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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Slot and video poker tournament advice

5 July 2017

Question: When invited to a slot tournament in which you have two to three minutes to rack up as many points as possible, are there any strategies players can use to improve their scores?

Answer: Depending on the format of the tournament and how the tournament machines operate, there might be some things you can do to improve your score or your chances of winning something. I've played in many tournaments, from free single-session come-ons at hole-in-the-wall casinos on the Strip to paid or comped entrance fee multi-day tournaments that include a room, meals and an awards banquet. The best I've done so far is $100.

First, some terminology. In most tournaments, players play one or more sessions and the players with top scores overall win prizes. When you play in these tournaments, you're competing not only with the other players in your session, but also with every other player in the tournament. Contrast that with what I call Single Session tournaments. In a single-session tournament, players play one session. The top scorer or scorers get a prize. Each session is a separate tournament. There are no prizes for the highest scores overall.

And now some ideas for how you might be able to improve your score:

  • Get to the tournament area early so you can watch a session or two before yours. Note how the machines operate.
  • The machines may either count out the credits you win on each spin like a machine on the casino floor or they may use an accelerated procedure that takes less time. When you're watching the session before yours, not how the machines award credits. If they take a long time to award the credits for a jackpot or high-paying combination, use that time to rest your wrist. Keep an eye on the number of credits awarded to ensure you're banging that spin button again a few seconds before the machine finishes awarding the credits. If the machines use an accelerated procedure, you have to hit the button constantly.
  • Learn the rules of the game used in the tournament. Fortunately, most tournaments use games that don't require you to do anything but hit a button. Some of the games in the TournEvent series from Everie (formerly Multimedia Games) require players to hit a balloon or other icon on the screen to get extra points or even jump to first place. If you didn't know you had to hit those images on the screen, you'd miss out on tons of points.
  • If the tournament is single-session or there's a prize for the session's highest scorer and you're with another player, play in different sessions. That will double your chances of getting the high session score prize. No sense competing against each other.
  • Most importantly, hit the spin button as fast as you can. The extra spin you may be able to squeeze in may make the difference between getting a prize and winning nothing.

And some ideas for video poker tournaments:

  • Know which paytable will be used. Don't try to learn the strategy for it, but do know if there are bonuses for quads with kickers. If there are and you're dealt a four-of-a-kind that could be improved with a kicker, make sure you know to just hold the quad. Alternatively, always hold just the four cards of a quad and draw a fifth card. That way you're good for many Bonus Poker and wild card paytables. (In the early days of video poker, players would hold all five cards of a dealt four-of-a-kind if it couldn't be improved to guard against a machine malfunction occurring drawing a replacement card. I don't know anyone who had a machine malfunction replacing a card, but holding all five cards was the advice. Today, with so many paytables with kickers or wild cards being so popular — and machines being so reliable — the general advice is to just hold the four cards in the quad.)
  • Video poker tournaments usually have a hand limit or a time and hand limit. In other words, you might have a limit of 100 hands and you can take as much time as you want to play them or you have to finish the hands in, say, 15 minutes. If you're time limited, make sure you play fast enough to play all of the hands you're allowed.
  • Don't spend much time evaluating each hand. If nothing jumps out at you, the best cards to hold probably aren't worth that much more than drawing five new cards. And it's not worth not completing all of your hands because you spent too much time evaluating hands.
  • Consider being aggressive in going for a royal. Players who hit royals in tournaments are almost guaranteed to win something.

Question: ?Just saw a photo on Resorts Atlantic City Facebook page where a patron won over $10,000 on 88 Fortunes with an 88-cent bet. Doesn't that mean the possibility is always there to win the top bonus no matter what — as opposed to your assumption that it is a predetermined pick and your bet amount determines the availability of bonuses?

Answer: I speculated a bit about the bonus, and I think you may not have seen the later columns after I finally got a source to verify some aspects about how the machine works.

Here's how the coin-picking bonus in 88 Fortunes works. When the bonus is triggered, the program uses the RNG to determine which of the four progressives you will win. You can win any of the progressives regardless of your bet. Once you get to the picking part, the program has already chosen which progressive you will win and only one set of coins has at least three coins. (Probably six, in fact. The three losing progressives each have two coins, so the remaining six coins must be the winning progressive.) My source verified that each progressive is eligible to be chosen as the winning progressive, but he didn't answer my question about whether higher bets had better chances at winning the bigger progressives, which is not unusual.

So the progressive you get is pre-determined and your choices are irrelevant. All of the progressives are possible, regardless of bet, but the question of whether higher bets have better chances at the higher progressives is unresolved.


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