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When Bad Video Poker Becomes Good

An awful game can sometimes be your best friend

By Jerry “Stickman” Stich

 

It’s no secret that video poker returns have been steadily declining.

My wife and I recently went on a cruise, and I always enjoy checking out the casinos on cruise ships to see just how good(or more likely how bad) their games of chance actually are.

I was not at all surprised by what I found. All of the video poker games had terrible pay schedules. Jacks or Better at the 25¢ level paid 6/5 (6-for-1 for a full house and 5-for-1 for a flush), amounting to an expected return of just 95 percent for perfect play. That amounts to the casino taking five dollars for every 100 dollars run through this game—and that is with perfect play.

Awful!

The dollar version of Jacks or Better was not much better: 7/5 amounting to an expected long term payback of just over 96 percent.

However, this bank of video poker games happened to be progressives when played at the 25¢ level, meaning the payoff for a royal flush grew as machines were played— until some lucky cruiser hit a royal, at which time the payoff for a royal was reset to 4,000 credits or $1,000 on this quarter game.

Checking the progressive meter led to a pleasant surprise: the jackpot was at $3,375. Making a rough estimate, (figuring the pay-back went up about one percent for every 1,600 credits—or $400 that the jackpot in-creased) the payback was 100.73 percent—meaning it was a positive expectation game.

So this would be a great game to play, right? After all, it could be played for $1.25 per hand and offered the opportunity to win a Royal that was nearly the same size of a dollar game ($5 per hand). What’s not to like?

Well, for one thing, variance. Variance indicates the amount that your bankroll will, well, vary. The higher the variance, the more your bankroll will fluctuate both up and down. So unless you’re fortunate enough to collect some large hits early on, a larger bankroll is required for this type of game.

Standard Jacks or Better has about a 19 percent variance. The game mentioned above has a variance of 233.

In a standard game of Jacks or Better, in order to be relatively certain of not losing your entire bankroll, you need about four times the payoff for a royal ($4,000 for a 25¢ game). For this game, you should have 13times the payoff for a royal in the base game (which would be $13,000). However, since you will not be playing this game for days and days—like you might with standard video poker—the bankroll requirement will be less.

Just keep in mind that you will be losing your bankroll at a faster rate on this game versus a standard game—until you hit the royal.

You must also consider playing strategy. In this game the royal flush has a much larger contribution to the overall payback (13,500vs. 4,000), and the full house and flush have a reduced contribution, (6/5 vs. 9/6). Playing strategy must be adjusted. Changing your strategy properly is mandatory if you want to take full advantage of the opportunity this game offers.

To illustrate the difference, the following two tables show the first several lines of strategy for 9/6 jacks or better and the game mentioned above. In order to determine the best play, start from the top of the table. The first line that describes the hand you are dealt is what you save. Note: the last line in a complete table is to replace the entire hand.

9/6 Jacks or Better

Royal Flush

Straight Flush

Four of a Kind

 

Four of a Royal

Full House

Flush

Three of a Kind

Straight

Four of an Open STFL (2345-9TJQ)

Two Pair

Four of an Inside STFL

High Pair JJ-AA

 

Three of a Royal

Four of a Flush

TJQK (unsuited)

Low Pair 22-TT

6/5 Jacks – 13,500 credit Royal

Royal Flush

 

Four of a Royal

Straight Flush

Four of a Kind

 

Three of a Royal

Full House

Flush

Three of a Kind

Straight

Four of an Open STFL (2345-89TJ)

Two Pair

Four of an Inside STFL

High Pair JJ-AA

 

Two of a Royal

Four of a Flush

Four of a Straight – 3+ hi cards

Low Pair 22-TT

 

Notice where “Four of a Royal” and “Three of a Royal” are in the two charts. See how much higher they are in position in the second chart. “Two of a Royal” does not make it into the first 16 lines of the first chart but is favored over “Four of a Flush” in the second. Clearly there are some major strategy changes that must be put in practice to fully achieve your advantage.

Should you play this game? Is it a good play?

My recommendation? If you have the bankroll for the limited time you will play, and you have the means to follow the proper strategy, then by all means play this game. Even if you don’t have the exact strategy and you don’t really mind risking a couple of hundred dollars, then play. Who knows, you may get lucky. It’s worked for me in the past.

Be Careful About What You Assume

Progressive Jackpot Video Poker offers opportunities to transform an otherwise negative expectation game into a positive expectation game. Here, as the jackpot grows, so does the return for the game. For every 1,600 credits (approximately) that the jackpot rises, the return rises about one percent.

Whenever checking out a progressive video poker game—especially in Indian casinos or on cruise ships—be careful to factor in the number of credits required to win the jackpot. Not all games require five credits. Many require 10 or even 20 credits played to collect the jackpot for a royal flush. This dramatically reduces the effect of an increased jackpot.

For example, a 25¢ progressive 6/5 Jacks or Better game with a $3,375 jackpot has a return of 100.73 percent with five credits required, but only a 96.53 percent re-turn if 10 credits are required.

A little careful observation can save you a bundle.

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