Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Changing Times for Video Poker

Strategy changes for short-pay Jacks or Better

By Jerry “Stickman” Stitch

 

Gone are the golden days of video poker when you could readily find returns of 100+ percent. Those games are now virtually extinct. You can still find some full-pay Jacks or Better (9/6 – meaning 9-for-1 paid for a full house and 6-for-1 paid for a flush) which returns 99.54 percent with expert play. However, even these games are becoming harder and harder to locate. You are much more likely to come across short-pay version such as 9/5, 8/6, 8/5, 7/5 and even 6/5.

Keep in mind that for every one unit reduction in pay, the game’s return is lowered about 1.1 percent.

payout

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to reduce the normally low house edge video poker to nothing more than a slot machine in terms of return. Also, keep in mind that these returns are for “expert” play—you need to work to get these returns!

Many casinos regularly change the pay tables on their video poker games. Just because a particular machine had a full-pay game last week doesn’t mean it will be a full-pay game today. The astute video poker player must be alert for pay table changes.

Obviously, as the pay tables change, so must the playing strategy. As the pay for one type of hand lowers, other hands start to become more desirable. In the paragraphs below I will examine some of the strategy changes required for some short-pay Jacks or Better pay tables. I am using simplified “basic” strategies when highlighting changes. Advanced strategies will likely have more changes. If you are serious about playing short-pay games, you should find a program or an app that generates strategies and abide by what is generated. Actually, if you are serious about video poker play of any kind you should get a strategy generating program or app.

Jacks or Better strategy is fairly simple. It contains relatively few lines. Here is a basic playing strategy for full-pay Jacks or Better. To use the strategy, start at the top and see if that line describes your dealt hand. If there are multiple hands listed, move from left to right. If you locate your hand, keep those cards. If not, continue moving across then down line-by-line until you find your hand. If you reach the bottom without finding your hand, don’t save anything, just redraw all five cards. The colors represent what the player is saving for. Red stands for royal flush, Blue stands for straight flush, Green stands for four of a kind or full house, Pink stands for flush, and Violet stands for straight. Here is the “Basic” strategy for full-pay 9/6 (9-for-1 for a full house, 6-for-1 for a flush) Jacks or Better.

chart

  1. 5-Card Royal
  2. 5-Card Straight Flush
  3. Four of a Kind
  4. 4 of a Royal
  5. Full House
  6. 5-card Flush
  7. Three of a Kind
  8. 5-Card Straight
  9. 4 of an Open Straight Flush, 2345-9TJQ
  10. Two Pair
  11. 4 of an Inside Straight Flush
  12. High Pair JJ-AA
  13. 3 of a Royal
  14. 4 of a Flush
  15. Unsuited TJQK
  16. Low Pair 22-TT
  17. Unsuited 9TJQ, 89TJ
  18. Suited QJ9, JT9
  19. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  20. Suited QJ8
  21. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  22. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8 or J98
  23. Suited QJ
  24. Unsuited AKQJ
  25. Suited KQ, KJ, AK, AQ or AJ
  26. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  27. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2 Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  28. Unsuited KQJ, QJ
  29. Suited JT
  30. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  31. Suited QT
  32. Unsuited AK, AQ or AJ
  33. Suited KT
  34. A Lone Jack, Queen, King or Ace
  35. Any 3 card Straight Flush

That was the basic playing strategy for full-pay(9/6) Jacks or Better. The complete pay tablelooks like this:

Royal Flush…………………….250/4000

Straight Flush……………………………50

Four of a Kind…………………………..25

Full House …………………………………9

Flush………………………………………….6

Straight………………………………………4

Three of Kind…………………………….3

Two Pair…………………………………….2

Jacks or Better…………………………….1

9/5 Jacks or Better Strategy Changes

Now let’s assume you have scoured the casino for the best video poker you can find and came up with a Jacks or Better game that pays 9/5.The only change to the pay table is flushes are paid 5-for-1 rather than 6-for-1. While not fantastic, this game returns 98.45 percent with ex-pert play and with the right combination of slot club points and other comp considerations, this game could offer over 100 percent return when counting the extras. How would playing strategy change with this minor pay table change?

Much of the basic strategy chart stays the same. Here is the section that contains changes. The first change is line 21.

  1. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  2. Suited QJ8
  3. Unsuited AKQJ
  4. Suited QJ
  5. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  6. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8, or J98
  7. Suited KQ, KJ, AK, AQ, AJ
  8. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  9. Unsuited KQJ, QJ
  10. 3 of an Inside Straight Flush, 2 Gaps, 1Hi Card
  11. Suited JT
  12. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  13. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2 Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  14. Unsuited AK, AQ, or AJ    
  15. Suited QT

The first two lines are in the same position as the full-pay strategy. As the flush becomes less important, the four-card straight with four high cards moves up from line 24 to 21 and several other lines are rearranged. Lines 34 and 35 are the same as in full-pay strategy.

8/6 Jacks or Better Strategy Changes

In this case, the full house pay is reduced to 8-for-1 from 9-for-1. The return of this game is reduced to 98.39 percent—just slightly less than the 9/5 version of the game.

How does reducing the pay for a full house affect the playing strategy? Interestingly enough, the basic version of the strategy is exactly the same as for the full-pay (9/6) version. When no full-pay Jacks or Better games are available and you have the choice of playing 9/5 or 8/6 Jacks or Better; it might be prudent to choose the 8/6 version. Even though the return is 0.06 percent less than the 9/5 version, there are no strategy changes to remember.

8/5 Jacks or Better Strategy Changes

In these days of increased casino greed quite often the best Jacks or Better game you will find is an 8/5 version. It reduces the return to 97.29 percent from the 99.54 percent return for full-pay. If you can rationalize the nearly three percent reduction from 100 percent games by including slot club points and other promotions and comps, what changes are required to the strategy? Listed below is the partial basic strategy chart that contains the changed lines starting at line 21.

  1. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  2. Suited QJ8
  3. Unsuited AKQJ
  4. Suited QJ
  5. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  6. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8 or J98
  7. Suited KQ, KJ, AK, AQ, AJ
  8. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  9. Unsuited KQJ, QJ
  10. 3 card Straight Flush 2 Gaps, 1 Hi Card
  11. Suited JT
  12. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  13. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  14. Unsuited AK, AQ, AJ
  15. Suited QT
  16. A Lone Jack or Queen
  17. Suited KT
  18. A Lone King or Ace
  19. Any 3 card Straight Flush

The four-card straight with four high cards and the suited QJ move up in importance. There are also several other minor changes in the strategy.

7/5 Jacks or Better Strategy Changes

Sadly it is becoming more and more common that the best Jacks or Better games available are a truly atrocious 7/5. The games return a miserable 96.15 percent. In some extreme cases it may be possible to get a return over 100 percent by combining slot points, special promotions and other comps. If this is the best game you can find, and you decide you actually want to play it, what strategy changes are required? Listed below is the partial strategy chart that includes the changed strategy starting at line 21.

  1. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  2. Suited QJ8
  3. Unsuited AKQJ
  4. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  5. Suited QJ
  6. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8 or J98
  7. Suited KQ, KJ, AK, AQ, AJ
  8. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  9. Unsuited KQJ, QJ
  10. 3 card Straight Flush, 2 Gaps, 1 Hi Card
  11. Suited JT
  12. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  13. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2 Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  14. Unsuited AK, AQ, AJ
  15. Suited QT
  16. A Lone Jack or Queen
  17. Suited KT
  18. A Lone King or Ace
  19. Any 3 card Straight Flush

The changes here are very similar to the changes required for 8/5 Jacks or Better. The only difference is lines 21 and 22 are reversed from the 8/5 strategy.

6/5 Jacks or Better Strategy Changes

Unfortunately the 6/5 version of Jacks or Better is becoming more common. The return of this game is a paltry 94.99 percent. I will not cover the strategy changes for this game as it should not be played. If players would refuse to play bad games, the bad games would disappear.

Strategy Change Observations

You may have noticed that in every case the first 20 lines are exactly the same regardless of the pay tables. This makes learning the strategy for the lesser-paying games easier as the changes are all concentrated in the last 15 to 17 lines.

As many video poker players know the variance of Jacks or Better games is relatively low. Variance is an indication of magnitude of bankroll swings while playing the game. The higher the variance, the larger the bankroll swings—up or down—and therefore larger bankroll requirements. The more the total pay-back is concentrated in fewer, less frequent and higher-paying hands (at the expense of more frequent lower-paying hands) the higher the variance. The variance of full-pay Jacks or Better is about 19.5. As the returns are reduced by the short-pay schedules above, the variance goes down to as low as 19.2 for the 7/5 game.

Progressive Game Strategy Changes

The standard video poker game has a fixed pay schedule. Each hand is paid the same every time it is hit. A royal flush always pays 4,000 credits with five coins played. A progressive game slowly increases the pay for the royal flush as the game is played until someone hits it. It is then reset to the “reset” value – usually 4,000 credits with five credits played – the same as the standard version of the game.

As the jackpot for a royal increases the return for the game also increases. For every 1,000 credits added to the jackpot the return increases about 6-tenths of a percent. But because more of the return is tied up in one rare occurrence, the variance also increases.

Many of the Jacks or Better progressives are 8/5 games. At reset value these games return 97.30 percent with a variance of 19.3. When the jackpot for a royal flush climbs to 5,000 credits the return improves to 97.80 percent with a variance of 30.8. At 6,000 credits for a royal, the return climbs to 98.38 percent with a variance of 46.1. At this level, the progressive game may become an advantage game when counting comps, etc.

8/5 Jacks or Better Progressive – Royal at 6,000 Credits

The updated portion of the strategy chart is shown below with the changes starting at line 12.

  1. Two Pair
  2. 4 of an Inside Straight Flush
  3. 3 of a Royal
  4. High Pair JJ-AA
  5. 4 of a Flush
  6. Unsuited TJQK
  7. Low Pair 22-TT
  8. Unsuited 9TJQ, 89TJ
  9. Suited QJ9, JT9
  10. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  11. Suited QJ, KQ or KJ
  12. Suited QJ8
  13. Unsuited AKQJ
  14. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  15. Suited AK, AQ or AJ
  16. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8 or J98
  17. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  18. Unsuited KQJ
  19. Suited JT
  20. Unsuited QJ
  21. Suited QT
  22. 3 card Straight Flush 2 Gaps, 1 Hi Card
  23. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  24. Suited KT
  25. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2 Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  26. Unsuited AK, AQ, AJ
  27. A Lone Jack, Queen or King
  28. Suited AT
  29. A Lone Ace
  30. Any 3 card Straight Flush

As expected some of the closer calls regarding two or three of a royal move up the list in priority. Three of a royal beat a high pair (line 12).Two of a royal containing a King, Queen, or Jack move up above a suited Queen, Jack, 8 (line 20). Two of a royal with an Ace and a high card move up to just below a three-card straight flush (line 24). And, for the first time, we save a suited Ace-Ten (line 37).

8/5 Jacks or Better Progressive – Royal at 7,000 Credits

At this level the game returns 98.98 percent—not great, but not bad either. With reasonable comps, this game is an advantage play. More of the return is tied up in the royal so the variance increases to 62.7. Expect large drawdowns of your bankroll as you chase the royal.

The updated portion of the basic strategy is below. As with the 6,000 credit royal, the first change is at line 12.

  1. Two Pair
  2. 4 of an Inside Straight Flush
  3. 3 of a Royal
  4. High Pair JJ-AA
  5. 4 of a Flush
  6. Unsuited TJQK
  7. Low Pair 22-TT
  8. Unsuited 9TJQ, 89TJ
  9. Suited QJ9, JT9
  10. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  11. Any 2 card royal without a T
  12. Suited QJ
  13. Unsuited AKQJ
  14. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  15. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8 or J98
  16. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  17. Suited JT
  18. Unsuited KQJ
  19. Suited QT
  20. Unsuited QJ
  21. Suited KT
  22. 3 card Straight Flush 2 Gaps, 1 Hi Card
  23. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  24. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  25. Unsuited AK, AQ, AJ
  26. A Lone Jack
  27. Suited AT
  28. A Lone Queen, King or Ace
  29. Any 3 card Straight Flush

As the jackpot climbs still more, many of the two-card royals move up the strategy chart. Any two-card royal without a 10 is positioned at line 20. Two-card royals that include a 10 all move up the list. Armed with an adequate bankroll, this game could provide some thrills should you hit the nearly double-pay royal.

8/5 Jacks or Better Progressive – Royal at 8,000 Credits

Adding another 1,000 credits to the jackpot increases the return to slightly better than a full-pay standard Jacks or Better game coming in at 99.59 percent. The variance also increases to 81.7, however.

Here is the updated basic strategy chart for the 8,000 credit royal. The first change starts at line 11 where certain 3-card royals are favored over a 4-card inside straight.

  1. Two Pair
  2. Any 3-card Royal except AhT
  3. 4 of an Inside Straight Flush
  4. AhT
  5. High Pair JJ-AA
  6. 4 of a Flush
  7. Unsuited TJQK
  8. Low Pair 22-TT
  9. Unsuited 9TJQ, 89TJ
  10. Suited QJ9, JT9
  11. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  12. Any 2 card royal without a T
  13. Suited KQ9, KJ9 or QJ8
  14. Unsuited AKQJ
  15. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  16. Suited QT9, JT8 or J98
  17. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  18. Suited JT
  19. Unsuited KQJ
  20. Suited QT
  21. Unsuited QJ
  22. Suited KT
  23. 3 card Straight Flush 2 Gaps, 1 Hi Card
  24. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  25. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  26. Suited AT
  27. Unsuited AK, AQ, AJ
  28. A Lone Jack, Queen, King or Ace
  29. Any 3 card Straight Flush

As expected, card combinations that could produce royals have a priority. This includes the suited Ace-10 moving up the list a few spots. Again, if you have an adequate bankroll and can find a progressive with such a high jackpot, it is a decent play.

8/5 Jacks or Better Progressive – Royal at 9,000 Credits

Adding another 1,000 credits to the royal jack-pot bumps the return to 100.2 percent—a truly positive game. The variance, however also sky-rockets to 102.9! With so much of the return coming from one hand, the strategy is somewhat simplified. The changes portion of the basic strategy chart is below. The first change is at line 11.

  1. Two Pair
  2. Any 3 card Royal
  3. 4 of an Inside Straight Flush
  4. High Pair JJ-AA
  5. 4 of a Flush
  6. Unsuited TJQK
  7. Low Pair 22-TT
  8. Unsuited 9TJQ, 89TJ
  9. Suited QJ9, JT9
  10. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  11. Any 2 card royal without a T
  12. Suited KQ9, KJ9 or QJ8
  13. Unsuited AKQJ
  14. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  15. Suited QT9, JT8 or J98
  16. Suited JT
  17. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  18. Suited QT
  19. Unsuited KQJ
  20. Suited KT
  21. Unsuited QJ
  22. 3 card Straight Flush 2 Gaps, 1 Hi Card
  23. Suited AT
  24. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  25. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2 Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  26. Unsuited AK, AQ, AJ
  27. A Lone Jack, Queen, King or Ace
  28. Any 3 card Straight Flush

The three-card royal moves up a spot as do the two-card royals.

If you are ever fortunate enough to run across an 8/5 Jacks or Better progressive with a 9,000 or better royal—and you have an adequate bankroll—jump on the game. Maybe, just maybe, you will claim that huge jackpot as your own. Just be aware that you are playing for the very rare royal (as will probably be at least a half dozen others) and you are giving up lower paying plays in your quest for the gold. If someone else beats you to it, you will probably have lost considerably more that if you were playing an equivalent (or better) non-progressive game. The secret is (well maybe not so secret) to have a large enough bankroll to pursue your dreams.

Do you have a comment or question about this article?


Look for your question to be answered in either Casino Player or Strictly Slots Magazines.