AN OLD FAVORITE
Winning strategy for Multi-Strike Poker
By John Grochowski
Like any other player, I try many new games, but I also have a collection of old favorites. When I see the old favorites, I make some time for them even though they’re no longer the hottest of the hot.
One of my old favorites is Multi-Strike Poker, and I was thrilled recently to actually receive a question about it. Well, maybe not thrilled, but at least enthusiastic and intrigued. But more about that a few paragraphs down.
Multi-Strike has become part of the background on the casino scene nowadays. Not everyone carries the game anymore, and when I find it it’s no longer as a whole bank of games. Instead, it’s a game or two in a line with a couple of Ultimate X games and maybe some Super Times Pay.
I love it nonetheless. Just a few years ago, it rescued my week when I was in Las Vegas for the Global Gaming Expo. That’s an extraordinarily busy week for me, and I don’t play much on that trip other than sampling new games at the Expo.
Nevertheless, I found myself down several hundred dollars after a few days. Finally, on a quarter Multi-Strike game, I drew a straight flush on the fourth level. That was worth 8X pay, meaning the usual 250-quarter payoff was 2,000 quarters instead. The $500 made me whole.
So, you can understand my affection for the game.
Readers used to write to me frequently with questions about Multi- Strike and its slightly younger sibling, Five Play Multi-Strike. Now, I go years at a time without fielding a single question.
So when my email brought a question in January from a Five Play Multi- Strike-loving player, it moved straight to the top of my list of questions to answer.
“While Five Play Multi-Strike Poker, should I change my strategy depending on which level I am currently playing?” the reader wrote. “I’m guessing that on the bottom levels my goal is to just advance and I should choose the cards to keep that will get me to the higher paying levels. The top row pays 8X and that is where I should go for the big payout.
“In addition, if I get a Free Ride to the next level should I go for the biggest payout or should I stick to the usual expert play choices?”
For those unfamiliar with the Multi-Strike format, let’s start with a short explanation. Multi-Strike is available in the usual video poker game options – Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Double Double Bonus
Poker and others. Payoffs on your initial hand are made according to a standard video poker pay table.
If you have a winning hand or a randomly awarded Free Ride, you get a second hand worth double payoffs. That can lead to a third hand worth 4X pays and sometimes a fourth hand worth 8X pays.
Frequency of free rides is different for different games. The free rides plus winning hands give you a 50-50 shot of moving up at each level.
Five Play Multi-Strike works the same way except that the initial deal is cloned into five hands, a la Five Play Poker.
The reader is correct that expert strategy for Multi-Strike includes a focus on advancing to higher-paying levels, unless you have a free ride. With free rides, your best play is to use standard strategy for the game you’ve chosen – that is, if you’re playing Jacks or Better, use standard Jacks or Better strategy when you have free rides.
When you don’t have free rides, getting the most out of Multi-Strike or Five Play Multi-Strike requires adjustments. At the lowest levels, low pairs and four-card straights are less important than in single-hand games.
Let’s use 9-6 Jacks or Better as an example. In the standard game, low pairs and four cards to an open-ended straight all rank higher than holding one or more unsuited high cards.
However, on the first level of Multi-Strike, two or more unsuited high cards are a better play than low pairs and 10-Jack-Queen-King is the only open-ended straight draw that outranks two or more high cards.
Open-ended straight draws lower than 8-9-10-Jack don’t even appear on the first-level strategy table you can find at Michael Shackelford’s Wizard of Odds site, http://wizardofodds.com/games/video-poker/tables/multi-strike/appendix/2/.
Adjustments from there to level 2 are minor, but at level 3 strategy moves closer to standard. At that level, two pairs become a better play than two or more unsuited high cards, and four cards to an open-ended straight, even with no high cards, moves ahead of unsuited high-card hands.
On the final level with 8X pays and no more move-ups, the best play is to revert to standard Jacks or Better strategy.
Different games will require different adjustments. Multi-Strike strategy is not the same for Double Double Bonus Poker as for Jacks or Better or for Deuces Wild. You can practice Multi-Strike strategy on Bob Dancer’s WinPoker software, and there is a Multi-Strike strategy calculator at http://www.beatingbonuses.com/vp.php
One key to the game’s popularity in its heyday and its continued presence all these years later is that the multipliers along with the frequency with which you advance to multiplier hands yields a slightly higher payback percentage than standard games. The returns vary from game to game, but as a rule, Multi-Strike games return about 0.2 percent more than standard games with the same pay tables.
With a 20-coin max bet instead of the standard five and the possibility of losing it all without getting to level 2, Multi-Strike is more volatile than standard video poker. You can win bigger, you can lose faster.
It’s a format I continue to love, and my thanks to the reader who called it to attention one more time.