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Best Video Poker Play and Being a Comp Wizard

24 February 2013

By John Grochowski

QUESTION: Please explain a piece of video poker strategy to me. I’ve heard that when you have a low pair and a high card, like two 6s and a Jack, you’re supposed to keep the pair and throw away the Jack. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Don’t you have a lot more chances to draw a winner if you hold the Jack? You get four cards, and only one of them has to match up to win. Would a reasonable compromise be to hold both the pair and the Jack, so you have a chance at the pair winners and the pair of Jacks?

ANSWER: When you hold a single high card, you’ll get more winners than when you hold a low pair, but holding the low pair will bring bigger winners and more money overall. That fact is one of the cornerstones in video poker strategy.

In Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker, where two pairs pay 2-for-1, most players trying to learn strategy pick up on the idea quickly. It is games such as Bonus Poker Deluxe, Double Bonus Poker and Double Double Bonus Poker that give players trouble. There, two-pair hands pay only one for one --- all they do is give you your bet back, the same as a pair of Jacks on up.

Let’s use 9-6 Double Double Bonus as an example, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1. Given a hand with 6 of hearts, 6 of diamonds, 2 of clubs, 10 of clubs and Jack of spades. Holding the 6s will bring winners on 4,566 of 16,125 possible draws, or 28.3 percent. Hold just the Jack, and it is 60,134 winners in 178,365 hands, or 33.7 percent. The compromise, holding 6-6-Jack, has 280 winners per 1,081 trials, or 25.9 percent.

However, when you hold just the pair, 1,854 of your winners are three of a kind, 165 full houses and 45 four of a kind, meaning 45.2 percent of winners bring more than your money back. Hold the Jack alone, that plummets to 9.6 percent, with 75.4 percent of winning hands being high pairs. Hold 6-6-Jack, and 94 of the 280 winners, or 33.6 percent, are the profitable three of a kind or better.

Bottom line: Holding the 6s brings an average return of 3.67 coins per five coins wagered, holding 6-6-Jack brings 2.63 and holding the Jack by itself brings 2.22. It’s a landslide for holding both pairs, even in games where two pairs return only 1-for-1. You’ll win less often than if you hold the high card, and fewer winners mean more volatility and the potential for longer losing streaks. But overall, you’ll get better returns by keeping the low pair.

Incidentally, in the compromise option, holding 6-6-Jack is no better than holding 6-6-10 or 6-6-2. Since all winners given those starts will be at least two pairs, high pair winners don’t enter the equation and rank doesn’t matter. But the best play is to hold the 6s and discard everything else.


QUESTION: When casinos use card-reading shoes, RFID chips or video pads for dealing cards or betting, does it matter to anyone who’s not a card counter? I had a pit boss tell me that the electronic wagers were better for me, because they could give me the comps I deserve.

ANSWER: If you’re not an advantage player, electronic betting pads can increase your loss per hour because they speed up the game. When all payouts are automatic and the dealer doesn’t have to take time to pay winners and collect chips from losers, he or she can focus on dealing more hands per hour.

RFID chips don’t speed up the game, but they can change the distribution of comps, as can electronic betting pads. They can give the casino an accurate read on your bet size. Is that a good thing? It depends on your skill in playing the comp game.

If you’re an average player who’s not doing anything special to maximize comps, then you might benefit by the casino tracking your wagers with the same precision as the tracking of slot machine wagers. On the other hand, if you’re able to apply a little comp wizardry, you don’t want the casino to have too accurate a handle on your wagers.

As described by Max Rubin when his book “Comp City” was published in 1994, there’s an art to disguising your play so the pit supervisor thinks it’s bigger than it is. One simple play Rubin described was to make your big bets in the first few hands after your buy-in while the supervisor was likely to be watching. When the supervisor looks away and gets busy with other duties, it’s time to bring your bets down. If you’re a $10 player who can make it look like you’re betting $25 a hand, then maybe you’ll get comps based on the higher level.

Accurate bet-tracking takes that out of play. If comps come out of a fixed budget, then perhaps a few dollars that would have gone to comp wizards will be distributed among other players. That leaves a net gain for the average guy and a net loss for those who now play the comp game well.

There’s also the potential for card-reading shoes to affect comp distribution, depending on how they’re used. If they’re used in combination with analytical software to rate players’ ability, then casinos could adjust comp rates to the caliber of player. If you’re found to be a basic strategy player or better, the casino could lower your comp rate while increasing comps to lesser players.

So yes, any of the modern tracking equipment can affect comp rates. Whether it’s for better or for worse depends on your skill level.
John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago, with podcasts at www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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