“Identical” video poker machines might have very important differences
by Jerry “Stickman” Stitch
“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
—Marilyn vos Savant
Just because the glass says “Jacks or Better” is no guarantee the game you play will be Jacks or Better. The entire pay table should be studied to make sure it is truly a full-pay Jacks or Better pay table.
Just because two video poker machines have the same name, and the pay tables look the same, does not necessarily mean they are exactly the same game. I was reminded of this recently when I visited a casino with a good friend of mine, who also enjoys playing video poker. He usually relies on me to point out the best machines to play. At this particular casino, I suggested he stick with the dollar 9/6 Jacks or Better game near the bar. I was in the mood to play craps, so I left him there and went to go shoot some dice.
After about 30 minutes, he came over rushing over to me, very excited. “I won $2,000!” he exclaimed.
“That’s great,” I said. “Congratulations. So you cashed out $2,000 after building to that amount?”
“No,” he explained. “I hit four aces for 2,000 credits!”
That didn’t sound right to me. Four aces on Jacks or Better pays only 125 credits. I was ready to color up at craps anyway, so I did, and then asked him to show me the machine he played. He walked me over to the bar area and pointed to it.
Sure enough, the front glass proclaimed “Jacks or Better” and the pay table showed 9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush. But what my friend had failed to observe was that this was a multi-game machine, and the game that was selected was Double-Double Bonus Poker—not Jacks or Better. He had hit four aces with a “kicker” of 2 to snag the second-highest jackpot it offered.
My friend got very lucky. The game he chose to play had a long-term payback that was more than one-half percent less than Jacks or Better. This amounts to an additional loss of 56 cents per $100 played through the machine—20 hands at the $1 level he had been playing. Also, the variance for Double-Double Bonus Poker is about 42, compared to 19.5 for Jacks or Better. He was just as likely to burn through several hundred dollars without any significant wins. But in this case, failure to observe caused a windfall to land in his lap. Sometimes it is indeed better to be lucky than good.
The moral of this story is to be observant. Just because the glass says “Jacks or Better” is no guarantee the game you play will be Jacks or Better. Also, even though it is common to refer to full-pay Jacks or Better as 9/6 Jacks or Better, the entire pay table should be studied to make sure it is truly a full-pay Jacks or Better pay table. While my friend had been extremely fortunate, he would have normally paid dearly for his lack of observation.
Even if a player is fully observant and checks to make sure the game selected is, in actuality, Jacks or Better—and the pay table is a full-pay Jacks or Better pay table in its entirety—there could still be differences in what you earn from these games.
If you’re playing smart, you’ll always insert your players club card in any machine you play. Doing so allows you to earn points that can be redeemed for food, drink, and even cash. And did you know that many casinos award different levels of slot points depending on the base coin level of the machine? For example, a multi-denomination machine that has 5 cents as its lowest denomination could earn you fewer slot points for the same amount of money played on a multi-denomination machine that has 25 cents as its lowest denomination—even when you’re playing both games at the 25-cent level.
I’ve even come across machines that appear to be identical in every way—same manufacturer, same denomination, same game selection, same pay table(s), same everything—except one machine awarded twice as many slot points as the others.
So how can you determine how many slot points you’re getting for your play? I’ve written in previous columns for Casino Player how I track my slot points and number of hands played. When I first sit down, I make a note of the number of slot points I have. I then play $40 through the machine and make a note of the slot points I have at that point. Sometimes, I have to remove my slot club card and re-insert it a couple of times before the slot points will update. Once I have the final slot point count, I subtract the starting count. The result is the number of slot points per $40 played.
This technique has enabled me to find video poker games that award double slot points. Sometimes taking just a little extra time to observe can pay off in a big way.
HOW WOULD YOU play this hand?
Playing a full pay Jacks or Better game (9/6) with a max bet of five quarters, you are dealt the following hand:
How would you play it?
This hand has no high pair. It has three cards of a royal (A♥, K♥, T♥), and four of a flush (A♥, K♥, T♥, 7♥). The three of a royal are penalized by the T♠ as well as the 7♥. Holding four of a flush when you have three of a royal containing an Ace and a Ten, plus the fourth card of the flush when the fifth card is a Ten, Jack, Queen or King, is the correct play. Playing this hand improperly is one of the most common mistakes made even by experienced players. The correct answer is to hold the A♥, K♥, T♥, 7♥.
Don’t Get Fooled Again in Poker.