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by: John G VP.
Q. What are the odds of getting a full house and also four of a kind in Pick \'Em Poker? I play mostly at the Soaring Eagle casino in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., and Pick \'Em Poker is their only full pay machine. You may be interested in the following: I played 16,016 hands of Pick \'Em Poker using the Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker software.

 Here are my results keeping track of four kinds, which I feel is the main hand you would need to get in order to have a winning session.

 According to your Video Poker Answer Book, the odds on getting a royal flush are extremely high. I presume the odds on a straight flush must be pretty high also. (Maybe you could give me those odds also.)

I used the correct strategy on every hand because I used the "warn" signal if I was making a mistake. I played max coins. I received seven four of a kinds in the first 5,530 hands, which I think must be above average because I didn't get my eighth four of a kind until the 16,016th hand, which means it took 10,486 hands to get the last one. I would have been 1,625 coins ahead after my seventh four of a kind but 1,170 coins down after my eighth. 

Bill, via e-mail

A. Let's start with a little explanation of Pick 'Em, which is not as common on casino floors as are five-card draw poker games. In Pick 'Em, the player sees four cards on the initial deal. On two, there is no decision - they remain part of the player's final five-card hand. The others are the top cards in two three-card stacks. The player chooses one stack to round out the hand.

There is no draw once you have your five cards. Since you're really only eliminating one possible card from a 52-card deck, odds are much closer to those on five-card stud poker than on five-card draw. Royal flushes occur an average of once per 315,818 hands, instead of the once per 40,000 or so on five-card draw games.

Straight flushes come up an average of once per 38,451 hands in Pick 'Em, making them nearly as rare as royals in draw poker.

As for four-of-a-kind hands, Bill is correct - hitting seven within 5,530 hands is far above normal frequency. On the average, Pick 'Em players hit four of a kind once per 2,361 hands. In Bill's 5,530 hands, normal expectation would be for two to three sets of quads.

Frequency of other winning hands in Pick 'Em comes to once per 424 hands for full houses; once per 314 hands for flushes; once per 197 for straights; once per 33 for three of a kind; once per 16 for two pair, and once per 4.4 for a pair of 9s or better. Overall, Pick 'Em players win about 33 percent of all hands, compared with about 40 percent in most five-card draw games.

However, payoffs on winning hands are higher in Pick 'Em than in other games. Given a five-coin wager, full-pay Pick 'Em pays 6,000 coins for a royal, 1,199 for a straight flush, 600 for four of a kind, 90 for a full house, 75 for a flush, 55 for a straight, 25 for three of a kind, 15 for two pair and 10 for a pair of 9s or better. The expected return in the long run with expert play is 99.95 percent

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Q. I was playing a Double Bonus Poker on a Multi-Poker machine, and I noticed that on the glass up top it said, ?Only highest hand paid.? This wasn?t Triple Play or Ten Play, where you have more than one hand going at a time, and those games pay on all winning hands anyway. On Multi-Poker, you choose among multiple games, but you only play one hand at a time. So, why warning only the highest hand is paid?

A. The disclaimer is about hands that include more than one winning combination. If you have a full house, your had also includes three of a kind, two pair, and sometimes pairs of Jacks or better. If you have a straight flush, your hand also includes a flush and a straight. The machine glass is telling you is that you?ll get paid only on the highest winning combination in your hand.

There used to be a game that paid off on every winning combination in a hand. It was called Multi-Pay Poker, manufactured by WMS Gaming. Once I was playing the game, demonstrating to my brother how it works, and I hit a royal flush. In addition to being paid on the royal, I was paid on a straight flush, flush and straight --- a nice little bonus in addition to the royal jackpot. A while later, a slot supervisor came out and said she?d seen in the morning?s records that I?d been paid this strange-looking jackpot, and wanted to know how it could be such an odd number on a non-progressive machine. Seems she didn?t know how Multi-Pay worked. She sat down at the machine next to me and started to play, and I talked her through it until she hit a couple of hands with multiple payoffs and satisfied her that I really was entitled to my jackpot.
Such odd payoffs don?t occur on games currently in distribution, which pay only on the highest winning combination contained in a hand.

Q. When I play video poker, why do I only get half the slot club points as when I play the slots? I get a point for every $4 I bet on a slot machine, but it takes $8 to get a point on video poker. Can you explain why? Am I better off just playing the slots?

Razguru, via e-mail

A. Most casinos nowadays require more play per point on video poker than on slot machines. That's because they're giving more money back on the games at video poker.

If you're playing quarter three-reel slots, chances are your long-term paybacks range from about 90 to 93 percent. If you're choosing the best video poker games in any jurisdictions, you should be able to do considerably better than that. Maybe your casino doesn't have quarter machines with 9-6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.5 percent with a strategy that's not difficult to learn. Maybe it doesn't even have 8-5 Jacks or Better, which returns 97.3 percent with expert play. But chances are it has 7-5 Jacks or Better (96.2), or some other game with an equivalent payback percentage, such as 6-5 Bonus Poker (96.1), or 9-6-4 Double Bonus Poker (96.8).

 Those low-level options aren't great video poker games, and many casinos have far better options. But even the "bad" video poker games bring returns 3 or 4 percent or more high than the average paybacks on quarter slot machines. The difference in slot club cash back doesn't begin to make up that difference.

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