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Deal Me In: Two inquiries for the price of one

21 August 2009

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Could you please explain how slot tournaments work? I'm entering a $50 dollar tournament at our casino and I was wondering if you had any strategies on winning? Megan H.

Dear Mark: How does a Casino turn a bank of low payout slots into VERY HIGH payout slots for a tournament and then back again to low payout mode without changing a computer chip inside the machine? Harvey S.

I'll get to your query in a second, Harvey, but let me take a whack at Megan's question first.

The tournament format that you are probably playing in, Megan, is one that uses timed sessions with machines in free-play mode, meaning, you don't have to put any money in the machine to play. Your up-front $50 entry fee is your total cash outlay. A typical format when playing free-play tournaments is to give each player 1,000 credits and 20 minutes to play them, per round. Each time you tap the spin button, three credits are deducted from your starting credits, and credits that you win are shown on a separate meter. When time has expired, the machine will automatically lock up ending the play.

Any credits that you have not played will be lost. A tournament director records each player's win meter at the conclusion of each round, and the player with the most cumulated points at the end of the tournament wins. Your main objective, Megan, is to make use of all your credits within the specified time period. By not using up all your credits, you lessen your chances of winning because players who are Speedy-Gonzales- fast when hitting the spin button will have more spins than you, which makes them more likely to have more points.

Here's the deal, Megan. The simple fact is that no slot strategy will make you a long-term winner at the slot machines. In spite of that fact, in a slot tournament there just happens to be one simple strategy: Get in as many spins as you can. Just keep your fingers on the spin button and get skilled at pushing it with split second military precision. What I mean by that, Megan, is that the machine will not spin until the winning credits have been tallied and displayed on the screen, so timing is everything. You need to be prepared to push the button instantly after your credits have been tallied.

Another tip, Megan, is to concentrate on your play, and your play only. Don't be a Lookie Lou gawking at the scores of your opponents. A few precious seconds here or there can sometimes be the decider on whether you advance to the next round.

Okay, Harvey, let's talk about that tournament chip.

Prior to any slot tournament, a slot technician with a tournament-mode computer chip, which changes a machine from normal play to tournament play, swaps each machine's computer chip out. Because the chips are uniform in nature, each slot machine used in any given tournament has as good a chance of winning as any other machine, which insures that all participants are playing on equal footing.

What's important to note here, Harvey, is that the long-term payback purposely programmed into the tournament chip is a great deal higher than that used in a normal slot machine chip.

Although the random number generator (RNG) stays the same, the machines are loosened up by changing the layout of the symbols on the virtual reels, hence, Harvey, you'll see those VERY HIGH payouts at tournaments, but not with conventional play.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week:

"Horse sense is a good judgment which keeps horses from betting on people." --W.C. Fields

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.