John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. I’ve been trying to improve my video poker strategy by using software that warns me when I make a mistake.

I started with Jacks or Better and thought I had figured out straights to where I was drawing when I had 5-6-7-8 and another low card but not when I had 5-6-7-9. Outside straights vs. inside straights, right?

Then I started practicing Double Double Bonus, which is the game I play most. When I discarded 5-6-7-9, it flashed that I was making a mistake.

OK, I can deal with drawing to inside straights in Double Double Bonus but not in Jacks or Better, but can you tell me why the draw is the right play in one and not the other?

A. The reason is in the pay table. Jacks or Better pays 2-for-1 on two pairs and Double Double Bonus Poker pays only 1-for-1.

You may think two pairs are not at issue, but they are a possibility if you discard an entire hand and redraw. The lower payoff on two pairs reduces the value of a redraw in Double Double Bonus.

Before digging a little deeper, let’s pause for a little straight talk. A hand such as 5-6-7-8 is open on both ends. You could complete the straight by drawing any of the four 4s or any of the four 9s. With 5-6-7-9, the draw is on the inside and you can complete the straight only with one of the four 8s.

So there are eight ways to complete an open-ended straight and only four ways to complete and inside straight. That makes 5-6-7-8 a more valuable start than 5-6-7-9.

Now let’s compare the possibilities in 9-6 Jacks or Better and 9-6 Double Double Bonus.

Assume a starting hand of 2-5-6-7-9. Your strategy options are to either discard the 2 and hope to draw an 8 or to discard the entire hand.

If you discard the 2, there are 47 possible draws and four of them complete the straight. On those four, you get a 4-for-1 payoff on either game. Per five coins wagered, the average return on the hand is 1.70 coins regardless of which game you’re playing.

If you discard all five, there are 1,533,939 possible draws that run the gamut from no-pay hands to royal flushes and everything in between. Four of a kind payoffs will be higher on Double Double Bonus, but there are only 344 of those draws are quads.

The numbers are much bigger on two pairs, with 71,802 occurrences. On each of those, with a five-coin bet, you get five more coins on Jacks or Better than on Double Double Bonus.

The average return when you discard all five cards is 1.80 coins in Jacks or Better and only 1.63 in Double Double Bonus.

So a redraw is worth more than drawing to the inside straight in Jacks or Better, but less than the inside straight draw in Double Double Bonus.

Q. This isn’t a strategy question, but I’m curious. How did dice come to be called bones, as in “rolling the bones”?

A. The earliest known dice were made of baked clay about 3,000 years ago in Iraq, but there have been times when dice have been made of bones. Archeologists have found dice made from sheep’s knuckles at ancient Roman sites.

Another dice oddity from Roman times: A die was found that had four spots on two different sides. It would seem finagling on the odds of the game dates back more than 2,000 years.