Report from G2E 2009, part 4

12 January 2010

All the most successful video poker games have been based on five-card draw poker. When you see one that's not, like the old game Double Down Stud, you know that its best chance of survival is to attract a small niche of loyal players.

So I'm not one to get giddy over a non-draw game, not even one that seems well designed to capitalize on the popularity of Texas Hold'em. And yet in a trial run, I found myself drawn to International Game Technology's Texas Hold'Em Heads Up.

This was like no game we've seen in casinos to this point. On the main game, there is no pay table, nor does the house get an edge by raking a percentage of each pot, as in live Hold'em, games. No, this is strictly man — or woman — vs. machine.

Devised by Greg Giuffria, a computer expert, heavy-metal rock musician and co-owner of the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, Texas Hold'Em Heads Up uses artificial intelligence and neural net technology to simulate a player — and that player IS trying to beat you. It anticipates, tries to read your tendencies, raises, checks, folds and bluffs. It slow plays some hands and tries to bully you on others. It even seems to step up its game against better players.

Several side bets are available to layer onto the game, including a bad beat jackpot and a seven-card stud wager for those who must have a pay table to shoot for.

The AI player isn't perfect, and he is beatable. But the game will be a challenge for all who enjoy Texas Hold'em. It's not going to lure hardcore video poker players away from five-card draw games, but it's different, intriguing, exciting and has a chance to build a loyal niche.

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For most of video poker's three-decade history, the top jackpot players have had to shoot for has been 4,000 coins. A royal flush with five coins wagered usually brings $1,000 to a quarter player or $4,000 to a dollar player, though payoffs can go higher on games with progressive jackpots — the biggest progressive I ever won on a quarter game was $1,455.

Games with multipliers have stepped up the pace. On Super Times Pay, with a randomly occurring multiplier that can bring you up to 10 times normal payoff, a 40,000-coin royal is possible.

But the big, lifestyle-changing jackpots? Those are for slot players.

That's about to change as IGT brings out its Super Times Pay Mega Progressive, the first video poker entry in the Megajackpots line of big-payoff game. The basic game is Super Times Pay, where a sixth coin wagered per line brings a special feature. On an average of once per 15 hands, a multiplier randomly turns up, multiplying any winnings from 2 to 10 times. On Super Times Pay Mega Progressive, if you draw a royal flush with a 10x multiplier in play, you win the progressive jackpot. On quarter games, the jackpot is seeded at $50,000 and on the average will hit at about $250,000, while on dollars the reset value is $200,000 and the average hit is expected to be just over $1 million.

Speaking of Super Times Pay, coming soon is Double Super Times pay, where betting seven coins per line brings the multiplier on either the deal or the draw. Instead of the multiplier coming an average of once per 15 hands, it comes once per 7.75. Should you get multipliers on both deal and draw, they are added, making a maximum of 20 times, should you get 10x on the deal and 10x on the draw. No Megajackpot here, but a real roller-coaster ride of volatility where the extra wager can either drain your bankroll or multiply it rapidly.

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One more coming attraction for video poker players. Hot Pursuit gives IGT its first community-style bonus on video poker. The "pursuit" is a chase for dealt three-of-a-kinds, and there are racing-style graphics with a checkered-flag look in the overhead display over each bank of machines. Your first dealt three-of-a-kind puts on you lap 1, the second on lap 2, and the third on lap 3. When any player at the bank gets to lap 3, everyone who has at least one lap goes to the community bonus event played on three giant poker hands on a giant plasma display. All three hands are premium-type hands — as I tested it, we were going for one-card draws for a full house on the first hand, four of a kind on the second and a royal flush on the third.

Those on lap one get only payoffs from the first hand, those with two laps get hands Nos. 1 and 2, and the player who triggered the event gets all three. That brings an element of competition to the game, as each player wants to be the one to trigger the event and get a shot at a royal flush. However, as long as you have at least one lap, the potential for some bonus fun is there, so you can root for anybody to get the pursuit started.

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2009

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at