Expert Strategy pays off in slot pot

Jun 26, 2006 3:01 AM

For those of you who have read Jean Scott’s recent Frugal Friday’s column at FrugalGambler.Biz, you already know about her recent half-million dollar victory in a slot tournament.

Jean, aka the Frugal Gambler, embraced expert strategy a long time ago after reading my father’s (Lenny) books and columns on video poker. She has been one of the better known "advantage players" through the years, focusing on playing only positive or near positive machines, and combining the payback of the machines with cashback and comps to essentially make money year after year playing video poker.

So, given all this, how is it that she wound up making her big money in a SLOT tournament? In order to understand this, I think some details need to be filled in on her victory. After all these years of begging people to kick the slot habit, could I have changed my mind? I don’t think so.

It was actually Jean’s husband, Brad, who received the invitation to play in this Slots Tournament at Caesars. With a $10,000 entry fee, this was no small roller tournament, and it was limited to 75 players. With a top prize of $500,000 and an overall prize pool of $1 million, they gave some serious thought to entering.

To make the choice easier, it was discovered that if they collected a certain amount of points on their player’s card over the weekend, they would have their $10,000 entry fee returned. It would require playing $1.35 million in coin-in to achieve this.

Now, this is well above the amount I’m comfortable gambling, but for Jean and Brad this was not so unusual. To help them make this decision, I’m sure they did some math. Since Caesars has full-pay jacks or better machines, they would on average lose 0.46% of the total coin in, or $6,210. Knowing that they would get back the $10,000 entry fee now meant that the cost (on average) to enter the tournament could be brought down to this figure. Not included in this is the possibility of other comps or bounce-back cash that could reduce the actual cost even further.

Playing $1.35 million in three days is no small feat. Jean enlisted the help of Brad and another couple and they chose to play 5-play full-pay jacks or better on a $5 machine. Jean reported that the four of them played for a total of about 30 hours, which translates into about 360 hands per hour.

Keep in mind that 5-play plays slower than single play. Four people playing a total of 30 hours over a 72 hour period sounds like a reasonable pace. The last thing anyone would want to do in this situation is play for hour after hour and come up short in the number of points earned.

By the time they were done with their 30 hours, however, they were already up more than $30,000, so the results of the slot tournament was just gravy.

From there, Brad played in the slot tournament. Obviously, there is no skill involved here and Jean said she thought his total was pretty good, but with so few players it was hard to tell just how good. To make a long story short, it turned out his total was plenty good. He took first place and the top prize of $500,000.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that winning this prize money was inevitable given Jean’s inclination to play using expert strategy. There is no doubt that this took a lot of luck, especially within the slot tournament. Being up by $30,000 after the 30 hours of playing full-pay jacks or better took some luck too. After all, it was more likely that they would LOSE $30K than win $30K on a "negative" machine.

But, in the end, Jean was playing the odds. She reduced the entry fee for the tournament to its minimum level by playing the $1.35 million of coin-in. While there were no guarantees, she knew that by playing the proper strategy on a good paying machine that the amount of money returned to her would likely be more than she would lose.

This is the goal of every gambler — to find an edge. Once she had reduced the cost of entry, she knew that although the slot tournament was essentially all luck, that the expected value of the play was still more than she was putting up.

Maybe Brad would lose and finish out of the money, but with so few players, the chances that he would win more than the entry fee was at least reasonable. Again, she played the odds. Smart gambling isn’t about sure things, it’s about trying to play with an edge when you can. In the end, this is really what expert strategy has always been about.

In any one tournament, anything can happen. But as Jean and Brad have played in many of these tournaments over the years, they know that with the mathematical edge on their side, it’s just a matter of time before they hit the big winner. Congrats to Jean and Brad!