Q. As a video poker player, I live for the hands that really make a difference. I guess that's not unusual. Royal flushes are exciting, and if I don't get a royal then a few big four of a kinds can make my day. If I'm not getting four of a kind, then I'm not making any money.
My question is this: Can you do anything in strategy to make the big hands come up more often, or do the games just pay out a certain number of the royals and four of a kinds?
A. Sure, you can make big hands come up with greater frequency. Your strategy does matter, and the odds in video poker are the same as if you were drawing from a physical deck of cards.
That doesn't mean it's a good idea to adjust strategy to increase the frequency of the big poppers. Often, it means throwing away much stronger chances at low-paying hands to chase an extreme long shot. Those small pays matter. A lot. They keep us going, giving us more chances for the big hands to turn up while we use normal strategy.
A player who hung out at the video poker bars in Las Vegas once told me that everyone where she played knew that if you were dealt two or three high cards of different suits, you held only one to give yourself a chance at four of a kind. Problem is, that actually reduces the value of the hand.
Let's use 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker as an example. Dealt King of spades, Queen of hearts, Jack of clubs, 8 of diamonds and 2 of hearts, you have no chance at four of a kind if you hold King-Queen-Jack. So my acquaintance would hold just the Jack. That would leave her with 178,365 possible draws, of which 52 bring four of a kind. That's one set of quads per just over 3,430 draws.
The cost of setting up that long-shot chance at four of a kind is an increase percentage of losing hands. Hold all three high cards, and you get zero return on 61.5 percent of draws. Hold just the Jack, and it's nada on 68.7 percent of draws. The rare quads can't overcome the difference, and the average return per five coins wagered is 2.45 coins when you hold all three high cards, and only 2.08 when you keep only the Jack.
One more quick example. Dealt 4-4-8-8-9 of mixed suits, you have a guaranteed two-pair pay and a 1 in 11.75 shot at a full house if you discard only the 9. You can make four of a kind come up more often if you hold just one pair, but do you want to? You give up your guaranteed pay for a 1 in 358 chance at four of a kind. Instead of every hand at least getting your bet back, 71.4 percent of your three-card draws are losers. The average return is 8.4 coins if you hold both pairs, and only 4.4 if you hold just the pair of 4s.
So yes, you can increase the frequency of big hands with unconventional plays, but your bankroll will be happier if you stick to a better balanced strategy.
Q. I was talking with an executive host I've known a long time, and he told me the execs were weighing whether to go with RFID chips and a card reading shoe. He also said it wasn't all about sniffing out card counters. What other purpose could there be?
A. I've spoken with casino operators and with gaming equipment manufacturers several times about RFID technology, and they usually lead the conversation with "game security."
If gaming chips are embedded with RFID chips, with different frequencies for different denominations, then surveillance should be able to detect and correct mistaken payoffs without delay. It also would become more difficult to counterfeit casino chips if the counterfeiter must also embed RFID chips at the proper frequency.
The RFID chips also enable the casino to get an exact count of every wager. For generations, comps have been awarded based on time of play and an estimate by floor personnel of average bet size. If a casino uses RFID chips coupled with software to tally all your wagers, it can award comps on the basis of actual dollars risked instead of an estimate.
FID chips are not cheap, and most casinos are making do without them. For those willing to spend the money, your executive host was not lying. There are uses for RFID chips other than spotting advantage players. That doesn't mean zeroing in on advantage players isn't a prime reason for their use.
Find John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at casinoanswerman.com. His column runs weekly.