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Ask the Slot Expert: Help analyzing a video poker situation

22 July 2020

I'm not sure how to analyze this video poker situation. I don't think we ever considered an analogous situation in any of the Probability and Statistics courses I took (and have mostly forgotten). And even though analyzing gambling games led to the creation and development of Probability Theory a few centuries ago, video poker wasn't one of the games the mathematicians considered.

There's a video poker game called Power Quads at the Suncoast. You create a Power Quads account and then log in to it each time you play one of the Power Quads machine. The Power Quads system tracks the ranks of the quads you hit. Once you have achieved a quad in all 13 ranks, you win a bonus of 1000 coins.

You don't have to create an account and you don't have to log in to play the machine, but if you don't you're just playing a lousy paytable.

Let's say all you need to get the bonus is a set of queens and you want to see what strategy changes you should make. You can add the bonus onto the payout for four queens in your hand analyzer program and test various scenarios, such as three queens versus a full house, two queens versus two pair, etc.

That's straightforward because you win the bonus with the queens. What if you need two or three ranks to win the bonus? What is the value of a quad in those ranks?

I need quads in kings, queens and 8s. A quad in those ranks is worth more than, say, quad 7s because those ranks bring me a step closer to the bonus. But how much more are they worth? Is it one-third of the bonus?

Based on the strategies I've seen for the various [Double | Triple] Double Bonus paytables and some playing around with the Hand Analyzer on the Wizard of Odds site, I have a feeling that you don't make any strategy changes until you need only two ranks, and then the only change you make is holding three of a rank you need over a full house.

What do you think? How do you analyze hands for this game?


Question: Here's a couple good sites I've come across for tracking new COVID-19 cases.

You can see new cases (don't worry about new deaths at this time) and see if the curve is flattening, steadily increasing or even spiking up. The USA is doing a poor job...we are still the only major company spiking up...Italy, Spain, France even UK are trending down. And many states are setting record cases in a day, and we are still more than most countries.

Oh, well, guess Trump is right...if you test less, you detect less and our numbers look better...for voting in November!!

Answer: I'll reveal a surprise twist to this letter later.

A comedian gave the best illustration of how decreased testing does not make a problem go away: "If we got rid of all of the pregnancy tests, no one would be pregnant."

The Washington Post page has breakdowns by state. I see that New Jersey, my former home state, seems to have gotten the virus under control.

When I spoke with a friend in New Jersey a few months ago when the virus was spreading through the tri-state (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) area, I said I was glad I was in Nevada, where cases were still rare. Now the situation has reversed. When I spoke with him yesterday, I said that it's ironic (tragic) that now Nevada is a hot spot and New Jersey is the place to be. If I went back to New Jersey today, I'd have to self-quarantine for 14 days -- Nevada was added to New Jersey's travel advisory list on 6/30.

Let's see how we did containing the virus this past week. Data is from https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases.

Totals Weekly Increases
US NV US NV
Date Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
07/14 3,819,139 140,630 36,195 674 463,682 5,395 8,181 57
07/14 3,355,457 135,235 28,744 617 422,861 5,102 5,607 57
07/07 2,932,596 130,133 23,137 560 351,367 3,394 5,006 24
06/30 2,581,229 126,739 18,131 536 278,941 6,406 4,367 26
06/23 2,302,288 120,333 13,764 510

It's not surprising that after months of ignoring the pandemic and trying to divert our attention, the White House held its first coronavirus task force briefing since late April. I put task force in italics because none of the scientists were at the briefing, but Dr. Birx was supposedly in a nearby room.

Not much has happened since the last briefing -- only 3,000,000 more cases and 86,000 more deaths. I don't suppose that recent polls showing more people trust Biden than Trump to handle the pandemic had anything to do with the resumption of the briefings.

I think the old briefings had turned into a sideshow. First, they didn't need to be daily. After a while, there wasn't anything new to present. Even ABC rebranded its third hour of GMA from Pandemic: What You Need to Know to GMA 3: What You Need to Know after three months when more time on the show was spent on other news.

Second, the old briefings lasted far too long. Although I didn't see many of them in their entirety, those I did see reminded me of HBO's McMillions. Like the HBO documentary, the briefings could have given all of the facts in one-quarter the time.

The old daily briefings stopped after Trump suggested that people ingest or inject a disinfectant to fight the virus. It's true that the remarks about disinfectants occurred during the last (or nearly the last) old series of briefings, nut Trump never suggested that people drink bleach.

He said some batshit crazy things then, but drinking disinfectants was not one of them.

First crazy statement: Because ultraviolet light can kill some viruses, suppose "we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light...suppose you brought the light inside the body through the skin or in some other way...Sounds interesting, right?"

How are you supposed to get UV light into the body through the skin? Don't UV rays cause sunburn?

Second crazy statement: "And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me. So, we’ll see, but the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute. That’s pretty powerful."

Trump looked at Dr. Birx during some of these comments. She sat there dumbfounded, as if she couldn't believe what she was hearing. We have to cut him some slack, though. He's probably never even held a bottle of cleaning fluid in his life, never seen the warnings that it is harmful if swallowed or inhaled.

I like this stuff. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, "How do you know so much about this?" Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for President.

Remarks by President Trump After Tour of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, March 6, 2020
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-tour-centers-disease-control-prevention-atlanta-ga/

In today's briefing, Trump half-heartedly acknowledged that the virus is still spreading ("It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better" [emphasis mine; I don't think there's any doubt]). He encouraged everyone to wear a mask and distance socially.

In the Q&A section, when he was asked about his "sudden embrace of masks, social distancing", he said, "Well, I've always agreed with that. I mean, I've never fought either one. But certainly, social distancing, I want to -- it's -- that's common sense."

Really? He may not have fought either one, but he certainly didn't encourage either one. How many masks did you see at his two recent rallies? How close together were the attendees? Did he wear a mask when he visited the mask factory?

We're doing well with social distancing in casinos in Nevada, at least in the two locals casinos I've been to since reopening. Sometimes you see two people playing side-by-side, but it's obvious that they're together.

Wearing face coverings, which should have been mandatory since the first day of reopening, is universally followed. I haven't seen an unmasked person in a casino since they became mandatory about a month ago. I still see the occasional peek-a-boo nose, but chin bras are much less common --

Except when players are drinking or smoking. I saw a guy with a chin bra nursing a beer at a craps table. I don't know how long he stood there with his mask down. I think the reason drinking was not banned was because officials assumed people would pull down their masks to take a drink and then put them back up, not leave them down as long as there was liquid in their glass or bottle. If I were to have something to drink I would keep my mask up except to take a drink.

Smokers leave their masks off for an extended length of time.

Nevada should follow the lead of other jurisdictions and ban smoking and drinking on the casino floor until the curve is solidly on a downward trajectory. I'm sorry for the cocktail waitresses who are going to be out of a job again, but we have to make the casino environment safer for the employees and the players until we have the spread of the virus under control.

Nevada opened up too early, before we had met all of the criteria set by the CDC for reopening. We had to roll back some of loosened restrictions. It's been almost two weeks since the rollback and the weekly number of new cases is still increasing, the virus is still spreading. It's time to put more restrictions in place.

The surprise twist: This letter was sent a month ago. It could have been sent today. The virus statistics for the United States have not improved this past month.


Please keep sharing your observations about the new casino environment. Has your casino reopened its buffet? How many restaurants are open? If you get takeout, how difficult is it to find someplace to eat? Are players following social distancing and mask rules? Does the casino still offer valet parking? Does it still have bell service? Many hotels no longer have housekeeping services during your stay; do you bother making the bed (I wouldn't)? Did your state reopen too soon?

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