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Ask the Wizard #101

Its not exactly gambling but I always wondered on the Price is Right gameshow what the best strategy to take when spinning the big wheel when you are not last to spin. Assuming you can’t control your spin (completely random outcome), 5 cent increments from $.05 to $1.00, you get one spin or two spins added together, you can’t go over 1.00. At what amount should you not take your second spin so that you can have the best chance to beat the player who spins after you?

Tony C.

The first player should spin again if his first spin is 65 cents or less.

If any of the following conditions are true the second player should spin again.

  1. His score is less than the first player’s score.
  2. His score is 50 cents or less.
  3. His score is 65 cents or less and he has tied the first player.
The third player should spin again if his score is less than the current highest score. If his first spin ties the highest score he should spin again if the tie is at 45 cents or less. If the tie is at 50 cents he has an equal chance of winning by spinning again or not. If the there is a three way tie after the first spin of the third player he should spin again if the tie is at 65 cents or less.

The Fremont in downtown Vegas offers a video poker game called Treasure Chest. It’s basically Jacks or Better with the full pay table with one change - if you bet max coins and get four of a kind, you are taken to a bonus screen where you can choose one of five treasure chests. The chests contain 120, 160, 320, 640, or 1,000 coins. How does this affect the theoretical return and does it change the optimum strategy? From playing, I can say most of the time you get 120 coins, and sometimes 160. Higher values seem rarer. I suspect the chest value depends on how fast you select the chest after getting to that screen.

Anonymous

I’ve seen this game. As I understand gaming regulations it is permissible to have the lower prizes more likely than the higher prizes. The best you can do is to estimate the average win of a four of a kind and then run that through a program like this one to get at the optimal return. To get a strategy you can use Video Poker Strategy Master or Frugal Video Poker by entering any pay table.

Hi Mike, Just to lighten the mood a little, I remember watching you play roulette on a special Vegas Challenge show a while ago. Obviously you knew your expected value wouldn’t change regardless of strategy. I remember you playing only one number, but I forgot if you changed after a win. Not sure what I’d do in your situation, but out of curiosity, did you play the single number as opposed to an outside bet like red/black to maximize the variance? That way if you get "lucky" you’ll be ahead by the most? Anyway, I enjoyed the fact that you played a really conservative and boring strategy.

Anonymous

You accessed my strategy quite well. I intended to bet the minimum through most of the hour to avoid the house edge grinding me down. The producer was not happy with such a boring strategy so I tried to act more excited than I normally would be. The reason I picked a single number as opposed to an even money bet is that I wanted volatility. I knew if I ended close to my starting point of $10,000 I would probably lose. So I wanted a bigger shot at getting ahead. I stuck with 23 the entire time, although towards the end I added 5 as well. I’m Glad you liked the show.

I have heard it is illegal for a slot machine to deliberately have too many near misses. Can you tell me what you know about this?

Anonymous

To answer your question I asked a well connected gaming consultant and he said Nevada regulations state that one stop on a reel can not be weighted more than six times more than either stop next to it. So if a jackpot symbol were weighted by 1 and both bordering blanks were weighted by 6 then there would be 12 near misses for every one time the reel stopped on the jackpot symbol. This would be the maximum allowed near miss effect. My own results detailed in my slot machine appendix 1 back up this theory well. The red double seven was the highest paying symbol and I saw the blanks above and below it about 5 to 6 times as often:

Double Strike Actual Results

Symbol Reel 1 Reel 2 Reel 3
Blank 250 248 291
Double red 7 52 51 55
Blank 259 292 262

The same source said that New Jersey and Mississippi likely have adopted the Nevada regulations.

I looked up and down on your blackjack section and can’t find out "how" to surrender. I know what it is and all, but do I just grab half my chips and that’s that?

Anonymous

No, you never touch your chips once the bet has been made until the hand is over. The signal to surrender is to use your index finger and pretend to draw a line along the blackjack table, just behind your bet from left to right. I didn’t even know this until a friend from Europe did just that recently at the table. It is just as good to simply say "surrender."

I think I read somewhere that if someone could come up with a system that had even only 1% player edge, you could easily turn 1000$ into 1000000$. But some video pokers have an 0.77% player edge, why aren’t you turning it into like $770,000 or something? Is it because you can’t bet more than 5$ at a time and it would take WAY too much time? Thx. And oh, I said it before, and I’ll say it again, LOVE your site!!

Anonymous

Thanks! Yes, I said before that if I had a betting system that had just a 1% advantage I could turn $1000 into $1,000,000 by simply grinding out that edge. This would also be possible in video poker but it would take much longer because the 0.77% advantage game (full pay deuces wild) can only be found in the quarter level. Assuming you can play 1000 hands per hour (a speed few can attain) and played perfectly that would result in an average income of $9.63 per hour. To reach $1,000,000 would require working 11.86 years non-stop. $1000 would also be very undercapitalized to play quarter video poker, so the risk of ruin would be quite high. It would be faster to reach the $1,000,000 with the same edge in a table game because the player can bet more.