Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boston 7 Invades Taj Mahal in Atlantic City

            Almost everyone is familiar with what a heavy Boston accent sounds like.  Or should I say Bah-stun?  I'll never forget a story I heard while a freshman in college.  A classmate had visited one of the Boston colleges the year before to check it out.  The student giving the tour told him that "Freshman are not allowed to have cars on campus."  What he heard was "cahs: and not "cars."   A bit confused he asked the student leading the tour - "why would a freshman want to have a cow on campus?"

            Less well known about Bostonians is that they have taken the word 'wicked' and turned it upside down.  Wicked doesn't mean evil in Boston.  It means 'very'.  A wicked bad headache is a very bad headache.  So, when I say that John Feola of New Vision Gaming has invented one wicked cool game, it means it is a game worth playing! 

            The new game is called Boston 7 Stud Poker and it just opened at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.  It is a wicked simple game and if you're familiar with Mr. Feola's Boston 5 Stud, you'll notice some similarities.  Boston 7 Stud just takes advantage of the on-going popularity of the 7-card Poker games.

            To begin with, the Player makes 2 equal size wagers, called the Ante and the 1st Wager.  He then receives 3 cards.  The Player now has a choice to make.  He can either Fold, forfeiting his Ante and 1st Wager or he can make a 2nd Wager - equal in size to the other two wagers - and receive 4 additional cards.

            If the Player decides to make the 2nd Wager, his hand will go head-to-head against the Dealer's hand.  The Player will make his best 5-Card Poker hand from his 7 cards.  The Dealer is also dealt 7 cards to make his best 5-card Poker Hand.   If the Player's hand beats the Dealer's hand, his 1st and 2nd Wager will pay even money.  The Ante will push unless the Player's hand is a Three of a Kind or better, in which case it will pay an Ante Bonus according to the following paytable:

7 - Card Royal
6 - Card Royal
5 - Card Royal
Straight Flush
Four of a Kind
Full House
Three of a Kind

            Note that the top two hands actually consist of 6-card and 7-card hands, respectively and are fixed pays, not odds pays.

            If the Dealer's hand beats the Player's hand, all wagers are taken, BUT the Player will still be paid according to the above paytable if he has a Three of a Kind or better.  So, while he will still lose his Ante Wager itself, he will still be paid for the hand.  If the Player's hand and Dealer's hands tie, all wagers push, but the Player can still earn an Ante Bonus.

            There is also an optional 3-card Bonus Sidebet that the Player can make that is based on his first three cards.  The Player MUST show his first three cards to the Dealer if he has a Pair or better in order to claim his win.  The paytable for the 3-Card Bonus is as follows:

Royal Flush
Straight Flush
Three of A Kind
* Pays are "TO 1"

            As I did the analysis on this game for the regulatory agencies, I'm quite familiar with the math.  The overall payback of the base game is 97.59% which is fine for a game with essentially no strategy.  While the Player has to make a decision, in theory, there really is no decision in reality.  The Player should NEVER Fold.  Even the worst possible 3-card starter hand can come back to beat the Dealer often enough to make it not worth Folding.  As a result, what we really have is a game in which the Player and Dealer will each win 50% of the time.  The House edge is created from the fact that the Ante Pushes unless the Player's hand is Three of a Kind or better.  The Player also gets the advantage of being paid even on losing hands of Trips or better.

            For the 3-Card Bonus Sidebet, the payback is 93.81%, which is in-line with many other 3-Card paytables that can be found, especially in Atlantic City.  The game was developed with numerous Ante Bonus and 3-Card Bonus paytables, so pay careful attention to the actual paytables before you sit down and play. 

            If you do make it down to Atlantic City and play Boston 7, I'm sure you're in for one wicked good time.  You can go to www.newvisiongaming.com and check out more of their games, including Imperial Pai Gow

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What to Play

            Last week, I wrote about Four Card Poker and mentioned how I would cover it's 'crazy' cousin - Crazy 4 Poker in an upcoming column.  I started to work on this column this past week when I got to the point of discussing why a Player would choose to play one of the games over the other.  The overall paybacks are fairly similar.  The reality is, that I can't really suggest to Players to play one of these games instead of the other.  This is because casino games are (or at least should be) a form of entertainment and we can't overlook this factor in our choices.

            So much of what I write is all about the math.  Years ago, my father, Lenny Frome, described Expert Strategy as a three-legged stool, with each leg equally important.  After all, we know what happens if one leg of a stool is shorter than the other two!   These three legs were:

·         Know which game to play
·         Know how to play that game
·         Know what to expect

            The first of these legs essentially referred to the payback of the game.  Don't play short-pay machines when you can find full-pay machines.  On the surface, it might mean play only the game(s) with the absolute highest payback.  But, if that were the case, everyone should be clamoring for the one type of video poker machine in the casino with the highest payback - probably some Deuces Wild variant. 

            If this were what my father intended, why did he bother to write about all the other games in detail - not just video poker but all of the proprietary table games too?  This is why a few years back, I added a concept to my father's three-legged stool.  I called it the comfy cushion.  It means you have to ENJOY playing whatever game you choose as well.  There are two significant reasons why I added this explicity to Expert Strategy.

            The first reason is because, as I said earlier, gambling should be a form of entertainment.  By this definition, you should enjoy it your time doing it.  Yes, I fully understand that it is a somewhat unique form of entertainment in that you might walk away with more money than you started, but with rare exception, these are not life-altering amounts of money we are talking about.  I'm sure no one minds being miserable while they are winning thousands (or hundreds of thousands of dollars), but more often than not, your win will be far smaller than this and you will lose more often than you will win.  No one likes to lose, but if you're absolutely miserable while you are losing $20 over 3 hours, something is very wrong.   When you go to a movie theater, there is a good chance you'll spend $20 too.  You'll have no chance of getting that money back.  You probably won't mind if the movie was good.  If the movie was a rotten tomato, it might bother you a bit more.  This is the same attitude you should take with you to the casino.

            The second reason is that if you're not having any fun while playing, there's a pretty good chance you are going to forget all about the other two legs of the stool.  You may know how to play a game, but in your frustration you'll start doing things you shouldn't be doing.  You may know what to expect, but while you're not having fun, you'll start imagining the cards are all against you or that the casino must be cheating and again, you'll go away from the strategy that you are supposed to be using.  So, on a theoretical level, you might be playing a game with a higher payback, but if you don't adhere to the strategy you may find that on a reality level, you've lowered the payback to the point where you'd be better off playing a different game.

            Undoubtedly, some of you may take what I'm saying as carte blanche to now go off and play any game in the casino.  In the end, of course, it is your decision.  But, please don't take this as my endorsement of playing slots or sitting down at a Craps table and simply playing the Hardways bets for hours at a time.  The other two legs of Expert Strategy remain full in force, so I suggest you certainly know what to expect in these cases.  Your chances of a winning session is greatly reduced.  It is one thing to pick a 99.2% video poker machine over a 99.6% one.  It is quite another to play a 91% payback proposition bet for hours.  If this is the only thing you enjoy in the casino, it might be time to pick a new form of entertainment

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Four Play

            Four Card Poker has a special place in my heart because it sort of launched my career as a gaming analyst.  Ironically, I didn't analyze it as it was being developed.  Rather, I wrote about it right here in Gaming Today way back in February 2004.  The column got noticed by the then President of Shuffle Master, who put me in touch with Roger Snow, the inventor of the game and at the time, the Manager of Table Games for Shuffle Master.  That introduction was the beginning of what has been a very successful collaboration which has included blockbuster games such as Ultimate Texas Hold'em and Mississippi Stud, along with countless sidebets for virtually every game in the casino.

            Four Card Poker was also an important game for the evolution of proprietary table games.  By the time Four Card Poker hit stride, there had been a bit of a lull in table game creation.  The casino floor had already changed a good deal with Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Poker, Three Card Poker and Spanish 21, but those games were all already several years old.  Perhaps there were some other games in between that I am unaware of.  Admittedly, this lull I speak of, occurred after my father passed away and before I entered the field.

            The game itself didn't really break any new ground in terms of betting structure or rules.   The new ground was broken by Four Card Poker's 'crazy' cousin - Crazy 4 Poker, which introduced the Super Bonus wager - which is more commonly known as the Blind wager on more recent Shuffle Master games.  This wager will push if the Player wins with a poor or so-so hand and will win odds if the Player wins with a strong hand.  I'll cover more about Crazy 4 Poker in a few weeks.  Crazy 4 Poker has about 100 tables in the marketplace as compared to Four Card Poker which has about 250.

            Four Card Poker utilizes the same betting structure as Three Card Poker.  There are two separate wagers - Aces Up and Ante/Play.   The Aces Up pays on a pair of Aces or better and is not concerned with the Dealer's hand at all.   The Ante/Play is the wager where you are playing head to head against the Dealer's hand.  You make an Ante wager to begin play and you are dealt your hand which you can review.  Now you can either make a Play wager of 1x - 3x your Ante or Fold, forfeiting your Ante wager.  If you beat the Dealer's hand, you are paid even money.  If you don't you lose both wagers.   Also, similar to Three Card Poker are the Ante Bonuses.  These pay the Player whether he wins or loses against the Dealer - if the Player can achieve a Four of a Kind, Straight Flush or Three of a Kind.  They pay 25, 20 and 2, respectively.

            So, by this point, if you are not familiar with Four Card Poker already, you're probably guessing that the Player and Dealer each get 4 cards and you might be wondering what hand the Dealer needs to qualify.  WRONG!  The name comes from the size of the hand the Player makes.  He is dealt FIVE cards to make a FOUR card hand.  The Dealer is dealt SIX Cards to make a FOUR card hand.  Thanks to this little benefit, the Dealer does NOT need to qualify in Four Card Poker.  Every hand plays. 

            In Three Card Poker, many people follow a strategy to just do what the Dealer does - and play any hand that is Queen or better.  This is a little below perfect, but will not hurt your bankroll significantly.  If you want to play like an Expert, you go with Queen-6-4 as the lowest hand you Play.  So, with the Dealer qualifying on every hand in Four Card Poker, you have nothing to guide you at all.  Adding to the dilemma is when to Play 1x vs. Play 3x.  As is normally, the case, we NEVER bet 2x.  We either cut our losses (FOLD), hedge (Play 1x) or slam on the gas (Play 3x).

            When Four Card Poker was introduced, Shuffle Master supplied information cards that included a basic strategy on them.  This strategy produced a 98.41% payback and includes only 3 rules.  In my analysis of the game, I took that strategy a bit further and produced one with about 7 rules (admittedly, more complex rules too) that takes the payback up to 98.60%.  Even this strategy is not absolutely perfect as it does not take into account specific suit make up of the Player's hand nor go any further than the first 'kicker' in the Player's hand.  It is my expert opinion that to do so would only get the Player an additional 0.01 - 0.02% in payback, but it would also greatly increase the probability of errors by making the strategy that much more complex.

            Without further ado, I present the basic strategy which Shuffle Master initially developed and I have verified.

·         Fold with a Pair of 2's or Less
·         Bet 1X with a Pair of 3's thru 9's
·         Bet 3X with a Pair of 10's or Better
            It's that simple if you want to earn the 98.41% payback which is respectable.   Expect to Fold a good amount of the time - just under half.  Four Card Poker was designed to be quite a bit more volatile than Three Card Poker.   As Roger told me way back in 2004, "one of three things typically happens.  One, you double up.  Two, you get crushed.  Three, both one and two, and not necessarily in that order." 

            If you'd like to learn more about Four Card Poker, including the Expert Strategy, I highly recommend my Expert Strategy for Four Card Poker.  You can order it by sending $5.95 to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.  This price includes free shipping and handling.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

For the Love of the Game

            Perseverance can be a positive trait when you are trying to invent a new table game.  Unfortunately, it can also be a negative one which can all but kill your chances of ever having a game reach the casino floor.  This translates to one simple thought - Don't fall in love with your game.

            Getting a game into a casino is not an easy thing.  Getting it stay in the casino if you manage to get it placed is even harder.  Perhaps 5% of all games that are conceived of make it to the floor.  Of those that do, maybe 5% that make it there stay for any length of time and continue to grow.  When you add it all up, about 1% of all games invented are some type of financial success for the inventor. 

            This past week I had a conversation with a newcomer to the industry and reminded him that only 1 out of a hundred games becomes a success.  His response was that he'll just have to make sure he comes up with 100 games so that one of them can be successful.  That type of perseverance is the type you want to have. 

            A few years ago, I got a call from an inventor who wanted me to tweak a game that my father had originally worked on for him.  I found the file.  My father had worked on the game 10 years earlier.  In the 10 years, the game had been given a trial or two in a casino and been pulled out relatively quickly.  This is not a time for tweaks.  It is a time to move on to the next idea.  This type of perseverance could be a killer. 

            Roger Snow, Executive VP of Shuffle Master, may very well be the most prolific table game inventor of them all, with games like UltimateTexas Hold'em, Four Card Poker and Crazy 4 Poker to his credit.  He likes to remind people that he has probably invented more flops than anyone in the industry as well.  This doesn't mean that you should take any idea you have and quickly try to get it into a casino, with the goal being to try as any games as you can and hope something sticks.  Unless you have a track record of success, casinos are going to give you only so many chances, so you do want to put your best foot forward.

            If you do manage to get your game into the casino for a trial, it is time to take off the rose-colored glasses.  Listen to the feedback the table games manager gives you.  If the game isn't fairing well, don't start blaming it all on the casino that was kind enough to give you the trial.  They are NOT setting you up for failure.  Even in a free trial, it costs the casino money to try out your game.  They need to train the dealers.  They need to make room for your game by removing some other game that might have been doing okay - in hopes that yours will do great.

            No one can predict the success or failure of a game with a high degree of certainty.  In the end, it must perform which means its success is at the whim of the Players.  I have been working directly with inventors for a decade and indirectly for three decades and there is no clear rhyme or reason as to what succeeds and what doesn't.   The only thing is certain is that if you bring it to the Players and the Players don't like it - it is NOT a success.  It does not matter that your brother, sister, mother and Aunt Tilly all love the game and think it is the greatest thing they've ever seen.  I don't know how to tell you this - but they are BIASED!  This is the same bunch that told you how much they love that new pair of glasses - you know, the ones that make you look like a 1970's version of Elton John.

            If you spend 10 or 15 years trying to get a single game into the casino, you will likely have overlooked many other good ideas that you might have had.  There is a 99% chance that any single game idea you have will fail.  Every game that is invented is, as they say, a slave to the math.  That same math should be telling you that after a certain number of setbacks, your chances of success are greater by moving on than by insisting that the reason your game failed was some flaw of anything but the game itself.  Putting it another way, the expected value of working on the next game is greater than continuing to beat the dead horse.  And by now, you all know that the right play is the one with the higher expected value.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Still Wild About Deuces Wild

            A few weeks ago, I wrote about full-pay deuces wild video poker and it's 100.6% payback.  It has gotten harder to find 100+% payback machines, but this one can still be found in many of the casinos that cater to the locals (i.e. OFF the strip!)  People are still amazed to find that such machines exist at all.  As I've written many times, the casinos don't mind leaving a few of these around in lower denominations.  This way they can say that they have positive payback machines, but they don't really have to worry about the professionals swarming on them.

            Even if you are an Expert Player who can play at 800 hands per hour, you're dropping $1000 in the machine every hour.  At 0.6% advantage, you can expect to win $6 per hour.  It certainly beats losing, but no one is getting rich at $6 per hour.  If you're willing to sit in a casino for 40 hours per week just as you would any other job, you might be able to clear $12,000 per year.  Of course, you won't be collecting a regular paycheck.  Some weeks you're going to lose and others you're going to hit the big payout.  But, at the end of the year, should be fairly close to that $12,000.  This will be your reward for playing roughly 1.6 million hands of video poker and putting into the machine a mere $2 million!

            I'm not going to recommend you quit your day job and try this.  In fact, I won't even recommend you give up looking for work, if you currently are, and become an professional video poker Player.  For almost everyone reading this column, you are a recreational player and video poker is a form of entertainment.  Some nights you win, some nights you lose.  Depending how long you play for per session, you'll lose roughly 2 out of every 3 times you play.  But, if you pick the right machines and learn the right strategy, your night out might cost you $20 and you can get some entertainment and a few drinks.

            With a 100.6% payback, you would definitely be picking the right machine with Deuces Wild.  So, the only other thing for you to do is to learn the right strategy.   At first glance, the strategy table for Deuces Wild might look daunting due to its size, but when you look closely, you'll see it is broken down by the number of Deuces.  If you make sure to learn it this way, you'll find it much easier to learn AND you'll be doing yourself a huge favor in terms of learning to play properly.  Deuces is not a hard game to learn.  It is just so vastly different from any other game, that people make lots of mistakes.

            One of the most important things to learn is when to hold just the Deuces when drawing.  it is so tempting to want to hold the best possible portion of a hand, but sometimes you simply box yourself into a corner by doing so.  For example, if you are dealt the following:

2          2          6D       7C       QD

            You may be very tempted to hold the 4-Card Straight figuring that there are so many possible cards to complete the Straight (a 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 or 10).  If you pick up a 6 or a 7, you'll have Quads.  This is clearly superior to going for the 4-card Flush, which would require one of the remaining 11 (or 10 if the 2 was a Diamond) diamonds to make a Flush or a 6 or Q to complete the Quads.

            The problem with either of these is that they completely eliminate the possibility of any of the bigger payouts while in essence targeting some of the lower paying hands.   Further, we the two Deuces, we can do no worse than wind up with Trips, so it is not like we are giving up a sure winner.  Proper strategy says that unless you have a Royal, Five of a Kind, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind or a 4-Card Royal, you hold ONLY the two Deuces.

            When we take a closer look at the strategy, we find that we ONLY go for a 4-Card Straight or 4-Card Flush IF we have NO Deuces.   Be very prepared when dealt Deuces in Deuces Wild to frequently play them 'bare' (hold only the Deuces).  Of the 2,598,960 possible 5-card initial deals, 48 will consist of 4 Deuces (obviously, you're done when this happens).  Three Deuces will occur 4,512.  About 90% of these will be played as just the three Deuces.  Two Deuces will happen 103,776 and nearly 75% of these will be played as just the two Deuces.  A single Deuce will be dealt 778,310 times.  About 45% of these will be played as the single Deuce.  This is the 3rd most common hand in Deuces, following a Pair and a Razgu. 

            If you want to learn to play Deuces Wild, we have three different products that can help you.  You can find the strategy tables for full-pay Deuces Wild in our book Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas ($5).  We have the strategy table for full-pay Deuces Wild plus a variety of variations of full-pay Deuces Wild in Winning Strategies for Video Poker ($5).  Lastly, we have our Deuces Wild Tipsheet ($2.95) which contains the strategy tables for 3 different Deuces paytables and has the most detailed information on the full-pay variety of any of our 3 sources.  You can order any or all of these directly from us.  Send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133