For this week's Introduction to Advantage Play article, we're going to discuss something that is the exact opposite of an Advantage Play, "AP Traps."
Some of you may be wondering what an AP Trap is, and they can come in many forms, strictly speaking, some of them are not necessarily AP Traps, but traps for all players and that all players should avoid. Generally speaking, what I would consider an, "AP Trap," is any situation (whether it be slot, table, video poker, or otherwise) that looks (and, perhaps, presents itself) as being advantageous to the player when it is not.
A great example of such a trap is really high Progressives on a long-shot result on a table game. For example, some casinos have had a Five-Card Bonus Progressive for the table game, "Let it Ride," and we can have a look at some paytables on the WizardofOdds.com Let it Ride:
The Wizard has already analyzed, "Paytable 2," though the probabilities are the same for all paytables, but we'll use that as an example. This paytable has a horrendous return of 76.2730%, but the Progressive has the capacity of reaching astounding numbers for a $1.00 bet. Let's imagine that the Progressive was up to $100,000, given the base of $20,000, this Progressive might look tantalizing to the average player, however, it would actually only add .123128 to the return making the House Edge 11.4142%, which is still a horrendous bet.
The interesting thing about these long shot side bets is that there is very rarely a reason for an actual Advantage Player to play them. The bankroll requirements are generally pretty high (due to the extremely high base house edge and, "Drop," between Royals) there is a potential of someone else hitting them, and the theoretical hourly value is still pretty terrible. The Progressive increase for this to be break-even would need to be:
(1-.762730)/.000002 = 118635
For a total Progressive win of $138,635, which we see by (138635 * .000002) = 0.27727 + (.762730-.030782) = 1.009218 for this to be just over a break-even proposition, with errors due to rounding.
Of course, that doesn't even account for the fact that, with most side bets, you also have to be playing the Base Game which has its own House Edge and, therefore, yields an even greater expected loss on the overall play.
A Progressive trap of this nature can apply to slots, video keno, video poker and table games. Fortunately, Keno, Video Poker and Table Games can be mathematically analyzed somewhat routinely, so it is much easier to determine whether or not one's overall action is at an advantage or disadvantage. Slots are obviously more difficult, lacking PAR sheets, because one does not necessarily know the probabilities associated with certain Progressives and would then require extensive Empirical testing.
My advice to someone who would want to pursue such a Progressive on a Table Game is, in order:
1.) Generally, don't.
2.) If you must, make sure that your return on the Progressive aspect only is at least 100%, that way, the edge on your overall action is REDUCED rather than ENLARGED.
3.) If you're not going to restrict yourself to Side Bet Progressives that are at least a 100% Expected Return, then at least make sure the Progressive is such that it has a lower expected percentage loss than your bet on the base game. I know the potential for a big pay can be tempting, but you're really better off just to bet $6 on the base game than to bet $5 on the base game and $1 on a Progressive with a greater House Edge.
4.) Don't expect to win. The vast majority of table game Progressive represent an event that is so mathematically improbable that one would have to invest hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours at the table to reach the point where it would probabilistically be expected to hit for them. If you're going to play these bets, do so strictly for fun.
With Video Keno and Video Poker Progressives, the math is pretty readily determinable, as is an Optimal Video Poker Strategy using the tools freely available on WizardofOdds.com In either case, Progressives of this nature often (but not always) are not the best paying games in the casino and may not even be the best paying game for that specific game or denomination. To wit, there may be a 10-spot Keno game that has a Progressive that, "Looks good," for a $2.00 bet returning 85% while the Caveman Keno machine just a few chairs over pays 89%, and you can play as low as a nickel, if you like.
In any case, there are two reasons to go to a casino: The first one is to win, and the second one is to be entertained. Video Poker Hall of Famer Bob Dancer has often opined, "If you're playing a negative expectation game, then you're not there to win," so if you are there to be entertained, you might as well be entertained for as cheap an amount that still, "Keeps it interesting," to you.
The second type of AP trap, and this one perhaps a little less obvious, is slot machines. Low-Level Progressives often represent a serious trap because players might see two seemingly identical machines, side-by-side, with the bottom Progressive on one at $22.00 and the bottom on the other at $86.17, and think, "Well, that machine has to be good!"
First of all, given this limited information, there's no reason to believe anything, one way or another, about the slot machine in question. The base return could be awful, or, the base return could actually be okay, but even the bottom-level Progressive has a very long cycle. For example, if you had to bet $1.50 and the $86.17 Progressive had a probability of 1/4000, then you're getting roughly $0.0215425 or 1.436167% of every $1.50 back from that result. Given the average known penny, nickel or quarter denomination slot returns, the machine is nowhere near good under these conditions.
Why did I assume 1/4000? What can you assume?
The answer is you can't ASSUME anything about the probability of Progressives. Lacking PAR sheets, it takes exhaustive Empirical analysis of thousands of spins to be able to GUESS the probabilities both of Progressives and overall base return of the game. Obviously, you don't want to be playing the slot machine while observing these spins because then you're eating the House Edge while determining something that may very rarely be +ER in the first place, so you want to observe someone else play them.
Does watching someone else play a slot machine not sound like it would be at all fun? If so, you don't want to attempt to AP slot Progressives.
Another type of slot machine Progressive, and this one a more, "Legitimate," AP trap is a machine with Capped Progressives. Simply put, they are few and far between, but Capped Progressives have Progressive results that cannot go beyond a certain $$$ value, and thus, could theoretically NEVER be at an advantage if the Progressive Cap point still yields an overall return of less than 100%.
Finally, a very unique example is one of a slot machine with a Progressive Bonus Games feature. This game is the, "Three Kings," slot machine and former WizardofVegas Forum Member MickeyCrimm gets 100% of the credit for this one. Through a combination of Empirical analysis (and, if you ever want to know how to do Empirical analysis, this thread is the best free tutorial you're likely to get) and then getting information on the machine from the manufacturer, he discovered that Three Kings is NEVER at an advantage:
Pages 1, 3 and 6 are the most relevant.
Again, most of what I am calling, "AP Traps," apply to non-advantage players as actual AP's have the discipline and mathematical capacity to do the required work in order to determine whether or not a play is good. I think Three Kings is an interesting exception because, as I asked in the thread, "Who WOULDN'T think all three being maxed out is good?"
The overall takeaway from this article should be that, as with most other things and most other places, casinos are not a good place to assume anything.