Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don't Be Timid when Playing Ultimate Texas Hold'em

             This may come as a surprise to some of you, but Texas Hold’em has been played in poker rooms for a very long time.  However, it was not the primary game until recently.  When you said you were going to play Poker, it mostly mean 7-card Stud.  Secondary to that were the Texas Hold’em and Omaha tables.  I’m not really sure what got the Texas Hold’em craze going, but I’ve long suspected it was a few famous people who started playing it and all of a sudden, a game barely heard of became the game you had to play.

            Once Texas Hold’em became popular, it was no surprise that table games for the casino floor would try and capitalize on this popularity.  There have been several attempts to create a game that somehow captures the essence of Texas Hold’em.   The most successful, but not the first out, has been Shuffle Master’s Ultimate Texas Hold’em (UTH).  UTH was one of the first truly successful games that I personally worked on, and hopefully aided in its creation. 

            What makes UTH so unique is its betting structure.  You basically get one chance to make a wager beyond your initial wager.  But, you can make this wager at three different points.  The earlier you make the wager, the more you can bet.  Another relatively unique feature about UTH is that you don’t have to decide if you want to Fold until you’ve seen all your cards.  To begin play, the Player makes an Ante and an equal-sized Blind wager.  The Player also has the option to make an paytable sidebet wager.  The Player is then dealt 2 cards faced down.  He can now check or wager 4x his Ante.  The Dealer will then expose 3 community cards.  At this point, if the Player has already wagered 4x, he is done.  If he checked, he many now check again or wager 2x his Ante.  The Dealer exposes the final 2 community cards.  The Player who has already wagered is done.  The Player who checked twice must now either Fold or make a bet equal to 1x his Ante.

            The Dealer will expose his two cards.  If the Dealer does not have at least a Pair, the Ante pushes.  If the Dealer’s best 5-card hand beats the Player’s best 5-card hand, the Player loses all wagers (except the Ante as just described).  If the Player’s hand beats the Dealer’s hand, the Player wins even money on the Ante (unless the Dealer’s hand did not qualify, in which case it pushes).  The Blind bet pushes, unless the Player won with a Straight or Better, in which case it will pay according to the paytable in use.  The Play bet (1x – 4x) will pay even money. 

            UTH hit the casinos about 5 years ago and now has over 500 tables, making it one of the most successful proprietary table games of all time.  The full strategy for the game is extremely complex and somewhat fuzzy.  The unique betting structure makes it difficult to determine in all cases whether your are better off betting more now or waiting for more information and betting less.  Also, any game that uses community cards in a head-to-head game creates challenges in determining when to wager.  Stating to ‘bet’ when you have a Pair of Aces becomes impossible because it might be the community cards that has the Pair, while you’re left holding a 2 and 6 in your hand!  Your hand is quite worthless at that point!

            Ironically, it is the first decision point (to check or bet 4x) that was the easiest one to analyze.  With only your pocket cards as your guide, the decision becomes a relatively simple yes or no answer.  From talking to many Players, one thing has also become very clear.  Most Players are playing FAR TOO TIMIDLY than they should.  Proper strategy for the first wager dictates that you should bet 4x a whopping 38% of the time.   UTH boasts a payback of at least 99.25%, but if you shy away from betting 4x, you’re going to cut into this significantly.

            If there ever was a game where discipline is needed, this is it.  Between the Ante, Blind, Play and sidebet, you could easily have 7 units on the table – 38% of the time.  This is not the game to bring $100 to a $5 table and think you are properly bankrolled.  But, the math is the math and if you choose to wait to see how things play out, you might win more hands, but win less money.  Most Texas Hold’em players know that the secret to winning is that you don’t win a lot of hands, but you win a lot of money when you do.  The same can be said for UTH.

            So, without further ado, here is the strategy for the first decision point of UTH:

q  If you are dealt a Pair of 3’s or higher, bet 4x.
q  If you are dealt an Ace, bet 4x.
q  If you are dealt a suited K-X, where X is any card of the same suit, bet 4x.
q  If you are dealt a suited Q-X, where X is greater than a 4, bet 4x.
q  If you are dealt a suited J-X, where X is greater than a 7, bet 4x.
q  If you are dealt an unsuited K-X, where X is greater than a 4, bet 4x.
q  If you are dealt an unsuited Q-X, where X is greater than a 7, bet 4x.
q  If you are deal an unsuited J-10, bet 4x

I know I’ve promised for a long time that I’m working on a booklet for UTH and I have finally started the work.  Hopefully, I’ll get it done by the end of the summer.

For more information on UTH and other games, head over to my website at www.gambatria.com 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Counting on Strategy

For those of you who follow the financial pages, you know that last month, the Tropicana in Atlantic City reported that it actually LOST money on its blackjack tables.  This is not a common occurrence.  In fact, it may never have happened before for such a sizable casino.  At the time, they reported that a single Player had won about $5 million dollars playing hands of about $100,000 per hand.  The casino tried to chalk this up to 'bad luck' (on their part).  My first reaction when I read the story was either cheating or counting.

This week, the Press of Atlantic City reported that this same Player had taken two other casinos for several million as well.  They also identified (and interviewed) the Player.  His name is Don Johnson (no, not the one from Miami Vice).  He is the CEO of a company that uses computer-assisted wagering programs for horse racing. Hmmm?!

Mr. Johnson states in the article that he does not cheat.  He simply beats the casino using his skill and a sufficiently sized bankroll.  He also freely admits that in between his wins he's had some significant losses, but he declines to talk about the size of those losses.  Having no reason to doubt him and realizing that his story is quite plausible, I believe we may have stumbled upon one of the best Blackjack Players in the world.

I'm sure that Mr. Johnson has no idea who I am and I'm certainly not suggesting that he endorses any of my strategies, but his story still reinforces so much of Expert Strategy that I felt the need to comment.

Mr. Johnson knew which game to play - Blackjack.  Blackjack affords the player the opportunity to earn a payback of 99.5% by playing proper basic strategy - which is really not all that hard to learn.  Many casinos will even allow Players to have strategy cards with them as long as it doesn't slow up the game.  

Mr. Johnson clearly knew the right strategy to play.  I have no doubt that he knows basic strategy and then some.  Even without card counting, there are some subtle strategy points that an expert would utilize that the average Player would not.  However, these will NOT turn the game positive.  The only way a Player might be able to turn the tables on the casino is to count cards and to adjust both the wager size and the hit/stick strategy accordingly.  Of course, let's not kid ourselves.  This will NOT turn Blackjack into a 105% game.  With just the right changes, a Player might be able to flip the advantage to his own direction - i.e. 100.5%.

That brings me to the other key point that Mr. Johnson raises in his interview.  He was properly BANKROLLED.  Playing a 100.5% or even a 102% game does not mean that the Player will always win or that his session will go in only one direction.  Just as easily as a Player can win playing a 99.5% game, he can lose playing a 100.5%.  However, when you are playing a 100.5% game, you know that the longer you play, the more likely you are going to win.  So, the key is making sure your bankroll lasts long enough to sustain you through a rough patch.  If you're planning on playing $100K per hand, you better show up with more than $1 million.

It took a great deal of knowledge and discipline for Mr. Johnson to do what he did.  Many have tried a variety of card counting schemes with some success, but not too many are known to have taken the casinos for as much as $15 million.  Of course, a portion of this may have been an element of surprise.  The casinos did not know who he was or what he was capable of, so they gladly let him throw his 100K down at a time and probably figured they were about to make a lot of money.

The casinos were so unprepared that at least one of them agreed beforehand to forgive 20% of his losses.  So, if he had walked away down $2 million, they would have given him $400K back.  Clearly the casinos did not do their homework on this guy.  Kind of like facing Nolan Ryan in his prime and saying he can start the count at 0-1!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Multi-Play Video Poker Primer

            This past week, I received an e-mail from a reader who had some questions about Multi-Play video poker.  For those who are not familiar with it, Multi-Play allows Players to play out the result of a draw multiple times.  The Player is dealt five cards as per normal video poker.  He then decides which cards to hold/discard.  The draw is then played out from 2 to 100 times depending on which version he is playing and how many hands he chooses to play.  Generally speaking, the casinos offer 3-Play, 5-Play, 10-Play, 50-Play and 100-Play.  The underlying video poker game may be any of the ones offered on a regular video poker machine – jacks or better, Bonus, Double Bonus, Deuces Wild, etc…

            The game was invented about 15 years ago by Ernie Moody of Action Gaming.  If you’ve never heard of Mr. Moody, well, I guess multi-play didn’t make him a household name, but it sure did make him a lot of money.  There are thousand, if not tens of thousands of these games across the casinos of the world.  While it seems that the game may be off its peak (in terms of popularity, not necessarily total machines), it is still an immensely popular game.

            The good part about Multi-Play is that you don’t need to learn any new strategies.  It does not matter if you are playing 1 hand, 2 hands, 100 hands or theoretically a million hands at a time.  The proper strategy is still Expert Strategy which will look at the expected values of each possible way you can play the hand.  The number of times the draw is played out does NOT change this one bit.  The payback of Multi-Play is NOT dependent on the number of hands being played, but rather is based on the underlying video poker variation being played and the paytable being used.

            The bad news about Multi-Play is that you had best be prepared to bring a larger bankroll or to lower the denomination that you are used to playing, which can have its problems too.  Ideally, you want to keep playing max-coin to help ensure being paid 800 for 1, instead of 250 for 1 if you hit a Royal.  Assuming you do this, then the amount you are wagering per game is multiplied by the number of hands you are playing.  If you play Five Play then you are going to have to wager 5 coins (for max-coin) times 5 hands or 25 units.  If you’re a Quarter Player, you just went from wagering $1.25 per game to $6.00 per game.  This does not necessarily mean you need to have 5 times the bankroll (for reasons I’ll get to shortly), but you will need something close to this.

            To help with the bankroll issue, you could lower the denomination you normally play at.  If you go from Quarters to Nickels, you’ll still be wagering $1.25 even though you will now be playing five hands instead of one.  The only thing you need to watch out for is that sometimes the paytable for Nickels will be different (i.e. lower) than the one for Quarters.  This is true even when you are on the same physical machine but merely switch denomination.  You’ll get away with a lesser bankroll by switching to nickels, but if the payback is cut by 1% (or more), you’ll pay for it in other ways.

            So, how does playing multiple hands effect our bankroll requirements?  The more hands you play simultaneously (in the manner of Multi-Play), the less volatile the game can be.  When you play a single hand and are dealt a Low Pair, the number of possible outcomes is relatively small.  You might lose, get a Two Pair, Trips, Full House or Quads.  Your payout will be exactly equal to zero (losing) or one of the payouts of a winning hand.  None of these are very close to the actual expected value.  However, as you play more hands at the same time, you’ll find that you’ll approximate the actual expected value far more often.  This is especially true if you play 50-Play or 100-Play.  It is amazing how many times you’re dealt a Low Pair in 100-Play only to find that you win 80-85 coins back (per unit wagered) and that this hand has an EV of 0.82.  In essence you bring the long run to your game much quicker.   This is why I said earlier that you don’t necessarily need 5 times the bankroll.  But, don’t be fooled into thinking that you don’t need a larger bankroll if you’re playing 5 times the amount of money per game.

            So, one of the questions my reader asked is, “Is there a "best" number of multiple hands to play out of: Triple, Five Play, Ten Play Video Poker?”  The answer is not really.  As always you have to play the one you feel most comfortable playing based on bankroll, paytable and enjoyment.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Did That Happen?

            I have been analyzing casino games for about 30 years.  Given that I’m in my mid-40’s, that is quite a statement.  When I first learned to program computers in High School, my father asked me to create a program that would analyze blackjack.  That was the beginning of it all for both of us.  Through the years, between the two of us, we would analyze the most popular games in the industry – video poker, Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Mississippi Stud, Ultimate Texas Hold’em and many more. 

            Despite all of this, there is still one burning question that I simply cannot answer.  How did the casinos ever allow video poker machines paying over 100% to get to the casino floor?  When I work on a table game, questions always come up about whether there are ways to count cards or use knowledge of other Player’s cards to get a Player advantage.  Generally speaking, most games do allow for the Player to reduce the house edge if he knows other Player’s cards and can alter his strategy accordingly.  To date, I have not yet discovered a case where the Player can turn the tables on the house, but rather reduce somewhat the house advantage.  The response I invariably get from the inventor is – as long as he can’t push the payback over 100%, we’re good.

            So, if a bunch of friends head over to a Let It Ride table and start sharing information about their cards and by doing so can push the payback of Let It Ride all the way up to 99.9%, that’s okay.  But, if it goes to 100.01% there is a problem.  At 99.9%, the Player will still lose in the long run.  At 100.01%, in theory, he will win in the long run.  This is a line the casinos (and inventors) do not want to cross.

            So, given this, how did so many video poker machines hit the floor with a payback of over 100% and while they have been greatly reduced, how do so many still exist today?

            For the first part of the previous question – I haven’t a clue.  I can only speculate.  My best guess says that somehow it eluded the inventors, gaming companies and even the Nevada Gaming Control Board that there was a discrete mathematical solution to the perfect payback of video poker.  Or, based on the computers readily available at the time, they believed that calculating such a payback was nearly impossible.

            Of course, as we all know, my father proved them wrong.  Despite relatively limited programming skills and a computer that by today’s standards would seem to be less powerful than most of our phones, he managed to determine the best way to play each hand and calculate an exact payback for most of variations of video poker that existed at the time.  Much to his surprise, many of these variations would have paybacks well over 100%.  Even the most popular variation (jacks or better) had a payback of about 99.6%, which seemed high.  However, as I stated earlier it was still below 100%, so while perfect play might cut into profits it would not eliminate them.  Games with a payback of over 100% might slice into profits.

            So, one train of thought could be that so few people would play the game correctly, what harm could it cause?  Let’s take a look at just how much someone could win.  If we use Deuces Wild paying 100.76% as an example and use a $1 machine, an expert Player would wager about $4000 per hour (800 hands times $5 – max coin).   With a 0.76% Player advantage, a Player would win about $30.40 per hour.  If someone were to choose to make this a profession, he could win more than $1200/week or about $60K per year.  You won’t become a millionaire this way, but it’s not a bad wage.  Now, what if someone were to train a team of people and play an entire bank of 8 or 10 machines paying out 100.76%.  He would reduce the volatility and could pay people $20-30K to play video poker per year and keep  $200K+ for himself!  Take it one step further and imagine if he can find a $2 machine or a $5 machine or even a higher denomination.  Throw in cashback and comps and someone could take the casinos for a lot of money.

            Of course, one the casinos figure all this out, they’re just going to lower the payouts on these machines, right?  Well, that certainly happened too.  It is much more difficult to find machines paying over 100% today than it was 10-15 years ago.  However, they still exist in rather large amounts.  What has changed then?  Mostly the denomination.  The casinos have made it so that it is very difficult to find a machine playing more than quarters paying out over 100%.

            If we perform our earlier calculation using a quarter machine, we find that a Player can earn an average of about $7.50/hour.  This translates to a yearly income of $15,000 which isn’t exactly a living wage.  Thus, it isn’t likely to attract ‘professionals’.  Instead, casinos get to scream how they have video poker machines paying over 100% knowing that 90% of the Players who play it will probably not use the proper strategy and will actually play it a lower payback.

            This is truly the definition of a win-win scenario.  The casinos are willing to leave the machines on the floor which gives the knowledgeable Player the opportunity to take advantage of them.  What is interesting is that virtually all of the positive machines can be found at casinos frequented by locals – i.e. not the Strip casinos.  As I’ve discussed many times before, it would seem that many (too many?) people would rather make a donation to Caesar’s than a withdrawal from Red Rock Canyon.

            To find machines with top paybacks, I highly recommend the database at http://www.vpfree2.com.   I have absolutely no affiliation with this site and do not profit in any way if you choose to use the database.  I just find it a very good resource to find full-pay machines.  Of course, another good resource is our “Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas” which is an excellent beginner’s guide to video poker.  For the month of May, it is available at special price of $7.95 (reg. $9.95) for Gaming Today readers.  If you would like to order, please send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Slot Upgrade?

             This past weekend, we had some friends over for lunch.  Invariably, the conversation winds up on my relatively unique profession.  Somewhat ironic in this case as one of the other guys is a hedge fund manager who counts as one of his clients one of the top poker players in the world.  Then again, some would argue that we’re both in the same general profession – casino gambling!

            I got asked the usual question of what the best games to play are and how I got started in the profession.  At one point, the subject turned to slot machines.  There was both good news and bad news to report here.  On one hand everyone seemed to agree that these were amongst the worst payers in the casino.  On the other hand, not everyone admitted that they would never play one.  For those whom are intimidated by the table games, the slots still are the mainstay – no matter how bad they pay.

            I remarked how I had just read an article talking about a comeback that is being made by ‘old fashioned’ mechanical slots.  Everyone in the room agreed that the older slots were better than the newer ones.  A few reasons were cited.  One was that they actually had a handle to ‘pull’.  Another was the clinking of the coins coming out when you won.  I actually commented that I wasn’t sure if the machines making the comeback are ticket-in/ticket-out or truly old-fashioned in that they accept and pay out real coins. 

            One of the reasons I cited for the popularity of the mechanical machines was that you could actually tell when you won or lost.   As I’ve written many times in my column in Gaming Today, I have occasionally put a $5 machine into a penny or nickel video slot machine in order to kill some time.  I then press a button that says “Play max lines” and press another that says “Spin”.  When the reels are done ‘spinning’, the machine then tells me that I either won some number of coins or that I lost.  No matter how many times I try to figure it out, I can’t tell on my own WHY I’ve won when I do!

            I’ll see several identical symbols on the same line only to find that’s not really a line to this 5 ‘reel’, 27-line machine!  Someone should tell some of the slot manufacturers that a ‘line’ usually denotes a STRAIGHT line between two points, not an up and down line that looks more like a heart monitor!  Is it any wonder that people are not having fun playing slots anymore?  It wasn’t good enough when the casinos were essentially taking the Player’s money with 92-93% slot machines, now they have to do it in a way that most Players have absolutely no idea what is going on?  For anyone reading this, please tell me – are you really having fun playing the newer video slots?  I’m sure it’s a lot of fun when you get to a Bonus Round on something like Wheel of Fortune, but do you even know why you got there? 

            I remember playing one slot machine that put me into some sort of Bonus Round.  I won about $25 (on a nickel machine) in under 5 minutes.  I couldn’t tell you why I wound up in the Bonus Round or what I was trying to do while in it!  It just kept telling me to pick boxes and I did.  Each time it opened one, I won more coins.  Hey, I was very happy to win $25 in a few minutes, but I have to be honest.  I can’t really say I had any fun doing it.  I could’ve just as easily lost my bankroll (okay, it was only $5 for the slot machine) and been just as clueless.

            As I raised this point to my guests, there was universal agreement.  While some of them admitted to still playing them, none said they had fun while doing it.  My hedge fund manager friend does all he can to dissuade his wife from playing the slots at all – just based on their horrible paybacks.

            Of course, I have mixed emotions about a comeback for the mechanical slots.  They still have the worst paybacks in the casinos and I would much prefer that slot machines go the way of the dodo bird.  There are SO many better games to play in the casino with better paybacks and that are more fun.  I know that one of the reasons people avoid them is sometimes they are intimidated to play new games that they don’t know how to play.  So, we try to make it a bit easier with our books and booklets.

            Today, May 12th, 2011 would have been my father’s (Lenny Frome’s) 85th birthday.  So, for the rest of May, we’re offering some special prices on our titles:
  •         Winning Strategies for Video Poker and Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance (both books) for $19.26 (his birth year)
  •          Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas or Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for just $5.12 each.
  •          Any of the Expert Strategy series books (Three Card Poker, Four Card Poker, Let It Ride, Spanish 21, Caribbean Stud Poker, Mississippi Stud or Blackjack Switch)  - 1 for $4.85, 2 for $8.85, 3 for $11.85 or all 7 for $19.26

            To learn more about any of these titles, go to my website at www.gambatria.com and click on the “Products” tab.  If you would like to order any products, just send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Coming Up Aces

            When it comes to video poker, I think there is no doubt that the Ace is by far the most enigmatic card in the deck.  In the old days when we only had jacks or better video poker, the Ace was actually worth far less than most people gave it credit for.  In video poker an Ace High Flush or Ace High Straight has no more value than a 7-High hand of the same rank.  Whereas a Full House with three Aces is nearly unbeatable in table poker, it has no more value than 3’s over 2’s in video poker.

            The only additional value an Ace has is as a High Card.  In this regard, it has the same value as a Jack, Queen or King.  These four cards give extra weight to the expected value of our partial hands because of the opportunity to pick up a High Pair.  Once you have a High Pair or better, they provide no additional value.  This is where the irony starts to build.  A single Ace actually has the lowest expected value of any single High Card (tied with a King).  This is because an Ace inherently creates only INSIDE Straights.  With a single Ace you still have two shots at a Straight (10 – A or A-5), but if you add an Ace to any other High Card (i.e. J-A) you leave yourself only once chance to make a Straight.  Whereas, if you hold a J-Q, you can make a Straight multiple ways (8-9-10, 9-10-K, 10-K-A). 

            We overlook this weakness when we have an opportunity to hold two suited High Cards (i.e. a 2-Card Royal).  We would rather hold a suited J-A then an off-suit J-Q.  However, when we have three unsuited High Cards and one of them is an Ace, we do NOT keep the Ace.  Thus, if dealt J-Q-A, J-K-A or Q-K-A (offsuit), we keep the two NON-Ace cards.  The reduction in our chances of grabbing a Straight by keeping the Ace is greater than the benefit of keeping the third High Card.

            Thus, we see from all this that the almighty Ace is really not so almighty.  From an expected value perspective it is the weakest of all the single High Cards.  Fortunately for the Ace, someone invented the Bonus Poker variations of video poker restoring it to its full glory.

            The Bonus Poker variations turned the values of cards a bit upside down.  Pairs of Jacks or Better still paid 1 so this kept the extra value of the single High Card.  However, the 2nd tier of Bonus Payouts for Quads went to 2’s – 5’s.  This gave extra weight to these cards as they started to Pair up.  No one discards three of a kind so that wasn’t an issue, but all of a sudden ‘Low Pairs’ had to be split between ‘very’ low (2’s – 5’s) and just low (6’s – 10’s).  The top Tier (Aces) is what restored the Ace to the top of the pecking order.  Not only did it have value as a singleton above the low cards, it now had the top value as it began to Pair up and Players hoped to collect all four of them. 

            In reality, the paytable of the original bonus poker doesn’t do much for the Aces.  Obviously a Pair of Aces has a higher expected value, as does that of the single Ace – but not enough to really change how we play our hands.  However, as we move up the ladder of bonus games, this begins to change.  In Double Bonus Poker, a Pair of Aces outranks a 3-Card Royal, but a Pair of J-Q-K’s does not outrank all of them.  If you’ve got Trip Aces with another Pair (i.e. a Full House), you’ll throw away the Pair to go for the fourth Ace.  Don’t do that with any other Three of a Kind!

            If we move up to Double Double Bonus, we now find that if we’re dealt a Pair of Aces with another Pair (Two Pair) that we discard the other Pair hoping to get dealt the remaining two Aces.  The power of the Ace is complete!

            The most important lesson in all of this is that you need to learn the strategy table for whatever game you are playing.  You also need to discard your pre-conceived notions about cards and their values.  In table poker an Ace is a very powerful card.  In most versions of video poker, it is just another High Card and not even the most valuable of them.  Video poker is not about kickers and eking out a better hand.  It’s a game about cold calculated math.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Take A Stroll Through the Casino

It has been more than 20 years since my father, Lenny Frome, began writing about video poker. I think he had two goals when he started. The first was to tell people about this relatively new casino game which had paybacks about as high as any in the casino – and in some cases over 100%. The second goal was to get people away from slots which have arguably the absolute worst paybacks in the casino. Two decades later, it would appear that while much good work has been done, much more is needed.

The most common question I’m asked by friends is “what is the ‘best’ game to play in the casino?” In this case, ‘best’ means having the highest payback. Usually, most people start to answer the question before I can and start with blackjack – which is essentially a correct answer. With a payback of 99.5% (give or take, depending on the rules), blackjack must be described as being one of the ‘best’ games to play. Of course, the original version is a bit slow and requires a significant degree of strategy, but that really isn’t part of the equation at the moment.

Frequently, the next answer that comes up is Craps. This is a bit tougher to size up. Craps is really dozens of different independent wagers so determining the ‘payback’ of Craps is not only difficult (if not impossible), it is also meaningless. Avoid all the proposition wagers with horrible paybacks and you’ll have a much higher payback than the guy constantly buying ‘hard ways’ bets. Craps can be a really fun game with a lively table and when a shooter gets hot. Playing with just a couple of Players and/or during only cold or slightly warm streaks and it I prefer games where you can sit down!

After blackjack and Craps, the person who asked the question finally goes silent. It is almost as if the casino still only has about 4 options – blackjack, Craps, Roulette and slots. Well, I guess the good news is that the silence means the most people have figured out that you’re not going to win money playing slots. As for Roulette, well, it is a bit like Craps, but almost every wager has the same so-so payback. But what about the rest of the casino? Over the past 20 years, the casino floor has changed tremendously. Many of the people who ask me the question do go to the casino. Have they not noticed all the other games?

I don’t know who is more surprised. The person I’m talking to when I say “video poker” or me when they respond “what’s that?” I guess if you’ve always been a table game person maybe you haven’t noticed that not all the ‘slot machines’ look alike. Of course, this was truer when slot machines still had handles and video poker machines didn’t. With the advent of video slots, the casual observer may just see lots of lights and colors on a computer screen and think they are all the same. I’ve spent many columns explaining the vast differences between slots and video poker to need to do so again today.

Once I explain what video poker is to the person who asked the original question, they are even more surprised to find out that a ‘routine’ payback can be about the same as blackjack and that there are still a fair number that can be found that have paybacks over 100%. This, of course leads to an explanation of what it takes to exploit such a Player advantage. Yes, you can probably make 30k-40K a year playing quarter video poker, but it would take playing 40 hours a week in a smoky casino, playing very disciplined and it would be a lot like having a very streaky commission job. You might earn nothing one year and earn 50-60K the next. This is not necessarily an easy job or one suited for anyone. The ultimate irony comes when I find out the person I’m talking to is an attorney, here in the NYC area, who is probably pulling down at least a few hundred thousand a year. I don’t think he’s giving up his day job!

So, I guess after more than 20 years of trying to get people to break the slot habit, we can confidently say we have achieved some success. I think the number of people who think that they have a shot at the slots has gone way down. At the same time, the campaign to keep teaching people about all the other games in the casino goes on. From video poker to blackjack to many of the newer table games that offer higher paybacks than the traditional casino games – many while offering a good deal more excitement too. The next time you head out to the casino, before you sit down to play, just walk the casino floor and check out all the games you may not have known existed. Then, to learn more about it, head over to my website and there’s a good chance I already have written about it. If not, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll do my best to cover it in the near future.