Follow your instincts

May 21, 2007 3:46 AM

Last week, I discussed how I was on my way to a gaming conference in Minnesota. Being that I was heading to an unfamiliar casino, I did some research ahead of time to find out what type of paybacks they had there. My research showed that they played video poker with paytables very much below optimal, and that they played rather liberal $3 blackjack. My conclusion was that if this was the case when I got there, I might have to stick to blackjack.

I should have listened to myself. I enjoy playing video poker, so I decided to sit down at a short-pay Double Double Bonus Poker machine. The payback was about 97% if I were playing max-coin, which I did not do. They had only quarter machines (or higher), so I started with a single coin and occasionally upped the wager.

In the end, I was playing a machine that was paying about 95.5% by doing this. It really wasn’t a big surprise when I went through about $60 in 20-30 minutes. Rather frustrated, I went over to the blackjack tables. Although their website said they had $3 blackjack, it turns out that this is the case one day per week, during the daytime only.

So, instead, I played $5 blackjack. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they play a relatively standard game, but with a large shoe of 8 decks. Some of the tables don’t allow Surrender and they hit soft 17s, but they do pay 3-to-2 on blackjack and allow doubling down after splits. On the whole, I figured the payback was 99.25%-99.5%, which made it MUCH better than the video poker.

I wound up playing blackjack for about an hour and won back $20 of my lost $60. With a little better luck, I could have done far better. Most of my table was winning significant dollars, but I just wasn’t getting the cards. Of course, winning $20 in an hour is far better than losing $60 in half that time. But the story doesn’t end here.

The second night, I decided to go back for more punishment. Again, I sat down at a Double Double Bonus video poker. The good news for this night was that the machines were not nearly as cold. That is not to say that they were red hot either, but at least I got some play out of my money. My $20 lasted me about 45 minutes this time, which at least seemed to be about how long it should have given how bad the payouts were.

At this point, the little voice inside me said to not bother throwing in another $20 and just go to the blackjack tables early this time. This time I listened. Again, I played for an hour, but this time, I enjoyed the same good cards everyone else did. I wound up winning a total of about $80, leaving me as an overall winner for my trip.

Broken down by game, I lost $80 playing video poker and won $100 playing blackjack. Or, put another way, I lost $80 playing the 95% game while winning $100 playing the 99+% game.

I don’t put a lot of stock into short term results, which is why you don’t normally see me writing about trip reports. A total of 3-4 hours of play is not very useful in determining long-term results. At the same time, it is not totally irrelevant either.

The likelihood of winning over a three hour period on a 95.5% video poker machine is very small. The likelihood of winning over a three hour period on a 99.5% blackjack table is about 40-45%.

Admittedly, very few of these wins will be as large as the one I pulled off (given a $5 wager) over this amount of time. But, as always, it comes down to playing the odds. The odds were far more in my favor by sticking to blackjack in this particular case. If only I listened to myself earlier!