Most of the questions I received about progressive video poker machines have to do with the break-even point. A reader will ask, “How big does the jackpot have to be to reach 100 percent payback?” And I can answer: The expected return with expert play reaches 100 percent with an 8,666-coin royal at 8-5 Jacks or Better, 5,763 coins at 9-7-5 Double Bonus Poker or 9,515 coins at 8-5 Double Double Bonus Poker, to name a few.
A player named Mike came at progressives from a different angle.
“Every video poker pay table has different strategies, right?” he wrote in an e-mail. “So what about the different paybacks on royal flushes on progressives? When the jackpot increases, that must change the strategy.”
That is correct. As the jackpot increases, we get more aggressive about chasing royals. Exploring just where the strategy turning points are is a daunting task. Turning points are different in every game at every pay table – we don’t change strategies at the same jackpot size in Jacks or Better as opposed to Double Double Bonus Poker, nor in 8-5 Jacks vs. 7-5 Jacks.
For now, let’s look at some relatively low turning points in 8-5 Jacks or Better. The hands listed here have turning points of 5,000 coins or fewer.
- Approximately 4,400 – At about this level, 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 in 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, for example, if you have ace-king-jack suited, another jack plus an off-suit 5, the break-even point rises to 4,985 coins. With a bigger pot, hold the three-card royal; with less, hold the jacks.
- Approximately 4,600 – In a hand with a flush penalty card, suited King-10 becomes a better play than holding the king by itself. Dealt king-10-5 of diamonds, 9 of spades and 2 of clubs, the break-even point is 4,580 coins. With a lower jackpot, hold the lone king, and with a higher jackpot, hold king-10.
- Approximately 4,750 – In a hand with a flush penalty card, suited jack-10 becomes a better play than unsuited king-jack. Given jack-10-3 of hearts, king of diamonds, 6 of spades, the EV is 2.4252 on either jack-10 or king-jack when the jackpot reaches 4,745 coins. At lower jackpots, the better play is king-jack, and with bigger money in the pot, the better play is jack-10.
- Approximately 5,000 – Suited queen-10 becomes a better play than unsuited ace-queen, if the hand has a flush penalty. Note even at a rollover value of 4,000 for a royal, suited Q-10 is the better play than unsuited A-Q if there is no flush penalty card in the original hand.
However if the jackpot gets big enough, it can raise the value of suited Q-10 enough that we keep just those two cards even if it means discarding a flush penalty. Dealt Q-10-3 of hearts, ace of clubs, 6 of spades, the break-even level is 4,950 coins. At that level, Q-10 and A-Q both have an EV of 2.3660.
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