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Best of John Grochowski

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More on Max Coin: Video Poker

5 April 2005

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that while on most reel-spinning slot machines playing maximum coins brings the best payback percentage, it also increases overall losses. It's a bad idea to play progressive slots or buy-a-pays where each coin activates different symbols without betting the max. But on your run-of-the-mill multiplier, your percentage gain for betting max coins is offset by larger average losses.

That brought a number of inquiries from video poker, wondering whether the same applies to their favorite game, with a five-coin maximum bet on most single-hand games.

The issue is a little more complex here, due to the higher payback percentages we see on video poker than on the slots, and because the jump in the top jackpot for max-coins play is so extreme. Video poker games that pay in excess of 100 percent with expert play are rare in the Midwest, though there are many in Nevada. But if you compare pay tables, you'll find many 99-percent-plus games in these parts, such as 9-6 Jacks or Better, 9-7 Double Bonus Poker and "Not So Ugly" Deuces Wild. And 98-percent-plus games are pretty common.

On most video poker machines, a royal flush pays 250 coins with one coin wagered, then multiplies to 500 for two, 750 for three and 1,000 for four. With the maximum five coins wagered, that jackpot soars to 4,000 coins. Essentially, on each of the first four coins we wager, we get 250 coins back when we're lucky enough to fill in a royal, but on that fifth coin, we get another 3,000. That makes an enormous difference in our per-coin payback percentages.

Let's use 9-6 Jacks or Better as an example. On most hands, we're getting the same payback per coin wagered no many how many coins we bet --- 1-for-1 on a pair of Jacks or better, 2-for-1 on two pair, 3-for-1 on three of a kind, 4-for-1 on a straight, 6-for-1 on a flush, 9-for-1 on a full house, 25-for-1 on four of a kind and 50-for-1 on a straight flush. If we don't bet the max, we get only 250-for-1 on a royal.

With that pay table, our expected return with expert play is 98.4 percent, regardless of whether we bet one, two, three of four coins. To bring our overall payback percentage to the 99.5 we expect with expert play and max coins wagered, our return on just the fifth coin has to be considerably higher. And it is.

Since a royal with four coins wagered brings us 1,000 coins, we can attribute 3,000 coins of our royal bonanza to the fifth coin wagered. What do you think the payback percentage is for a 9-6 Jacks or Better pay table that is normal in every respect, except that the royal is worth 3,000 coins per coin wagered?

Would you believe 106.2 percent? That's what turned up when I ran that pay table through the Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker software.

Unlike slot machines, most video poker games give back more than 100 percent of wagers on that final coin that takes you to the max. Yes, five-coin wagers still make money for the casino, but in the long run they give less to the house and leave more for you than four-coin wagers, or even three-coin wagers.

If you're short-bankrolled and need to bet one or two coins at a time, well, there a lot worse bets in the casino than single-coin video poker. But four-coin play, and even three-coin play, is something I can't recommend. At that level, you're taking on most of the risk while limiting your potential rewards. I can't tell you to always bet the max, but four-coin play at video poker makes you the most profitable player --- for the house.

* * *

There are situations in which short-coin play can actually be better for a video poker player than betting the max --- but they require a change of coin denomination.

I was in a casino recently that had quarter games with 8-5 Jacks or Better, dropping full house paybacks to 8-for-1 and flushes to 5-for-1. With expert play, that pay table returns 97.3 percent. The casino also had 9-6 Jacks or Better for dollar players. As we've just seen, single-coin play returns 98.4 percent on that game, so the player gets more bang for a buck there than he'd get with a max coins buck-and-a-quarter on the 25-cent 8-5 machine.

That one's easy to spot --- with full house and flush paybacks lowered by a unit each, there's a two-unit discrepancy between the two pay tables. It's a closer call when the discrepancy is only one unit. On 9-6 Double Bonus Poker, for instance, the payback with expert play is 97.8 percent. That goes up only to 98.0 percent for single-coin play on 9-7 Double Bonus, a 99.1 percent game at max-coin bets. That difference is so small the player needs to weigh whether passing up the chance at a 4,000-coin royal is worth the small percentage gain.

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:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> 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:

> More Books By John Grochowski