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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Video poker for dummies, part I

15 June 2013

Please don’t send me e-mails about how upset you are over the title of this article. If you are reading this far, then I’ve succeeded in getting your attention. Now I aim to keep it by giving you information on how to play one of the best casino games, which could result in you winning more money.

Slots vs. video poker

If you are a diehard slot player, you know very well that today’s slot machines come in all different shapes, sizes and flavors. The newer slots have high-tech graphics and sound effects, game-within-a-game features, bonus jackpots, familiar TV game show themes and more. BUT, there is one undeniable fact about a slot machine: It’s impossible to calculate what a slot machine will pay back with the information that is provided on the face of the machine. Only two people know this deep, dark secret – your friendly casino slot manager and the slot manufacturer that sold him the machine. So even though casinos may advertise that their slot machines pay “up to 99 percent,” you have no clue if the slot machine standing in front of you returns that much, or probably a lot less.

Ahh, but standing next to those slot machines are the fewer in number, but higher in payback, video poker machines. Although they look like slot machines, there is one big, major difference. All the information you need to determine a video poker machine’s payback percentage is contained smack-dab on the front of the machine.

So, unlike slot machines, reading a video poker machine’s pay schedule is very important since it will give you information on the machine’s payback. And since video poker machines are not all created equal, by understanding how to read a video poker machine, you can scout the casino floor and find the ones that have the highest payback. Your job, therefore, is to understand how to read the pay schedules, and my job is to show you how easy it is to do it.

Playing skill

First you must understand that there is another important factor besides knowing how to read the pay schedules on video poker machines, and that is your skill in playing them.

With slot machines, skill plays no role, but it’s quite different with video poker. You will be dealt five electronic cards and you must decide which cards you want to keep (or hold) and which ones you want to discard for new ones (you only get to draw once). Your objective, of course, is to end up with a five-card poker hand that results in a payoff. So, no matter how well you learn to read the machine’s pay schedule, if you insist on discarding a low pair and keeping a single high card, or always keeping a kicker, your return will be much lower.

Fortunately, several video poker experts have already computed the optimum playing strategy for different video poker games. These strategies are available in books (a great new one is "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker"), videos, and software programs. However, I’ll show you how you can play like an expert without having to spend hours memorizing playing strategies.

Full pay vs. short pay

Video poker machines that have the highest payouts are known as full-pay machines. For example, look at the pay schedule for the original version of Jacks-or-Better. Specifically, we will look at the single-coin pay schedule for three different machines.

Jacks-or-Better Pay Schedules

A B C
Royal Flush 250 250 250
Straight Flush 50 50 50
4-of-a-Kind 25 25 25
Full House 9* 8* 6*
Flush 6* 5* 5*
Straight 4 4 4
3-of-a-Kind 3 3 3
2 pairs 2 2 2
Pair of Jacks 1 1 1
or Better
Payback percent 99.5% 97.3% 95.0%

Every video poker machine that has ever been built will list somewhere on the front of the machine, or on the screen itself, the pay schedule for each winning hand for the number of coins (or credits) played. Glance at the pay schedules for machines A, B, and C above (for a single coin play). You will notice a difference in the payouts for a full house and flush. Machine A pays 9 coins for the full house and 6 coins for the flush. Likewise, Machine B pays 8/5 and C pays only 6/5. No big deal, you say? Well, these slight differences in payouts result in machine A having an overall payback of 99.5 percent with expert play (this also assumes you play the maximum five coins and the royal flush payout for maximum coins played is 4,000 coins). The 8/5 Machine B, even with expert play, will yield a long term payout of 97.3 percent and the 6/5 Machine C only 95.0 percent.

Greater than 100 percent payback machines

When video poker players became smarter about how to select the full-pay 9/6 Jacks-or-Better machines, the casinos began to flood the market with all different kinds of variations. Each of these variations (e.g., deuces wild, jokers wild, double bonus, etc.) have their own specific full-pay schedule and expert playing strategy.

There isn’t enough space in this column to list the full pay schedules for every type of video poker machine you will find in a casino. Therefore, I’ve summarized the full-pay schedules for the popular Deuces Wild and Double Bonus Poker machines as a starter. I’ve chosen these games because they are fairly popular and, more importantly, they offer the astute video poker player the opportunity to play with an expected return that exceeds 100 percent (that means these machines will pay out more coins then they take in over time with expert play).

Notice I’ve highlighted the key payoffs for specific hands that you need to look for as you scout and read the different video poker machines in a casino. For the Deuces Wild machine, make sure the 4-of-a-Kind payoff is 5 coins (not 4) and for the Double Bonus machines look for a 10/7 payout for the full house and flush.


Double Bonus Poker

Royal Flush 250 *
Straight Flush 50
Four Aces 160
Four 2s, 3s, or 4s 80
Four 5s through Kings 50
Full House 10
Flush 7
Straight 5
3-of-Kind 3
2 Pairs 1
Pair of Jacks or Better 1
Payback Percent 100.2 percent

  • 4,000 coin payout for Royal Flush with max coins played


Deuces Wild

Royal Flush 250 *
4 Deuces 200
Royal Flush with Deuces 25
5-of-a-Kind 15
Straight Flush 9
4-of-a-Kind 5
Full House 3
Flush 2
Straight 2
3-of-a-Kind 1
Payback percent 100.7 percent

  • 4,000 coin payout for Royal Flush with max coins played


Continued in Part 2 on June 29.

Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the smartgaming.com website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter.
Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
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.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

Winning Baccarat Strategies

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

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.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin