The subject of how to play in a tournament has received many different opinions. From a straight mathematical standpoint the best work, in my opinion, is Stanford Wong’s book “Casino Tournament Strategy,” which includes a chapter on keno. His methods, providing you have the necessary bankroll, will give you the best chance to come out a winner. More than worth the cost!
This column will use an approach that will give you the best chance of going home with a decent amount of your buy-in while still having a chance to win it all. One should not play in a tournament unless they can reasonably afford to lose the entire buy-in, usually about $500.
However, there are ways to play (and give yourself a chance to win) to give you a very solid chance of going home with at least $100 of the $500, even if your luck is terrible.
The advantage of tournament play is you get freebies to compensate for part of your expected losses. Usually you will get two or three free nights, some food vouchers and a small gift worth about $25. If you had to pay for these things it could easily add up to $250-$350, depending on where you stay, thus all is not lost.
I strongly believe the best ticket for this purpose is a 6-spot played at the tournament minimum ticket rate per game, usually from $3 to $5.
Let’s see how this pans out. I will use The Orleans as they have a keno tournament coming up February 18-20. They also have special rates for those playing $5 and up.
The $5 “SS” (mark that on the ticket) pays $5 for 3-of-6, $30 for 4-of-6, $450 for 5-of-6 and $10,000 for 6-of-6. Now, hitting 6-of-6 may or may not win the tournament, but you will be highly likely to come in the money and be in the top few in any event, thus getting prize money.
Since the common buy-in is $500 you will be playing 100 games at $5 per game. The odds you are facing are as follows: 3-of-six, 7-to-1; 4-of-6, 34-to-1; 5-of-6, 322-to-1 and 6-of-6, 7752-to-1.
What does this mean for a single trip? To find out divide the odds into 100 after adding 1 (to allow for the one time you hit it). Thus, for 3-of-6 we have 100/(7+1) = 100/8 = 12.5.
What does that mean in actual play? It means expect you will “win” $5 about 12.5 times. (Actually, your money back, but once you buy in consider that money gone until you win.) This give you a return of about $60 to $65 (12 vs. 13 hits).
Keep in mind that in a series of 100 games you might hit 3-of-6 only 7 or 8 times or 15 or 16 times, but rarely will you get less than 7 or 8 or more than 15 or 16.
Let’s look at 4-of-6. We have 100/(34+1) = 100/35 = 20/7, which is just short of about 1 game in 3 you will get back $30. You may only hit it twice, getting back $60, or four times, getting back $120.
Let’s look at 5-of-6. Here we have 100/(322+1) = 100/323, which means it will take you about three tournament buy-ins, on average, to get $450 back in one 5-of-6 hit. Thus, if you play three tournaments a year, one time you are likely to get 5-of-6 and, with the obvious smaller pays, go home with a small profit on top of your free room, meals and gift.
But you may not hit 5-of-6 at all in three tournaments or even in four or five tournaments, or you might hit it two or three times.
Now let’s look at the BIG 6-of-6 hit. You have 100/(7752+1) = 100/7753, meaning on average you would have to play in about 78 tournaments (or 78 buy-ins). Based on three buy-ins a year, it would take you about 26 years to average this type of hit.
Of course, there are methods of play (discussed in other columns) to increase this frequency, but at added cost and a greater possibility of losing more of your buy-in. For many this adds a lot more fun to the tourney, but today’s column is for those who want to make sure they go home with at least a portion of their buy-in, whether they win the tournament or not.
Now, how does all of the above work for the casual tournament player? Since the odds of 5-of-6 or 6-of-6 indicate you are unlikely to hit either catch in 100 games I am eliminating them from consideration, but keep in mind, you might! Thus, based on the probabilities of the hits and their frequency, the median hit would be twelve 3-of-6’s and three 4-of-6’s for an average return of 12($5) + 3($30) = $60 + $90 = $150. Thus figure to get back about $150 most times.
Three days in Vegas with room and meals costs you about $350-$450 (extra $100 for meals not comped). You have to decide if this is worth it to you or not.
Similar analyses can be done for the 4- and 5-spot; even the 7 spot. Are you in the tournament to have three days of a good time with reasonable expense or do you want to go for it all?
The above analysis does not consider other expenses, such as other gambling games, entertainment, or transportation; just keno play.
Of course you may not want to limit yourself to keno. There are many excellent books on how to play the other games (as well as excellent other columns in this newspaper) with less than a 1% house advantage. Most all of the casinos that run the better keno tournaments have video poker in the 99% range (not all machines, often just a few) Read up on how to recognize which ones return 99% or more with proper play, and by all means LEARN proper play.
On average, your regular gambling on these machines will be close to break even and often slot club freebies from this will put you close to actual break even in the long run.
If blackjack pays 3-to-2 (avoid the 6 to 5 games at all costs) and you know proper basic strategy, the house edge is less than 1%. If you play craps and bet only the pass, don’t pass, come and don’t come with the proper odds behind your bet you are also giving the casino less than 1%.
Thus you can play other games and not have a disaster, provided you play at a level consistent with your bankroll. Remember the famous saying, “Bet with your head, not over it!”
If the tournament runs through a Tuesday, stop at the sports book (in many Vegas casinos) and pick up a complimentary copy of GamingToday. While at it, consider their excellent subscription offers for online, printed or both. The newspaper, if the gaming advice columns are read and followed, will save you more than your subscription price in one typical casino visit.
If the above has pegged your interest in tournaments, contact the Keno Department at The Cal, The D, Excalibur, Fremont, The Orleans, or Sam’s Town to get all the pertinent details.
Check also with the Station Casinos, though they usually run mini-tournaments of a few hours rather than the multi-day tournaments. If in Reno, The Atlantis is the place to go for keno tournaments, but also check out offers from Peppermill, Rail City and The Nugget.
Good luck, and may all your numbers come up!
Pesach Kremen is a former UNLV Masters Gaming student, has won and placed in multiple local keno tournaments, and has written several academic papers on Keno. You can reach him at [email protected].