Table manners!

June 22, 2010 7:02 AM

As I’ve described in several columns over the past few weeks, the atmosphere in Las Vegas for finding good paying video poker machines is clearly turning hostile. It is clearly not impossible to find full-pay machines, but it is getting harder.

It will help if you are prepared to be a quarter-and-up player as opposed to a nickel player. One of the cardinal rules of Expert Strategy is knowing which machines to play and this starts with finding full-pay machines.

In order to do this, you need to know what the full-pay paytable for each variation looks like. The table on page 2 lists the full-pay paytables of the some of the most common games in the casino.

While there is clearly a pecking order in terms of the paybacks, these are all solid paybacks. The problem begins when casinos begin to take a unit off of some of the pays.

This may not seem like a lot. After all, how big of a deal can it be if the Full House pay is reduced from 9 to 8? When we calculate the overall payback of a game, we multiply the payout for each winning hand by the frequency of that hand, and then sum these values.

This means that a single unit taken off of a Full House pay will reduce the overall payback by an amount equal to the frequency of a Full House. While this frequency varies from game to game and is dependent on the paytable, a good rule of thumb to remember is that a Full House occurs about 1% of the time. So, a one-unit decrease in the payout of a Full House reduces the payback by 1%.

Despite the different payouts, it turns out that the frequency of a Straight, Flush and Full House are all rather similar – each at about 1%. Thus, an increase or decrease in the payout of these hands will each increase or decrease the overall payback by the same 1%.

So, if you happen to find a Double Bonus Poker machine paying 9 and 6 for a Full House and Flush, it means the payback is about 98.1% instead of 100.1%. This means you’re going from a game with a tiny player advantage to one with a nearly 2% house advantage. It also means that you’d be better off playing a full-pay double double bonus video poker machine – assuming that is an alternative.

Once in a while, you’ll find a machine where the Four of a Kind pays have been tinkered with. Here, the rule of thumb is that every 4 units of pay equals 1% of payback. This assumes that ALL four-of-a-kinds have been impacted by the payout change.

Thus, if a jacks or better machine had its payout lowered to 20 on quads, it would mean a 1.25% reduction in overall payback. If the change only impacts the payout on aces (let’s say you find a bonus machine paying 75 instead of 80), then the impact is roughly 1/13 of this and it will make a 0.1% reduction.

So, now when you venture into the casino you know that you must start with knowing what the full-pay machine’s paytables look like. You can then do a rough calculation to figure out what the payback of the machine you are thinking about playing is before you actually sit down and play.

This becomes critical because the most important thing you are in control of is which machine to play and/or to play at all. If the casino isn’t going to offer you machines with high enough paybacks, you are well within your rights to walk away.