John Grochowski

John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. Do you believe in luck? When you win, have you been skillful or lucky?

A. All games of chance have elements of luck. If you draw a royal flush at video poker, you’ve been lucky. If you have your chips on the pass line and the craps shooter makes six passes in a row, you’ve been lucky. If you’re dealt a blackjack – a 1 in 21 shot – you’ve been lucky.

On the other hand, if you make 20 video poker bets in a row without seeing so much as a high pair, or have five shooters in a row go point-7 out, or go 50 hands in a row without a blackjack, you’ve been unlucky.

If you play enough, you’ll see plenty on both sides of the luck ledger. All are within the normal probability, and given enough time, all will fade into statistical insignificance.

Skill is also a factor in many casinos games. Knowing the strategy for your specific video poker game, playing basic strategy or advanced strategies such as counting cards in blackjack, or making the best bets and staying away from high house edge wagers in craps give you the best chance for probability to come down on your side.

Luck is always a factor, and often the dominant factor in short sessions. Over longer times, you’ll experience lucky, unlucky and average results, and the odds of the game will drive you toward expected outcomes.

Q. Can you tell me about a version of Joker’s Wild video poker I just found? Instead of the natural royal flush being the big payoff, it pays 4,000 on five of a kind, while royals are only 500.

A. Joker’s Wild, with a pay table starting with two pairs and the big payoff on five of a kind has been around at least since the early 1990s. In its 1990s heyday, it was one of the more popular games in Atlantic City, but never really made an impact in Nevada or any of the newer gaming markets.

The attraction is putting the top jackpot on hands that are more common than natural royal flushes. Given expert play in this version, you’ll see five of a kind an average of once per 10,994 hands, compared to once per 63,888 for a natural royal flush.

In Joker’s Wild, two pair versions with the top jackpot on natural royals, expert strategy is designed to chase royals more often. On a version that pays 5,000 for a five-coin bet on natural royals, 500 on five of a kind, 250 each on wild royals or straight flushes, then 100-50-30-25-10-5 for four of a kind on down, expert strategy brings natural royals an average of once per 43,617 hands.

Even at that level, you win the top jackpot nearly four times as often when it comes on five of a kind rather than on natural royals.

There are tradeoffs. The 40-25-20 pay table per five coins wagered full houses, flushes and straights mean the five of a kind version gives you less return more common hands than the 50-30-25 on the natural royal version listed above.

That shows up in the overall payback percentage. The five of a kind version returns 97.19 percent with expert play, while the natural royal version above returns 99.92 percent. There are lower paying versions of the natural royal game. I’ve seem pay tables on Joker’s Wild, two pair, that return 99.12, 98.59 and 97.99 percent, and there are others.

The five of a kind version is for jackpot hunters willing to accept a lower overall return for an enhanced opportunity to win the top payoff.

Sign up to receive the area's top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.