle Master are having a book drive to help a Las Vegas based organization called “Spread the Word Nevada” which promotes literacy by distributing books to elementary schools throughout Nevada.   My wife and I will be shipping to them a few dozen gently-used books  from my kids’ home library.  I’m asking my readers to check out their website and if you are so inclined to assist them in any way you can – whether via a monetary donation, donating books or volunteering. 

            I’ll get back to gaming tips next week.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Would You Do? A VP mini-quiz

            There are few games in the casino that require learning a strategy as complex as video poker.  Really, only blackjack (and its variants like Blackjack Switch and Spanish 21) comes to mind.  Fortunately, as complex as the strategy is, about 75% of video poker hands become fairly obvious after a little bit of time spent studying and some time spent practicing.  The tough part is the remaining 25% of the hands.  Some require a bit of thought and some require some serious concentration.  It is these hands that separate the average Player from the true Expert Player.

            Consider the following hand in full-pay jacks or better:

3♣       8♦        10♥      J♦         Q♦

            It is not a very pretty hand and I dare say that most beginners are probably not going to play this one correctly.  If they do, it may be more by accident than by design.  So, which way should you play it?  If you say “the way which gives you the highest expected value”, you’re right, but you’re cheating a bit.  Which way has the highest expected value?

            I think we can all agree that we’re NOT going to hold onto that 3♣ under any condition.  So, that leaves us with 4 hands to consider:

            1)         8♦        10♥      J♦         Q♦
            2)         10♥      J♦         Q♦
            3)         J♦         Q♦
            4)         8♦        J♦         Q♦

            Option 1 is a 4-card Inside Straight with 2 High Cards.  If you look for it on the strategy table, you won’t find it.  The expected value is about 0.47.  By itself this doesn’t make it unplayable, but  at least one subset of these 4 cards always has a higher expected value.

            Option 2 is a 3-card Straight.  The expected value is 0.44.  Again, you won’t find it on the strategy table, meaning some subset of these cards always has a higher expected value. 

            Option 3 is a 2-Card Royal.  A J-Q Royal is categorized as a V3 for the highest ranking Royal as it consists of 2 out of JQK.  If the two cards consists of an Ace and one of JQK, then it is V2.  If it consists of a 10 and one of JQK, it is a V1 and if it is an A10, it is a V0.  We WILL find this one on the strategy table.  It has an expected value of 0.60.  The expected value of this specific situation is 0.59 as a result of discarding the 10 and the 8 reducing changes for Staights, Flushes and even a Straight Flush.  The fact that we find it on the strategy table, at least means that this MIGHT be the right answer.

            Option 4 is a 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 2 High Cards.  It almost sounds like something you would order at Starbucks!  When we look on the strategy table, we’ll find that it has an expected value of 0.64.  Discarding the 10 brings the actual expected value of this hand to 0.63, which is still a bit higher than Option 3.  So, in the end, never mind Starbucks, this is the hand you want to ‘order’ if dealt the five cards described earlier.

            I’d like to say that there is some sort of easy way to remember that this is the right way to play the hand, but there isn’t.  To make matters worse, if you were playing a Progressive with the Royal paying 1600 instead of the usual 800, Option 3 would actually have the higher expected value and become the proper play.

            Will you obliterate the payback if you always play Option 3?  No.  The hand is infrequent enough and the impact small enough that you will only cost yourself marginally.  You’ll also hit a few extra Royals (over a lifetime), so this might make up for the lost bankroll.  But, Expert Strategy is about playing the right hand all the time and avoiding playing any sort of hunches or going for the big kill.

            There is one other lesson from this example.  One of the most forgotten hands in video poker is the Straight Flush.  Players are quickly taught to ignore 3-Card Straights and 3-Card Flushes in most versions of video poker.  However, the 3-Card STRAIGHT FLUSH (and all its variations) are quite playable in most games.  While they all have expected values below 1.00 and thus are ‘losing hands’, this doesn’t mean that playing them incorrectly is okay.  It is just as important to play the losing hands correctly as it is the winning hands.  Perhaps more so as there are far more losing hands than winning hands.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is that Harry Potter playing Blackjack?!

            A couple of months ago, my son, who is a college freshman , and I were walking through a local mall when he was telling me about some of the interesting people on his campus.  Apparently, there is one young man who wears ‘wizard’ clothing every day.  My son remarked “maybe if you’re buying all your clothes at Party City, you need to change your wardrobe.”  Maybe the kid was just hoping to land the job as official spokesman of the new game Blackjack Switch.

            We’ve all sat down at a Blackjack table at some point and watched as we are dealt a series of bad hands.  After a while, we notice the person next to us is being dealt hands just as bad, but like a mirror image.  We’re getting 5-10, he’s getting face-6.  Sooner or later, one of you joke how you wish you could switch your 2nd cards with each other.  Geoff Hall decided to do something about it.  He invented Blackjack Switch.

            It’s a very simple concept.  You play two Blackjack hands (equal wagers).  The Dealer deals you your regular 2 cards for each hand.  When it is your turn, you can ask him to switch the 2nd cards of the two hands.  So, if you’re dealt a 5-10 and a face-6, you now have a 5-6 and a 10-Face.  Two really lousy hands just became two killer hands!  So, what’s the catch?

            Well, being able to switch your cards like this is a pretty big advantage for the Player, so the house has to take a few things back.  First, a Natural Blackjack pays only even money.  A switched Blackjack only counts as a regular 21.  The ‘biggie’ is that a Dealer 22 (i.e. a busted hand) will PUSH against all Player non-busted hands EXCEPT a Player Natural Blackjack.  Other than that, the rules are pretty standard and moderately liberal.  The Player can double down on any two cards.  He can split until 4 hands.  (It should be noted that you should verify these rules before sitting down to play as casinos can sometimes choose to tighten up the rules a bit).

            Blackjack Switch gives the Player the opportunity to spend a lot more time playing good hands.  In order to get to this position, however, you’ll need to learn a whole new layer of strategy dealing with WHEN to switch cards.  Unfortunately, there is no simple strategy I can provide you.  The only way to know when to switch is by comparing the expected values (EV) of your initially dealt hands with the expected values of your potentially switched hands.  On a positive note, I’ve already done the hard part – calculating these expected values.  So, you just need to look up your hands on a simple chart.

            The second part of the strategy is knowing when to hit, stick, double and split.  The bad news is that if you attempt to use standard Blackjack strategy for Blackjack Switch, you’ll DOUBLE the house advantage even if you switch at all the right times.  The Dealer pushing on 22s greatly alters our strategy.  Doubling on soft hands is nearly nonexistent.  A Dealer upcard of a ‘2’ is transformed from a so-so upcard into a rather powerful one for the Dealer.  The bottom line is you need to throw out everything you learned about regular Blackjack strategy and replace it with a new Blackjack Switch strategy.  Again, I’ve done the hard part and figured out when to hit, stick, etc…

            When all is said and done, if you learn when to switch and you learn the right strategy, Blackjack Switch will afford you a payback right up there with regular Blackjack (about 99.4+%).  At the same time, you’ll be playing a more entertaining version of the game that keeps you involved in the play because you will be busting less often as you will have much better hands on average.

            Shuffle Master is the worldwide distributor of Blackjack Switch and from what I’m told you can now find more than 100 tables in the marketplace, and it is growing monthly.  You can read more about the game and where to find it on their Blackjack Switch Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/Blackjack-Switch/167559943295302)

            I just picked up from the printer my brand new booklet Expert Strategy for Blackjack Switch.  It comes with a full-color 4-panel double sided strategy card which has both the expected values to help you decide when to switch AND the hit/stick strategy.  It will also go into far more detail on how the strategy was developed (and why it is mathematically sound!) and what to expect from this new Blackjack variant.  The booklet and strategy card sell for $6.95, but I’m running an introductory special for the month of March of just $5.95.  Additional strategy cards can be ordered for just $1.50 if you order the booklet or for $2.95 alone.  Head on over to my website at www.gambatria.com and download the order form to order or just send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603

Friday, March 4, 2011

You can be a Three Card Poker expert too!

            This past week, I posted something on the Facebook page for Three Card Poker.  Shuffle Master asked people to relate their best story about Three Card Poker.  So, to get the ball rolling, I posted the following true story:

I'll get the ball rolling: A few years ago, my wife and I sat down at a Three Card Poker table (I think we were at Sunset Station). It was the first time my wife ever sat a casino table game. We had covered the basics of how to play the game (strategy-wise), but after the Dealer gave her her chips, she looked at me and said "now what do I do" - meaning just where to put the wagers. The woman to her right struck up a conversation by telling my wife exactly where to put the chips and how to play. She told my wife that you "'usually play with Queen or better, but sometimes you 'Play' with a Jack and can beat the Dealer." It took all my wife's strength to not respond to the woman, "Do you have any idea who my husband is? He WROTE THE BOOK on Three Card Poker!" (literally). This is an absolutely true story, and unless someone recognizes me - I don't tell anyone who I am in the casino so that's why my wife didn't say anything.

            In response, another reader, posted the following:

‎^^^ little cocky huh? 

By the way Q-6-4 is a great strategy - if you work for Shuffle Master.

Q-J, Q-10 isn't even a good one. King high only, but you did write a book on it so you must know what you're talking about.

            I couldn’t really argue with the ‘cocky’ part.  When it comes to gaming math, I am one of the experts.  Nearly every successful proprietary table game in the casino has had either my father’s work or my work behind it.  The rest of this person’s response had me a bit befuddled.  Queen – Six – Four is not a great strategy if you work for Shuffle Master.  It’s a great strategy (and the best strategy) if you play Three Card Poker.  In fact, it really is ALL you need to know to be an expert at the game.

            This poster seems to have it backwards.  It is not because I wrote a book about Three Card Poker that I know what I’m talking about.  It is because I know what I’m talking about that I wrote the book Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker.  My father worked with the inventor of Three Card Poker.  Several years ago, when Shuffle Master had a Three Card Poker tournament, they came to me to write a strategy booklet on the best way to play for Tournament Play.  But, it’s not because of all this that I know what I’m talking about.  It is because I can prove mathematically that Q-6-4 is the best strategy that I know what I’m talking about.

            How does one go about proving this?  In the case of Three Card Poker, it is very simple.  There are 22,100 unique 3-card hands you can receive from a 52-card deck.  For each of these, there are 18,424 possible Dealer hands.  Using a computer program, I run every one of these hands (just over 400 MILLION hands) and determine for each of the 22,100 Player hands whether the Player is better of Playing or Folding.  If the Player wins back at least the 18,424 units he would wager playing against each of the Dealer’s 18,424 possible hands, then he should Play.  If not, he will lose less by Folding than he would by making an additional wager.  When you analyze the results of this program, you find that the decision point is at Q-6-4.

            At Q-6-4, the Player will wager 18,424 additional units, but win back 18,546.  His net loss will be 18,302 which is still a bit better than Folding and losing 18,424.  At Q-6-3, he will win back only 18,377 creating a net loss of 18,471 which is a bit more than he would if he just Folded.

            So, the poster, seemingly attempting to mock my answer, suggests three other possible strategies – QJ, Q10 and even King High.  How do these stack up?  Well, QJ will get you a payback of 97.61%.  Q10 will get you a payback of 97.28%.  If you want simplicity and go with King High then the payback falls to 96.84%.  The payback for Q-6-4 is 97.98%.  So, there is a clear difference, but it may not seem so big to some of you.  So, let’s flip this around to look at the house advantage (100%-payback).  For Q-6-4, we give up 2.02% to the house.  For QJ it become 2.39% or nearly a 20% increase.  For Q10 it goes up to 2.72% for a 35% increase.  Last but not least, for King High, the house advantage goes to 3.16% or a 55% increase. 

            There are times when you may want to simplify the strategy to reduce errors with a tradeoff of some payback.  However, I really don’t think remembering Q-6-4 should push anyone’s brain to the limit.  It’s your money, you can lose 20-55% more by picking a different strategy or you can become an expert and remember Q-6-4.  Not because I wrote the book and not because I ‘must know what I’m talking about’, but because it IS the BEST strategy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Everyone's a Joker!

            I’m continuing last week’s column by continuing the discussion of Joker Wild video poker.  This game is still available in numerous casinos around Las Vegas and offers a 100.65% payback.  As always, of course, it offers this payback ONLY if you find the full-pay paytable.  You should be looking for the following:

Royal Flush (Natural)
Five of a Kind
Royal Flush (Joker)
Straight Flush
Four of a Kind
Full House
Three of a Kind
Two Pair
High Pair (K’s or A’s)
* With Max-Coin play

            There are a total of 50 entries on the strategy table for this version of Joker Wild.  However, they are split up between Joker hands (23) and non-Joker hands (27).  When thought of this way, the process of learning the strategy table becomes much simpler.  First let’s focus on the non-Joker hands which make up almost 90% of the total hands.

            The top half of the non-Joker strategy table has few surprises.  Most of the hands are the pat hands for which there is little to decide.  One key point is that you will discard a Straight to go for any 4-Card Straight Flush.  You do NOT break up a Flush, however, for these cases.  A 3-Card Royal ranks above a High Pair, but below Two Pair and 4-Card Straight Flushes. 

            The bottom half of the non-Joker strategy table contains the hands with an expected value less than 1 so these are the messier partial Straights, Flushes and Straight Flushes.  The key points here are NO 3-Card Straights are playable and NO 3-Card Flushes are playable.  3-Card Straight Flushes, however, are quite playable, but generally below a Low Pair (except for a non-inside 3-Card Straight Flush), but ABOVE the equivalent 4-Card Straight.  So, if you have a 3-Card Straight Flush that is also a 4-Card Straight, you stick with the 3-Card Straight Flush most of the time.  The payout of only 3 on the Straight makes a significant difference for these hands.  If you have a 2-Card Royal that is A-K, K-Q, K-J or K-10, it will outrank holding only the single High Card.  However, it is preferable to hold a single A or K over a 2-Card Royal of 10-J-Q (2 of the three).  A 2-card Royal consisting of an Ace but not a King is not playable.

            It probably is no surprise that on the non-Joker half of things, 3 hand types make up about 70% of all our hands dealt – Low Pair, 1 High Card and Razgu.  This last hand – where we throw all 5 occurs about 12.5% of the time for hands without a Joker, which is 4 times more frequent than in jacks or better.

            On the Joker side of things, we find that the lowest playable hands are 4-Card Straights and 4-Card Flushes.  If after accounting for the Joker you still have an Inside 4-Card Straight, you do NOT play this (i.e. 4-5-JKR-8-Q).  As in non-Joker hands, a 3-card Straight Flush is played over a 4-Card Straight.  Since every hand with a Joker is by its very definition at least a Pair, which one of the 4 remaining cards to you decide to keep if dealt nothing much but the Joker?  You don’t!  Over 10% of our Joker hands will result in a Joker Razgu where we throw the other four cards.  There is no Joker Low Pair hand in Joker Wild.

            There are three secrets to winning at Joker Wild video poker.  The first is to find the right game to play.  There are a lot of different paytables out there and even a variation of Joker Wild that pays beginning at Two Pair, albeit harder to find and not nearly as lucrative.  The second secret is learning the strategy.  It’s really not that hard of a strategy to learn, but if you go in trying to adapt your jacks or better of your Bonus Poker strategy to Joker Wild, you’re going to get killed.  Last, but not least, you need to get your fair share of Jokers.  The payback is all in the Joker hands and if you don’t get your fair share of them, you’re not likely to have a winning session.  The good news is that the payback is above 100%, so you only need your fair share.  If you happen to get even more – all the better for you.