By John Grochowski
Question. Tell me about these new video poker games with the extras when you get four of a kind. Do you get four of a kind less often on those games? Is it in the programming? They’re not just giving you the extras out of the goodness of their heart.
Answer. I assume you’re referring to games such as IGT’s Wheel Poker, which gives you a spin of a bonus wheel any time you draw four of a kind, or Ultimate 4 of a Kind Bonus Poker, which adds a video slot-like pick’em bonus round after each quad.
The presence of a bonus event does not change the frequency with which you draw four of a kind. Games are not programmed to suppress quads. The bonus is paid for by a sixth-coin wager per hand. The basic game pays off as if you’re wagering five coins per hand. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, bet the max and draw a full house, and you’ll get 45 coins back — the 9-for-1 payoff times a five-coin bet, not times six. For practical purposes, the sixth coin is a separate wager on the bonus event.
As for the frequency of those four of a kinds, expert strategy at 9-6 Jacks or Better will bring an average of one four of a kind per 423 hands. (Different games with different strategies will have different four of a kind frequencies.)
That once per 423 hands holds up in Jacks or Better regardless of whether the game includes a bonus event. As long as your strategy remains the same, you’ll average about one four of a kind per 423 hands, though sometimes you’ll go much longer between quads, and sometimes you’ll get a couple in short order. I count such things, and I’ve gone more than 1,100 hands between quads, and I’ve also drawn ‘em back to back. Stuff happens.
Worth noting is that the bonus-type games are also multiple-hand games, such as Triple Play and Five Play. The quad average of once per 423 hands still applies — and it’s once per 423 HANDS, not once per 423 pushes of the button. In Triple Play, you’re playing three hands at once, so you’ll average a four of a kind once per 141 pushes of the button to start play — those 141 button pushes bring you 423 separate outcomes.
In any case, the presence of a bonus wheel or a second-screen event doesn’t change the frequency with which four of a kinds occur, and the base games aren’t programmed any differently than non-bonus games. As long as your strategy stays the same, so do your odds on drawing four of a kind.
Question. Why does counting cards help a blackjack player? Does it help them to know what’s coming next?
Answer. No one can know what’s coming next, but card counters don’t need such specific information to gain an edge. They track the balance of high cards and low cards that have been played. When there is a high concentration of high cards remaining, it increases the likelihood that a blackjack will be dealt. Since players are paid 3-2 on blackjacks and the house isn’t, a high concentration of high cards is an edge for the player.
A high concentration of high cards also makes it more likely that players will draw desirable cards when they double down. If you have a two-card 11, it’s a good situation for you if a higher percentage than usual of the remaining cards are 10-values that will give you 21.
Some strategy adjustments can be made with the count. When more than a third of the remaining cards are 10-values, for instance, the odds shift in favor of taking insurance. In positive counts, meaning there are more high cards remaining, the counter might stand on 16 against a dealer’s 10, or double down on 11 against a dealer’s Ace, while in negative count, he or she might hit 13 against a 2.
Some counting systems do away with such strategy adjustments. The easiest system I’ve ever see — by far — is the Speed Count developed by Dan Pronovost with Henry Tamburin, and detailed in Frank Scoblete’s book Golden Touch Blackjack Revolution. It uses a special basic strategy on all hands.
Most important in any card counting system is that players raise their bets when a high concentration of high cards favors the players, and bet less when the concentration of low cards favors the house. There’s still no guarantee of winning any one hand or any one session, but card counters can get a mathematical edge over the house.
Question. Can cash back from players clubs turn slot machines profitable for players? If I add what I get from the club to what I get at the machine, can I make money?
Answer. Not on slots. Depending on individual casino policy, cash back ranges from about 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent of money wagered, with rare clubs that pay more. With penny slots keeping about 14 percent of your money and even dollar games keeping about 4 to 6 percent, a few tenths of a percent in rewards cash can’t give you a profit.
Some of the best video poker games pay enough for rewards cash to push the total past 100 percent for expert players, but you need the right combination of high-paying game, high cash-back rate and player expertise. I’ve seen Not So Ugly Deuces Wild (99.7 percent with expert play) in the Midwest, and a combination of cash back and comps certainly can push experts past 100 percent.
But if you play a lower tier game, such as 8-5 Jacks or Better (97.3 percent), no combination of cash back and comps is going to make it a break-even game. If you enjoy the game, get lucky and win once in a while, and enjoy the club perks, then you’re getting what the game has to offer.
John Grochowski writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column on gambling,
hosts a casinos radio show on WCKG-FM (105.9) in Chicago and is author of
the "Casino Answer Book" series from Bonus Books.