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Being on the plus side of volatility

By John Grochowski

One fundamental difference between slot players and video poker players comes in the willingness, even eagerness, to try something new.

Slot machines, especially on video, come and go as players try out all the features and bonuses, have fun with the entertainment value for a few months, then move on to explore the features of a shiny new game.

Video poker players flock to the same games today we were playing 20 years ago- Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Bonus Poker Deluxe, Deuces Wild, jacks or Better and other standards.

The innovation in video poker comes mainly in ways to multiply our winnings while playing those standard games. The allure of Super Times Pay, Ultimate X and others is that they can turn even small wins into a tidy sum of credits, and turn big-paying hands into huge jackpots.

Multiplier features don’t increase the house edge. For the most part, they’re designed so the feature itself brings a payback percentage equal to or greater than the base game.

What they add is volatility. It takes an extra wager to buy the feature, so if the multipliers and winning hands don’t sync up, you can lose money even on your winners. But when they are in sync, your credit meter puts up the big numbers.

I experienced the plus side of that volatility recently on IGT’s Hot Roll video poker. I was just playing for nickels, so it didn’t amount to a whole lot of money, but it gave my wife Marcy and me a nice little boost on a low-rollers’ day out.

When she and I play together, we usually don’t spend $100 between us, and that includes lunch. Marcy likes the penny slots, and we look to find seats side by side and just pass a pleasant morning together.

My play at table games and higher denomination video poker is reserved for times I’m in casinos on my own.

This time, our excursion took us to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee. We’d each lost about $20 when she needed a break.

We happened to be standing near the video poker area, and on the aisle was a nickel Hot Roll machine.

Hot Roll is available in Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play versions. It takes a wager of 10 coins per hand to activate the Hot Roll feature. Instead of the 15-coin max bet on basic Triple Play, I’d be betting 30 coins for Triple Play with Hot Roll.

What you get for your extra wager is a randomly occurring roll of two onscreen dice for a multiplier. After the roll, you complete your hand and any winners are multiplied by the total on the dice.

I chose Triple Play Bonus Poker, and for the first few minutes, my multipliers and winners weren’t in sync- a common enough experience at any multiplier game. When I had multipliers, I didn’t have winners. When I had winners, I didn’t have multipliers. That’s a losing combination.

My luck changed with a dice roll of 6 and 3. I was dealt a pair of 3s on my initial hand. On the first draw, two 8’s turned my hand into two pair that paid 90 instead of the usual1 0. The second draw was the big one- it brought the other two threes for four of a kind. Instead of 200 nickels, the 9x multiplier was worth 1,800 – a $90 hit.

That was plenty to set us up for more penny play.

It turns out Marcy was standing behind me at that point. She saw it all, and asked, “How do you get the dice?”

I explained that they occur randomly. They come up an average of once every six hands, but could come up two hands in a row, or not come up at all for a dozen or more hands.

The odds on the roll are the same as if you were rolling two physical dice. Each die face has an equal chance of occurring on every roll. The average roll is 7, just as they are in any game using two six-side dice.

That means your average payoff is double the base on the pay table. Let’s use a high pair as an example of how that works.

High pairs usually pay 5-for-1. In an average set of six high pairs on Hot Roll, five would pay 5-for-1, but one would pay 35-for-1.

Five returns of five coins is a total of 25, and when you add in one 35-coin return, that’s a total of 60 coins for your six winners. And that’s an average of 10 coins per winner, exactly double the base return of five coins.

The average return on the Hot Roll bet is the same as on the main game. Payback percentages for Hot Roll games are the same as on same-pay-table games without Hot Roll. No strategy changes are necessary.

That’s not necessarily the case in all multiplier games. At, Michael Shackelford found that the value of the multiplier bet is higher than base game and that making the extra bet raises the overall payback percentage of the game. On 8-6jacks or Better, for example, the base game payback percentage with optimal play is 98.6 percent. Ultimate X can increase that to 99.4 percent.

However, to get there, you need a specially adapted strategy. Paying hands trigger different multipliers for the next hand, and you need to optimize chances of triggering high multipliers.

There are no such worries on Hot Roll Video Poker. The house edge is the same on the base game, and the strategy is the same as the base game. It’s as easy as a roll of the dice.

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