Scouting the machines that pay the best
By Henry Tamburin
A frustrating part of video poker for most players is the dizzying array of different pay tables that they’ll find in casinos for their favorite video poker game. For example, there are at least 11 different pay tables for Deuces Wild and seven for Double Double Bonus. Many players are confused and don’t know which pay table for which game is the best to play. Fortunately, two products (one is free) can lead you to the game with the best return.
As always, I want to remind you that the “best” video pokers are the ones that have the highest return (or Expected Value or EV). EV is the expected number of coins you will win on a five-coin wager, assuming an infinite number of hands. It also assumes that you play every hand perfectly (which is not very difficult if you bring along a strategy card when you play). The EV for a game is expressed as a percentage; therefore, if a game has a 99.54% EV, it means in the long run if you play every hand perfectly, you can expect a return of 99.54% of all the money you bet. There are many video poker games that have EVs over 99%; the secret is to know which games they are (and their corresponding pay tables) and then to learn the playing strategy for the game.
Let’s focus on the first step, namely, how to know what the return is of a game by looking at its pay table. One neat product that will help you do this is the free Video Poker Cheat Sheet that you will find on this site: http://wizardofodds.com/pdf/video-poker-cheat-sheet.pdf. Michael (Wizard of Odds) Shackleford has summarized the EVs for different video poker games based on the pay schedules. He lists common pay schedules for 16 different video poker games. (For example, Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Bonus Poker Deluxe, Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus, etc.) At the bottom of each game’s pay schedule is its EV.
For example, the Cheat Sheet lists 11 different pay schedules for Deuces Wild that range from a high of 100.76% EV to a low of 94.82% EV. Three other pay schedules come in with EVs over 99.4%. It behooves you if you want to play Deuces Wild to find and play the pay schedules that have the highest EV. (Remember: The casino manager isn’t going to take by the hand and point you to the 99.96% EV Deuces Wild game. It’s your responsibility as a player to find this game and play it, as opposed to a Deuces Wild game that has an inferior pay schedule and lower EV.)
The Video Poker Cheat Sheet is a pdf file that you can print using your computer and home printer. The Cheat Sheet is a six-page report that you can use for reference to determine which pay schedule (for each of the 16 games covered in the report) has the highest EV.
If you don’t want to carry a report with you into a casino, I have a second more compact product for you to consider, The Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide by Jean Scott and Victor Nacht. This 33 page spiral-bound book is only 7 inches long by 3.5 inches wide so it fits conveniently in pocket or purse. It contains nearly 200 pay schedules for 37 of the most popular video poker games, and it contains the EVs for each pay schedule (for a single line game, Multi-Strike, and Super Times Pay). In addition, the book contains information on each games volatility (i.e., bankroll swings), and the break-even point on progressive royal flush games. The book is easy to carry, easy to use, and it will help you pin point which games have the highest returns and are the best ones to play. (The book retails for $19.99, a small price to pay for this handy resource. You can read more about it on my web store at www.smartgaming.com).
Here’s another way to know which games have the highest EVs when you are scouting the machines in a casino. The popular video poker strategy cards by Dancer/Daily have a few common pay schedules printed on the card with the corresponding EVs. For example, the Jacks or Better strategy card has the pay schedules, and their corresponding EVs, for 9/6, 8/6, 9/5, and 8/5 games. Therefore, when you take the pocket strategy card with you into the casino, you’ll not only have the playing strategy for your favorite game but also the EVs for the more popular pay schedules.
There is one more tool you can use that tells you whether your favorite casino offers any full pay (i.e., highest EV) video poker games. Just go to vpfree2.com, click on “Casinos With Video Poker” on the bottom of the page, and then select the region you are interested (e.g., Las Vegas, East, Midwest, etc), and you’ll obtain a table that lists all the casinos in that region and the full pay video poker games that they offer.
With the above tools, you have no excuse not to find and play the best video poker games in your favorite casino.
Tamburin’s Tip of the Month
Sometimes you’ll discover that a casino may not have a good pay schedule for Jacks or Better (JOB). For example, many casinos only offer 8/5 JOB with a 97.30% EV. Before you sit down and play that game, check the pay schedules for Bonus Poker (or check vpfree2.com beforehand). If you find an 8/5 BP pay schedule, you should consider playing that game vs. the 8/5 JOB. (The reason is because the EV for 8/5 BP is 99.17%, which is greater than the 97.30% EV for the 8/5 JOB game. Also, you can use the JOB playing strategy when playing 8/5 Bonus Poker with very little decrease in EV.)
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of the smartgaming.com website and the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit www.bjinsider.com/freetrial). For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains books, strategy cards, and software for casino players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at smartgaming.com.