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When to play progressive video poker

15 February 2011

It was late on a Monday afternoon; my wife, Marcy, and I were both free; and we decided to take a drive to one of the nearby casinos for dinner and a little playtime.

When we walked in, Marcy asked, "Do they have the Penguins game here?" She's enamored of Lucky Penny slot machines with what WMS Gaming calls "physics-based bonuses" in which penguins slide down snowy hills, flip through the water and up to a cliff, bouncing their way to credits.

I told her I didn't know, and she went off for a look. I'd spotted a cluster of players in the video poker area, and wanted to see what was drawing all the attention. There was a long bank of quarter video poker games against a wall. The center machines were jam-packed, while games to either side were mostly empty.

It turned out that those on the center machines were all playing 7/5 Double Double Bonus Poker with a progressive jackpot on the royal flush. Other games in the bank also included Double Double Bonus among multiple games, with an 8/5 pay table — meaning full houses pay 8-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1 — but no progressive.

Neither of those Double Double Bonus pay tables is particularly strong. What's usually regarded as full-pay at that game is a 9/6 pay table, paying 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes. A few Las Vegas casinos that cater to the video poker trade offer a 10/6 version, and others go the opposite direction, dropping the flush payback in a 9/5 version.

A one-unit change in full house or flush payback changes the expected return by about 1%, with the 9/6 game paying 98.98% with expert play.

The games in this casino paid a bit less. At a rollover value of 4,000 coins for a royal flush with five coins wagered, 8/5 Double Double Bonus is a 96.8% game with expert play, and 7/5 Double Double Bonus is just over a percent worse, at 95.7.

Still, once people are in the casino, they're going to play what's there. The question becomes whether the value of the progressive jackpot is enough to make it a better play than the game with the higher full house return.

When I was there, the progressive jackpot stood at about $1,173, or 4,692 quarters. That raised the overall return to 96.1% with expert play — still lower than the 8/5 non-progressive.

On most video poker games, royals account for about 1% of our return, and it takes roughly a 2,000-coin increase in the royal to overcome a one-coin decrease in full house or flush returns. Here, the turning point comes at a 1,951-coin increase. With a 5,951-coin royal, the 7/5 game pays slightly less than the 8/5 version, while at 5,952 it pays slightly more.

It's a close, close call. To go overboard with the decimals, the exact expected return with expert play on 8/5 Double Double Bonus is 96.7861%, as calculated on WinPoker software. On 7/5 Double Double Bonus with a 5,951-coin progressive, it's 96.7859%. To convert to dollars, that means the progressive display has to be higher than $1,487.85 for the 7/5 game to have a payback percentage as high as the 8/5 version.

Even then, you have to make a decision on whether you want more of your return in full houses or that rare royal flush.

As for the Penguins, "I didn't find any," Marcy said. "Did you find what you wanted?"

Well, I found out what I needed. When comparing video poker games, you pay your money and you take your choice, but keep in mind that progressive is not always better.

ROYAL RARITY: As a rule of thumb, we draw royal flushes about once per 40,000 hands. That changes a bit with game and pay table because our strategy changes. An expert playing a game with a progressive jackpot will draw more royals than on a non-progressive machine because of strategy changes as the jackpot increases.

Let's use as an example the 7/5 progressive and 8/5 non-progressive Double Double Bonus games listed above. In the 8/5 game, we'll see royals an average of once per 40,066 hands. In the 7/5 game with the progressive jackpot at 5,951 coins, royals come an average of once per 34,880 hands if we adjust strategy to jackpot size.

Now let's say we're dealt Jacks of spades and diamonds, a queen of diamonds, and kings of diamonds and clubs. In the 8/5 non-progressive version of Double Double Bonus, the best play is to keep both pairs. That brings back an average of 7.98 coins per five coins wagered, compared to 6.95 for keeping the suited king-queen-jack.

But in the version with the 5,951-coin progressive, the value of chasing the royal by holding just the three high diamonds soars to 8.75 coins per five wagered. The expected return on the two pairs drops a bit to 7.55 coins because of the lower full-house payback, but the reason we're reversing our play is the enhanced royal return.

Strategy switches like that increase the frequency of royals and help the player get the most out of progressive games.

When to play progressive video poker is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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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