Sunday silliness: Two meaningless miniposts

If you’re looking for significance, librarianship, or any of that stuff, you’ve come to the wrong place (and look! there’s an Oxford Comma, which I normally don’t use).

Instead…

Part 1: Really? A 72-page Section?

The San Francisco Chronicle Sporting Green section (yes, it’s on green paper–or, rather, has green as a background except when printing color photos/ads) has been doing a bang-up job of covering that local baseball team, including a remarkable series of full-page (broadside, 11″ x 21″, good-quality color printing albeit on newsprint) action photos of most of the team, with each photo as a single sheet (backed with a full-page color ad, of course) during the post-season. It doesn’t hurt that the paper recently added first-rate writer Ann Killion to its already superb sportswriting staff. There’s been a ton of orange ink along with all that green…

So Friday the paper noted that it would have a 72-page special section commemorating the World Series in today’s Sunday paper. First reaction: Really? 72 pages? That’s as much content as a fairly substantial book. Of course, lots of it will be reprints of front pages or Sporting Green front pages from the post-season, but still…

Then I thought: How is the Chron going to print a single 72-page section? None of its sections are ever more than about 20-24 pages: Can the presses even handle that big a wad of paper?

Got the answer today. You redefine “section”–it’s actually four sections, two 24 page and two 12 page. No, haven’t skimmed through it yet. (I’m not much of a sports fan, but I read a fair amount of the Sporting Green for the same reason I once subscribed to Sports Illustrated: I love quality writing.)

Part 2: “You would have won…”

Some of you know that I enjoy playing video poker–and until the past decade or so (my wife’s asthma has gotten a little worse and we’ve both become more sensitive to smoke, especially as sane states outlaw smoking in hotels and restaurants), we went up to Reno two or three times a year, spending half of each day visiting places in Northern Nevada, half getting cheap entertainment at the poker slots.

(It’s not gambling in our case, it’s gaming: Neither of us had any expectation of winning, since we’re both very numerate, and we set our limits such that it really was cheap entertainment, never more than $100 a day for both of us combined. Playing quarter or nickel video poker one or two coins at a time, with a 96% or better payback–not 98% or better, because you don’t get the 4,000-coin royal flush payback unless you play five coins–$50 per day per person goes a long way.)

It’s been years since we’ve gone to Reno for a vacation (that may change, and would certainly change if the casinos would listen to 80% of their customers…), and the last time I played for money was during ALA in New Orleans, spending two or three very profitable hours in Harrah’s. Meanwhile, thanks to videopoker.com (a non-gambling site run by the maker of most multihand video poker slot machines), I’ve enjoyed video poker whenever I need a break from whatever I’m doing on the computer–for no money, with of course no money to be won either.

Technically, I pay $29/year to avoid lots of flashing third-party ads. And technically, there is money to be won–there’s a daily contest with a $50 first prize, which I won once and, based on normal odds, might win again in about 10-12 years. The last few days of each month, there’s a monthly contest with several cash winners up to $500. None of this is gambling because paying either the $29/year silver membership or an $8/month gold membership–which lets you chat and do other things–improves your chances of winning in any way whatsoever, much to the chagrin of some gold members.

Anyway: The daily and monthly contests–and the site as a whole–are designed to expose people to different variations on video poker and, presumably, encourage us to be more adventurous next time we’re in a real casino. (It also helps thoughtful people figure out what they should or shouldn’t hold, to actually get the 98%-101% payback that’s possible on some video poker variations in casinos with Nevada odds.)

It’s backfired for me, I think: I find the video poker almost as much fun as the real thing, with the advantage of no smoke, my choice of background music (if any), my choice of whether or not the slot machine makes noise, my choice of “free” drinks…and the ability to enjoy a five-minute or fifteen-minute session as often or as occasionally as I want, with no effort. My desire to go to real casinos is considerably less than it was before I started playing at the site…although, if I go to ALA 2014, I’ll certainly drop in to a few of the casinos there. Briefly.

And, after all this digression, here’s the point. The daily and monthly contests are hundred-hand rounds (of which you can play up to five or eight, depending on whether you played five the previous day), always at maximum bet. Instead of the way the site usually works–where you start with 10,000 points and the total goes up or down depending on your play–in this case, you start with zero and gain whatever you win. At the end of the round, your score is reported and you land on another screen.

If your score is higher than the nut–the amount you’d actually bet if you were playing with real money–you get a big Congrulations! and the amount you would have won if you’d been playing at a quarter machine in an actual casino. (As some of the gold members have commented during monthly contests, some of the high scorers really need imaginary wheelbarrows to cart off all that imaginary money.)

This is all amusing, and keeping track of won/loss for a particular variation is one thing I do (and I’m sure others do), and would probably guide what I actually play if/when I do go to a real casino. But…

Last month’s monthly contest was a new variation: Hundred-hand poker (that’s not new: one hand is dealt; you choose which cards to hold; those cards show up on 99 other hands, and each of 100 hands is dealt out)…with Super Times Pay, which means that about 6% of the time your hands are worth anywhere from 2 to 10 times as much. (“About” is key: I’ve seen as few as zero and as many as 14 out of 100 hands get the STP multiplier, although it’s usually from 4 to 8.)

With Super Times Pay, max bet for each hand is six rather than five.

Doing the arithmetic…six times 100, carry the…you can see that you’re wagering 600 coins. On each hand.

So when, on my best session last month, I was informed that I would have won $7,370 or so…I found it hard not to laugh. Sure, if I was willing to wager $125.00 on each play. Let’s see: My total voluntary exposure is $50 per day. So I could play one play every 2.5 days… And, by the way, on the round just before that (which was far and away my best round–and about 5% of what I’d need to win the monthly contest), I would have lost $2,848.50.

Not. Gonna. Happen. Not ever. Oh, I’ll play 100-hand poker: It’s a great way to test out the odds of various holding strategies in real life. But I won’t play it in a casino: Even at a penny machine, that’s $5 per hand (without the Super Times Pay nonsense).

Let me amplify Not. Gonna. Happen. There are, I’d say, three categories of video poker:

  • Versions I would play in a casino once in a great while: Mostly versions where the total exposure on each hand is, say, $1 or less. That could include three-hand poker (the most common multihand option) with maximum wager on a nickel machine ($0.75/deal).
  • Versions I might play if I’d won Super Lotto or the Publisher’s Clearing House megaprize and was really bored, but probably not for very long: Those are games like my favorite online, Multi-Strike Poker (my favorite mostly because it’s visually and sonically superior to most others), where you’re betting 20 coins per deal.
  • Versions I wouldn’t play even if I won both Super Lotto and PCH, unless somebody else was paying for all the wagers and giving me some portion of the winnings. That’s basically anything involving a wager of more than $2 or so per deal. Which puts $600 per deal way out there.

All of which means I’ll never be a casino’s favorite customer. I don’t gamble: I game. And I only game as cheap entertainment, where I assume that I’ll lose all of my allotted funds and stop. Even if I was wealthy, it would offend my sensibilities to redefine “cheap” in a manner that made spending $5 on a single deal plausible.

As for actual real-world winning and losing: The odds say that, even if you play perfectly, you will spend money in the long run…and, of course, most slot players don’t even play close to optimally. A 1.5% house edge adds up over the long run.

But the long run is the long run. In fact, I’m up overall for at least the past decade, because other than a little gaming on cruises and the New Orleans sessions, I really haven’t spent much time playing with actual money in the past decade–and I was extraordinarily lucky in NOLA, including the first royal flush I’ve ever had. Was I disappointed that I only got $62.50 for the royal flush instead of $1,000 because I’d bet one quarter, not five? Not at all. I was gaming, not gambling.

And that’s it: some Sunday silliness. Now to get back to a project. Or maybe try one round of today’s free contest, where I can neither win nor lose any actual money.

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