Virginia and something entirely different

Alexandria Library has both a Facebook page and a Twitter account–although the Twitter account doesn’t show up on the library’s homepage and seems somewhat neglected. York County Public Library appears to have neither (although, as with so many others, there’s a Facebook page that the library probably had nothing to do with).

And that’s Virginia from start to finish, with lots of interesting stuff in between.

Now, on to Vermont. Meanwhile…

Too Many Words on a Favored Break Pastime

When I’m in the middle of writing a chapter, I alternate between working on the chapter and checking groups of libraries/visiting FriendFeed and gmail, usually aiming for 25 libraries at a time. (I’m current at 1,975, planning to get to at least 2,050 by the end of the day. Technically, of course, all those counts are one too high, since there’s a label row.)

But when I’m not writing a chapter–either because I’ve done enough for the day or because I’m done with this week’s installment–I do something else for a break. (Not the long breaks, where taking walks and reading are involved, but the short breaks sitting at the computer.) For quite a while, that break was frequently an ongoing game of five-card draw video poker, jacks or better, using a years-old Masque program that could be set to suggest which cards I should hold (and has a printable table of the too-many combinations to think about). I still have the program, but am unlikely to use it much in the future. For that, you can thank New Orleans and a website I discovered after ALA Annual.

New Orleans?

Yep. I think I mentioned in another post that, along with going to various programs and spending a lot of time in the exhibits, I spent a few hours at Harrah’s in New Orleans, always playing video poker (the only slot machines that involve some degree of thinking and skill). Planned to spend $50 to $70 max. Ended up walking out with $250 of the casino’s money. And found that I was almost always playing either three-hand poker or some subset of a ten-hand game, and that I enjoyed that a lot more than single-hand poker.

For those who’ve never encountered it, multihand poker (it can be anywhere from three to 100 hands, usually either three, five, ten or 100–and with three, five or ten, you can usually choose how many hands you want to play) works like this:

  • You place your bet–with coins (or, rather, numbers based on the bills or slip you deposited) going to each successive hand first, then adding to them. If you want to get the best payback, you bet five coins for each hand (massively increasing royal flush payoff–this is true for virtually all video poker, and makes up about 1.5% of the extremely high payback of such machines); I almost never do that.
  • When you click on Deal, the bottom hand is dealt.
  • When you hold cards in that hand, they pop up on all of the hands you’ve bet on.
  • When you click on Draw, the non-held cards are replaced in each hand–but each hand is a separate deal. Thus, if you’re playing five hands, you see five different results of drawing from the same held cards. You win on each hand if it’s a winning combo.

The virtues: More action and it’s interesting to see how things can play out. The vice: More action–if you’re playing a quarter five-hand machine and want that big royal-flush payout, you’re wagering $6.25 on each deal. That’s way too rich for my blood. I was typically starting with $0.50 (one each on two hands) and increasing hands & bets as I was winning–or, playing a dime machine, starting with $0.30 (one each on three hands) and doing the same. I’m guessing 100-hand games are typically penny games, but that still means you’re wagering $5 each time (5 coins each on 100 hands).

Coming home

We used to go to Reno two to four times a year, mostly visiting surrounding attractions in the mornings and playing slot poker in the afternoons. We don’t do that any more because the second-hand smoke is too much for my wife’s asthma and also irritating for me. There’s an Indian casino about two hours from us that had a substantial true nonsmoking room, but it also has lousy odds and the town doesn’t have a good hotel (the casino’s building one now). We went there a few times (my wife’s sister lives in town, and her niece is a financial person at the casino), but not recently…

I was missing casinos–not to gamble, which would imply the possibility of winning, but to game as cheap entertainment. And I realized that the Masque video poker wasn’t doing it: I wanted multihand, and it wasn’t enough like the real thing. (I was also finding double-bonus poker, where you trade less of a payoff for two pairs for more payoff for many other hands, including *much* more payoff for some 4 of a kind hands, to my liking, and the advice on holding is necessarily different for that version.)

A little investigation…

I wasn’t about to sign up for an offshore gambling website, any more than I’m ever likely to visit either of Livermore’s two “casinos” (that is, poker parlors–legal in many California cities since poker is a game of skill): Too rich for my blood, and I’d be a terrible live-poker player.

But then I found a website that’s explicitly not a gambling site (there’s no cash wagering of any sort) and offered video poker looking and sounding almost exactly like the real thing: There’s a reason the poker games look and sound realistic: is operated by Action Gaming, a division of IGT–and Action Gaming makes those multihand video poker slot machines.

The win-win situation…

You can play video poker, in an absurdly large number of variations, absolutely for free–if you don’t mind flashing and changing ads around the edges of the virtual machine. After a while, I found that annoying enough to sign up for the “silver” level: $25 a year, and the third-party ads go away. (There are still a few ads, but they’re static and out of the way.) There’s a much more expensive level, something like $8/month, that allows you to chat with other players and keep track of your scores, but I’m not interested in that.

There’s also something else. On each of the first 20 days of each month, there’s a daily contest, using some “machine” from the large collection. (A machine might be Game King or Three-Hand Poker or Hundred-Hand or one of the many extra-action variations; within a machine, there are still quite a few choices–e.g., jacks or better, double bonus, deuces wild, and anywhere from three to a dozen others.) Unlike the regular games, where you start with 10,000 credits, bet what you want (all of it non-$) and go up or down until you stop playing, these ones are fixed: You always bet the max, you start with 0 credits, and that number goes up as you win. You play 100 deals (which may be anywhere from 100 to 10,000 actual hands), at which point your score is recorded. You can play up to five rounds per day–or, if you played five the previous day, up to eight.

And the high score for the day gets a $50 Visa gift card, plus a month of free Gold membership.

(The last third of each month is a single contest for the whole period, with a few prizes running to a little more money, and as many entries as you like.)

I started doing this, keeping track of how I was winning or losing on various game variations. Seeing that the leaders for each day were almost always dealt at least one royal flush, I figured I’d never win, but that was OK: It wasn’t costing me anything.

Until, somewhat less than a month ago, playing hundred-hand and actually winning (that is, I was well on my way to having more than 50,000 credits after 100 hundred-hand deals), I was…dealt a royal flush. Which, of course, you hold all of (actually, that’s the single hand that you don’t get choices on), turning it into 100 royal flushes.

Yes, they do send you the $50 Visa card. I know it was somewhat less than a month ago because my player status hasn’t yet reverted to silver. It will soon.

I see this site as a win-win-win situation. Players win because they can play for free and maybe learn to be better players. (There’s now a $20 software option, which plays full-screen and offline, and it *does* offer the option of advising on what’s best to hold.) Action Gaming wins because players are far more likely to seek out Action Gaming machines when they do go to casinos.

Casinos win because multihand poker, especially with some of the options, gets past the problem casinos might have with full-odds video poker: The payback is *so* high–around 99% for jacks or better, actually slightly over 100% for deuces wild and some other options *if* you always hold correctly–that players really don’t burn through very much money. But if you’re always playing maximum coins and you’re playing three or five or ten hands at a time, you’ll be spending a little more. (If you’re an addict, you’re probably not playing $0.10/$0.25 video poker anyway–you’re probably playing something that doesn’t require thinking and offers more bells and whistles.)

On the other hand…

The effect on me is a little different. The play is realistic enough that I have very little interest in going back to casinos. Oh, if we went to Vegas to see the architecture, I’d play; if Reno ever gets rid of smoking in casinos, we like the town enough that I’d play some–but otherwise, well, there’s absolutely no second-hand smoke at home, there’s no loud music, there are no drunks or over-perfumed women sitting down next to me, and if I really want a glass of wine, it will be a whole bunch better than what I’d get at most casinos.

And, to be sure, I can play for 15 minutes when I choose to.

Well, there’s one other negative: I’ve played enough of the extra-action games (which require more than five coins per hand to offer a number of higher payouts, usually involving more luck and less skill) to know that I would probably never play them if and when we do go back to casinos (or I play aboard ship on a cruise).

Anyway, that’s my story. Oh: While hundred-hand poker is just too rich for real-world playing, it’s a great way to check what makes sense to hold and draw, as you’re seeing 100 sets of results for each attempt. I’ve been refining my own playing based on hundred-hand results. When I do eventually show up at real machines, I’ll be a better player…although, y’know, I’m probably enjoying it more at home. Even if that 453,000 point total wasn’t worth the $4,530 it would have been on a penny machine. My regrets for that not being real money are nonexistent: I simply would not play at $5/hand, even if we won the lottery. Not before I saw it was possible to win so much; not after.

Comment situation

I’m not allowing comments on this post for two reasons:

1. I neither need nor want lectures on The Evils of Gambling (even when no money is involved.)

2. I know Spam Karma well enough to know that your chances of having any comment accepted that includes words like poker or gambling are nearly zero. That’s even true for my own comments.


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