Video poker the best bet for high payback
September 12, 2017 3:00 AM
by Elliot Frome
When people ask me which games have the highest paybacks in the casino, I generally answer blackjack and video poker. Ultimate Texas Hold’em is not far behind, but with a much larger average wager size, it is not completely fair to put it in the same category.
A full-pay Jacks or Better machine has about the same payback as a liberal six-deck shoe game of blackjack. Both games require a similar amount of strategy to achieve this payback. Where they differ greatly is in the volatility of the game.
I’ve sat at a blackjack table and been quite frustrated at getting bad hand after bad hand. Why does the dealer keep getting a Ten-9 or double face cards, while I keep getting 14, 15 and 16? One could begin to believe the game is rigged somehow. But, if you’re playing at a full table and you realize that many other players are matching the dealer’s hand and it seems to be only you getting the bad hands, you really have to begin to wonder how the game could be rigged.
One player gets up and leaves and somehow the bad hands still find you. This is simply bad luck and part of the expected math. The irony about how blackjack works is, if you’re going toe to toe with the dealer’s good hands, you’re probably barely going to remember it. If you’re crushing the dealer, everyone at the table is likely to be doing so too, so you don’t feel all that special. So, the only thing that stands out is when you’re getting bad cards and the dealer (and some other players) are getting good ones.
In blackjack, this all evens out rather quickly. Payouts are mostly even money. In the end, you win a little less than half the games and lose a little more than you win. The rest are pushes.
Video poker works very differently. First, there is only you and the machine. I’ve almost never noticed anyone around me losing badly. I have no doubt they are doing so often, but you just don’t pay attention to it. But, if someone near you is hitting hand after hand – you notice! So, unless you’re going well, your mind begins to play tricks.
Video poker is also way more volatile than blackjack. You have to get your fair share of Pairs and Two Pairs, but this isn’t where you really win. This is all the more true if you’re playing Double Double Bonus video poker where so much of the payback is in those Quads, and Two Pairs only pays 1, which is just a push.
You’re looking for those big payouts – the Quads and the Royal Flushes. The Royal Flushes at 1 in 40,000 can pretty much be described as luck if you’re playing the right strategy. Quads become the critical hand.
Playing the right strategy you should get a Four of a Kind about once in every 400 hands. But that is just the long term average. Start falling significantly behind that and get them 1 in 600 or 1 in 800 and you’re going to have a long night (or maybe a quick one!). Compare this to the game of blackjack, where you get a blackjack once in every 21 hands.
As a rough guide, I tell people to use the rule of 3, meaning the range of “normal” is 1/3 to 3x as many hands. Expect blackjacks between 7 and 93 hands. You can expect a Four of a Kind between 140 and 1,200-plus hands. This is not to say you won’t get three blackjacks in a row or get two Four of a Kinds on consecutive hands. But in terms of expectations, this isn’t going to happen very often.
I have to admit, when the streaks start running long even I begin to wonder about the randomness of the machine. Recently, I was playing a 5-way Multi-Strike game. Playing this game, you love getting pairs of Aces. Okay, I like getting three or four of them even more, but you have to start somewhere.
You hope those pairs occasionally turn into Quads, and with a little luck with a kicker – all on one of the top two lines. On this particular day I seemed to get a large number of pairs of Aces. Depending on how the round is going, I might have as many as five outcomes at one time.
I noticed at one point that while I was getting a lot of Aces, I couldn’t seem to even get 3 of them after the draw, yet alone 4! I started counting just how many consecutive Pairs of Aces I drew to without getting Trips! The probability of going 35 hands of pairs without getting a Three of a Kind is about 1.43%. Technically, this would include the possibility of getting a Full House or Quads, which I didn’t get either.
I had quite a few before I started counting. So I ran the probability of 50 in a row and 60 in a row. I got 0.23% and 0.069%, respectively. These aren’t good odds, but they are hardly indicative of there be anything broken.
I had a Full House dealt to me that day twice. The probability of being dealt a Full House is 0.144%. I’ve had Quads dealt to me at 0.024%. When these happen, I never question the integrity of the machine.
Now, it is not impossible for a machine to be broken and not do what it is programmed to do, but this is exceedingly rare. It’s not likely going to manifest itself by simply denying you Quads for a long period of time. If you’re dealt to King of Clubs, you know something is awry! But, if you go a long time between Quads, it is probably just a mathematically reasonable, but very much unwanted, cold streak.