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# What's the best strategy for doubling-down when it's offered at video poker?

12 August 2013

Question: Some video poker machines offer "double down." If you win a hand, you can go for double-or-nothing and keep going as long as you keep winning. Are there rules about whether or not, when, and how many times to take this bet?

Answer: You have a 50-50 chance, one out of two, to win even money on double down at video poker. The laws of probability therefore say it's a "fair" bet – the casino has no edge.

For most players, however, gambling goes beyond probability. "Utility" aspects of decision theory also pertain. These entail how much you value both the win and what you risk trying for it.

Say you play five coins at once in a \$1 machine. You're risking \$5 on a hand. Your chance of a "hit" is about 45 percent. Of these, some will be "pushes" – the machine calls them "wins" although you really just get your money back. The rest will yield payoffs between 1-to-1 and, typically, 800-to-1.

In doubling down after a push or real win, you may be betting \$5 to \$4000. Chance of a hit is 50 percent. But wins are all 1-to-1. Odds of success are better than in the main game. Still, ultimate payoff multiples are lower and you may be risking much more.

Utility theory says individuals tend to balance these factors for themselves. You usually risk \$5 on a small chance at \$4000, with increasing odds of winning less. Will you risk this much or more for a 50-50 chance at an even-money payoff? Only you can decide.