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Video poker questions

30 September 2008

Video poker players have always been among the most inquisitive about how to get the most out of their games. In fact, I get more questions about video poker than anything else, with slot machines and blackjack running close behind.

The e-mail box has been filling up lately with video poker questions, so let's try to take care of some of your concerns:

Q. Are video poker pay tables ever changed anywhere besides full houses and flushes?

A. Yes. Deuces Wild, for one game, has variations with changes all up and down the pay table.

But that's probably not what you're talking about. In Jacks or Better-based games, such as Bonus Poker and Double Bonus Poker, we usually tell a high-paying game from a coin-gobbler by looking at the payoffs on full houses and flushes. An 8/5 Bonus Poker game, where full houses pay 8-for-1 and flushes pay 5-for-1, gives you a better payback percentage than a 7-5 game, where the full house return is reduced to 7-for-1. A 10-7 Double Bonus Poker game pays more than a 9/7 version, which pays more than a 9/6 version.

That all assumes standard payoffs on the rest of the game. Occasionally, you'll find a machine that changes something other than full houses and flushes.

Several years ago, I went to a casino whose best game had been 7/5 Bonus Poker, a 98% return with expert play. As I walked through, I was happy — at first — to see 8/5 Bonus Poker, an upgrade to 98.2%. But as I checked the rest of the pay table, something was wrong. Payoffs on three of a kind had been downgraded from the standard 3-for-1 to 2-for-1. A five-coin bet would bring only 10 coins on three of kind instead of the usual 15.

That makes a huge difference, dropping the return with expert play all the way down to an unplayable 91.7%.

Look for the payoffs on full houses and flushes first, but then check the rest of the pay table. If it's not what you expect for that particular game, be wary. Changes lower on the pay table, on more frequently occurring hands, usually have a greater impact on the overall return than those higher on the pay table. For an exception, read on.

Q. My wife and I went to play Jacks or Better video poker, and couldn't find the full 9/6 game. Instead, we found 9/5 Jacks or Better and 8/6 Jacks or Better — one lowered the payoff on flushes, the other lowered the payout on full houses. Does it make a difference which you play? Is one better than the other.

A. Those two Jacks or Better variations are virtually even. The 9/5 game returns 98.44% with expert play, while the 8/6 version pays 98.39%.

Usually, I'd tell you that the game with the higher payoff lower on the pay table is the better game. We suspend that logic a little when it comes to full houses, flushes and straights in Jacks or Better-based games. That's hands of those three ranks occur with nearly the same frequency.

In the 8/6 version of Jacks or Better, we draw full houses an average of once per 86.86 hands, flushes once per 90.79 and straights once per 89.02. Because of strategy differences, the numbers are slightly different on 9/5 Jacks — full houses once per 86.85 hands, flushes once per 91.81 and straights once per 89.04.

Note that even though the frequency is VERY close for all three ranks, full houses occur the most often by a slim margin. That's why the game with the higher full house payoff is slightly better than the game with the enhanced flush return.

Q. I've often played the game you called "Illinois" Deuces Wild, where fours-of-a-kind and full houses both pay 4-for-1, and flushes pay 3-for-1. I recently came across a version where royal flushes with wild cards paid only 20-for-1 and fives-of-a-kind 12-for-1 instead of the usual 25 and 15. How much difference does that make?

A. Those two changes drop the overall return from 98.9% with expert play to 97.1. I'd avoid it.

If you have several casinos to choose from, I'd suggest looking for places that have the "Not So Ugly" version of Deuces Wild. Those take the Illinois Deuces pay table and enhance it, rather than lower it. On version raises the five of a kind pay to 16-for-1 and straight flushes to 10-for-1, yielding a 99.7% game with expert play. Another leaves it five of a kind 15-for-1, but raises straight flushes all the way to 11-for-1, leaving a 99.9% game.

You can find a guide to video poker pay tables throughout the United States at http://members.cox.net/vpfree/index.htm

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