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Looser equals more hold?

New six-coin video poker games will overhold

I write for the player press far more than I write for managers. Recently, I?ve been studying two new games from Action Gaming?specifically, ?Wheel Poker? and ?Quick Quads.? While working out ?how to play these games intelligently,? about which I?ll write for the players, two things struck me that will make the games attractive to casino managers.

First, it appears the games will be popular. This is always a guess, and my crystal ball hasn?t always revealed things flawlessly in the past, but these games have features that should make them irresistible to the players.

Second, the correct strategy on both of these games is deceptive, so the games will hold more than ?regular? games. The usual reasons for games holding more than usual are imperfect strategy and less-than-max-coin play. But these games have more reasons that contribute to this overholding. We?ll get to that.

Wheel Poker
Wheel Poker is a game found in Triple Play and Five Play versions which costs six coins per line to play. It comes in all the usual game types and pay schedules. The ?gimmick? for this game is that whenever the player connects on a four-of-a-kind (called a ?quad?), the player collects the usual payout, plus as a bonus, he gets to spin the wheel.

This wheel looks very much like one for ?Wheel of Fortune? or other slot machines, except that the minimum bonus is 100 coins and the maximum is 2,000 coins. The mean (average) number this lands on is between 428 and 429. If players play less than six coins per line, the wheel never moves because there is no bonus round.

The average frequency for quads in Bonus Poker, for example, is 423 hands. This makes it appear like the bonus wheel is slightly positive, but basically neutral. After all, if you pay an average of 423 extra coins to earn something that is worth 428 on average, clearly the player is slightly ahead on the deal. It seems like he?s just buying some excitement by paying extra to get a bigger payout when he hits a quad.
 
Players who think like that are missing the boat. Bonus Poker hits quads every 423 hands if you play regular strategy, based on payouts of 125, 200  and 400. But players who add 428 to each of these figures and come out with 553, 628, and 828, and who work out a new strategy, find that now quads come around every 414 hands. This may not sound like a big change, but it is. Players who ?wing? the strategy will find themselves overcompensating for the wheel as frequently as they undercompensate. Both are expensive habits.

Enough managers are also video poker players so that a few examples of how correct strategy will change is appropriate. Even if you aren?t enough of a player to know correct strategy for this game, you?ll be able to see how a higher return for the quad will change things.

Example 1:  2Hearts 2Clubs 6Clubs JClubs KClubs and 5Hearts 5Clubs 6Clubs JClubs KClubs ? In regular Bonus Poker, smart players hold the clubs in both hands. But now, we hold the deuces in the first hand and the clubs in the second. (The reason for the difference in strategy is that four fives pays less than four deuces.) But even with the fives, if the four-card flush only contained one high card (such as 5Hearts 5Clubs 6Clubs JClubs 3Clubs), the fives would be the choice in Wheel Poker but the clubs would be the choice in Bonus Poker.

Example 2:  AHearts KClubs QDiamonds 8Hearts 6Clubs ? I?d bet a bunch that most players would choose to hold the ace by itself here because of the bonus. But they?d be wrong. Holding KQ is the better play in both regular Bonus Poker and the Wheel Poker version of the same game.

Example 3:  AHearts AClubs ADiamonds 5Hearts 5Spades versus 3? 3Clubs 3? 5? 5Spades versus 7Hearts 7Clubs 7Diamonds 5Hearts 5Spades ? With normal pay schedules in Bonus Poker, you always keep the full house. In games like Double Bonus, however, you keep trip aces instead of the full house?but otherwise hold the full house. In Bonus Poker Wheel Poker, you break the first two full houses to hold the trips, but not the third.

These strategy adjustments are not difficult for your better players to figure out?once they know the wheel adds 428 coins on average. This number will become fairly well known among your best players (IGT and Action Gaming aren?t keeping it a secret), but players need to ?keep up? in order to know this. And not all players spend the time and energy to keep up.

Plus, every pay schedule on your Wheel Poker game requires a new strategy. You should consider sending a taxi to bring in those players who will switch from game to game on this machine, using more-or-less the same strategy with each game. These players are gold mines for the casino. They should be treasured.

The spinning wheel, with sound effects, is noticeable over quite a distance, especially if your slot director places low-profile machines in front of these games. Slot machine players frequently have a positive, Pavlovian reflex toward spinning wheels. Since spinning wheels are virtually always attached to no-brainer slot machines, many of these players will not realize that this particular wheel is attached to a game of skill. This will increase the number of players who are willing to try this game.
 
The fact that the wheel always returns an average of 428 has an unusual consequence that will help casinos. Wild card games have a quad frequency much higher than 428, so players will do considerably better by playing five coins per line on wild card games than six coins per line. (It would be a rare player who played the Wheel Poker game consistently at five coins per line.) Players who are used to recognizing good Deuces Wild pay schedules will frequently assume that playing such a pay schedule on this machine is a good idea. They will be wrong.

Adding to the player problems on playing this game with wild cards is that there is no currently available player software that is directly useful in figuring out this strategy. While good players can use existing tools to ?cut and paste? together a strategy, most simply won?t because the return on the game is better if they just play it straight. There may well be special strategy considerations for the 16-10-4-4-3 Deuces Wild variation of Wheel Poker. I?ll never know for sure because I have no incentive to study it.

The net effect of this is that casinos can afford to be looser than usual on these machines because they will overhold. How loose your games are varies tremendously by casino, but let?s say for example that your loosest ?regular? game is 8/5 Bonus Poker?which returns 99.17 percent when played well. This game on Wheel Poker returns 99.59 percent, which would appear to be higher than your ?standards.?

You should make an exception. You will make more money on the 8/5 Bonus Wheel Poker game than you do on regular 8/5 Bonus. Your standard shouldn?t be how much the perfect player can make, but rather how much the machine adds to your bottom line.

And it is perfectly reasonable to have the Deuces Wild pay schedules one or two notches looser on this game. The actual return will be less, even though the pay schedule appears to be looser.

Remember, at least some of your players are motivated by looser pay schedules, so the looser you make them, the more play you will get. Making the pay schedules too loose can be costly, of course, but on this particular game, making them a little looser than you otherwise would is a smart idea.

Quick Quads
Quick Quads is another six-coin machine that appears in Triple Play and Five Play versions. It also comes in a variety of games and pay schedules, although none for wild card games. The ?gimmick? on this game is that if you have a three-of-a-kind (also called a ?trip?), if the ranks of the fourth and fifth cards add up to the rank of the trip, you get paid for a quad. That is, 88853 and 88844 get paid just as much as 8888K.

Quads are a very exciting part of the game, and when they come around a lot more frequently than usual, this makes for an exciting, popular game. To be sure, the designers of the game have taken this frequency into account as they designed the payouts for the game, but the perception is that you?re getting a much-better-than-average deal. As you know, perception is important when players decide what game to play.

In regular video poker, trip tens (TTT) are equally valuable to trip fives (555). Not in this game. Trip tens may be turned into quads by 9A, 82, 73, 64 and 55 while trip fives may only be enhanced by 4A and 32. Not surprisingly, in this game the ranking is TTT > 999 > 888 > 777 > 666 > 555.

In many games, quad 2s-4s are worth more than quad 5s-Ks. In this game, 444 > 333 > 222. Whether 444 is more or less valuable than 555 depends on the exact pay schedule.

This is another game where current player software fails to give a good strategy, so it takes a very committed player to create one.

There is a unique feature to Quick Quads that isn?t found in any other game that I know of?so players aren?t used to looking for it. I call it ?Redundant Full Houses.?

On the hands TTT55, 88844, 66633, 44422 and 222AA, players get paid for quads in this game. It will be easy for them to overestimate how much this is worth, because they have to give up a full house in order to get the quad. Let?s say trips are worth 15 coins, full houses 40, and quads 250. With 88853 the player is netting an extra 235 coins (250 ? 15 = 235) because the hand would normally only be paid as a three-of-a-kind. With 88844 the player is netting ?only? an extra 210 coins (250 ? 40 = 210) because the hand is usually paid as a full house.

I know of no other game without wild cards where the same hand can be paid as a full house or a quad. Since players aren?t used to looking for this, many will ignore it in their calculations.

Because of the difficulty of obtaining a good strategy and new features not seen before, this game will also overhold. This means that the casino can afford to be somewhat looser in terms of theoretical return than normally is true.

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