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Different pay tables require different strategies

24 May 2011

Different video poker games, and different pay tables within the same game theme, have different payback percentages.

That's not because the odds of drawing any particular hand are different in one game than another. It's down to two factors: Some games pay more on winning hands than others, and player strategy changes to account for those differences in payoffs.

Take Deuces Wild. The original full-pay version of the game pays the usual 250-for-1 on natural royal flushes, with the jackpot leaping to 4,000 coins if you wagered five. From there, it paid 200-for-1 on four 2s, 25-for-1 on royals with wild cards, 15-for-1 on five of a kind, 9-for-1 on straight flushes, 5-for-1 on four of a kind, 3-for-1 on full houses, 2-for-1 on flushes, 2-for-1 on straights and 1-for-1 on three of a kind. With expert play, it returns 100.8% — which is why today full-pay Deuces are rare games to find.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a casino that has "Not So Ugly" Deuces Wild, which returns 99.7% with expert play. Four of a kind drops to a 4-for-1 payback. That by itself outweighs increased returns on four other hands, with straight flushes up to 16-for-1, straight flushes at 10-for-1, full houses at 4-for-1 and flushes at 3-for-1.

Now, the games don't say "full-pay Deuces Wild" or "Not So Ugly Deuces Wild" on the screen. They just say Deuces Wild. "Full-pay" and "Not So Ugly" are nicknames given to the games by players, a shorthand way of communicating which version we're discussing. It's up to the player to check the pay table and figure out whether one of these games is offered, or if they're seeing a lower-paying version of Deuces.

When we start talking about payback percentages of 100.8% and 99.7%, those are great games, among the best deals you'll find in casinos. To get there, you have to play at expert level. And expert play is different for the two games.

A prime example comes when we're dealt two pairs. Let's say we're dealt 8-8-4-4-3 of mixed suits. If you're playing full-pay Deuces, the best play is to hold either pair, and discard the other three cards. If you hold one pair, there are 16,125 possible draws. Of those, 4,572 will bring three of a kind, 385 will bring a full house, 615 will bring four of a kind and 20 will bring five of a kind.

That makes the average payback for holding one pair 2.81 credits for each five credits wagered.

If you hold both pairs, there are only 47 possible draws. Eight of them will complete a full house, for an average return of 2.55 credits per five wagered.

On a Not So Ugly Deuces machine, playing the same strategy will bring the same number of winners. But the pay table differences change the best play. Holding only one pair brings an average return of 2.74 credits per five wagered. The increased payback on full houses means that when you hold both pairs, the average return soars to 3.40 credits per five wagered.

So we switch strategies and hold both pairs when dealt two pairs in Not So Ugly Deuces.

If we always held both pairs in Deuces Wild, we'd be settling for a lower payback percentage in the full-pay game. And if we always held only one pair, we'd be reducing our own returns in Not So Ugly Deuces.

We can't change what happens when we hit the draw button. But we can adjust our strategies to best take advantage of what each pay table gives us.

FLUSHES, TOO: While the difference in four of a kind and full-pays are an important part in determining Deuces Wild strategy changes, other hands play a role, too. One key is 2-for-1 payoff on flushes in full-pay Deuces versus 3-for-1 in the NSU game.

We chase many more flush opportunities in NSU Deuces. One important hand to watch comes when we're dealt four cards to a flush while also being dealt a pair. Let's say we're dealt 3-6-7-9 of hearts, along with a 9 of clubs. If we hold the pair, we have chances at three of a kind, full houses, four of a kind or five of a kind. If we hold just the hearts, then 12 of 47 possible draws will yield a full house, while the other 35 are non-payers.

In NSU Deuces, the bigger flush payback leads us to hold just the hearts. Holding the five hearts brings an average return of 3.83 credits per five wagered, while holding the pair brings just 2.73. In the full-pay game, the average return for five credits wagered rises slightly, to 2.80 credits, but the average for holding four hearts and going for the flush plummets to 2.55.

The chances of drawing a winning hand are no different on one Deuces version than on the other. But what those winners pay IS different, and that dictates a change in strategy.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
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. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

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. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski