|Tue Jan 8, 2008 - 9:07 AM EST - By Harv Laser|
Over the last few weeks, we took a stroll down the Virtual Strip and spent some quality time with both Astraware Casino, a beautiful program pack with the eight most popular casino games in one. AC features a “Jacks or Better” and "Deuces Wild" Video Poker machine, and LDW's Video Poker Teacher, a set of training wheels to teach you the basic strategy of the most common “Jacks or Better” variant.
While Astraware’s VP machine tilts the odds in favor of the player, and VP Teacher gently coaches you what the best moves are to make, now that these easy-going apps have you pampered, it’s time to take off the kid gloves and get down and dirty with the hard hitting, Vegas style odds of a real machine. Many real machines.
That’s where Electron Hut’s Vegas Video Poker ("EHVP") joins the party, for unlike most of the other PalmOS VP apps you’ve seen, not only does it feature nearly every casino variant of the game, including my favorite, and the one most popular with Vegas locals (as opposed to tourists): “Double Double Bonus”, but its odds are set in the favor of the house, and just like in Vegas. Its virtual machines are tight and random. As an added bonus, EHVP is a tiny (65KB!) app that you can install and run from your SD card, or fit snugly into internal memory, hassle free.
PalmOS VP apps tend to either be extremely under par in looks, or go overboard with highly stylized features, often with realistic-looking cards, but rarely do they accurately ape a real VP machine. In truth, casino machines have relatively bland graphics, with a simple blue backdrop and unadorned cards. Sure, they have bigger screens, and programmers have to work hard to shrink those real-world graphics down to Treo size. Some work a lot harder than others.
So, while Astraware's has a sexy and imaginative look and feel to its VP machines, they don’t quite hit the mark for play accuracy in the real world, but as I explained in that review, they took that approach on purpose, to let you win more and more often than you would in a real casino.
LDW's VP game teaches you how to play, but does so only with the most basic and common Jacks or Better version of the game.
So let's take a look at one more PalmOS Video Poker sim, this one geared to the cravings of the true VP addict.
While not as pretty and not high res like AC, and not a trainer like LDW's, EHVP is still high on detail, as everything from the blue background, to the placement of buttons and even a bill acceptor are right where they should be and look fairly close to real machines.
To start a game, you have to put money into the machine via the virtual bill feeder, and the game keeps a running balance of your wins and losses, which it saves when you exit, so you can always return to a game later, whether you're up or down.
Not only does EHVP look like a Vegas machine, but it sounds like one. It completely replicates the sounds of a real VP machine and you adjust the volume to suit your taste in the program's preferences.
You can also set the denomination of the machine from nickels to $5 slugs, and enable or disable card animations and face card graphics. The game is even smart enough to auto-hold pairs-plus, so you’ll never miss that obscure straight again. Naturally, you can turn this off too, if you really want it to feel like Vegas.
One feature that sets EHVP apart from other games is that it uses exact Vegas odds, both in its payout tables, which are accurate for every game, and for the ease of making hands. In fact, EHVP is so tight it’s actually tedious. Unlike in real life, you can’t just stand up, cash out, and move to a new machine when EHVP tightens up and you go on a losing streak. You’re stuck with it, good or bad, so in the long run you should expect to be down a decent amount of virtual money.
The only way to counteract this is by using different coin denominations or otherwise increasing your variance so that when you are losing your bankroll, you can minimize your losses, but when the "machine" gets hot, you maximize them instead.
Switching games can also be a good way to increase variance, but beware: if you are only familiar with basic Jacks or Better, you have an entirely new universe to explore here with eight different games available, so be careful not to go crazy and blow your wad all in one place.
EHVP is more like wandering down the rows of a real casino's Video Poker alleys than the other simulators I've reviewed – it has far more casino-style VP games built into its virtual machine, including the classic “Jacks or Better” versions, plus the most common flavors that casinos offer in their multi-game machines.
Jacks or Better Bonus is essentially the same as traditional Jacks or Better, except that it gives you a better payout on a flush, full house, or straight flush. To balance out the game, it pays less on two pair. This game was the first improvement to video poker, but the "locals" rarely play it these days. Still, many casinos still feature it for those still addicted to its structure.
Double Bonus poker is the direct follow up to the original Bonus game, and it’s also in Electron’s package. Like Bonus, it offers additional levels of payouts, including mini-jackpots for Quad Aces with any deuce trey or four, which pays 800-for-5, and four deuces, treys or fours, which pays 400-for-5, en lieu of the traditional 125-for-5 in Jacks. Naturally, this comes at a cost, for you sacrifice a margin off the lesser payouts (straight, flush and full house payouts are smaller) to gain the bigger spread of jackpots.
Tip: when playing VP, ALWAYS play with max coins or credits in. If you can't afford to play Dollars, ($5 a hand), then move down to a fifty cent machine ($2.50 a hand), or a quarter machine ($1.25 a hand). If that's still too rich for you, find the nickel machines ($0.25 a hand). If you can't handle that, stay home. Why? Well the highest paying hand on ANY VP machine is the Royal Flush, and you'll ONLY win the max jackpot for a Royal with full coins in. Just look at any machine's pay table. You're just cheating yourself out of that big fat jackpot if you're playing fewer than max coins or credits on each hand.
Double Double is by far the most popular of all VP games, as it has the absolute widest selection of tempting mini-jackpots, with quad Aces plus a deuce, trey or four kicker paying out 2000-for-5 (half the payout of a Royal Flush). In Vegas casinos, you'll find it both as dedicated machines and in multi-game machines, and it’s the version of VP that most casinos offer in their progressive payout carousels. The sheer beauty of this game is that it has so may huge payouts in the 800-for-5 range or better, but the trade-off is it's skimpier than all of the other jacks games in regular payouts. It still pays out on pairs of jacks or better though, so you don’t need to worry about rules changes before jumping into bed with it.
During my trips to Las Vegas, when playing VP for real money, Double Double is by far my favorite version. It's all those mini-jackpots that make it so appealing to me and many other diehard VP players, but because its strategy for optimal play is so different than Jacks or Better, you often find yourself in a situation where you'll give up a pat hand for a shot at one of its mini-jackpots that pay FAR more.
Nevertheless, in all of these games, the big money always comes from making a Royal Flush, the holy of holies, the King Kong of video poker hands, which, although the odds of hitting it are about 40,000 to 1, pays 4000-for-5. This ever-elusive hand is what we play for, and always feels “just one pull away”. The hand a VP player likes to see least is the dreaded "four to the Royal" which pays nothing.
There are a scant few machines in casinos that actually have an "aww shucks.. sorry!.. so close, well I'll give you a little something anyway" payout for that letdown hand. Look around for "Four Card Royal" machines, but you won't find many of them and most casinos don't have any at all.
Wild cards filtered their way into so many home games that they’ve become an icon of poker in the mind of the average card player. If you’ve ever played Chicago or Baseball, you'll get the general idea about how these games work. In the VP world, the only wild cards used are either jokers, or deuces, but sometimes both.
EHVP offers three wildcard games, starting with the good ol’ fashioned Jokers Wild Kings of Better. This game plays in much the same way as Jacks, except that you need a pair of Kings or higher in order to win an even money hand. Two jokers enter the deck and function to make pairs, trips, straights, flushes etc. The game’s payout scale has also changed, but offers payouts for both a natural royal, and a lower payout for a royal made with one or more jokers.
Finally, the wildcard games pay on quints (five of a kind), meaning either four of a kind plus a joker, or trips with two jokers. Most of the normal payouts are lower because they are now easier to hit, considering that you have two extra “outs” or helper cards to make any of them.
If you want more customary payouts for smaller hands, and are willing to sacrifice both the size and number of the mini-jackpots and the minimum hand requirements with which you can win, give this program's Jokers Wild Two Pair a try. Now instead of needing a pair of Kings or better, you need two pair or better to break even. In this game, straights, flushes and a full house pay higher amounts, but a wild royal and quints pay less, so it’s a hybrid of the Jacks and Jokers pay tables.
If having two jokers isn’t enough for you, Deuces Wild returns you to a 52-card deck, in which all of the deuces work as wild cards. With those four wildcards, because it’s super-easy to make most of the normal hands, all winning hands except for quad deuces and a natural royal have minuscule payouts. You’ll also need to make at least triples or better, with or without a wildcard in order to get paid even money, so it’s a painstaking game to play, but the payouts are more frequent than a straight Jacks or Better machine.
That ever-elusive Quad Deuces is a real kick to hit when you're in a real casino playing for real money. It should go without saying that in Deuces Wild, you NEVER discard a deuce. Never. Optimal strategy is wildly different than Jacks or Better, and it pays to get yourself one of the many books that teaches proper play on multiple variants of VP, and READ it and READ it some more, before you graduate from playing a simulator like this, to playing the real thing with real money.
Lastly, to round out the program's offerings, EHVP offers Jokers and Deuces Wild. This is the crazy house of all VP games with the same trips or better starting requirement and even more laughable payouts. Then again, it also has (by far) the most gigantic payout of all VP games at 10,000-for-5 if you can manage to hit any five wild cards. Talk about having to get lucky, never mind long odds!
I won some, I lost some. I experienced their early Java-based applets lock up on my old Windows 98 computer quite a few times.
The other problem with Internet gambling is that unlike in a real casino where, when you win, you can cash out and get paid off immediately on the spot, those virtual casinos pay your winnings by crediting your wins back to your CC or bank account, which often takes up to a week. No thank you.
Funny how when you buy something on the Web, the charge goes through almost immediately, but when you return something or are waiting for a refund, or money back after cashing out of an online casino, it takes days. Actually, it's not so funny.. it's frustrating, especially when that something involves hundreds of bucks.
Although they're more sophisticated now, with better programming, and fewer crashes, as tempting as it may be to try some real gambling for real money on the computer, the glacially slow "cashier" payouts, and the lack of regulation force me to advise against Internet casinos. It's way too easy to get hooked, keep chasing your losses, and before you know it, you've dug yourself into a deep hole and lost the rent money. I'll take my casino action straight up, in person, in real casinos, thank you. Luckily, real casinos are far enough away from where I live to make scratching that occasional itch inconvenient.
When I do get the gambling urge, in Calif., the only REAL VP machines are found in casinos on Indian reservations, and the closest ones to me are over a hundred miles away. Thank goodness. Depending on where you live, like St. Louis, live VP might be right around the corner, or nowhere in your state at all.
On my Las Vegas jaunts, a five hour drive from home.. when I finally top that last 4000 foot peak on I-15, glide down that final looooooong downhill stretch, and see the flatlands of the Calif. / Nevada border ahead I hear the siren song of those border casinos out in the middle of nowhere, beckoning me to stop and do some gambling before I make the final forty mile leg of the trip to the City. When I DO succumb to that temptation, park the car and head through those double doors into the cacophony and sensory overload of a real casino, after I get my bearings, I seek out those Double Double VP machines and pray for Quads.
As fun as this and other casino sims are, gambling for virtual money just doesn't have the kick that gambling for real money has. So at least in my situation, the real action is far enough away to make it inconvenient to get to.
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