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Ask the Wizard #16

Congratulations on a great site. While I usually play blackjack in Atlantic City, basic strategy only, sometime I like to try my luck on Caribbean Stud Poker. I know about the odds in AC (from reading your articles in Casino Player magazine), but with different payoffs on some of the online casinos, are the odds any better or worse online?

S from Silver Spring, Maryland

Good question. I checked out four casinos using Microgaming, Starnet, Cryptologic, and BossMedia software. Starnet uses the conventional rules. Cryptologic and BossMedia each pay 200 to 1 on a royal flush as opposed to 100 to 1. Microgaming has the following paytable.

Microgaming Paytable

Hand Payoff
Royal flush 999 to 1
Straight flush 199 to 1
Four of a kind 99 to 1
Full house 14 to 1
Flush 9 to 1
Straight 5 to 1
Three of a kind 3 to 1
Two pair 1 to 1
Pair 1 to 1
Ace/King 1 to 1

Note that Microgaming pays even money only on a two pair, but is more generous on everything higher. The following table displays the house edge for each kind of software assuming optimal strategy. Note that Starnet calls the game Cyberstud Poker and the rest call it Caribbean Poker.

House Edge For Each Kind of Software Assuming Optimal Strategy

Software House Edge
Microgaming 5.01%
Cryptologic 5.21%
BossMedia 5.21%
Starnet 5.22%

Great site. Do programs like Microgaming "learn" to defeat the player? I was under the assumption that the answer is no until I played the don't pass in craps. Out of 39 bets resolved, 28 were Pass, 10 were Don't Pass and 1 was a 12 on the come out roll. I realize that this can happen, but it made me wonder. I had read elsewhere that the software can "learn". I didn't really believe it. No, I didn't lose a lot, my betting unit is $1. I'm "testing" online for myself.

Rosalyn from South San Francisco, California

No, programs like Microgaming do not learn to defeat the players. Reputable companies like Microgaming do not need to play any dirty tricks to make money but realize that there is more money to be made long-term by offering a fair game. Even if they did want to cheat the players, there would be much easier ways to do so. However, there is a lot to be said about computer teaching themselves to play. I'm not an expert, but I do know that computers can learn from past experience in games like backgammon and chess to improve their play. Finding the Edge (Edited by Olaf Vancura, Judy A. Collins, and William R. Eadington) has a paper titled A Computer Teaches Itself to Play Blackjack by Olaf Vancura, if you are interested in learning more about the topic.

Considering that a slot machines random number generator is fixed to supply the selected numbers to the virtual reel stops, and in turn are tied to the actual reel stops, is it not possible for the casino computers to swap non-winning stops to win stops, thus increasing the win percentage. This would maybe explain why all machines on some carosels seem to get hot at the same time, then all revert back after drawing a croud of players...just wondering...your site is a great information site...thanks

"Anonymous" .

No, this does not happen. How much the slot machine pays is determined by a microchip called an EPROM, which is generally left alone. To change it, at least in Nevada, the casino would have to get permission from the gaming authorities. Even without permission, they would have to open up each machine and change the EPROM by hand.

I speculate that the reason for what you observed about all the machines on a carousel getting hot at the same time is due partially to chance, partially selective memory, and partially to a snowball effect where players will gravitate to an area where they hear a lot of winning and simply add to the number of wins because of more players.