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Best of John Robison

Gaming Guru

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It doesn't usually happen this way

16 February 2008

Byron Tidwell, who was Master of Ceremonies at the old Desert Inn in Las Vegas, once told me about his attempt to prove a point about gambling to a friend.

"My friend from Seattle was in town for a meeting. He works at a software firm there. You'd probably like him. He's a computer nerd like you."

"Uh, thanks . . . I think," I said.

"No, no, it was a compliment," he said. "It was my friend's last night in town and I was going to drop him off at the airport. We had a few hours to kill before his flight, so I took him to Mandalay Bay for dinner. It was just after 5 pm, so we had time to walk around the casino before our reservations at 6.

"Now, my friend is scared to gamble. He won't even drop a nickel in a slot machine and he was even a little bit nervous just walking around Mandalay Bay's casino.

"I wanted to show him that gambling is a legitimate form of entertainment, but also that he was right to be cautious. It's possible to lose a lot of money very quickly in a casino.

"I decided to show him how quickly I could lose $5 playing a quarter video poker machine. I thought video poker was the perfect example because the game combines both luck and skill. I put a five-dollar bill in the bill acceptor of a Double Double Bonus machine."

"Not a good paytable," I interrupted. "You forgot my rule — the longer the name, the worse the game."

"It was only five bucks, John. I told my friend that five dollars was enough to play four hands and that even if I won a hand or two, the winnings would probably be small. The five dollars would be gone in about a minute.

"My first hand was a bust. So were my second and third hands. 'It doesn't usually happen this way,' I told him."

"That's right," I interrupted again. "You have about a 45% chance of getting a winning hand. It happens, but it's unusual to get four losing hands in a row."

"Obviously, John, you're not playing with MY luck! I hit the Bet Max button again to start the fourth hand. This time the machine dealt a pair of aces to me. 'This is great,' I told my friend. 'We didn't win, but we didn't lose. A pair of aces is a push, a return of our bet. At the very least, we'll get to play this buck and a quarter again.'

"I held the two aces and pressed the Draw button. I received the other two aces and a deuce kicker to win 2,000 quarters. The machine locked up, went into hand pay mode, and rang its buzzer. Between the buzzer and the flashing "call attendant" message in the middle of the screen, my friend was convinced I had cheated the machine.

"'I didn't cheat,' I told him. 'I won more coins than the machine pays on its own, so I have to wait for someone to come pay me by hand.'

"He said, 'And that's when they discover that you cheated?'

"I reassured him again that my win was a result of my video poker skill and not cheating. I also told him that it doesn't usually happen this way. Four aces with the kicker is a very rare hand. Five dollars doesn't usually last very long on a quarter video poker machine.

"While I was waiting to be paid, he put ten dollars into a machine. He hit a couple of two pairs and a full house before he ran out of credits. He had fun, which was my point.

"Later, when I took him to the airport, I pointed to the machines in the waiting area and said, 'Last chance until you come back.'

"He looked at me with computer-nerd seriousness and said, 'Hey, even I know better than to play the machines at the airport.'"

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