There’s a nice little tavern downtown that I found purely by accident about six months ago. It soon became my favorite spot to drop by and play on my way home from work. It’s convenient, has easy parking and offers my preferred choice of beer. Even the bartender is cool. The only problem is it doesn’t offer video keno, only video poker. I enjoy video poker, too, so no big deal to me.
I have been playing here pretty regularly for a while and there are only about 15 machines in the place, so I thought I had played every one of them. As I found out last week when I sat down at one machine and hit the double-double button, I was wrong. I immediately noticed the number next to the words "Full House" on the paytable was a 10! I knew right away I hadn’t played this machine before.
Video poker players – if you find a machine that pays 10 credits for each credit bet on a full house, chances are you’re playing a 100%-plus payback game. This is almost universally true, at least for double bonus and double double bonus versions of video poker. On this particular machine I know for a fact the games were set as loose as possible across the board. Several video poker variations have 100%-plus settings, and virtually all of them were offered. I was delighted.
This was the only machine in the whole place set this way. The other machines weren’t tight by any stretch, but they weren’t set this loose. Simply by playing this machine instead of any of the others, I could get an extra 5 or 10 credits every time I hit a full house loaded. Depending on which game I chose, I could also get an extra five credits every time I hit a flush and/or a straight.
I might have found this machine months ago if I had only followed my own advice of always checking paytables, but I didn’t check since only video poker is offered at this bar. As I’ve explained before, video keno payouts can vary tremendously between settings, sometimes up to thousands of credits. Video poker settings generally only vary by one or two credits per credit bet on certain mid-level hands, so it’s not nearly as important to me to compare paytables when only video poker is available. I might alter my thinking after finding this machine though.
In any case, I was excited to find this single 100%-plus payback machine at my favorite local watering hole, so I began playing. Wouldn’t you know I couldn’t hit a thing? I never did hit a full house, and the one time I hit a flush I happened to be playing a game that paid the same on a flush as did the rest of the machines in the house. Maybe I was right about there not being enough of a difference between video poker settings to really care about after all.
Disturbed to have lost so quickly, I switched to one of the other machines with the tighter setup. Although it gave me more play time, I was concerned when I noticed my credit meter was once again down to a measly $1.25. I played the last hand, got dealt three kings, and wouldn’t you know the fourth king came out on the draw. A last-hand quad – how nice!
Now there’s where a looser video poker machine usually makes a difference, in late or last-hand hits. The bigger payouts on looser versions of video poker don’t really give you huge "cash-out" type credits like the looser variations of keno sometimes do, but they do give you more "ammunition" credits. If you play five credits per hand and get paid 50 credits on a full house instead of 45, you will be able to play one more hand. If the last few hands you play are ones you wouldn’t have gotten to play on a tighter machine and one of them is a substantial winner, playing the looser machine can pay off pretty big, even on video poker.
The funny thing is I had hit this last-hand win on one of the tighter machines. In fact, I took the winnings and went back to the lone 100%-plus machine, where I proceeded to lose every penny I had made on the tighter machine… and then some! Even though I had stumbled upon a great 100%-plus machine, I still left empty-handed.
I take solace in the fact that I know the smarter play in the long run is to play the loosest machine available, especially when it’s set to pay back over 100%. It’s equally important to remember the loosest machine on the planet can still take your money though, just like the tightest machine can still pay out huge. When it comes to playing machines, even if you do everything right, luck is often the most important factor of all. I just wish I could stop proving that fact with stories like this!
(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, Nev.)
My column a few weeks ago about commission-free Baccarat and commission-free Pai Gow Poker prompted a reader to send me an e-mail asking for advice on how to improve his play at baccarat. The simple reality is I could not provide him with any advice.
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