Casino – What’s Your Poison

Playing the Games: What’s Your Poison

Casino games are as diverse as the people who play them – and that’s part of the fun. You may think of craps as a rough-and-tumble game, played by hustlers and wiseguys, but step into a casino and you’re just as likely to spot an
angelic-looking nurse rolling dice next to a cursing cowboy from Texas. And because no game has a precise player profile, don’t restrict yourself to the few games that you think suit you. Give each one a try and see where it takes you.

Although the majority of casino visitors prefer slot machines, chances are, if you’re reading this book, you’re willing to try new ways to gamble. After you read this book and know which games have the best odds, I suggest you take a quick walk around the casino floor to see where you want to start and give several of them a try.

Touring the table games
In a casino, the tables come in all shapes and sizes, from the oval shape of poker tables to the half-round crescent of blackjack to the long rectangle of craps. And the table is just about all they have in common.

Unspoken rules seem to govern the table games. Most casino guests have discovered from experience to avoid the taboos: holding your cards with two hands, touching chips in the betting circle after the cards are dealt, and
throwing the dice so wildly that they flyover the rail and end up in somebody’s drink. Before you worry about
acting proper, this section includes a brief overview of the main table games that you may encounter in a casino.

Poker: Boosted by Internet and TV tournaments
To say that poker is taking over the world may be only a slight exaggeration. Considering its current popularity explosion, Texas Hold’em could replace war as a way to settle regional conflicts. In truth, many factors have con-
tributed to the card game’s wide appeal, including the broad reaches of the Internet and television poker tournaments.

But technology is only one factor. The big draw? Poker is one of the few games where good players consistently win. In poker, you compete against other players rather than the house. And with honed skills and intimate knowledge of the game, you can have a significant edge over those other, less-prepared gamblers.

Hiding your emotions is a requisite skill for successful poker. They don’t call it poker face for nothing So, if you can’t control your nervous ticks when you bluff or if your eyes get as big as saucers when you make a full house, either play your poker online or put a bag over your head.

Blackjack: The best odds
Blackjack (also called 21) has been the most popular table game in casinos for more than 40 years. The card game always draws a loyal crowd because it’s easy to understand, provides good camaraderie, and offers great odds. If
you memorize basic strategy (that is, the optimal way to play every hand), your chances of winning at blackjack are better than at virtually any other game in the casino.

Blackjack also is intriguing because each hand is like a movie clip – with you as the star. Each game has an opening scene (the deai), the simmering suspense (the dealer’s hidden card), the moment of truth when the hero (you!) makes a dramatic choice, and finally the conclusion, where the hero wins or loses. The trick, of course, is to have more happy endings than tragedies.

Craps: Backslaps, high-flyers and cheerleaders
This dice game draws a raucous crowd and has many of the best bets in the casino. Some guests find the noise and the complex layout of craps to be a little intimidating. But before you slink back to your comfort zone, consider
this fact: The house advantage is low in craps, making this game a great bet. Just be sure you stick with the best craps bets.

Furthermore, craps is like a sporting event, with its dramatic swings of luck, high-fives, backslaps, and noisy cheering section. Every roll has a home team (players who bet with the dice) and an opposing team (wrong-way bettors) that gets dirty looks and ridicules from the hometown fans. Now, if they just had those big foam We’re No. 1 fingers, the experience would be complete (but a little hard to roll the dice).

Roulette: The place for eccentric hunches
The spinning wheel of roulette symbolizes the world of casino gambling. This popular, entry-level game is ideal for novice gamblers because it requires absolutely no skill, concentration, or complex strategies. You simply bet on
the number or possible numbers that the ball will land on. A table full of players can be quite sociable, although not as rowdy as a craps game. Roulette gives you a chance to play your eccentric hunches on a single number, a
combination of numbers, or on an even-money wager that can just extend your playing session. Refer to Chapter 9 for more on roulette.

Baccarat: More tuxedo than T-shirt
Although blackjack and poker appeal to the masses, baccarat is a card game that draws a far more upscale and refined crowd. You’re more likely to see tuxedos than T-shirts playing this game. But everyone is welcome, so even if you don’t have a penguin costume in your closet, check out baccarat for a game that’s simple to play Gust bet on the bank) and has fair odds.

Let It Ride, Pai Gow, and other table qames
Beyond the traditional favorites, several other table games have developed a strong following. Today, most casinos intersperse Caribbean Stud poker, Let It Ride, Pai Gow, and Three Card poker tables throughout their pits.

These games are fun diversions when you need a change of pace, but a word of caution: Don’t play too long. These games have odds that may make you wish you’d gotten mugged instead of gone gambling. Unless you have a passion for these games (along with a bottomless bank account), don’t make a habit of playing them.

A Systems Approach to Video Poker

Ellen arrived at her favourite casino with a group of friends at about noon, but it hasn’t been her day. Ellen is an avid video poker player, and understands that she should always play the maximum coins. Coin limit play is essential she believes, because if she hits the royal flush she wants to be eligible for the top award that winners who have the maximum coin-in receive. After all, the pay tables on most modern machines are set to offer the coin-limit player a better payout percentage by setting a higher jackpot on the top hand for coin-limit play. Most machines start the hand automatically when five coins are inserted. Every machine has one button that orders maximum play. Ellen believes that it is the only way to play.

But Ellen’s funds have been depleted and she believes it’s time to drop down to less than coin limit to stretch her remaining funds. She has seen players being burned by hitting a royal flush or five-of-a-kind while playing less than coin limit. The disdain from the neighbouring players was more difficult to bear than the monetary shortfall.

But before coming to the casino this time, Ellen read up on coin-limit play and was surprised to find that on her favourite 9/6 Jacks-or-better machines, she would be losing less per hand by playing one coin than by playing five coins.

By playing expert strategy, and even taking into account the 800-1 payout for five-coin play and only a 250-1 payout for anything less, Ellen can take solace in the fact that her single-coin play keeps her almost even with maximum play, even without the hitting the top jackpot.

Ellen wasn’t surprised to find that novice players who don’t understand expert strategy are much better off playing less than five coins. Occasionally her friends who love the slot machines have wandered over into the video poker sections, but have always headed back quickly. They don’t understand that it’s important to know the strategy of the game.

Progressive jackpots seem to demand coin-limit play, but Ellen learned that a typical progressive 8/5 Jacks-or-better machine pays only 97.3 per cent to experts when the jackpot is minimum at 800-1, or $1,000 on a five-quarter coin-limit machine. Single-coin play returns only 95.9 per cent so the loss rate is very poor at all levels. That’s why experts don’t play them until the jackpot is above $2,200 and then only at coin-limit. Ellen will continue to play one coin at a time until it’s time to head home. She’ll protect her funds and will have a chance to get even before leaving.

Joker Poker Strategy

These rules are the basic strategy when playing Joker Poker.

Best hands first. When you are dealt the Joker.
1 Stand with five-of-a-kind or a straight flush.
2 Draw one card to four-of-a-kind.
3 Stand on a full house.
4 Stand on a flush.
5 Draw one card to a four-card straight flush.
6 Stand on a straight.
7 Draw one card to any four-card inside or double-inside straight flush.
8 Draw two cards to three-of-a-kind.
9 Draw one card to a four-card straight.
10 Draw two cards to a three-card straight flush.
11 Draw one card to a four-card inside straight.
12 Draw one card to a four-card flush.
13 Draw two cards to a three-card inside straight flush.
14 Draw two cards to a three-card straight.
15 Draw two cards to a three-card double inside straight flush.
16 Draw one card to a to a four-card double inside straight flush.
17 Draw three cards to a pair.

When you are not dealt the Joker.
1 Stand with a royal flush or a straight flush.
2 Draw one card to four-of-a-kind.
3 Stand on a full house.
4 Draw one card to four-card royal flush.
5 Stand on a flush or straight.
6 Draw one card to a four-card straight flush! either open-ended or inside.
7 Draw two cards to three-of-a-kind.
8 Draw one card to two pair.
9 Draw one card to a four-card flllSh.
10 Draw two cards to a three-card royal flush.
11 Draw one card to a four-card straight.
12 Draw two cards to a three-card straight flush! either open-ended or inside.
13 Draw three cards to a pair.
14 Draw three cards to a two-card royal flush.
15 Draw one card to a four-card inside straight.
16 Draw two cards to a three-card double-inside straight flush.
17 Draw three cards to a two-card straight flush! open-ended! double-inside or triple-inside.
18 Draw two cards to a three-card flush.
19 Draw two cards to a three-card straight.
20 Draw three cards to a two-card flush.

Strategic mistakes in Video Poker

Once you’ve identified the good machines and decided to sit down and play, the next step is to use an expert strategy. Don’t expect to play flawlessly the first time you sit down.

Because the different machines all have their own special strategies, you should stick with one type of machine until you’ve thoroughly understood and mastered its specific expert strategies.

Once again, Jacks-or-better is the most basic choice, and by mastering its expert strategy, you’ll have a better chance at the more complicated strategies of other video poker machines. The following strategies can be used for progressive Jacks-or-better and even bonus poker without losing much of an advantage.

The most important concept to grasp at the beginning is the need to eliminate costly mistakes. Most of those mistakes are made by confusing video poker with live poker – whereas in fact we know that there are key differences – and can be generalized as follows:





































A Systems Approach to Slots

Jim Wilson makes a monthly excursion to Caesars Palace. He flies from his home in suburban Chicago and spends a long weekend in Las Vegas, taking in shows, betting on an occasional sporting event, but mainly playing the slots. Jim knows that Caesars Palace is known for its high-limit table game players, but has come to realize that in most cases slot players are valued just as highly by the casinos. With a gambling budget each trip of about $1,000, Jim can play for hours each day and
still have a good chance of winning.

Slots are not like table games where a player can estimate the house advantage and play accordingly. On slot machines, a player never knows what the house advantage is. It can vary anywhere from 2 per cent to 30 per cent.

Jim made the most important move the first time he came to Caesars Palace. He joined the Emperors Club, Caesars’ club for slot players. He received his players’ club card, which he inserts in the card reader available at every Caesars Palace slot machine. That way his play is recorded by the casino, and he becomes eligible for the various levels of complimentaries the casino prorides to its better players.

When Jim arrives, he divides his $1,000 fund into four slots of $250, one for each of his four-day stay. He then divides that daily fund into five sessions of $50 each. That way, Jim is not held hostage to a brutal losing streak and will not lose his entire stake during one gambling session. Jim’s next step is to decide what machine’ to play. In most eases, dollar machines will pay back at a
greater rate than 25 cent machines. But should he be unlucky, his session stake could disappear more quickly at the dollar machines. He also knows that his Emperors Club points pile up at a much faster rate on the dollar machines. Jim feels confident, so he choose to play the dollar machines.

Being a frequent player, Jim realizes that there are several different varieties of machines, aside from the brands and themes. Multi-casino, linked, progressive-slot machines offer huge payouts that can reach as high as $10 million. While those machines are attractive, and their overall payout percentage may be comparable to other $1 machines, unless a player wins the hig jackpot, the payouts are infrequent and small Other single-casino progressive machines offer high jackpots, but the payout
percentages are again weighted towards the big payout, and smaller jackpots are less likely. So Jim opts for the machines that offer smaller top awards, but payout more frequently. That gives him a better chance to break even or possibly win a hit.

Jim’s next step is a little less than scientific, but he has used it to good success. “Scouting the slots”, as Jim calls it, allows him to take note of which slots seem to be more active. If he sees a player winning steadily, he mentally notes the type and location of machine, and later may return to that spot to try it himself.

While a “hot” machine can be explained as the computer program cycling through a payout period, Jim also knows that some machines are set at a higher payout than others. It therefore follows that certain machines permanently pay more than others, Jim has found this to be the case on many occasions.

Another tool that Jim uses is the slot attendants, the employees who work the slot section. Jim knows they work long shifts with nothing else to do but watch the slot machines. On many occasions, he has asked a slot attendant to steer him to a machine that is “due”. While it doesn’t always work, it has paid off often enough. Jim now has “friends” in the Caesars Palace slot department who understand that when Jim hits a jackpot on a machine they recommend, they get a hefty tip.

Jim finally settles in at a $1 machine, and begins to play. He always inserts the maximum number of coins because he doesn’t want to lose out on the bonus paid when the top award is hit.

After falling behind, he begins to make some small hits until he enters the “plus” column. At every session, Jim sets a goal of 20 per cent. When he wins $50, he quits. He then puts the $300 in an envelope and mails it home. He won’t be tempted, and he’ll leave Las Vegas without having lost everything.

Slot Carousels

Most casinos have sets of slot machines that are grouped by denomination called carousels. They usually have a theme that is designed to attract a certain kind of player. In Nevada, casinos advertise carousels with a higher payout, by using a slogan such as “Up to 97 per cent payout”. The disclaimer is the “up to” phrase, which means that only a few machines in the carousel may pay back as high as 97 per cent.

Carousels are sometimes linked together to calculate a progressive jackpot. These types of machines differ because the top jackpot is not a set amount, but increases as players deposit more money. For example, the top jackpot may increase by 20p for every pound played in the carousel. Every machine contributes to the jackpot, and the first machine to hit the jackpot symbols wins the award.

When the jackpot is won, the top award reverts to the minimum amount that is determined by the casino.

The Megabucks, Quartermania-style and Megalackpot slots are machines linked together between different casinos. The jackpots on these machines can reach the multi-million dollar level, much higher than individual casinos would be able to offer.

The machines are linked to a central computer by phone lines, cable, DSL or other communication systems, allowing the machines to communicate a running tab to the central jackpot controller of the portion of coins deposited in each machine which is predetermined to increment the jackpot. The jackpot is hit in the same method as a stand-alone game – when the random number generator of any machine on the network selects the top jackpot combination. Once verified, the jackpot message is sent to the central computer, which resets the jackpot to the predetermined minimum amount.

If you want to play progressive machines, deposit the maximum number of coins because you are not eligible for the top jackpot unless you do. Imagine how painful it would be to hit the winning combination and only have one coin in. Instead of winning, say, £3 million, you’d only win £3,000. It’s one of the few instances where winning would hurt.

History of Slot machines

Where did slot machines come from, and how have they achieved the remarkable popularity we see today?

Although the first slot machines were manufactured on the East Coast of the US, they didn’t start to gain acceptance until they had migrated all the way across the country to San Francisco around the end of the 19th century. In the aloons and brothels of the notorious Barbary Coast and the Tenderloin districts in America, customers won a cizar or a free drink when they played a nickel in the primitive slot machines, which at that time used playing cards as winning symbols. Few of the players understood the math of those devices, and consequently the proprietor” raked in enormous profits.

There were many slot-machine manufacturers in those days, but only one is credited with creating the “modem” slot machine that included spinning reels and cash payouts. Charles Fey, a German immigrant, invented the Liberty Bell slot machine in 1899 that stands as the template for every machine built from then to the present day.

The three-reel design was copied by many other manufacturers and, by 1905, thousands of slot machines could be found in the US, in cigar stores, barber shops, saloons and bowling alleys. The Liberty Bell was a simple machine to explain. Each reel operated independently of the other, and stopped one after
the other. Each reel had ten symbols or “stops”. As a result, there were 1,000 different combinations (10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000). Three specific symbols had to be lined up in order to win the jackpot, which meant there was only one way to win out of 1,000 possibilities.

The early machines were often rigged to prevent the big jackpots from hitting, but even this fix didn’t prevent the growing popularity of the aptly named “one-armed bandits”.

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed the factories of every slot-machine manufacturer, but, along with the rest of the city, the companies returned after the destruction with even greater force. But when preachers blamed the earthquake on God’s wrath on the sins of the city, slot machines were outlawed in San Francisco in 1909, and soon after in California and Nevada.

To skirt the law, slot-machine manufacturers disguised their machines as “gum” machines that would dispense packs of gum for jackpots. To further camouflage the machines, playing card symbols were replaced by fruit – cherries, lemons, oranges, peaches, etc. – and labels of the gum brands dispensed that evolved into the “bars” on today’s slot machines. The imposition of Prohibition in 1918 ushered in the return of illegal slot machines and the lure of banned liquor and gambling caused an explosion of slots during the Roaring Twenties. The “Golden Age” of the slot machine ended quickly when Prohibition was repealed in 1934. Except for Nevada, where gambling of all sorts was legalized in 1931, slot machines were illegal and not tolerated across the whole of the US. A mini-revival of slot machines was enjoyed after World War 2, until Congress passed the Johnson Act, which banned slot machines in all states which hadn’t legalized gambling as a whole.

Video Poker – Finding the best machines

When video poker was first introduced, few people realized that the pay tables would play such a large role in determining how much and how frequently the machine made payouts. Since serious players began to analy e the pay tables, it has become apparent that choosing the correct machine to play makes all the difference.

There are generally two types of video poker games – non- wild card games, such as Jacks-or-better and Bonus Poker, or wild card games, like Jokers Wild and Deuces Wild. While this is a general classification, there are many versions of these machines, and that’s why it is so important to understand what makes a good pay table.

To begin with, let’s concentrate on the non-wild card games. The first rule of thumb is never play a machine that does not return your investment on a high pair – a pair of Jacks to Aces. Although these machines are thankfully disappearing, it used to be common to find machines that required the players to make a two pair before returning their bet. This is an unacceptable option, and there really is no need to play these machines given the proliferation of Jacks-or-better machines.

Let’s examine a Jacks-or-better pay table. This is usually located above the screen, and it generally gives you the payouts for the number of coins inserted, usually from one to five. On most modem machines, the pay table is located on the screen itself, just above the area where the hands appear. Look at the various rewards. You’ll notice the hands correspond with the poker hands we discussed earlier. But because you’re not playing against opponents, you get paid back at a progressive rate beginning with the high pair
The area you should concentrate on is the payout for the full house and the flush. In Jacks-or-better games that do not have any bonus for four-of-a-kind hands (ie, all four-of-a-kind hands pay 25-1), the best machines are ones that pay nine coins (for one coin) on the full house, and six coins for the flush. This is called a “9/6” machine. This machine, of course, is preferable to an “8/5” machine that pays eight coins for the full house and five for the flush. Other
machines – 7/5 and 6/5 machines – are far less favourable and should be avoided unless there is no other choice.

Bonus Poker and its variants, most notably Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus, increase payouts for different four-of-a-kind hands, and have different full-house and flush “keys” to watch for. The best Bonus Poker machines
offer a payout of eight for the full house and five for the flush. The best Double Bonus Poker machines offer payments of ten for the full house and seven for the flush. In Double Double Bonus, go back to the original 9/6 pay table. Machines that don’t reach these levels have a lower payout percentage. You will note that in Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus, the two-pair hand returns the same as the high pair – a return of your initial wager. This is more than offset, however, by the huge returns for four-of-a-kind hands. The best Double Bonus pay table, for instance, returns over 100 per cent payout with optimal play.

One other factor is important when choosing the best video poker machines. Las Vegas, and other areas in Nevada, are video poker heaven, where you’ll find the best and most generous pay tables in the casinos in the Silver State. Generally, these machines cannot be found anywhere else.

Atlantic City is improving, but finding 9/6 machines requires a diligent search because very few casinos offer them. On the other hand, Atlantic City is far superior to some riverboat or dock side casino jurisdictions or Indian casinos (with the notable exception of the two Connecticut Indian casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun), for a couple of related reasons. Most of these new casinos cater to relatively new players, who usually gravitate to the slot machines because they are not intimidating, and it takes little knowledge to play them. When they do wander into the video poker area, they don’t really understand the game, so the slot executives have little reason to offer them the best payouts. Even if a player is educated, he most often has no alternatives.

In the UK, video poker is one of the most popular A WP games. Players will sit for hours in the slot arcades or in their local pubs playing these machines. But the same principles we’ve discussed in this chapter apply to thes machines. Pay attention to the pay table. Understand how a small change in one category on the pay table can affect your chances of winning. Educate yourself, and you’ll have a better chance of winning.

Texas Hold’em – After the Flop

You’ve decided that your starting hand is strong enough to continue to play, and you’ve matched the blind and any raises to see the flop. You’ve entered the area which will determine how far you go – the crucial stage in Texas hold’em.

If you’ve entered the flop with two suited cards and the flop contains two more of your suited cards you should definitely bet. While your hand currently has no value, there are two reasons why you should bet as if it did. First, you may get that fifth card for the flush, which will give you an almost certain winner. Second, by betting, you may chase some or all of the other players out of the game, allowing you to steal the pot. If you don’t improve your hand on the flop, it’s probably a good idea to fold and look ahead to the next hand. In most hold’em games, you’ll encounter a raise on the betting round following the flop. If you’re dealt something like there’s not a lot that can happen in subsequent rounds that will improve your hand sufficiently. And with two suited cards on board, you may be blocking a flush by an opponent.

Occasionally you’ll have a great starting hand, such as a high pair, but the cards that fall from the flop do you no good. Even worse, they seem to have helped one of your opponents to a hand that will crush your pair unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money to find out whether your opponent has a straight, a flush, or even worse, a straight flush, you have to bite the bullet and throwaway your pair.
Like high pairs that face a completely different situation on the flop that may aid an opponent, low pairs that aren’t helped by the flop should usually be folded. For instance, if you hold it’s going to cost you substantial bets and rai es to ee the last two cards, and the chances are that you’re not aoine to match those Sixes. Save your money and get out gracefully. When you’re drawing for a flush, and a pair how on the flop, you should continue to play, even though ‘ou may be eventually beaten by a full house.

If your opponent has a three in the hole, or another pair, he simply has to match one more card to obtain his full house. But because you’re only facing 2-1 odds, although you’ll lose to a full house, the risk is worth it. Sometimes, you may get what you’re hoping for, but by observing the betting of other players, you have to conclude that what you have probably isn’t enough to win. For instance, if you hold you’re working on a flush, which in most cases is a valuable hand. But if someone is holding a Five-Nine in the hole, there’s a good chance you’ll get beat. Or even worse, a Nine-Ten will be almost unbeatable.

Because Texas hold’em uses the five community cards, there are many combinations of cards possible, creating many different hands. That’s why it’s very important to pay attention to the community cards and the action taken by all the players to be able to discern exactly what hand your opponents are pursuing, or what hands they actually have.

The following hand will demonstrate how the game unfolds and the possible results of each hand. This is a perfect illustration of how you must be aware of all the potential hands created by the community cards, and the players’ individual hole cards.

In Texas hold’em, it is important to understand the relationship between the cards on the table and the cards in your hand. It is rare to hold a hand that couldn’t be beaten by someone else playing that hand. Sometimes when it appears you can be beaten, you may be holding a card that can block your opponents hands. Maintaining your composure, and examining every possible outcome of a particular hand, is crucial to success in hold’em.

Starting Texas Hold’em

You wouldn’t think that any game in which you only get two cards of your own would be very difficult or challenging, but until you’ve played Texas hold’em you can’t imagine its permutations and complexity. To the uninitiated, hold’em looks like seven-card stud with a few differences. In the end, however, the only thing that’s the same is that the hands are made up of the best five of seven cards. The critical differences begin with the starting hand. While this is always an important decision, it is not nearly as critical in hold’em as it is in seven-card stud. The decisions you make on the later streets make much more of a difference in your overall success in hold’em. The most important difference between seven-card stud and Texas hold’em is the use of community cards, which are dealt face up in front of the dealer. These cards all play a part in the development of each player’s hand.

Before any cards are dealt in Texas hold’em, the first player to the left of the button must post a “small blind” which is a percentage of the minimum bet. The second player to the left of the button then posts a “big blind” which is usually equal to the table minimum. After these bets are posted, the dealer distributes two cards to each player, beginning with the player who posted the small blind. Then the player to the left of the big blind has the option to fold, match the big blind, or raise. The betting then moves clockwise until all players have exercised their options. The players who posted the blinds have only to match the difference between the largest bet and the blinds to stay in the game. On subsequent betting rounds, the first active player to the left of the button initiates the betting.

After the first round of betting is completed, the dealer lays out three cards face up simultaneously in the middle of the table. This is called the “flop”. Another round of betting takes place at that time. Betting also takes place between each of the next two face-up cards, called fourth street and fifth street. Once again, these cards are all community cards that belong to all the active players.

When it’s time for the showdown, the player with the best five cards using his two downcards and the five community cards is the winner. In Texas hold’ em, there are frequently situations where players have the same hands. In this case, the pot is split.

Limits in Texas hold’em are similar to the situation mentioned in seven-card stud. The only difference would be the blinds. In a £2-£3 hold’em game, the first player would ante a small blind of £1, and the big blind would be £3.