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# Maximum coins, maximum jingle

2 June 2006

Dear Mark,
What is the benefit of playing the full coin amount in either video poker or slots? Emily K.

Next time you’re front and center of a one-armed bandit, give the pay table a once-over and you’ll note that when five coins are wagered, all winning hands, except for the royal flush, are paid out multiplied by a factor of 5. The royal, Emily, commonly pays mucho more.

By not playing the maximum coin amount on most video poker machines, your overall return is affected. For example, playing short reduces the long-term payback by up to 1.5% on a Jacks or Better machine. It’s even worse on some double-pay Deuces Wild games where you receive double pay on four deuces, but only if you insert five coins. By playing less than the maximum coin amount on this machine, your long-term payback is hacked by over five percent.

As for slots, Emily, note on the pay table the proportional difference in the size of your payoffs. Example: One coin inserted pays 500 coins; two coins bring back 1,000; and for three coins, a whopping 4,000 is returned. Your windfall, Emily, comes when three coins are played.

Playing the maximum coin amount almost always pays off better, overall, than any of the lower multiples. By pressing Max Coin, Emily, you receive the best payoff odds available on that particular machine.

Dear Mark,
I believe it is easier to beat blackjack as a single player, whereas a dealer told me it makes no difference how many players are on the game. Was she right? Sheldon D.

She’s bright and right, Sheldon. The number of players on a game makes a duck’s egg difference in terms of the game being beatable. The house edge remains the same if there are one, two, three or even five players on the table. However, because the speed of play slows with multiple players, you end up playing fewer hands per hour, and since the casino has a built-in edge on all play (except play by card counters), you will, theoretically, lose less money. So, Sheldon, for most players, a multiplayer game is more favorable, not less.

By the way, Sheldon, playing decisions made by other players at your table will not affect your expected return. If some nincompoop on third base splits tens, yep, it’s annoying, but statistically it makes zero difference to you over the long haul.

Dear Mark,
In draw poker, why does it seem tough to catch an open-ended straight let alone an inside one? What are my chances of completing straights? Alex B.

The arithmetic, Alex, says your inklings are incorrect. The proven odds of completing straights, such as drawing one card into an open ended straight, are 1 in 6. Drawing two cards into an open-ended straight has 1 chance in 23, while drawing a single card to make an inside straight racks up at 1 in 12.

As for that elusive straight, drawing one card to an open-ended straight flush is 1 time in 24 and drawing one card to a royal flush is 1 time in 47 tries.

Dear Mark,
Does a straight ever beat a flush in poker? Doug L.

In poker, Doug, a flush outranks a straight with but one exception. In Three Card Poker a straight actually does beat a flush.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Whether he likes it or not, a man's character is stripped bare at the poker table; if the other poker players read him better than he does, he has only himself to blame. Unless he is both able and prepared to see himself as others do, flaws and all, he will be a loser in poker, as in life.” -- Anthony Holden, author of Big Deal (1990)