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Big Payday from Lower Payer

With a little luck, lesser Deuces version brings a bonanza

by  John Grochowski


Jack is an old friend, a laid-back fellow who’s a big sports fan. Our biggest common bond is a passion for baseball, even though he’s a fan of the Chicago White Sox and my team is (sigh!) the Chicago Cubs.

In middle age, Jack has become a video poker player, and his favorite game is Deuces Wild.

“You know how it goes,” he once told me. “You draw that fourth deuce for the first time, and you’re hooked. My first four deuces came on a machine that still dropped coins. I’ll never forget the sound of those thousand quarters pouring into that metal tray. People were giving me a big smile and congratulations. It was amazing.”

Jack does most of his playing in Illinois, where full-pay Deuces Wild is illegal. Illinois regulations say that no electronic gaming device may have a return in excess of 100 percent. That applies to theoretical returns on video poker games, even though few players are close enough to expert level to get the 100.8 percent listed for full-pay Deuces.

When he goes to Las Vegas, he’ll go out of his way to find full-pay Deuces. So it went in November, when armed with a couple of hundred dollars for the session, he sat down to play his favorite game. The main identifying characteristic of full-pay Deuces is that it pays 5-for-1 on four of a kind, as compared to 4-for-1 on most Deuces games. So Jack felt pretty good when he drew quads on three of his first 10 hands.

But this was not to be a session of uninterrupted success. After the fast start, Jack had a long dry spell between quads. He went through a $20 bill, then he went through another. He was on his third $20 before he got anything better than four of a kind. Finally, five 6s brought him a 75-coin return for his five-quarter bet.

“It was just one of those days,” he said. “I lost $120, and it was just draining as fast as I could put it in. I finally decided enough was enough.”

There are sessions like that. I’ve had more than a few myself in more than 30 years of playing video poker. But it turned out Jack didn’t need my sympathy.

“It was the funniest thing,” he said. “I decided to try some Triple Play, with Illinois Deuces. That’s a game I can play back home, so I usually don’t play it in Las Vegas.”

The game some call Illinois Deuces is called Airport Deuces by some players. There are three pay table differences compared to full-pay Deuces. Quads pay only 4-for-1 instead of 5-for-1, but full houses pay 4-for-1 instead of 3-for-1 and flushes pay 3-for-1 instead of 2-for-1. Four of a kind is such an important hand in Deuces Wild that the payoff reduction on quads outweighs the increases on full houses and flushes. Illinois Deuces returns 98.9 percent with expert play, nearly two percent less than the 100.8 percent on full-pay Deuces.

Nonetheless, the lower-paying game was kinder to Jack.

“I started with $100,” he said. “You’re betting 15 credits at a time with the three hands, so I like to start with those 400 credits. At first, it wasn’t any better than the other game. I was down to 175 credits before you know it.

“But then I drew a wild royal, and I was back over 300. I was dealt four of a kind, and drew the fifth on one of the hands. I got a full house on the deal, so that was 20 credits three times.

“Then came the big one. I was dealt four 2s. I held all five cards and hit the draw button. It is so cool to see that “1,000” superimposed on each hand as the payoff. With that times three, that was $750 on a quarter machine. That made my trip.”

With that, he had a question.

“I guess I already know the answer to this,” he started. “But is there anything in Illinois Deuces that would cause four 2s to come up more often? I know full-pay Deuces is higher paying, by a lot, but could that specific hand come up more often on the other game?”

Differences in strategy do lead to some hands coming up more often in one game than in the other. Full houses come up an average of once per 38 hands in Illinois Deuces, and only once per 47 hands in full-pay Deuces. The big difference is that pay table differences dictate that when dealt two pairs, we hold them both and make a one-card draw for a full-house in Illinois Deuces, but we hold only one pair and discard the other I the full-pay game.

But when it comes to quad 2s, they come up more often in the game Jack had less success on this day. In full-pay Deuces, the four 2s occur an average of once per 4,909 hands, while they come up only once per 5,348 in Illinois 2s. One strategy difference comes on four-card straights including one wild card. Dealt a 2 with 6-7-8 of mixed suits, the better play in Illinois Deuces is to hold 2-6-7-8. In full-pay Deuces, it’s better to hold just the deuce. Such strategy differences bring more chances to draw four 2s in the full-pay game.

What Jack experienced was just a little short-term fluctuation. Luck, if you will. A player who always played expert level on full-pay Deuces would fare better than one who always played Illinois 2s. But in the short term, anything can happen.

“I knew that,” Jack said. “I just had to hear it. But I’m glad the fluctuation was on my side this time around.”

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