Hitting big one is a Royal pain

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In response to my column a few weeks ago about frequency of jackpots, I was recently asked if there has been an uptick in jackpots on video poker machines.

I have to admit that I’m not really privy to this information from the casinos. Also, if you note, video poker machines don’t really have ‘jackpots.’ Given the truly random nature of video poker, it is hard to create a hand that occurs so rarely as to create a Progressive Jackpot in the millions of dollars — unless of course, you make it a $100 machine.

When I say that video poker machines are truly random, I mean that the probability of each card being dealt or drawn is the exact same as every other card. The machine does not decide that it is going to deal you a four-card Straight and that assuming you hold the cards, it will go ahead and give you the Straight. Rather, it deals five cards from a 52-card deck. Maybe it will form a four-card Straight. Maybe it will be a four-card Inside Straight with a Pair as well. 

How to play video poker

When you draw on that four-card Straight there are eight cards that will complete it and you will have exactly an 8-in-47 chance of hitting that Straight. It is not predetermined by the Random Number Generator whether or not you get the Straight beforehand.

This differs from slot machines greatly. With slots, each symbol that you get is not independent from each other and the likelihood of any particular symbol showing up in a particular spot does not have equal probability. Rather, the machine determines as you hit ‘spin’ that you will get a particular overall outcome. If the casino wanted to increase the frequency of a Jackpot, it could.

In video poker, this is not possible. The casino is powerless to make Royal Flushes occur more often. In most variations of video poker, a Royal with occur about once every 40,000 hands if the proper strategy is being utilized to maximize overall payback. 

Quite frankly, it can be changed rather significantly if the player repeatedly plays certain hands certain ways. If a player plays three High Cards offsuit over Two Suited High cards (i.e. a two-card Royal), then they will reduce their chances of getting a Royal. If he or she does this once in a great while because they simply misplay the hand, then the impact will not be so great. If they routinely misplay this hand, they may find that the frequency goes to 1 in 45,000 on average. 

There are numerous cases where the player may reduce their chances of hitting a Royal by holding an offsuit card incorrectly. Conversely, a player may get a little Royal crazy and play for them when he or she should not. Discard a Low Pair and hold a two-card Royal and you will hit a Royal far more frequently. Ditto if you discard a High Pair to keep a three-card Royal. 

Theoretically, if a player is playing a Progressive machine and the jackpot grows large enough, they will make certain changes that will increase the frequency of the Royal. If the Progressive were to ever grow to 1,600 (from the base of 800), then playing the proper strategy would increase the frequency of the Royal to about 1-in-32,700 hands. If a player overplays the Royal while playing a regular machine, they will still increase the chances of the Royal, but they’ll be doing so at the peril of their bankroll.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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