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Deal Me In


Patience is needed for volatile Bonus video poker machines

Dear Mark: When it comes to video poker games, which do you prefer, Jacks-or-Better, or one of the many Bonus games that are offered? I am figuring it is Jacks-or-Better as you use it as an example more often than not. John P.


There are multiple reasons, John, why I use the same ole Jack-or-Better machines as an example in this column. They are still pretty darn popular, they are less volatile than bonus machines; the game has a respectable payback percentage and simplicity of the appropriate strategy.

When it comes to a Jacks-or-Better machine, the strategy is straightforward, whereas the strategies for bonus games are nowhere near as intuitive. Essentially, John, Jacks-or-Better is one of the easier strategies to learn.

As for the Jacks-or-Better’s payback return: here you have to give up a little. The highest paying Jacks-or-Better paytable is a 9/6 (nine for a full house, six for a flush) machine, which, with basic strategy, returns 99.5%. Compared to a positive expectation game like 10/7 Double Bonus Poker, you are looking at a return of slightly more than 100% over the long haul; that is if each hand is played correctly.

When it comes to volatility, a Jacks-or-Better machine is not as volatile as Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, or Triple Bonus, as adding each additional bonus adds to each machine’s unpredictability. The more volatile a game is, the more your bankroll will fluctuate, which makes you feed the machine more just to keep you in action.

Because the payouts on any Bonus game are reduced on hands like two pairs, three of a kind, etc., but increased on hands like quads, I am not one to endure the swings or keep feeding a machine to chase premium hands.

While many video poker experts believe that a such-n-such machine is the cat’s meow, I like to think that there is a place for many different video poker opportunities. The crux of the choice of any machine comes down to selecting a decent paytable, utilizing expert play that you can easily learn, and what volatility you are willing to tolerate. What works for your goals, John, is what you want to be playing.


Dear Mark: When progressive slot machines are linked between casinos, are the payout percentages the same between casinos, or does each casino set its machines individually? Lenny B. 


Those linked Progressive slot machines that you see in multiple casinos are known as Wide-Area Progressives.

The casinos do NOT own these Wide-Area Progressives machines, but instead, a manufacturer like IGT does. These machines are made available on a participation basis, and together, the casinos split the loot won. As for long-term paybacks, they are consistent, as casino A would not allow casino B to offer a higher long-term payback.


Gambling Wisdom of the week: Countin' flowers on the wall

That don't bother me at all

Playin' solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one

Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo

Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do. – Flowers on the Wall, The Statler Brothers


Never shortchange yourself with this betting opportunity

Dear Mark: Is there an appropriate time to “double for less” at blackjack? I do it occasionally, but I am beginning to feel that it isn’t worth the hassle that I get from fellow players and sometimes even the dealer. Doug D.


When players double for less, they are doubling down for under their original wager. When the rules permit doubling, you as a player do not have to double your bet, but you can increase it by any amount up to, but never more than your original wager.

In my view, far too many players overlook the fact that doubling down is an offensive weapon and that they should always double the full amount whenever possible. Since basic strategy dictates that you should only double down when you are more likely to win the hand than lose, you always want to wager the maximum amount.

Along with blackjacks, it is the double downs and the splitting of pairs that help you move your blackjack play from the red into the black. I highly recommend that you should never shortchange yourself with these betting opportunities. You have an edge against the house at this point in the hand, so double you money to maximize your bet.

If ever there is a time to double for less, Doug, it would be when you are down to your last chips, and you can't afford a full double down. As for the hassling dealer, possibly he or she is looking out for your best interest as many, yours truly included, are apt to giving unsolicited advice.


Dear Mark: My casino offers a wager on their blackjack game called “Perfect Pairs.” It pays 25 to 1 on suited pairs, 12 to 1 on black or red pairs and 6 to 1 on any pair. I ask because I get my fair share of pairs at blackjack. I was wondering if this is a gimmick bet, or does Perfect Pairs offer a halfway decent return for those of us who use basic strategy or at least a strategy card at the table? Jim M.


Every time you sit down at a blackjack game, Jim, you will no doubt get your fair share of "mixed pairs" (cards of the same number, one red and one black), "Colored pairs" (same colors and same numbers, either black or red), and the rare "perfect pair" (which consists of identically numbered cards of the same suit). Thus, is “perfect pairs” a value-added wager worth making?

Pay tables vary from casino to casino, Jim. On a six-deck shoe game and using your example of where you collect 6 to 1 for a mixed pair, 12 to 1 for a colored pair, and a perfect pair for 25 to 1, the house edge on a Perfect Pairs wager is over six percent. 

Unfortunately, Jim, the problem with most side bets offered at any blackjack game is that they are too costly for readers of this column. When hands are played correctly, blackjack has a casino advantage of less than a half a percent. So, Jim, while you are using basic strategy to keep the house edge down, do you really want to make a side bet where the casino advantage is more than 10X higher?


Sorry, Jim. A Perfect Pairs wager is just not a side bet that I would recommend.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Serious action is a serious ride, and rides of this kind are all but arranged out of everyday life.” – Irving Goffman, Where the Action Is (1967)