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Placing Your Bets – Video Poker

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How many coins should you wager on single-hand video poker?

by Henry Tamburin

For some players it makes sense to play only one coin, with one important caveat.

Players have the option of betting from one coin up to five coins in a single-hand video poker game. You’ll get the highest return when you play max coins (i.e., five coins); however, for some players it makes sense to play only one coin, with one important caveat. I’ll explain what it is in a moment.

First, look at the pay table below for a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. (I’ve arbitrarily chosen a 9/6 pay schedule to explain my point; the 9/6 refers to the per coin payout for the full house and flush.) Notice that when you increase the amount of your wager, the amount of the pay off for the winning hands increases proportionally. For example, if you bet one coin and get a straight, you win four coins. If you double your bet to two coins, your payoff doubles to eight coins, and so forth. This proportional increase in the pay off holds for every winning hand, except the royal flush.

You would expect that the payoff for the royal flush would increase incrementally by 250 coins (as you bet more coins) in this sequence: 250-500-750-1,000-1,250. However, note that when you bet the maximum of five coins and get a royal flush you don’t win 1,250 coins; instead, you get a bonus payoff of 4,000 coins. The latter increases the Expected Return (ER) for a 9/6 game when you play the maximum five coins vs. playing less than five coins. (Saying it another way, with perfect play the ER drops from 99.54% playing five coins to 98.37% playing less than five coins, a reduction of 1.17% in return.)

 

Winning Hand 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush   50 100 150   200   250
Four of a Kind   25   50   75   100   125
Full House     9   18   27     36     45
Flush     6   12   18     24     30
Straight     4     8   12     16     20
Three of a Kind     3     6     9     12     15
Two Pair     2     4     6       8     10
Jacks or Better     1     2     3       4       5

 

Even though percentage-wise, betting five coins is better than one coin, let’s look at a player’s theoretical hourly loss. Assume two players play a leisurely 700 hands per hour. Player #1 opts to bet five coins per hand in a dollar-denomination 9/6 Jacks or Better machine. His theoretical hourly loss is $16.10. Player B instead bets one coin per hand in the same game. His theoretical hourly loss is only $3.22. The reason: Even though the ER is less when you bet one coin, this is more than compensated by the lower amount of money you wager per hour when you bet only one coin. Which brings up this important point: if your overall return on a game (including slot club benefits) is less than 100%, you’ll lose less money in the long run betting one coin vs. betting five coins in the same denomination game.

However, there is a downside to betting only one coin, and you need to pay attention to what I’m about to say because it’s important. If you hit a royal flush, you would only win $250 on a dollar-denomination machine instead of the whopping $4,000 you would have won if you had bet five coins per hand. Even though hitting a royal flush occurs infrequently, some players get emotionally distraught if they hit a short-coin royal flush, knowing they could have won a lot more money if they would have bet max coins. However, other players are content with their $250 payoff, knowing that in the long run they are saving money by betting one coin.

Here’s another dilemma that is often encountered by players who have a short bankroll. They locate, say, a 9.6 Jacks or Better game but it’s only offered at a dollar denomination. At quarter denomination, the best game is 8/5 Jacks or Better. They prefer to play the 9/6 Jacks or Better game with its higher ER; however, with a short bankroll and playing five coins per hand, an unlucky streak could quickly wipe them out. Another option is to play one coin in the 9/6 dollar game (as opposed to playing five coins in the quarter 8/5 game). If you calculate the hourly theoretical loss for both options, you’ll be saving money by playing one coin at the dollar level vs. five coins at the quarter level. Again with this caveat: If you hit the infrequent royal flush, you are only going to get a relatively small $250 payout (as opposed to getting the larger $1,000 payout if you hit a royal playing five coins in a quarter machine).

Here are some more tips to consider.

  1. It never makes any sense to bet two, three, or four coins in a five-coin game because you risk more money with no increase in expected return. (Bet either one coin or five coins.)
  2. You’ll get the maximum return from any video poker game when you bet enough to get the bonus payoff for the royal flush.
  3. If you aren’t comfortable betting maximum coins at a specific denomination machine, try finding a lower denomination machine that has the same game with the same return (or another game with a similar return) and play the lower denomination machine for maximum coins.
  4. If you decide to play a single-coin, you can boost your return by adjusting your playing strategy. For example, holding two-card royal flushes is often the right play when you wager five coins, but with a one-coin bet, it’s not always the best hold.
  5. If you have the edge when you play, you should never play less than max coins (because you’ll turn a game where you have the edge into a losing game).

Tamburin’s Tip of the Month

The game is Jacks or Better. How would you play these two hands?

 

 

Both hands contain an inside four-card straight. A general rule when you play Jacks or Better is that you should never hold an inside four-card straight, unless it contains three high cards. Both of the above hands meet this criteria. However, there is a better play in the second hand. This hand also contains two suited high cards (Q-J clubs). This has a higher expected value (EV) than holding the inside four-card straight with three high cards.

Therefore, in the first hand your best play is to hold the inside four-card straight, but in the second hand, you should hold the two suited high cards. (Remember this basic playing strategy rule: If you are dealt an inside four-card straight with 10 as the low card and Ace as the high card, hold the insider four-card straight unless it contains two suited high cards, in which case you should hold the two suited high cards.)

 

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Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of the smartgaming.com website and the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit www.bjinsider.com/free). For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains books, strategy cards, and software for video poker players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at smartgaming.com.

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