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Gaming Guru

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Questions. I Get Questions.

26 May 2006

This query was e-mailed to me from PM: "My question has to do with your opinion concerning whether to stick with one machine or move to another after it appears to be eating up your quarters with no return." Talk about timing. I've briefly talked about this in previous columns and was about to address the subject again.

My answer to PM was that basically, it doesn't matter if you change video poker machines or not, just so long as you stay at a positive expectation game and you use the correct strategy for that particular game.

The random number generator is constantly cycling through various combinations of winning and losing hands. I know it seems like machines go in cycles, but streaks are streaks only in history. No one knows when they'll end or start up again.

I usually stay put at one particular machine at my favorite casino. That machine has no pattern or rhyme or reason. Some days I stay on an even keel and don't notice very many ups and downs. Sometimes I start winning and keep winning and then all of a sudden I lose. Sometimes the peaks and valley are very sharp; sometimes they're like gently rolling hills.

Change machines if the glare on the screen bothers you, or if the person next to you smokes and blows smoke in your face, or if that person doesn't smoke and resents your smoking, or if the chair is just plain uncomfortable. And yes, go ahead and move if you get frustrated with the machine you're at; it doesn't matter. But you should learn not to get frustrated.

Want to know how I picked my favorite machine at my favorite casino? It's in the bartender's line of sight. In that spot I can catch his eye any time I want a club soda or virgin mary or cup of coffee. And if that machine is occupied, I move down to the next full pay machine. It's just that simple.

Question from BP: In your articles, you speak of 9/6 Jacks or Better. What do you mean, and how do you tell which machines have this?

Answer: "Jacks or Better" is a generic term for a video poker game in which the lowest payout is one coin paid out for one coin played if you draw a pair of jacks or higher. The "9/6" part of the name comes from payouts for full houses and flushes.

For example, for one coin played, you are paid back nine coins for a full house. For a flush, you receive six coins for every coin played.

Where do you find this information? From the payout schedule. And that's printed right on the front of the machine or on the screen itself. The payout schedule lists the payback for every winning hand from a pair of jacks or higher on up to the royal flush.

For five coins played, you're paid back 4,000 coins for a royal flush; that means 800 coins back for each coin played. That's the reason for playing max coins - you receive a non-proportional bonus for the royal flush.

Question from everyone: Should I always play max coins?

Answer: No, not always. Only if you're playing at a positive expectation game and using a computer-derived playing strategy. Positive games include Full Pay Deuces Wild, Joker Poker, 10/7 Double Bonus and All American. 9/6 Jacks or Better is not a positive expectation game, but it is doable if you use your player's card and are taking advantage of at least double point days. Triple and quad points are better.

Why not play max coins at a negative expectation game? Because in the long run, you will lose a lot more than you will receive from the jackpot. For example, let's say you're playing an 8/5 Jacks or Better; this one pays off at 97.3 percent. If you play max coin at the rate of 400 to 500 hands per hour, you're putting in $500 to $625 every hour at a quarter machine. You'll lose 2.7 percent (100 percent minus 97.3 percent) even if you hit a royal jackpot and get paid the non-proportional bonus. That equates to a loss of $13.50 to $16.88 per hour, depending on how fast you play.

On the other hand, if you were playing only one quarter at a time, you'd be feeding the machine only $100 to $125 an hour. Losing 4.7 percent of that per hour (roughly an additional 2 percent for not getting the bonus) means losing only $4.70 to $5.88 an hour. It's called minimizing your losses.

However, there is an exception to the above philosophy that you should never play max coins at a negative game. If you're trying to get a comped room and meals at a casino that doesn't have full pay video poker, then you may have to settle for second best video poker. Everyone has to decide for himself how much "free" rooms and meals are worth and make that decision on a personal basis.

Until next week, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, or her web site
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, or her web site