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6 December 2014
By Henry Tamburin
I’ve written a lot about the 9/6 jacks-or-better video poker game, touting it as one of the best video poker games to play because it returns 99.5% with expert play. (For those that don’t know, the 9 refers to the payout for a full house per coin played, and the 6 is the payout for the flush per coin played.) A recent trip to the casinos with friends alerted me to mistakes players might be making when looking for the 9/6 game.
As we were walking through the casino, my friend shouted, “Here’s a 9/6 machine.” He was all set to sit down and play this 9/6 game when I came over and looked at the video poker screen. This is what was on it: (I’m only showing the first column of the pay schedule.)
Royal Flush = 250
Straight Flush = 50
Four Aces = 160
Four 2-4 = 80
Four 5-K = 50
Full House = 9
Flush = 6
Straight = 5
Three of a Kind = 3
Two Pair = 1
Jacks or Better = 1
Yes, the full house and flush paid 9 and 6 respectively, but this was not a jacks-or-better game. The game my friend was about to play was Double Bonus Poker. A 9/6 Double Bonus game has an expected return of only 97.8% (as opposed to the 99.5% return for a 9/6 jacks-or-better game). A better paying Double Bonus game returns 10 and 7 for the full house and flush, with an expected return of 100.17%. What my friend was about to do was to play an inferior game even though it paid 9 coins for the full house and 6 for the flush.
It’s been my experience that most video poker players don’t know the difference between one video poker game and another. You shouldn’t just sit down and play a video poker game because it pays more for aces, or pays more for four aces with a kicker, and so on. There are different video poker games, such as Jacks-or-Better, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus, Double Bonus Poker, Triple Bonus, Bonus Poker Deluxe, etc. It is important that you know what the best pay schedule is for each game, and what the return of the game is if you play it accurately.
For example, if you had a choice of playing a Bonus Poker or Double Double Bonus Poker game, which one would you play? The only way to know which is better is to look at the pay schedule for each game and know what the expected return is for each game. Trust me, you will find different pay schedules for Bonus Poker in a casino. Some are good; others are horrible. Ditto for Double Double Bonus Poker.
Here’s another example my friend came across in the same casino. I had told him if he wanted to play Bonus Poker, look for an 8/5 payout for the full house and flush. He found the following two 8/5 Bonus Poker games in the same casino:
Royal Flush 250 250
Straight Flush 50 50
Four Aces 30 80
Four 2-4 30 40
Four 5-K 30 25
Full House 8 8
Flush 5 5
Straight 4 4
Three of a Kind 3 3
Two Pair 2 2
Jacks or Better 1 1
Notice that both Bonus Poker games are 8/5. They pay the same for winning hands except for four-of-a-kinds. The 8/5 game in column #2 pays 30 coins for a four-of-kinds, whereas the 8/5 game in column #3 pays 80 coins for four aces, 40 coins for four 2-4, and 25 coins for four 5-K. The expected return (ER) for the 8/5 Bonus game in column #2 is 98.5% whereas the ER for 8/5 game in column #3 is 99.2%. If you are a smart player, you should play the game in column #3 (which my friend did and he ended up hitting four aces for a nice profit).
If the game in column #2 paid 35 coins (instead of 30 coins) for all four-of-a-kinds, the ER would be 99.7%, an excellent game. However, in this casino, they shorted the payouts to 30 coins, which lowered the ER to 98.5%. (Note: Even though this game was labeled Bonus Poker on the video poker machine, technically it’s a jacks-or-better game because it pays the same for all four-of-a-kinds.)
The point I’m making is that if you want to play video poker, you should know what the best pay schedule is for each game and then find those higher paying games in the casino when you play. That’s how you become a winning video poker player.
(Note: The ER’s quoted in the article assume the maximum of five coins played. You should never play less than max coins when you play video poker; otherwise, the ER will be lower.)
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the smartgaming.com website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter.
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