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Best of John Grochowski

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There's More Than One Expert Strategy for Video Poker

20 June 2006

When you see me or anyone else write about expert strategy in video poker, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind:

Video poker is not just one game, and there is no one expert strategy.

Within the video poker family, there are a variety of games --- Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Super Aces and on and on. Each game has its own expert strategy. Try to apply expert strategy for one game to another, and you'll often find yourself making a play that his somewhat less than optimal.

If you ask me the best strategy for a hand such as 2, 8 and 10 of hearts, 9 of diamonds and 6 of spades, I'll have to ask you what game you're playing. There is no single expert play for the hand. Check out these examples:

9-6 Jacks or Better: Toss away the entire hand. You'll average a 1.8-coin return per five coins wagered by chucking it all and hoping for a good draw, compared with a 1.73-coin return for the next best option, hold the 2, 8 and 10 of hearts and hoping for a long-shot draw to a flush, with two pair and three of a kind also possible.

10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker: The enhanced 5-for-1 payback on straights in Double Bonus means we try for inside straight draws that we wouldn't bother with on other games. By holding the 6-8-9-10 of mixed suits, with have a 4-in-47 chance of pulling one of the four 7s to complete a straight. Our average return is 2.13 coins per five wagered. And since flushes pay 7-for-1 in this game, our next best option is to hold the three hearts, with an average return of 1.82 coins.

9-7 Triple Double Bonus Poker: Here straights pay only 4-for-1, as in most Jacks or Better-based video poker games, so we don't go for the inside straight. However, the 7-for-1 payoff gives us a viable play. We'll get back an average of 1.78 coins per five wagered if we hold the 2, 8 and 10 of hearts, and only 1.7 for tossing the entire hand.

Full-pay Deuces Wild: The deuce is wild, so here it serves as a 7 that will complete a straight --- 6-2-8-9-10 brings us the 2-for-1 straight payoff we get in Deuces Wild. That makes our return 10 coins per five wagered, which dwarfs the 5.12-coin average return for the next best play, holding the 2 alone and tossing the other five.

One hand. Four games. Four different expert strategies.

That doesn't even take into account that there are games within the games. There's not just one Double Bonus Poker pay table. In the Midwest, we don't often see the 10-7-5 version, where full houses pay 10-for-1, flushes 7-for-1 and straights 5-for-1. That's a game I consider a treat when I see it in Las Vegas. Closer to home, we do see Double Bonus in 9-7-5, 9-6-5, 9-6-4 and 8-5-4 versions.

Each of those versions has its own expert strategy. The big changes come when we drop from a 7-for-1 payoff on flushes to 6-for-1, and when we drop from 5-for-1 on straights to 4-for-1, just because we see partial flushes and straights so often.

Let's try a sample hand from my Video Poker Answer Book, in which we're dealt two deuces, along with a 3, 4 and 5 of mixed suits. In 10-7-5 Double Bonus, we hold one of the 2s, along with the 3, 4 and 5. That brings us an average return of 4.26 coins per five wagered, compared with 4.13 if we keep the pair of deuces instead. On the more common 9-6-5 Double Bonus, we make the same play. In fact, the margin is a little wider since the drop to a 6-for-1 payoff on full houses drops our expected return to 4.08 coins when we keep the 2s, while the average return stays at 4.26 on 2-3-4-5.

But what if we're on a Double Bonus machine where straights pay only 4-for-1? I don't recommend playing at that pay table, but if you play anyway, keep in mind that the expert strategy changes with the pay table. On 9-6-4 Double Bonus, the average return for keeping the pair of 2s holds up at 4.08 coins, but the average return for holding 2-3-4-5 plummets to 3.4 coins. If we want the most from the game, we change our play with the pay table.

You might just how one is supposed to remember all that. I know I ask myself that question all the time. And the practical answer is that you can't memorize everything. There are too many games, and too many pay table variations. Pick out the games you're most likely to play, and practice. I practice on the Frugal Video Poker and Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker programs. You can change the pay tables on the software --- set them up for the games within the games you find where you play. Because, after all, you'll want the expert strategy for your game of choice.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9).

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:

> More Books By John Grochowski