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.

Starting Seven Card Stud

Hands are crucial in seven-card stud, and unless you understand the value of starting hands, you’ll be fleeced by the experienced players. In general, there are four categories of strength in starting hands.

1. Very Strong Hands: a hand that consists of three of the same cards is the poker player’s dream. It won’t happen often – only once in about 425 hands – but when it does, you’ve probably got a winner .
But you don’t want to win just the antes and bring in bets, so you’ve got to be able to read the other players. Will a raise on the first round of betting chase out the other players? If you believe it will, you might want to hold off your first raise until at least the next round. On the other hand, if several players have already entered the pot, a raise is unlikely to force them to fold. Don’t get too cocky, however. Three of a kind is a strong hand, but it does occasionally get beaten.

2. Strong Hands: a high pair is valuable in seven-card stud but, in most cases, it will need some improvement. It is particularly dangerous if someone else has a higher pair. If this is the case, you should discard your hand. One exception is if your kicker – your next highest card – is higher than your opponent’s kicker. Nevertheless this hand should be played aggressively and, in most cases, you’ll play it to the river.

3. Good Hands: whether and how to play small and middle pairs are sometimes the most complicated decisions in seven-card stud. The most important factor is whether the cards you need to improve your hands are available. When you need another Four, for instance, and you see the third Four in your opponent’s hand, it doesn’t leave much of a chance to find the fourth in one of your draw cards. Another factor, however, is the size of your kicker. If you have a big card along with a small or medium pair, you’ve got another avenue to go if you get lucky.

4. Possible Hands: these are hands that need help, but still have the possibility to become good hands. They include three-card flushes and three-card straights. Once again, the upcards of your opponents will give you the best clue about how viable your hands are. And once again, the size of your kicker is a consideration in determining the value of this hand.

As mentioned previously, all decisions made affect your ability to win. As the game proceeds, however, the decisions made can become very costly unless you understand the possibilities. You must be able to assess not only your opponents’ cards but also exactly how they relate to your own hand.

Several strategies are called for in specific situations. If you make the hand you’re looking for, bet it to the limit. If you pull a flush on sixth street, for instance, you should not check. Since some of your cards must be exposed, your opponent will suspect a flush, and not bet into your check.
That means you’ll lose a chance to get a double bet by every active player into the pot. If you check and give the active players a chance to get another card, there’s a chance they may draw a hand that might beat your flush, costing you the entire pot. If you’ve got it, bet it.

If your opponent draws a third suited card, or a third card to a straight, check or call. This isn’t a point to play aggressively because if you raise, your opponent will undoubtedly raise as well. It could end up costing you serious money. Another situation to beware of is when a player pairs an
exposed card on the board. This gives him a good chance to have three of a kind. Even if he doesn’t, he may have a quality hand. Unless you can beat him with a better hand, or you’re looking at a particularly good pot, retire.

Once you have decided to bet on fifth street, it rarely makes sense to fold before the river. The only exception to this rule is if you can clearly see that your hand cannot be improved enough on sixth street to beat a threatening hand held by an opponent. If you decide to go through on sixth street, do not fold on the river. If your opponent is bluffing, you have a chance to catch him at it, and you only have to expose a bluff once in a while to make it worth your while to go all the way.

Poker Goals

The obvious object of poker is to win the pot. That is easier said than done, but there are two ways to accomplish that goal. The first is to have the best hand at the table, and the second is to convince the other players that you have the best hand so they’ll drop out and leave you the pot. This is called bluffing, and is not nearly as successful as many of the experts would have you believe.

Before you begin to play, the most important thing to understand is the ranking of hands in poker. Many a game has been lost when a player – usually a beginner, but sometimes an experienced player – forgets which hand beats which. The most frequently confused hands are the full house, flush and straight. Commit to memory the chart in this chapter before even considering venturing out into the cruel world of casino poker.

Most poker games, including seven-card stud and Texas hold’em, use the rankings shown overleaf, which are the best hands, using five cards.

The Language of Dice

Casinos have their own language, like any specialized occupation or sideline, but no game has a more colourful shouting slang than craps. Much of this heritage has been lost as the legendary craps players head for the big game in the sky, but novice players would do well to review expressions they just might hear while playing their initial dice games.

The language of craps can be divided into two categories: colourful expressions craps shooters say to encourage the dice to roll their way, and the phrases dealers and stick men use to accept a bet or announce a roll of the dice.

The point numbers have all been given names, and with the exception of the five and ten, all have home towns that rhyme with their names.

In America, for example, the four is often called Little Joe from Kokomo, while the five is sometimes known as Little Phoebe. She has no hometown, but her cousin, Fiver, Fiver, Racetrack Driver, at least has a job. Our best friends, the six and eight are Southerners, known as Sixie from Dixie and Eighter from Decatur. Perhaps the nine was named after a former Rose Bowl Queen, Nina from Pasadena.

The ten usually goes by the name of Big Dick, but his hardway cousin, the five-five, is sometimes referred to as Hard Ten, Ladies’ Best Friend.

The dots on the dice have spawned a variety of other names. Snake’s Eyes is a pair of aces. Old-timers refer to the ace-deuce as Cross-Eyes, while Chopsticks and Rabbit Tracks are favoured nicknames for the hard six. Windows or the Square Pair is the hard eight. Twelves are usually known as Boxcars, but on occasion are called Sergeant’s Stripes, a reflection of the barracks games where many players cut
their craps teeth. The bets you can make have some distinctive names. The Buffalo Bet, for example, means that you put £1 each on all the hardways and £1 on the “any-seven”. A bet you’ll still hear a lot at the table is “C and E” which means “any craps” and “eleven”. On the odd rare occasion, you will hear this called “Chester and Esther”. Probably the most common word in craps today is “Yo!”, meaning Eleven. Legend has it that some long-forgotten dealer pronounced his elevens “yo-leven”. If you want to use it at the craps table, be sure to shout it with feeling.

Craps – The Don’t come bet

Once again, the don’t-come bet is the opposite of the come. It is made after a point is established and is independent of the don’t-pass bets. The same rules apply to the don’t-come bet as to the don’t-pass bet on the come-out roll. If a point number is rolled, the dealer moves the bet to an area above the place bet boxes, and this bet wins if a seven is rolled before the point number is repeated. You may lay odds on the don’t-come bets the same way you do on come bets. The amount and ration of the odds bets are the same as those of the odds on a don’t-pass bet.

A don’t-come gambler is doing exactly the opposite of the come gambler. After a point is establlihed, he clearly has the advantage.

Doing the don’ts – Craps

Most craps players like to bet the pass line. But there’s another bet at the table that offers the same edge, but is shunned by the vast majority. It is a bet on the don’t-pass line, sometimes called the “wrong” bettor. Some long-time observers of the game say only one in ten craps players bets the don’t-pass line and the other bets that go along with it, despite the fact that it offers the same low 1.4 per cent house advantage as the pass line.

Why is that? The don’t-pass line can be one of the most exciting bets and, after the come-out roll, the advantage is clearly in favour of the don’t better.

There are a couple of major reasons why the don’t-pass bettor is a rare bird in the casino. The main reason is that if you’re betting the don’t, you’re betting against the shooter.

While this obviously doesn’t affect how he rolls the dice, it nonetheless is taken as an affront. It takes a special kind of person to stand up to the disdain of the shooter, and the players who are betting with him.

Players who bet the don’t are often accused of betting “with” the house by other bettors. This is obviously ridiculous. The casino pays off both bets, and if everyone at the table were betting the don’t the casino would have to payoff the entire table just the same as if they’re betting the -do”. Because most players bet the “do”, however, players assume that the house must be rooting for the don’t, hence the mistaken idea that don’t bettors are allied with the casino.

The second reason people rarely bet the don’t is that it is a grind. You rarely make the big score by betting the don’t. You are playing in the hope of a choppy table – a pass, a miss, a miss, a pass, and a few more misses. A pass player looking for the hot streak – a long string of passes – while the don’t player will only win when the shooter rolls a consistent number of sevens.

It’s not difficult to understand the don’t -pass line. It’s the exact opposite of the pass line. All the rules are reversed.

The don’t bettor. 
•    Loses if the come-out roll is seven or 11.
•    Wins if two or three is thrown on the come-out roll.
•    Since the 12 is “barred” on the come-out roll, the wrong bettor pushes. There is no decision either way for the
don’t bettor.
•    If a number is rolled on the come-out roll – four, five, six, eight, nine or ten – the don’t gambler will win if the shooter rolls a seven before that number repeats.

The key is the seven on the come-out roll. If a point is established, the odds are clearly in favour of the don’t bettor. After a point is established, the don’t bettor has twice as many chances to win than a four or a ten. The don’t gambler will win three times to every two for the five and the nine, and six times for every five for the six and the eight. It won’t surprise you then to understand why the casino will let you take down your don’t bet when it insists that pass-line bets remain in action until it is resolved. When you have the advantage, the casino would love to get off the hook.

Craps – The Basics Part2

Here’s the secret of the simplicity of craps. On the first roll of the dice – the “come-out roll” – the stickman will slide five dice to a player – the “shooter” – who will then select two dice. He’ll throw the dice to the opposite end of the table. The dice must hit the wall of the table to be considered a legal roll.

The shooter tries to establish a number – four, five, six, eight, nine or ten. The dealers will then take a “puck” that says “off’ on one side and “on” on the other side, and place it on the number rolled, “on” side up – it is always “off’ on the come-out roll. The shooter will then attempt to roll that number again before he rolls a seven. And that’s the entire
objective of craps.

Other things can happen. Normally, the shooter places a bet on the “pass line”. When they roll that number again before rolling a seven, they have made one “pass”. When you bet on the pass line, the “front line”, you’re betting on the “dos” or you’re betting “right”. Most players bet the pass line because it means they are going “with” the shooter, hoping that he gets a pair of hot dice and rolls all night. When you’re betting on the “don’t-pass” line, you’re betting on the “don’ts” or you’re betting the “wrong” way. The players who don’t-pass line believe that the odds of rolling a seven will eventually catch up to the shooter, and they want
to profit from those odds.

If the shooter rolls a seven or 11 on the come-out roll, he wins. The stickman may say, “Winner, front-line winner, pay the dos, take the don’ts.” The don’t bettors lose their money, and the shooter continues to roll.

If the shooter rolls a two, three or 12 on the come-out roll, he loses. The stickman will most likely say, “Two (three or 12). Craps, line away. Take the dos. Pay the don’ts.” 12 is barred. (If the 12 shows, the pass line bettors lose, and the don’t pass bettors don’t win or lose, they get a push.) If the shooter “craps out” – rolls his point and then rolls a seven – he passes the dice to the next shooter.

When the shooter establishes a point, say a six, the stickman will announce “Six, mark the six.” The shooter will then have a chance to roll again to try to make a six before he rolls a seven. If he makes his point, he gets a chance to establish another point. He will continue to roll until he rolls a seven, when he’ll “seven out”.

Craps – The Basics Part1

You don’t just walk up to a craps table and begin to play. That is the main reason that craps is a “dying” game in the casinos. Where it once dominated the American casino, craps is now disappearing as the players who learned the game in the back alleys of the major cities, or the barracks of the armed services, get older and disappear. But for those
who want the best action in a casino, craps is the only game to play.

Let’s start by looking at the craps layout. Confusing, right? It’s true that there are dozens of bets available to the craps player, but intelligent players will ignore the majority of those bets and concentrate on those that give you the best chance to win. So, for the moment, we’re going to forget about the pie-in-the-sky bets and concentrate on how to get started.

Don’t walk up to an empty game to play, because although the odds are no different at an empty table than at a full table, you won’t get the flavour of the game without at least a few players. But, in contrast, don’t try to get into a game that is jam-packed with players with a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ because no one will want a novice who might slow
up the rolls of the “hot” dice.

Pick a calm game with a few players and plenty of room to spread out. Tell the dealer you’re just getting started. Most dealers who aren’t too busy will take the time to walk the novice through the game, explain the different bets and the procedures. They understand that their livelihood depends on developing the new players.

A craps table employs three dealers at a time: two stand behind the table to accept bets and to either pay winners or take from losers. On the other side, in the middle of the table, is the stickman who handles the dice with a “stick” controls the speed of the game. Sitting down opposite
the stickman is the boxman who acts like a supervisor in blackjack, approving all bets and large payouts.