LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY FIRST
VIDEO POKER TOURNAMENT
By Stu D. Hoss
Stu D. Hoss is a recently retired Air Force aviator. He has visited and served in over 40 countries including flying combat missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa. Most of it under the guise of keeping the world safe for democracy, better blackjack, and for a few other personal reasons. He has been playing blackjack for almost 20 years and cut his teeth on the tables of South Lake Tahoe during flight training in Northern CA. Mr. Hoss uses basic strategy and the HiLo count method to give himself a chance against the house edge. He currently resides in NV and is weighing his options for a second career.
On a surprisingly mild late spring afternoon in the Vegas Valley, I sauntered to the mailbox expecting to find the usual junk mail and a couple of bills, which I did. Amongst all that was a mailer from the Four Queens Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas. Experience has taught me that casino mail is never a bad thing. I quickly opened the item to find this on the first page: "Come join us for a Sizzlin’ tournament! The Four Queens invites you to our $12,000 Sizzlin’ Video Poker Tournament June 17-19, 2011 where you can cool down but the games stay HOT!"
Needless to say, I grabbed my calendar to check the dates and reached for the telephone. A quick call to reservations and I was in. I’d be playing my first video poker tournament! The following is the story of that tournament and some things to consider when playing a video poker tourney, or any tournament for that matter.
The first thing to think about when playing any tournament is its equity. Simply put, this means are all entry fees returned in prizes? If so, you have a 100 percent equity tournament. If the equity is less than 100 percent, you have a negative equity tournament and you might be best served to reconsider your participation. The Sizzlin’ Summer Tournament made this calculation easy. The tournament was an invite-only offer from casino marketing, according to the casino’s Special Events Manager. There was no entry fee and the invite included three free nights in the hotel, a free breakfast buffet during registration on Saturday, and a special gift. The gift turned out to be a decorative sun-face, suitable for hanging, I guess. Mine is still in the box, but I did bring it home!
Players participated in two sessions, one on Saturday, and one on Sunday. Each session was 10 minutes and the game was 10/7 Double Bonus (DB). A full house pays 10 credits, while a flush pays 7 credits, hence the 10/7 portion of the moniker. The double bonus occurs when you hit quad 2s, 3s, and 4s, which pay 400 credits (bonus!) for a maximum five-coin bet. The big bonus is four Aces, which pays 800 credits (double bonus!) for a max bet. All other four-of-a-kinds pay 250 credits for a max bet. The downside is that two pair only returns your original wager. There were 12 machines available each round and four rounds per hour. Before my first round, I asked Linda, the Special Events Manager who served as the tournament director, how many participants she had registered. I confirmed the number of entrants when the final rankings were posted Sunday evening. The total was 191. This meant I had about a 7.8 percent chance of finishing in the green (15/191) just by entering and showing up.
The prize breakdown for this tournament was as follows: 1st Place $4,500, 2nd Place $1,250, 3rd Place $1,000, 4th Place $775, 5th Place $550, 6th Place $500, 7th Place $400, 8th Place $350, 9th Place $300, 10th Place $175, 11th Place $150, 12th Place $125, 13th Place $100, 14th Place $75, and 15th Place $50. There was an additional incentive to make both your sessions. The second day, two random video poker machine numbers were chosen each round for $50 in cash. Tournament staff went around to each player and the player picked a number from a cloth sack. There were two winners in each sack for a 2 in 12 (16.7 percent) chance of winning $50. Somehow, I failed to pick one of the lucky numbers, but I liked the odds for just showing up and playing a tourney that didn’t cost me anything.
There are two general formats in video poker tournaments: those that you play for a specified period (called "Speed Tournaments"), and those where you play for a fixed amount of credits over a fixed period. The Four Queens tournament was a Speed Tournament. I prefer that format and felt confident it would increase my odds of finishing in the money. I generally average between 700 and 800 hands per hour in normal play. For 10 minutes, I figured I could ramp up the pace with minimal strategy errors. The extra hands I would play compared to other tournament players could make a big difference.
I had learned 10/7 DB years ago with the aide of strategy cards and computer training software. I still carry a strategy card and practice before a long weekend where I know I’ll be playing several thousand dollars in coin-in at this game. In my opinion, it is a complicated game to play at a high level and has a high degree of variance. However, with perfect play the game yields a 100.17 percent return. If you can find 10/7 DB in a casino that offers good comps, cash back, and marketing offers (rare these days), then it is worth your time to learn to play it properly. For me, the Four Queens is one of those casinos. Other casinos in the Las Vegas market require four times the coin-in to earn points, which limits my play of this game. For the record, Aliante Station in North Las Vegas fits this later category.
Breakfast and registration began Saturday morning at 8 AM. I have found most players tend to register immediately. I learned from a slot tournament experience years ago that my time was better spent in bed than waiting in a long line to register. I showed up at 9:25 AM with no one in line, the day’s baseball numbers from the sports book in hand, registered, picked up a copy of the tourney rules, and studied them over a leisurely breakfast. Round times are the same for each player both days. They were first come, first serve. By arriving later, I drew the next to last round. I like to play as late as possible so I have an idea what scores players who competed in earlier rounds have already achieved. Unfortunately, accurate information was difficult to find. I asked the tournament director if first round scores would be posted Saturday night. Linda told me that their software doesn’t allow them to tabulate first round results and only the final scores are posted when all rounds are complete. All the scores are input into a laptop computer by hand and tallied using a basic spreadsheet. I question the "software can’t do one-day totals" answer. I am thinking an 11-year old kid could figure out a way to fix that. However, for a free tourney with good comps, I wasn’t about to rock the boat because I wanted to be invited back.
The first round of play began at 9:30 AM. I wasn’t up until 1 PM. I enjoyed a good breakfast spread, studied the rules, and formulated my strategy. I decided to play it...
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