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What's in a (video poker game's) name?

26 April 2011

Usually, the name of a video poker game is enough to give you an idea of what to expect. If it's Jacks or Better, you know you're going to get 2-for-1 on two-pair hands, that all four of a kinds are going to pay 125 credits for a five-credit bet, and that the play experience is on a fairly even keel.

If the name is Double Double Bonus Poker, on the other hand, you know you're in for a wild ride. Two pairs pay only 1-for-1, which just gets your bet back. But any four of a kind is a big payer. Instead of the 125-coin return on Jacks or Better, you'll get 250 for a five-credit wager on most quads, 400 on four 2s, 3s or 4s, 800 if those 2s-4s are accompanied by another 2-4 or an ace as a fifth card, 800 on four aces, or a 2,000-coin bonanza if the four aces have a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth-card kicker.

You still need to check the full house and flush paybacks to make sure you're getting the best deal, with 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes being the full-pay versions of both games. But regardless of those, you know what the basic features of the game are going to be.

And then there's Bonus Poker. The title has a long pedigree dating back to the 1980s, when it became the third truly popular video poker game after Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild.

For many years, the name was descriptive of a specific play experience. Bonus Poker paid 2-for-1 on two pairs, making it an even-keel experience like Jacks or Better. Full house and flush paybacks were reduced, with 8/5 being the full-pay game. To offset that, some four of a kind paybacks were enhanced, with four 2s, 3s or 4s paying 200 credits for a five-credit bet, and four aces paying 400.

But in recent years, the Bonus Poker has become kind of a catch-all title. I've seen versions that keep the quad bonuses, but pay only 1-for-1 on two pairs while enhancing full houses and flushes. Those games have lower payback percentages than classic Bonus Poker.

So does a current version that has been turning up in local casinos. More and more I've been seeing "Bonus Poker" on which all four of a kinds pay 150 per five credits wagered.

There's no 400-coin jackpot on four aces, or 200 coins on four 2s-4s. The bonus is just a 25-credit increase from Jacks or Better quad payoffs, and the cost is the lower full house and flush payoffs that come with Bonus Poker.

Classic 8/5 Bonus Poker pays 99.2% with expert play. With all quads paying 150, 8/5 Bonus Poker pays only 98.5%. If you go down a level, to the 7/5 game where full houses pay 7-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, the classic version that includes the 400- and 200-credit levels on quads returns 98.0%, while the 150-for-all-quads version pays only 97.3%.

It's even worse with the older version I mentioned, the one that left the four-of-a-kind bonuses intact, but reduced the two-pair payoff to 1-for-1. That one looked enticing because of its 10-8 pay table, returning 10-for-1 on full houses and 8-for-1 on flushes. That didn't come close to offsetting the drop in the two-pair return. This version of Bonus Poker returned only 94.2 percent with expert play, 5 percent less than classic 8-5 Bonus Poker.

Digging even farther back into memory, one of my regular haunts once rolled out Bonus Poker machines that looked for all the world like the classic 8/5 game. The bonuses were intact, two pairs paid 2-for-1 — I was ready to settle in for a session.

A closer look revealed that three of a kind paid only 2-for-1 instead of the standard 3-for-1. THAT was a problem. Three of a kind occurs frequently enough that the short payback costs 7.5% of the expected return, and takes this "Bonus Poker" all the way down to a 91.7% return.

It's a let-the-buyer-beware situation that goes beyond the simple full house-flush check we need to do at most video poker games. If you're going to play Bonus Poker, check to make sure the bonuses are intact, that two pairs pay 2-for-1 and that three of a kind pays 3-for-1. What you see is what you get, but make sure you're seeing all that's there and not just the name.

VIDEO TALK: When I was in Las Vegas last November for the Global Gaming Expo, Steve Bourie asked me to stop by for a little talk about playing the slots. Bourie, who is the author and publisher of the annual American Casino Guide, had the camera rolling while I rambled on about how slot machines work. The results are now posted online. You can see the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7GfxooxRt4.
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:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski