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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Birthday luck on a video poker machine

13 September 2017

Question: I had to laugh when I read your recent column that mentioned "birthday luck" as I have experienced it only once in my life (well, so far that is!). I was at Trop in A/C on my birthday about six or seven years ago playing video poker and feeling a bit reckless after a nice birthday dinner and drinks. I was playing a $2 machine and caught four aces for $4,000. I can't even remember which game I was playing, just switching back and forth trying this and that. I held a pair of aces and caught the other two.

I had sense enough to take the cash and run back to the room and toss the money in the safe. I hung up my suit and started thinking about crawling into bed and saw that it was only like 9:15.

I debated playing some more as it was still early. I threw on some jeans and a sweatshirt, took out $500 and went back down to play a little more. I walked by the machine I had left 10 minutes earlier and sat back down and started playing $2 DDB. After a couple of hands, I drew a full house, aces over tens. I agonized over the full house for a minute and then tossed the tens away. I caught the other ace and a four kicker for $8,000! Yea! And yes, I did hide in my room the rest of the night after that.

The real "kicker" funny part was while I was waiting for the second payoff, the guy two stools down leaned over and asked me what I hit. I told him and he said that it was too bad I was not playing $5 (the max denomination). Why do people always give you that "too bad" line? Then he added that "there was a guy just playing there that hit four aces on that machine just 10 minutes ago!"

Ha-ha! That was me!

Answer: Congratulations on your birthday luck. Not only have I not had any luck playing on my birthday, Santa has not visited me in the casino on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

I want to comment on some of your statements. First, agonizing over keeping the full house or just the three aces. In Double Double Bonus, the correct play is to hold just the three aces. I think that applies for all pay table variations, but one should double-check the short-pay versions.

I hit a mid-level jackpot on a machine at the Wild West casino attached to Bally's in Atlantic City many years ago. I was playing only one coin per spin. As I was waiting for the machine to rack up the credits, someone walking by gave me the "too bad" line. I said that I would have run out of money before I hit the jackpot had I been playing three coins per spin.

Casual players frequently ask me what they should do after they hit a nice payout. Should they quit or continue playing?

The argument in favor of quitting is given in the cautionary tale of the players who were ahead and then played it all back. The argument for continuing to play is that your good luck could continue. Your experience — and the experience of the lady who hit two royal flushes within a few dozen hands, who I wrote about last week — show that good luck can recur.

A casual player of my acquaintance frequently tells me that she hit something good and then stayed too long and played most or all of it back. She makes small bets so something good to her is around $100.

She came up with a plan to hold onto her winnings. She cashes out after hitting something good and puts the ticket in her pocketbook. She then continues playing with the money she brought with her. She redeems the ticket she squirreled away when she leaves the casino — at least that's the way it's supposed to work. She admits that she sometimes uses the ticket if she runs out of money and still wants to play a little longer. I've suggested to her that she try doing something like what I do.

I usually follow what I call the plateau system. When I'm at the point when I'm ready to quit playing, I look at my credit meter, round down to the nearest hundred and use that amount as my quit point. If that number gives me fewer than five hands, I'll use the next lower multiple of $100. If my credit meter falls to my quit point, I'm outta there. If I hit a few good hands and my credit meter goes $20 or so above the next $100 plateau, I raise my quit point to that new plateau.

The goal for this system is to keep playing while my luck is good and to stop when it looks like my luck has turned. Of course, I can only say that it looks like my luck has turned. The next hand after I quit could have been a royal.

Finally you mentioned switching games. I recently found myself playing next to someone who I think is the most annoying video poker player in the world. Now, it bothers me when someone continually hits the Bet Max button and I have to hear the machine go ding-ding-ding-ding-ding on every hand. Even worse, though, is when the player switches between hitting Bet Max, hitting Deal and hitting Bet One five times. You never know what you're going to hear from that machine. When I'm near one of these players, I just remember what someone once told me. You can't control what other people do, but you can control your reaction. I just say to myself that this will only bother me if I let it, so just ignore it and concentrate on my own machine.

Here's how the most annoying video poker player in the world plays. Like you, he likes to switch between pay tables. After a certain number of hands — I don't know what his criteria are — it's time to switch pay tables. So he hits a screen button to bring up the game menu and selects the next game. Now, he wants to get playing as quickly as possible so he hits the Bet Max button repeatedly. You usually have to hit the Bet Max button after changing pay tables, but once is enough.

After the machine deals the hand, he quickly chooses the cards he wants to hold and hits the Deal button. To get his next hand, he hits the Bet Max button.

Now, if he's really trying to play quickly, why go back to the Bet Max button when hitting the Deal button will eliminate the bet increment and deal the hand immediately?

This pattern of Bet Max-Hold-Deal, Bet Max-Hold-Deal (Did I mention that he hits the buttons quite enthusiastically?) continues until it's time to switch pay tables. Hit the screen two times and then pound on Bet Max until the hand is dealt.

I was playing at one end of a bank of four machines and he was at the other end. After a while, he moved one machine closer to me. I was afraid he was going to move to the machine next to me, but he left after he was finished with the machine he was playing.

About 15 minutes later, a man sat down at the machine next to me. The other two machines in the bank were free, so I wondered why he had to sit right next to me. Maybe he had had good luck on that machine in the past. He put in a ticket and then started the Bet Max-Hold-Deal dance.

Oh, no. The most annoying video poker player in the world was now playing the machine next to me.

Well, I thought, he can play any way he wants to play and there's no reason I should let it bother me. Besides, I'll probably outlast him. I was playing NSU Deuces and was lucky enough to hit some straight flushes, five-of-a-kinds and dirty royals and even four deuces once. Normally I would hit a button to short-circuit the credit award process on those hands when there is someone near me so I don't catch their attention. But Mr. Annoying was not having much luck, so I got my revenge by letting the credit award play out completely on every hand.

I admit that I had to watch him play and at least he only played the two best pay tables on the machines.

When I returned to that bank a few days later, he was there again. I played at a different bank.


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