How video poker pay tables affect strategy
By John Grochowski
In any video poker game, expert strategy changes as the pay table changes. Best plays in 10-7 Double Bonus Poker, where full houses pay 10-for-1 and flushes 7-for-1, are a little different from those in 9-6 Double Bonus, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1.
The effect is magnified in Deuces Wild, where pay tables are altered on so many different hands. On Jacks or Better-based games, payback percentages are usually changed by adjusting returns on full houses and flushes. In Deuces Wild, changes on wild royals, five of a kind, straight flushes, four of a kind, full houses and flushes are all part of the package.
There’s little that your strategy can do to change the frequency of five of a kind. When Not So Ugly Deuces (99.7 percent return with expert play), or the game the late video poker guru Lenny Frome called Colorado Deuces (96.8), increases the payback on quints from the usual 15-for-1 to 16, it doesn’t impact or strategy much.
So let’s consider four versions and check out the impact on strategy of some of the pay table changes. Full-pay Deuces Wild, increasingly rare even in Nevada, returns 100.8 percent with expert play. Along with Colorado Deuces and Not So Ugly Deuces, we’ll also look at the game Frome called Illinois Deuces, and which today is sometimes also called Illinois Deuces.
On any of the above, the name of the game on the machine is just Deuces Wild. Players have nicknamed the games for easy reference. You can recognize these four by the following pay tables:
Pay table: Natural royal flush 250-for-1 (increases to 4,000 coins for a five-coin wager); four deuces 200-for-1; royal flush with wild cards 25-for-1; five of a kind 16-for-1; straight flush 9-for-1; four of a kind 5-for-1; full house 3-for-1; flush 2-for-1; straight 2-for-1; three of a kind 1-for-1.
How to recognize: That 5-for-1 payoff on four of a kind is a rare treat. Quads happen more often than full houses in Deuces Wild, so enhanced four of a kind returns make the game a big-payer.
Pay table: Natural royal flush 250-for-1 (increases to 4,000 coins for a five-coin wager); four deuces 200-for-1; royal flush with wild cards 25-for-1; five of a kind 16-for-1; straight flush 13-for-1; four of a kind 4-for-1; full house 3-for-1; flush 2-for-1; straight 2-for-1; three of a kind 1-for-1.
How to recognize: The 13-for-1 payback on straight flushes is a dead giveaway. The five of a kind return of 16-for-1 also is higher than on most Deuces games.
NOT SO UGLY DEUCES
Pay table: Natural royal flush 250-for-1 (increases to 4,000 coins for a five-coin wager); four deuces 200-for-1; royal flush with wild cards 25-for-1; five of a kind 16-for-1; straight flush 10-for-1; four of a kind 4-for-1; full house 4-for-1; flush 3-for-1; straight 2-for-1; three of a kind 1-for-1.
How to Recognize: Like most Deuces games, pays only 4-for-1 on four of a kind, but has higher returns than the full-pay game on four hands: five of a kind (16-for-1), straight flush (10-for-1), full house (4-for-1) and flush (3-for-1).
Pay table: Natural royal flush 250-for-1 (increases to 4,000 coins for a five-coin wager); four deuces 200-for-1; royal flush with wild cards 25-for-1; five of a kind 15-for-1; straight flush 9-for-1; four of a kind 4-for-1; full house 4-for-1; flush 3-for-1; straight 2-for-1; three of a kind 1-for-1.
How to recognize: It has the 4-4-3 schedule on four of a kind, full houses and flushes, just as in NSU Deuces, but without the enhancement at five of a kind and straight flushes.
What kinds of strategy changes do the pay table differences dictate? Let’s take a look:
FOUR OF A KIND AND FULL HOUSES: Original full-pay Deuces Wild (100.76) pays 5-for-1 on four of a kind and 3-for-1 on flushes. The Not So Ugly and Illinois (98.9) versions of the game all pay 4-for-1 on both full houses and flushes.
The strategy impact here is enormous, because it changes our play on a common hand. In full-play Deuces, we break up two pair, holding a single pair and hoping for four of a kind. In the 4-4 games, we hold both pairs, taking our chances that a one-card draw will complete a full house.
The strategy change comes only with the combination of the quads payoff decreasing to 4 and the full house payoff increasing to 4. In Colorado Deuces, where four of a kind pays only 4-for-1 but flushes stay at 3-for-1, the better play remains to hold just one pair.
FLUSHES: Not So Ugly and Illinois Deuces pay 3-for-1 on flushes, while full-pay and many other versions pay only 2-for-1. That’s due to some fancy pay table adjusting when casino operators found players were taking a little too much back from the original full-pay version. Four of a kind is such an important hand in Deuces that just dropping quads to 4-for-1 left a game that’s too quick in gobbling your credits. Raising the flush payoff is part of the balancing act.
We chase more flushes when the payback is raised. Given a hand like 4, 7, 10 and Ace of hearts and a 4 of clubs in full-pay Deuces, the best play is to hold the pair of 4s. But in Not So Ugly and Illinois Deuces, we hold the four hearts instead. It’s not a close call, due to the increased flush payoff, but the decrease on quads also contributes. In Colorado Deuces, where quads drop to 4-for-1 but flushes pay only 2-for-1, the better play by a very narrow margin is to go for the flush.
STRAIGHT FLUSHES: Payoffs are all over the map here. Full-pay and Illinois Deuces return 9-for-1 on straight flushes. Not So Ugly Deuces ups that to 10-for-1, while it’s 11-for-1 on Almost Positive Deuces and 13-for-1 on Colorado Deuces.
So what do you do if you’re dealt a hand like a wild 2, a 5 and 6 of spades, a 9 of hearts and a Jack of clubs? In full-pay Deuces, you hold just the 2. But in the others, the better play is in 2-5-6, with the higher flush payoff working together with the straight flush possibility in the 3-for-1 flush games. In Colorado Deuces, the 13-for-1 payoff on straight flushes is enough to make the difference all by itself — we hold 2-5-6 even though flushes pay only 2-for-1.
Or what about two deuces, a Jack-10 of spades and a 10 of clubs? That’s a pat four 10s, with a five of a kind possibility. In full-pay Deuces, you hold the four of a kind. In Illinois Deuces, it’s a dead heat — you’ll average a 24.6809-coin return per five coins wagered regardless of whether you hold 2-2-10-10 or 2-2 with the Jack-10 of spades.
But there’s a split among the others. In Colorado Deuces, with the higher straight flush paybacks, the best play is to hold 2-2 and the suited Jack-10. An Ace of spades or another 2 will bring a wild royal worth the same 25-for-1 in all these games. But a 9 of spades brings a straight flush, and the higher straight flush paybacks make the difference. On the Not So Ugly Deuces has the same 16-for-1 return on five of a kind as the Colorado game. Its 10-for-1 return on straight flushes is higher than the 9-for-1 on Illinois and full-pay games, but doesn’t match up to Colorado’s 13-for-1. On balance, the better play is to hold 2-2-10-10.
How’s a player to keep track of all this? In states that allow it, you can augment your knowledge by carrying a strategy card and referring to it while playing. In states that bar using that type of outside help (including my Illinois home), it’s a matter of adjusting computer software to the version you’re going to play—followed by practice, practice and more practice.