Two Pair works in your favor, so don't hurt the payback
October 24, 2017 3:10 AM
by Elliot Frome
The Two Pair is one of the more curious hands in video poker. In jacks or better and bonus poker, it is a very important hand. It accounts for roughly 26% of your payback; 13% of your hands end up as a Two Pair. Four of a Kinds account for only about 6% of your payback. This is not unusual for paytable games.
The easier to get hands pay less, but do account for more of the overall payback – what we call the contribution rate. The Pair of Jacks or better accounts for roughly 43% of our payback, but is in reality just a push. The Two Pair is the lowest “winning” hand.
With a 26% contribution rate, this is called “feeding the chickens.” You need to allow the players to win small amounts to keep them in the game and have a chance to win. This brings them back for more. We could build a paytable that doesn’t pay at all for any Pair or Two Pair and still have a payback of about 99%, but it would be little fun to play.
You’d win only 10% of your hands, but if you can manage to win just 11% or more, you’d be in for a big day. This would ramp up the volatility and you’d find yourself either getting wiped out quickly or winning big. This really isn’t in the casino’s best interest as it is not in your best interest.
Another possibility is to reduce the payout of the Two Pair to a single unit, rendering it a push as well. This is what happens in Double Double Bonus Poker and as is no surprise, this version of video poker is way more volatile than jacks or better. With only a single unit payout on the Two Pair, the payout is reduce by 13%. This is compensated for by jacking up all of the Four of a Kind payouts.
The Four of a Kinds now have a contribution rate in the neighborhood of 15-20%. We no longer feed the chickens. Instead, the game becomes more of feast or famine. Get your Four of a Kinds and you’re likely to win. Don’t get them and you’re likely to lose. It will help if you get an appropriate number of Bonus Quads too.
So what makes this hand so curious? Well, first of all, no one draws hoping to get a Two Pair. It is a type of consolation prize. You hold a Pair, you draw another Pair. You were really hoping for Quads, a Full House, maybe Trips. You got two Pair? It’s okay. Even more so when playing Double Double as if you started with a High Pair, it doesn’t even increase your payout.
This does not mean the payout is not considered when figuring out the strategy. There isn’t much decision making about having a Pair. But, the payout of the Two Pair does come into play when you’re deciding how to play partial Straight Flushes. It’s not a huge factor, but it is in the soup.
So, that brings me up to the next curious point, which happens when you are DEALT a Two Pair. In jacks or better, it’s not a bad hand. You’re going to win even money and about 8% of the time you’re going to draw to a Full House and get 9. Those are the only two outcomes. Neither is bad, but it is almost boring! The outcome is only slightly different in Double Double: 43 out of 47 possible draws will result in keeping your Two Pair for a PUSH and the other four will pay for a Full House. We can debate if this is more or less exciting.
This reduction in one unit of pay makes one significant change to our strategy table for Double Double. When dealt Two Pair, where one Pair is Aces, we discard the Two Pairs and keep just the Pair of Aces! Well, I have to be honest, it is not just the reduction in the Two Pair payout that does this. It is also the increase payout for Aces and the mini-jackpot pay of Four Aces with a kicker that puts it over the top.
So, while a Two Pair is rather boring, especially in Double Double, the important lesson here is that the only time you discard it is when you have a Pair of Aces. Even though a High Pair might turn into Trips or Quads, it is not enough to outweigh the advantage of hitting the Full House with Two Pair.
Even as the consolation prize of many hands, the Two Pair is a critical hand to get in proper quantity to help ensure a good session. In jacks or better, it feeds your bankroll. In Double Double, it feeds your bankroll a bit less and getting your Full Houses will be a bit more critical in feeding the chickens.