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Best of John Grochowski

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Strategy changes for video poker

7 December 2014

QUESTION: The casino near my home has a lot of progressive video poker games. They usually have pay tables a little lower than on their non-progressive games, but then you get more on the royal flush. I know you’ve written about this before that there are break-even points, but doesn’t it make a difference in your strategy, too?

ANSWER: Yes, getting the most out of progressive video games does mean adapting your strategy to chase royals more often as the jackpot grows. Virtually any hand that contains a royal flush card has a break-even point beyond which it’s a more profitable play to go for the royal rather than make the usual strategy play. However, many such plays come at jackpot levels you’re unlikely to see in casinos. Knowing that in 8-5 Jacks or Better, the royal prize has to get up to 19,500 coins before you hold suited King-Queen-10 instead of three 10s is more of a trivia answer than a useful strategy guideline.

However, some hands that are much closer calls where the jackpot doesn’t have to be so high to reverse strategies. Those hands and turning points are different on different games and different pay tables, and detailing them, their whys and wherefores even for a single game or pay table would take up the space allotted to this column for weeks.

But I can give you a couple of examples of the kinds of things serious progressive players look for. Let’s say the game is 8-5 Jacks or Better. The beginning jackpot on a royal flush is set at the same 4,000 coins you’d get on a non-progressive game. A percentage of each wager is added to the jackpot.

In that game, when the jackpot reaches about 4,400 coins, it becomes profitable to hold three cards to a royal instead of a high pair. For example, if you’re dealt suited King-Queen-Jack, another Jack and an off-suit 5, the break-even point is 4,420 coins, or $1,105 on a quarter progressive. At that level, the average return is 7.6318 coins for a five-coin bet regardless of whether you hold the pair of Jacks or the suited K-Q-J.

The break-even point is higher when there is a gap between the royal flush cards or when an Ace is involved. Both of those circumstances limit the number of potential straights, and reduce the value of holding the three-card royal. So if you have Ace-King-Jack suited, another Jack plus an off-suit 5, the break-even point rises to 4,985 coins. When the jackpot reaches that level, holding the pair of Jacks and holding the three-card royal have the same 7.6318-coin expected value.

Another example: At approximately 5,900 coins, suited Jack-10 becomes a better play than unsuited Queen-Jack. With Jack-10 of hearts, Queen of diamonds, 6 of spades, 3 of clubs, it’s break-even at a 5,900-coin jackpot, with average values of 2.4844 on either suited Jack-10 or unsuited Queen-Jack.

There are dozens of turning points, and they’re different on each game and pay table. If you really want to get in depth on strategy changes, one way to go about it is through software such as WinPoker or Video Poker for Winners – I used WinPoker to calculate the examples above. Set up the game at the pay table you see on the progressive pay table you see, then check strategy on potential royal hands at different jackpot levels. It’s a painstaking procedure, but I know of no guide that already has done the number crunching for all the different games and pay tables we see on progressive video poker machines.


QUESTION: The blackjack games I see are six-deck and eight-deck shoes. Pretty often, dealers change in the middle of a shoe. When that happens, the next card to be dealt is buried instead. Does that make any difference in the odds?

ANSWER: No. Burying a card makes no difference to basic strategy players, average players or anyone else who doesn’t count cards. For card counters, it effectively reduces deck penetration by one card – they see one card fewer than they would if there was no dealer change. In a six-deck or eight-deck shoe, the difference that makes is negligible.
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