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How to Play and Win Playing Bonus Poker

17 February 2012

By Henry Tamburin

Before I review the video poker game known as Bonus Poker, let me first briefly summarize the characteristics of a Jacks-or-Better game, since the two games are similar.

The following characterize a Jacks-or-Better game:
  1. If you get a high pair (jacks through aces) you get your money back (meaning if you bet five coins and get a high pair, you win five coins).
  2. If you get two pair, you win double your money back (meaning if you bet five coins, you win ten coins).
  3. All four-of-a-kind winning hands are paid the same amount (usually 25 for 1), meaning it doesn't make any difference whether you have four aces or four deuces; they all are paid the same.

The popular Bonus Poker video poker game has characteristics as 1 and 2 above, namely, you are paid even money for a high pair, and 2 for 1 for two pair. The difference is the payout for quads. Unlike Jacks-or-Better, where all quads pay the same 25 coins per coin bet, with Bonus Poker you get paid 80 for 1 if you have quad aces, and 40 for 1 for quad 2s though 4s (the quad 5s through Ks pay the same amount as they do in Jacks-or-Better, namely 25 for 1).

Bonus Poker
Quad Payoff
Per Coin Bet
  Quad     Payoff   
  Aces   80
  2s-4s   40
  5s-Ks   25

Players like to play Bonus Poker because they enjoy getting bonus payouts, which occur when they get the quad aces and 2s through 4s. This bonus payout will often quickly turn a losing playing session into a break-even or possibly a winning session, which is another reason players like Bonus Poker.

Unfortunately, the extra quad bonuses come at the expense of a lower payout for the full house and flush. With Jacks-or-Better, the best payoff for the full house and flush is 9 coins and 6 coins, respectively, per coin played (known as 9/6 Jacks-or-Better). With Bonus Poker, you get shortchanged one coin on the full house and another on the flush, meaning the best Bonus Poker games pay 8/5. The expected return (ER) for an 8/5 Bonus Poker game is slightly lower than 9/6 Jacks-or-Better (99.17% vs. 99.54%).

It would be nice (and wishful thinking on my part) if every casino offered only the 9/6-paying version of Jacks-or-Better, and only the highest paying 8/5 Bonus Poker. However, as I have discussed in previous columns, this is not often the case. Just like you will often find 9/5, 8/5, 7/5 and even 6/5 versions of Jacks-or-Better, you will also often find 7/5 and 6/5 Bonus Poker games. The latter two games have dreadful ERs of 98.01% and 96.87%, respectively, meaning these are two games you should avoid like the plague.

Bonus Poker: Per Coin Pay Schedules

Hand

8/5

7/5

6/5

Royal Flush

800

800

800

Straight Flush

 50

 50

 50

4-of-Kind with Aces

 80

 80

 80

4-of-Kind with 2s, 3s, 4s

 40

 40

 40

4-of-Kind with 5s through Ks

 25

 25

 25

Full House

   8

   7

   6

Flush

   5

   5

   5

Straight

   4

   4

   4

3-of-Kind

   3

   3

   3

Two Pair

   2

   2

   2

Jacks-or-Better

   1

   1

   1

ER

99.17%

98.01%

96.87%

Here's another tip. Some casinos offer 8/5 Bonus Poker but two pair only pays even money instead of 2 for 1 (ouch!). This is a real rip-off so be sure you check the entire pay schedule to be certain it matches the above pay schedule before you insert your cash and start playing.

IGT has a bonus game on their video poker machines that they call "Bonus Poker" even though all quads are paid the same amount (the best pay schedules pay 35 or 30 coins per coin played for quads) with the full house and flush paying 8/5. The EV for the 35/8/5 game is a respectable 99.66% (which is slightly higher than the above 80/40/25/8/5 Bonus Poker game). The EV for the 30/8/5 game is only 98.48%; therefore, check the payouts for the quads on any IGT Bonus Poker game before you play.

The last thing to keep in your memory bank about Bonus Poker is this: If you don't get a quad you'll lose faster compared to a 9/6 Jacks-or-Better game because, as I mentioned, the full house and flush pay less. Even though the variance of Bonus Poker is relatively low compared to other video poker games, it is slightly higher than 9/6 Jacks-or-Better (meaning that your session results, both negative and positive, tend to be larger than they are in Jacks-or-Better).

You are probably wondering why any serious player would play 8/5 Bonus Poker versus 9/6 Jacks-or-Better (when the latter has a slightly higher ER). The reason is because some casinos don't offer 9/6 Jacks-or-Better and the next best game is the 8/5 Bonus Poker (serious players will usually play 8/5 Bonus Poker only if the casino's cash back and bounce back give them an overall return greater than 100%). You'll also find 8/5 Bonus Poker progressive games, which can be a very good deal depending on what the royal flush jackpot happens to be (the five-coin royal flush payout for a quarter denomination progressive game needs to be $1,397 for the ER to be at exactly 100%).

The following table ranks the ER of Jacks-or-Better and Bonus Poker games. Use this information the next time you visit your local casino. For example, before you sit down and play a 9/6 Jacks-or-Better game, you might want to check the pay schedules of a few Bonus Poker games. If you find an IGT 35/8/5 Bonus Poker pay schedule, you are better off playing it (assuming you can tolerate the slightly higher variance). Likewise, before you play an 8/5 Jacks-or-Better game, check if your local casino offers 8/5 Bonus Poker, which has a higher ER (see table below for a ranking of games by ER).

ER Rank of Bonus Poker and Jacks-or-Better Games

35/8/5 Bonus Poker

99.66%

9/6 Jacks-or-Better

99.54%

8/5 Bonus Poker

99.17%

30/8/5 Bonus Poker

98.48%

9/5 Jacks-or-Better

98.45%

8/6 Jacks-or-Better

98.39%

8/5 Jacks-or-Better

97.30%

7/5 Bonus Poker

98.01%

6/5 Bonus Poker

96.87%

In a future column, I'll discuss the bonus poker games where two pair pays only even money since these games are very different from Bonus Poker (e.g., Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus, Bonus Poker Deluxe, and others).

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

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