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Strategy shifts and maximizing returns

By John Grochowski


Every video poker game has its own “expert strategy.” If you want the most out of Double Bonus Poker, you won’t play exactly the same strategy as you would on Jacks or Better, and you’ll need to adjust to something a little different for Double Double Bonus Poker.

This is expected by anyone who plays the games regularly. On Double Double Bonus, you can win up to 2,000 credits for a five-credit wager when four Aces with a low-card kicker turn up. On Jacks or Better, no four of a kind is worth more than 125 credits. This has to be accounted for in your strategy. On Double Double Bonus, two pairs just get your money back, while in Jacks or Better they pay 2-for-1. Two pairs are such a common hand that the difference in returns has an enormous impact on expert strategy.

As it happens, Double Double Bonus is one of the games I practice most on my computer. That’s because I live in an area where the most common full-pay game is 9-6 Double Double Bonus. But if I’m heading for Las Vegas, I change up and practice full-pay Deuces Wild and 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker, and then seek out the casinos where I can play those games.

But what if you arrive at a casino and find an opportunity you weren’t expecting? What if you’ve been practicing 9-6 Jacks or Better and find 10-7-5 Double Bonus, or 9-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe? Or what if for all your practice on 9-6 Jacks or Better, you’re finding only 7-5 Jacks, with better opportunities on Bonus Poker or Double Double Bonus? Should you be intimidated into sticking with the lower-paying Jacks, or should you give the higher-paying games a go—even if you’re not familiar with all the ins and outs?

As long as you know at least one basic game well, it’s almost always a better choice to pick the higher-paying game, even if you miss some of the finer points. (A website called Video Poker Help has a fun little page at It lists the payback percentages for using the right strategies at the wrong games.)

Let’s say you’re well-practiced and know your stuff at 9-6 Jacks or Better, which returns 99.54 percent with expert play, but when you arrive at the casino your game isn’t available. How well will that strategy work on other games?

Here’s a closer look at some of the differences you’ll encounter:

10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker: A full-pay game will pay 100.17 percent when you use expert strategy. If the only strategy you know is for 9-6 Jacks or Better, you won’t get that full payback, but your expected long-term return is a more-than-acceptable 99.63 percent. You lose half a percent by not making the strategy switches experts make, but you still have a great game to play.

There are some things you’ll miss out on, too. Because of the 7-for- 1 payoff on flushes, Double Bonus aficionados are much more aggressive in chasing flushes and straight flushes than Jacks or Better players. Given a hand such as 2 of clubs, 5 of hearts, 7 of clubs, 8 of spades and 10 of clubs, a Jacks or Better player will chuck the entire hand. A Double Bonus expert holds the three clubs and takes the long shot at a flush. The 5-for- 1 return on straights also means Double Bonus players make many more inside-straight draws. And one well-known little trick of games with big jackpots on four Aces, such as the 800 for a five-credit wager on DB, is that when dealt a hand such as Ace-Ace-Ace-7-7, the Double Bonus player chucks the 7s and just holds the Aces. The Jacks or Better player keeps the full house.

All those nuances—and that’s by no means a complete list, since this is a highly nuanced game—are important if you want to get the most out of the game. But are you going to pass up a 99.63 percent game just because you don’t know quite enough to get 100.17? I’m not going to.

Full-pay Double Bonus is such a high-paying game that using Jacks or Better strategy brings a higher return than it does on Jacks or Better.

9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker: This is a 98.98 percent game with expert play. Just as on Double Bonus, you lose roughly half a percent if you settle for Jacks or Better strategy here. JB strategy misses enough fine points to bring the average return down to 98.44 percent.

As with Double Bonus, Jacks or Better strategy misses some fine points. The 1-for-1 return on two pairs is a prime culprit. That’s not so much because there are situations that demand we break up two pairs— you really only want to do that if one pair is Ace-Ace. But the low return on two pairs drops the value of throwing away an entire mismatched hand enough that we draw to inside straights even if they include no high cards. In Jacks or Better, we make inside straight draws only if they include at least three high cards, such as 9-Jack-Queen-King. In Double Double Bonus, dealt 3-5-6-7-10 of mixed suits, we’ll hold 3-5-6-7. In Jacks or Better, we would discard that entire hand.

Other special cases revolve around hands that include Aces. Four Aces accompanied by a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card brings that 2,000-coin bonanza for a five-coin wager. We have to make allowances for that, breaking up a full house to hold just the three Aces, breaking up two pairs to draw to a pair of Aces, and sometimes holding an Ace by itself in hands with multiple unsuited high cards.

If the best Jacks or Better game in the house has an 8-5 pay table for a 97.3 percent return, then you’re better off at the full-pay Double Double Bonus game, even if you’re a bit fuzzy regarding the finer points.

9-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe: Strategies for Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker Deluxe are so similar that the cost for wrong-strategy play is minimal. Expert strategy for 9-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe brings 99.64 percent. Using Jacks or Better strategy brings 99.61 percent.

In Bonus Poker Deluxe, all four-of-a-kind hands return 400 credits for a five-credit bet. That’s not enough to force major strategy variations. Deluxe doesn’t have the flush or straight enhancements of Double Bonus, so we’re not super-aggressive about chasing those hands. It does have the 1-for-1 return on two pairs, and just as in Double Double Bonus, that limits the value of tossing entire hands and leads us to making more inside straight draws.

No one wants to miss the fine points, but using Jacks or Better strategy misses very little in Bonus Poker Deluxe.

9-7 Triple Double Bonus Poker: Jacks or Better strategy works pretty well in Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus and Bonus Deluxe. But Triple Double Bonus Poker is an extreme game, where you can get a royal flush-sized 4,000-coin return for four Aces plus a 2, 3 or 4 kicker, along with a 2,000-coin bonanza for four 2s, 3s or 4s with an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth. An enhanced 7-for-1 return on flushes also leaves a mark on expert strategy. And the tradeoff that makes the giant-sized pays possible is that three of a kind pays only 2-for-1, instead of the 3-for-1 we see in other standard video poker games.

In those extraordinary circumstances, Jacks or Better strategy needs an overhaul. With expert play, 9-7 Triple Double Bonus returns 99.60 percent. If you use 9-6 Jacks or Better strategy, your average return drops by more than 2 percent, to 97.17 percent. That’s a steep drop—steeper than the one from 9-6 Jacks or Better (99.54 percent) to 8-5 Jacks (97.30).

In the special case that is Triple Double Bonus Poker, you really don’t want to play unless you’re prepared for strategy variations. And of course, it’s best if you’re ready with the special strategy demands of any game you play. But if you know Jacks or Better, you won’t veer too badly off track if you decide to give another game a whirl.

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