NAME YOUR GAME
Do you play a variety of video poker games?
By Jerry “Stickman” Stich
There is probably no mathematical upside to switching games. Are you willing to give the house more of your hard-earned money because you are bored with your regular game or you have been going through a slump recently?
What type of video poker player are you?
Type #1: Do you concentrate on one speciﬁc game such as Jacks or Better, ﬁnd the best possible pay table and take the time to practice the correct strategy until you can play it perfectly? Do you sometimes play a diﬀerent game? While playing this game do you use a strategy card to help you make the right choices for this less familiar game? Or do you use the strategy of the main game you have practiced?
Type #2: Do you sit down at the ﬁrst open machine and play whatever game is there using hunches to determine how you play? Do you feel that taking time to learn playing strategy is a waste and cuts into the fun of playing video poker?
If you are the latter type of player you are leaving more money at the casinos than is necessary. If you are happy playing this way, that is your choice and this article may not be for you.
If you are the ﬁrst type of player you are well on your way to making the most of your video poker playing experience. I would like to suggest, however, that if you change among diﬀerent video poker games you might be giving up some edge to the house. I am not talking about playing diﬀerent pay tables of the same game, but completely diﬀerent games such as Double Bonus Poker rather than Jacks or Better.
Why would someone move away from a game that they play perfectly to play a diﬀerent game where they may be prone to error?
There are a few legitimate reasons. The primary game may not be available or only available with a drastically inferior pay table. The secondary game may be a progressive with a very high jackpot, giving it a much higher potential payback.
There are also some not-so-legitimate reasons for switching games. The primary game has not been paying oﬀ and you are in a down cycle so you decide to switch games to change your luck. Or, you have played three or four thousand hands of Jacks or Better (which pays 125-for-1 for all four- of-a-kinds) without hitting a four-of-a-kind so you decide you are due and switch to a game that rewards four-of-a-kinds such as Double Bonus Poker. Or, you are getting bored playing the standard game and want to spice things up a bit.
Let me suggest that any time you switch from a game you know well to a diﬀerent game, you give up something.
As a serious video poker player you no doubt play a nearly 100 percent payback game or better counting any slot club promotions and comps, so the faster you play the more you make. If you play regularly then 800, 900, even 1,000 or more hands per hour are normal. Switching games means switching strategy. Switching strategy means slowing the rate of play. Slowing the rate of play means reduced comps.
If you are very comfortable playing Jacks or Better, switching to Double Bonus Poker changes some very basic plays. In Double Bonus Poker ﬂushes are more important than in Jacks or Better. Unfortunately, your instincts have been tuned to ignoring most three-cards-of-a-ﬂush hands in Jacks or Better. To play Double Bonus Poker properly you need to save many of these three-of-a-ﬂush cards. See this month’s “How Would You Play These Hands?” section for more examples of hands that are played quite diﬀerently on diﬀerent games. Without drastically slowing the rate of play, many of these will be missed and the possible edge will be reduced.
There are times when changing games might be worth the switch. One of these is when there is a very high jackpot in a progressive game of the type you normally play. For example, you normally play 9/7 Double Bonus Poker with a game return of 99.1 percent but you notice a progressive 9/6 Double Bonus Poker game with a royal jackpot of 10,000 credits, making the return of this game 101.3 percent—a full two percent more than your normal game. While there will be strategy changes that need to be made, they will almost entirely be saving more cards that have the potential of becoming a royal. These hands normally stand out more than others so the strategy will be a bit easier to get right, and the prize (if you hit it) is well worth struggling with the strategy changes. Keep in mind, however, that the variance of this game is much higher than your normal game. You will lose faster chasing the royal than when playing your normal game.
But switching to a completely diﬀerent game is quite a diﬀerent story. In this case there is not a much higher payback for switching games. There is probably no mathematical upside to switching games. Are you willing to give the house more of your hard-earned money because you are bored with your regular game or you have been going through a slump recently? I’m not. For me, winning is the most fun.