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Picking a Video Poker Game to Play

19 March 2022

One of the reasons for the popularity of video poker is they tend to have a high return – sometimes even more than 100 percent for a skilled player. More importantly, a knowledgeable player can determine the return of the game by looking at the pay table that is displayed right on the machine.

The same cannot be said for slot machines. Slot machines display payoffs for hitting certain combinations of symbols. This is not enough information to determine the return. The player does not know the number of each symbol, nor the programming for hitting them.

A video poker game, however, is played using one deck of cards – 52 or 53 cards, depending on whether there is a joker included in the game.

In a randomly dealt game, the odds of drawing to the winning hands can be calculated. Once the odds are compared to the actual payoffs for these hands the return of a game can be figured.

The actual calculations depend on several factors – including perfect play by the video poker player. Strategy cards for perfect play as well as information about return percentages for the most common games are readily available from most gambling supply, book stores and online sites.

But how do you choose the game that you play? It should be the game with the highest return – right?

The answer is – not necessarily.

There are two reasons for this non-committal answer.

First, in order to get the best return from any video poker machine you have to play perfect strategy. The strategy varies greatly for different games.

The first video poker game was Draw Poker which is also commonly referred to as Jacks or Better. The reason for the name is that it takes a pair of jacks or something better in order to make a winning hand.

It is a nice solid game to play. The strategy is fairly simple and you can learn it fairly easily. The “full pay” version of this game is called “9/6 Jacks or Better” because it pays 9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush. With perfect play “Full Pay Jacks or Better” returns 99.54%. Put another way, over time, the player will lose only 46 cents for each $100 played through the machine.

After Draw Poker had been around for a while, gaming manufacturers wanted to add some additional zing to their games so they started creating games that had bonuses for certain hands. One popular bonus game is Double Bonus Poker.

The standard Draw Poker/Jacks or Better game pays 25-for-1 for any four of a kind. Double Bonus Poker pays at least double that amount for hands containing four of a kind: 50-for-1 for four 5’s through Kings, 80-for-1 for four 2’s, 3’s or 4’s, and a huge 160-for-1 for four Aces.

In order to fund that kind of payback, a hand containing two pairs pays only 1-for-1 instead of the 2-for-1 on a Jacks or Better game.

It turns out that two pairs are so common that the reduction allowed manufacturers to pay 10-for-1 for a full house, 7-for-1 for a flush and 5-for-1 for a straight and have a 100.17 percent payback.

This version of Double Bonus Poker is called “Full Pay Double Bonus Poker” or “10/7/5 Double Bonus Poker.”

If Jacks or Better and Double Bonus Poker had similar strategies, it would be a no-brainer to select Double Bonus Poker as the preferred game.

Unfortunately, the strategy for Double Bonus Poker is more complex than the strategy for Jacks or Better making it more likely that mistakes will be made – mistakes which will cost you money.

Unless you are willing to practice regularly, it may make sense to play Jacks or Better because the more complex strategy of Double Bonus Poker can cause mistakes that reduce your payback below 99.54 percent.

There is another reason that bonus games like Double Bonus Poker may not be a better game to play and that is something called variance. Variance is simply an indication of how far results “vary” from the average.

For example, if you played a game where you have an equal chance of losing 1, breaking even (lose 0), or winning 1; the variance would be very small (0.67). By comparison the variance for a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine is about 19.5. What this means is practical terms is your bankroll will vary a lot more playing Jacks or Better than a game where you only win or lose one unit. Therefore, Jacks or Better requires a larger bankroll.

As more of the winning amount is paid in fewer large wins, variance increases. The extra-large wins in “10/7 Double Bonus Poker” increase the variance to 28.26. The higher the variance, the larger the bankroll must be to weather the larger swings in the bankroll.

A safe bankroll for Full Pay Jacks or Better might be about three times a royal (4,000 credits times three or 12,000 credits). A safe bankroll for a Full Pay Double Bonus Poker game might be about 3.5 to 4 times a royal or 14,000 to 16,000 credits. This is not a small difference.

Playing video poker instead of slot machines is a smart move.

Using return percentage, strategy complexity and variance to determine which video poker game you choose to play is an even smarter move because a bankroll is too precious to waste.

As always, may all your wins be swift and large, and your losses be slow and small.

Jerry “Stickman”


Jerry “Stickman” is an expert in craps, blackjack and video poker and advantage slot machine play. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. He authored the video poker section of Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Pai Gow Poker! You can contact Jerry “Stickman” at stickmanjerryg@gmail.com
Jerry Stickman

Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in dice control at craps, blackjack, advantage slots and video poker. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. The "Stickman" is also a certified instructor for Golden Touch Craps dice control classes and Golden Touch Blackjack's advantage classes. He also teaches a course in advantage-play slots and video poker. For more information visit www.goldentouchcraps.com or www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 1-800-944-0406 for a free brochure. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at stickmanGTC@aol.com.

Jerry Stickman Websites:

www.goldentouchcraps.com
www.goldentouchblackjack.com
Jerry Stickman
Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in dice control at craps, blackjack, advantage slots and video poker. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. The "Stickman" is also a certified instructor for Golden Touch Craps dice control classes and Golden Touch Blackjack's advantage classes. He also teaches a course in advantage-play slots and video poker. For more information visit www.goldentouchcraps.com or www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 1-800-944-0406 for a free brochure. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at stickmanGTC@aol.com.

Jerry Stickman Websites:

www.goldentouchcraps.com
www.goldentouchblackjack.com