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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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Ask The Slot Expert

16 October 2000

Hi John,

Thanks for recommending Victory at Video Poker and The Video Poker Answer Book. I've also been practicing on WinPoker. Thank you too for being so patient and responding to my questions. As is often the case, reading the books left me with a few more questions. So, before I leave for Vegas next weekend, please help me with the following:

  1. Are the video poker machines in Las Vegas audited by an independent organization to confirm that they are not merely slot machines or that they have not been "fixed" by the programmer, i.e., how do we or the gambling regulators know that the machines have been programmed correctly and accurately.
  2. How do I determine whether a machine is a full-pay one, i.e., what am I looking for on the pay table? I've read Mr. Grochowski's explanation but still don't understand.
  3. Although the new machines are programmed to deal sequentially, were the old machines reprogrammed to also deal sequentially or do they still deal a shadow hand?
  4. On page 50, Mr. Grochowski states that it doesn't matter whether the hand is dealt sequentially or with a shadow hand. I would have thought that a sequentially dealt hand (the 6th card on) would give the player a better chance, e.g., the card that is needed hasn't already been dealt as one of the cards in the shadow hand.

Aloha,
Ray

Dear Ray:

It is my pleasure to answer your questions.

1. Nevada has their own testing lab that verifies that the programs used in the machines are fair. Manufacturers typically have to submit one machine and a printout of the source code for the program running the machine as part of the approval process. The programmers at the lab look for problems in the program. In addition, each machine has a test connection to which the lab connects another computer. The test connection allows the test computer to rapidly get the results of thousands upon thousands of hands on the machine without having to actually play the machine. The lab usually keeps a set of reference chips for each machine in their archives. They use the reference set to compare against chips in the field.

The actual machines on the casino floor are subject to inspection by the regulators. To check a machine, a technician removes the chips from the machine and electronically compares them with the reference chips.

I don't know of any major casino that has been found to have machines gaffed in favor of the casino. (Some machines have been found to have been tampered with to favor the players.) About five years ago, though, there was a route operator that was found to have altered the program in its video poker machines to make hitting the high-paying hands much less likely than it should have been.

2. A full-pay machine is really just the highest-paying machine of a particular type. The full-pay version of Jacks or Better, for example, pays 4000 for a royal, 250 for a straight flush, 125 for four-of-a-kind, 45 for a full house, 30 for a flush, 20 for a straight, 15 for three-of-a-kind, 10 for two pair, and 5 for jacks or better when played with five coins at a time and is called 9/6 Jacks. This is the highest-paying, commonly found version of Jacks or Better. The Stratosphere has two higher-paying Jacks or Better paytables, but you can find them only at the Stratosphere.

Before we had so many different types of paytables (Bonus, Double Bonus, Double/Double Bonus, Triple Bonus, etc.), you used to be able to key in on just the payouts for the full house and the flush, but now you have to look at the payouts for all the hands. There are many paytables that pay 9 for a full house and 6 for a flush that have lower paybacks than 9/6 Jacks or Better. These usually give a bonus for various quads and pay only 1-to-1 on two pair. So, to repeat the answer, you have to check the payouts for all of the hands to make sure that the machine you've chosen has the paytable you want.

3. The microprocessors and memory chips available today are many times more powerful and many times less expensive than the chips used in the older video poker machines. And the microprocessors slot manufacturers use are not necessarily the most powerful available at the time. The best cost a lot more than the older models.

So, the older video poker machines had limited computing power and limited memory. My understanding is that the older machines used a shadow hand (or parallel deal) because it was faster or used less memory or both. The computers in the new machines are powerful enough to use a sequential deal. The computers in the old machines were not reprogrammed to use a sequential deal because they didn't have the resources to support the sequential deal. Besides---

4. It doesn't make a difference which method is used. In your example, the player is better off with the sequential deal. But what if you had a 4-card royal and you discard the middle card? Suppose the card you need to fill the royal is three cards down in the deck. In this case, the shadow hand will give you the royal and the sequential deal will give you frustration.

As long as the machine is fair, that is, each card is equally likely to be dealt from the deck, it doesn't matter how the machine assigns the replacement cards. For particular hands, one method will be better than the other. But in the long run, it evens out and the method becomes irrelevant.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos!
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@home.com.


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots