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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: How do video poker machines deal cards?

3 April 2013

I feel that I have a pretty good knowledge of video poker and I play it frequently, but I do have a few questions.

As I understand it the chances of actually being dealt a Royal Flush is 1 in 650,000, but what are the odds of drawing into a Royal Flush?

Second question: When playing video poker, the first five cards are dealt and the next five are in waiting. Is that sixth card the one given next regardless of which of the first five you discard, or does each of the first five have two cards per position and when you discard one, you get the card below it, in which case discarding position five would mean you would get the tenth card dealt, not the sixth as in the first example.

Lastly, how does that play out when playing multi-hand video poker? Since you see the backs of, say, the other nine hands, are those remaining spots filled only after you’ve chosen the cards you wish to save from the first hand, e.g., if you hold two aces in the first hand, those two aces will be pulled from the other nine decks, then populate the other nine games and then the remaining cards are dealt?

Thank you in advance and I do enjoy reading your articles.

LLM

Dear LLM,

Thanks for the kind words about my columns.

As you said, the chances of being dealt a royal flush are 4 out of 2,598,960 or 1 out of 649,740. That's easy.

It's harder to figure out the chances of drawing to a royal flush. It's relatively easy to figure out the chances when you hold 1 card to the royal, 2 cards, 3 cards, 4 cards and 0 cards. But that's only half the problem. We also have to figure out the chances of holding a 1-card royal, a 2-card royal, etc. Those calculations depend on your strategy, which depends on which paytable you're playing. I don't know those things, so we're stuck.

Fortunately, there is an estimate I can give you. As a general rule, you hit royal flushes about once every 40,000 hands. Some strategies may hit royal flushes a little more frequently, others a little less. But 1 in 40,000 is a good, general estimate.

Moving on to your second question, video poker machines used to select all ten cards that could be required to play out a hand at once when you pressed the Deal button. Five cards were revealed, and then something had to be done with the five remaining cards.

One choice is to keep the cards in a stack, like you would at your kitchen table. When the program needed to replace a discard, it would take the top card off the stack. This is known as a "serial" deal.

The other choice is to assign each card to a particular location, so card 6 is conceptually hiding behind card 1, to be revealed only if card 1 is discarded. This is known as a "parallel" deal.

Which method do today's machines use? Neither. Today's machines choose the five cards to be dealt, and then continue electronically shuffling the deck and choose the cards to replace the discarded cards only after the Draw button has been pressed. Today's machines do not sit with cards already selected because that makes the machines vulnerable to being cheated.

A group in the Midwest was able to figure out the RNG function in a video poker machine and, with that information, they were able to figure out the five cards that would be used to replace discards. Obviously, they were caught.

Usually, whether an older machine used a parallel or serial deal was irrelevant. The player odds are the same. But there was one incident in which the type of deal did make a difference.

The hold buttons on a machine malfunctioned and a card that a player wanted to hold wasn't held. I don't remember the exact details and I couldn't find a report of the incident online, so let's say the player had a 4-card royal in the first four cards dealt and held only three of the cards due to the malfunction. Then the card needed to complete the royal appeared in the spot for the card that should have been held.

If the machine used a parallel deal, then the player would not have completed the royal flush. The card needed would not have been revealed because the player did not discard the card above it. If the machine used a serial deal, however, the player would have completed the royal. The card needed would have been sitting on top of the draw pile and would have replaced the card in position 5, thus completing the royal.

Moving on to your last question, when you play a multi-hand machine, the cards you hold and discard are removed from all of the decks and then cards to replace your discards are drawn at random from each deck.

Royal flushes for all,
John


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