KEEPING A KICKER
Crucial variations in video poker
By John Grochowski
As a longtime video poker nut, I mentally sort games into related groups:
– Jacks or Better belongs with Bonus Poker because both pay 2-for-1 on two of a kind.
– Double Bonus Poker, Bonus Poker Deluxe and Super Double
– Bonus Poker belong together as games with enhanced four-of-a-kind payoffs that only give you your money back on two pairs.
– Super Aces and White Hot Aces belong together because, you know, Aces.
Then there are Double Double Bonus Poker and Triple Double Bonus Poker. They’re an obvious pairing because they’re the kicker games. You get a big jackpot on four Aces if the fifth card is a 2, 3 or 4, and you get a bigger-than-usual pay on four 2s, 3s or 4s if the fifth card is an Ace, 2, 3 or 4.
They’re close cousins, but they’re different, too, as I recently explained to a reader who sent the following email.
“I am really struggling with a strategy on multi-hand Double Double Bonus and Triple Double Bonus. It relates to getting dealt three aces with a kicker on Five or Ten Play.
There are people who hold the kicker and I just can’t bring myself to do that.
“Yesterday it cost me a large hit when I got the fourth ace but had dumped the kicker. That was on Five Play. Which is the right play?”
The first issue to set aside is that the reader plays multi-hand games. Regardless of whether you’re playing Five Play, Ten Play or a single-hand game, the odds are the same on any video poker game with the same pay table. If you’re playing 9-6 Double Double Bonus, the best strategy for one hand also is the best strategy for Triple Play, Five Play, Ten Play, Fifty Play, Hundred Play or Any Other Number Play.
On to the problem of holding kickers. The strategy that will get the most out of Double Double Bonus is to do what the reader had been doing: Hold three Aces and discard a kicker. But on Triple Double Bonus, you need to shift gears and hold the kicker, too.
Let’s explain the situation for casual video poker players. Assuming a five-coin bet per hand, four Aces returns 800 coins on either Double Double Bonus or Triple Double Bonus if the fifth card is a 5 or higher. However, if the fifth card is a 2, 3 or 4, the jackpot leaps to 2,000 coins on DDB and rockets to 4,000 on TDB.
There’s also a jump with four 2s, 3s or 4s with an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 as the kicker. The no-kicker pay is 400 coins, but the kicker there’s a leap to 800 on DDB and 2,000 on TDB.
The reason Triple Double can pay bigger jackpots than Double Double is because three of a kind pays only 2-for-1 on TDB, vs. 3-for-1 on DDB.
Let’s look at a breakdowns, using 9-6 DDB (a 98.98 percent return with expert play) and 9-6 TDB (98.15 percent) as examples. On both, we’ll use starting hands of Aces of clubs, diamonds and hearts along with a 2 of spades and an 8 of hearts.
On 9-6 TDB, if you hold A-A-A-2, there are 47 possible draws. Forty-three leave you with three of a kind for 10 coins, three bring one of the other 2s for a full house and 45 coins, and one brings the fourth Ace for that 2,000-coin jackpot.
The average return is 97.13 coins.
If you hold just the Aces and draw two, there are 1,081 possible draws. You’ll stop at three of a kind on 969 hands, draw a full house on 66, four Aces without a low-card kicker for 800 coins on 35 and four Aces with the kicker on 11.
The average return is 78.32 coins, so the better play is to hold the kicker along with the Aces.
Similarly, if the hand was 2-2-2-A-8, average returns on TDB are 54.57 if you hold 2-2-2-A and 45.01 on just 2-2-2.
On Double Double Bonus, the probabilities of drawing winners are the same, but the potential payoffs are lower.
Using the same starting hands as in the TDB example, the average return on DDB when holding A-A-A-2 is 59.19 coins, not as good as the 62.45 for holding A-A-A.
In the low-card hand, the average return is 37.28 coins when holding 2-2-2 vs. 33.62 on 2-2-2-A.
The principle holds up at different pay tables and with different low cards in the starting hand. In Double Double Bonus, hold three Aces or three low cards and discard a potential kicker. In Triple Double Bonus, hold the kicker, too.
Even when starting with a full house, we’re more aggressive keeping kickers on Triple Double Bonus.
Let’s say you have a full house with three Aces and two deuces. In both games, we break up the full house. That’s common in games that pay 800 or more for four Aces. In 9-6 Double Double Bonus, holding Ace-Ace- Ace brings an average return of 61.36 coins, better than the 58.51 for holding the Aces plus one of the 2s. But on 9-6 Triple Double Bonus, it’s best to keep a 2. Three Aces and a 2 bring an average return of 96.38 coins vs. 75.39 for holding just the Aces.
However, the aggression must be reined in when you have two or fewer Aces. If you have two pairs that include Aces and 2s, or if you have two Aces, one 2 and a couple of no-help cards, it’s best to keep just the Aces. Example: Given a hand of Ace-Ace-2-2-8 on Triple Double Bonus, the 10.17-coin average return for holding Ace-Ace beats the 9.28 for Ace-Ace-2.
Given a three-Ace start, you want to be more aggressive about chasing the kickers in TDB than in DDB, but with fewer Aces, maximize your chances of drawing at least Ace No. 3.