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Rule #1: Seek out the best paytables

7 February 2005

Dear Mark,
Where I play Jacks or Better video poker, some machines have different pay tables, the difference being what you are paid for a full house. One machine returns nine coins, another eight. How much am I giving up playing a machine that gives eight coins back for a full house versus one that gives nine? Sammy H.

For the standard game of Jacks or Better, strategy No. 1 is to pick the game with the best payout table. Typically, the higher the payout for a full house (and a flush, you neglected them in your question) the greater the return. For example, on a Jacks or Better machine, 9 for a full house, 6 for a flush has a 99.5 percent return; 8 for a full house, 5 for a flush has a 97.4% return; 7 for a full house, 5 for a flush has a 96.3% return; and 6 for a full house, 5 for a flush has a 95.2% return.
The above returns, Sammy, are based on machines NOT connected to progressive jackpots. On an 8/5 progressive quarter machine, when the jackpot for a royal flush is more than \$2,200, or \$8,800 for dollar play, an 8/5 video poker machine can have a better return than a 9/6 machine.

Dear Mark,
A couple quick questions, if I may, regarding how to play a few different hands at Jacks or Better video poker. Which is better to draw from; an open-end 4-card straight versus no high cards, one high card, two high cards or three high cards? A low pair opposed to two high cards? Two cards to a royal flush against a high pair (a winning hand), and three cards to a royal versus a high pair? Jerry M.

Below, Jerry, are the correct strategies to your rapid-fire questions.

An open-ended 4-card straight is more powerful than one, two, three, or even four non-sequential high cards. A low pair is a superior hand over two high cards. As to your last question, you keep a high pair over two cards to a royal, even a three-card royal. However, the expected value (win potential) of three cards to a royal and a high pair is so insignificant, even I abstain from perfect basic strategy and jump on the chance, as remote as it might be, of hitting the elusive royal flush.

By the way, Jerry, the definition of expected value is the average value of all the wins attainable (after the discards are replaced), if the optimum cards are retained and each unique possible draw occurs.

Dear Mark,
While playing a hand in poker, is it acceptable to talk about, actually mislead the other players at the table about the hand you are playing? Isn't that considered "table talk," a no-no in poker? Joel M.

When your jabbering about a hand you are personally involved in, with the intent of misleading or manipulating other players, in gamblese, it's not called "table talk," but instead, it's called "coffeehousing." Is it kosher? Well, Joel, it sort of depends on whom you ask. Half the players I play with would say misleading chatter is fair play. Personally, I consider coffeehousing at best, downright rude.

Like coffeehousing, table talk is a discussion at the table regarding the hand currently underway by players no longer involved in the pot, especially any talk that might affect play. The most common example of table talk is announcing what cards a player has just folded. For example, if the flop shows trips (J-J-J), and a player who had already folded sees the flop and screams out "blankity blank," they have done a disservice to anyone at the table who thought they might like to bluff having caught quads (four-of-a-kind). Better yet, uncalled-for squeals might even bring out a six-shooter from some pissed-off player.

Gambling quote of the week: "When the chips are flowing faster than the Missouri River during a hurricane, it's easy to feel as if you're omnipotent at the tables." â€“gaming author Barry Meadow

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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.
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.