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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Holding two pair when it pays the same as a high pair

19 July 2017

This week I'd like to discuss some comments I overheard in the casinos.

Don't hold two pair when it pays the same as jacks or better.

Two people were playing some sort of bonus poker pay table that paid the same for two pair and jacks or better. The more knowledgeable player was giving the novice pointers. When dealt two pair consisting of a high pair and a low pair, one should hold the high pair only, he reasoned, because you're still guaranteed at least five coins plus you have the possibility of getting a quad.

You can't use logic to create a strategy. You have to use mathematics.

Let's check some strategies on the Wizard of Odds site. Starting with 9/6 Bonus Poker Deluxe, holding two pair beats holding just the high pair. Maybe the bonus on four-of-a-kind isn't high enough. Moving up to 10/7 Double Bonus, holding two pair still beats holding just the high pair. Let's up the quad bonus and look at 10/6 Double Double Bonus. Here the bonus on quad Aces is enough to make holding a pair of Aces better than holding two pair. But holding two pair is still better than holding just a pair of jacks, queens or kings.

Everything the teacher said made sense, but he arrived at the wrong conclusion. Logic doesn't take into account the probability of achieving hands and their worth — in other words, expected value. You have to use math to derive video poker strategies.

I don't win at the Palms like I used to before they started the renovations. They must have tightened the machines to pay for the work.

It's human nature to seek a cause for an effect we experience. The lady who made this comment was playing video poker and lamenting to a friend about how her luck at the machines had turned shortly after the time the Palms walled off a significant portion of the casino and started the incessant jackhammering — which, by the way, makes for a very pleasant playing environment.

Regulations in Nevada require that video poker machines deal from a fair deck, just like you were playing at your kitchen table. The only way to lower the paybacks on video poker machines is to change the pay tables. There's nothing the casino can do legally to lower the payback on a machine and keep the paytable the same.

What about illegally? About 20 years ago, a route operator that placed machines in supermarkets and bars was caught with altered software in their video poker machines. I believe the gaffe made it impossible to get a royal flush in spades. The company lost its license to operate games.

I've had periods of good luck, bad luck and choppy results regardless of what's going on at a casino. It's all random. I've actually done well at the Palms since the renovations began.

How does Mega Moolah at the Palms work?

Speaking of the Palms, it's running a monthlong promotion called Mega Moolah. When Mega Moolah hits, one player wins from $5,000 to $10,000 and everyone else playing with a Boarding Pass card wins from $5 to $100 in free slot play.

When you put in your Boarding Pass card, and occasionally while you're playing, a message with the current value of the Mega Moolah counter appears on the screen. This is the value that the one lucky player will win.

Somewhere in the Palms' server room is the progressive controller for the Mega Moolah jackpot. When the promotion started and every time the Mega Moolah hits, the controller randomly chooses a number between 5000 and 10000. This is the jackpot amount for this running of Mega Moolah. The value is carefully guarded by the controller and usually only senior people have the code that causes the controller to reveal the value. This is done, of course, to prevent employees from sharing the jackpot value with players so they can save their money until Mega Moolah value is close to the jackpot value.

As players play the machines in the casino, a portion of each bet is added to the counter. The player who makes the bet that pushes the value of the counter over the value of jackpot wins the jackpot. All the other players using their cards win a randomly chosen amount of slot play. The controller then chooses a new value for the jackpot and the cycle starts again.

I was playing at the Palms two weeks ago when Mega Moolah hit. I won $25 in slot play and my friend won $100.

I attended a seminar on the operation of one of these systems a few years ago. They stressed the security of the jackpot value and how difficult it was to get the system to reveal the value.

There's also a protection against having players just putting their cards in a machine and hoping to score some slot dollars. Only active players are awarded the celebration bonus. Players have a certain amount of time to make another bet before going inactive. If you're inactive when the Mega Moolah hits, you don't get the free play.

I think the time limit set in the seminar was 30 seconds. There's an indication when you're in danger of going inactive depending on the slot club hardware in use. In the seminar, the bezel around the slot for the players card flashed when you were getting close to going inactive and turned red when you crossed over from active to inactive. All it takes is playing another hand or spin to be an active player again.

Earn the second pick before you play the Station Casinos kiosk game.

Station Casinos in Las Vegas is running a kiosk game this month called Lovin' Summer Kiosk Game. The goal is to fill in a heart-shaped puzzle of 12 pieces. Players collect puzzle pieces or instant prizes by choosing from a grid of 12 summer-themed images. Players get one free pick each day and can earn an additional pick after playing 50 points. If you get all 12 pieces to the heart puzzle you win $10,000.

My cousin was with me when I played the game one day last week. The piece I got was one I already had and I told her that I was stuck at nine pieces. A lady at the kiosk next to me said that she too was stuck at nine pieces.

I usually would play the free pick when I first entered the casino, then play at least 50 points and go back to play the second pick. Nearly two weeks into the game I realized that I might be able to improve my chances of getting the pieces I was missing by earning the second pick first and then making two picks from one grid.

If I'm missing three pieces and we assume that each of the 12 puzzle pieces is on the grid, I had a 3 in 12 chance of getting one of the missing pieces each time I made the picks in separate visits to the kiosk. When I made two picks at once, though, I had a 3 in 11 chance at getting a piece I was missing when my first pick (which was still 3 in 12) was a duplicate.

My assumption that each piece is on the grid is faulty. First, one time I got the same piece on both of my two picks — and it was a piece I already had. Second, the center piece, which is also heart-shaped, is probably nearly impossible to get. The rules say that you qualify to play the Congratulations game on July 31 if you collect all 11 puzzle pieces. Getting the 11 exterior pieces doesn't give a big prize so it must be attainable. Getting the heart-shaped center piece also, though, gives you $10,000 so it's unlikely that it is on each instantiation of the grid. The game does not reveal the pieces under the images you didn't pick, so it's impossible to know how frequently each piece is on the grid.

It took a few days after I switched to making two picks at once, but I finally collected all 11 puzzle pieces. Now the hunt is on for the center piece.


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