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When I was in my 20’s blackjack is what I played when I went into the casino. It had a good payback (99%-plus) and required a fair amount of skill in the form of strategy to earn this payback.

When video poker came along, I slowly found myself playing more of that and less blackjack. Nowadays, I almost never sit at the blackjack table except when my son is in town and drags me over. My experience this past week only reinforced why this is so.

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Blackjack and video poker have a lot in common. They are both strategy-intense games with high paybacks. The big difference? Blackjack is, generally speaking, very boring! With most deals ending with a single unit won or lost (or pushed), it takes a good streak to win or lose a lot of money.

While we were playing, there was one guy who was varying his bet between $25 and $100. His brother, who was at the table, remarked to me how his brother was not doing very well and it seemed as if every time he raised his wager he did worse. Yet, when the night was over, my son remarked how despite how badly the guy was doing, he was playing with the same roughly $500 the entire time. Now, if you’re a $5 player, $500 is a lot of money. But, at $25-$100 wagers, $500 really isn’t that much of a swing.

This is just the nature of blackjack and it probably explains why so many other games have come into existence over the past 20-plus years. Video Poker is one of these games. I don’t know if anyone has done any studies, but my best guess is video poker stole players from both slots and table games. In my mind, it is a combination of the two. It plays on hardware like a slot. It gives the player an opportunity to win a lot of money in a single hand. Yet, it relies on strategy like a table game and gives paybacks like a table game.

I suppose it is because of these features my father dubbed video poker America’s National Game of Chance. There are so many different variants of the game there is likely to be one that appeals to most every type of player. You can play the lower volatility games like the original. You can go for Double Double Bonus Poker, which offers multiple hands that can pay jackpot like payouts. There are Joker games and Wild Card versions.

The slot average payback here in Las Vegas is about 92-93%. The video poker average payback here is probably about 97-98%. But, unlike slots, a knowledgeable player can look at a paytable and know the payback of the game. This means a player who is more knowledgeable can have an advantage over the player who just sits at the first machine he finds. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg.

When playing slots, you just press the button and the game does all the work. In video poker, each variant has its own strategy. Further, each paytable within each variant might have some slight differences in its strategy. Just like you wouldn’t use single-deck blackjack strategy for a big shoe or the way you need to learn the subtle differences in strategy between a Hit Soft 17 and Stick on all 17’s blackjack game, you need to learn the differences between Bonus Poker and Double Double Bonus Poker.

My father also gave it its nickname because it was a game that was invented here in America and made wildly popular here. Other reasons had to do with the fact that with paybacks in the 99%-plus range, it gives everyone a fair shot to walk away a winner on any given night.

And, I don’t just mean walking away up a couple of bucks. When video poker first made it onto the scene, there were not a lot of games that offered 800-for-1 payouts.

This was left almost exclusively to slot machines. Video poker not only gives players this opportunity, but players can affect how often it might occur by the strategy used. This doesn’t happen on slots. This doesn’t happen in craps or roulette either.

The player can change what he wagers on, but he can’t make the number 23 come up more often. A player that wants to hit a Royal Flush can alter his strategy to make it happen more often than a player who is maximizing his payback.

I don’t recommend the former, but if that is the goal you set out for, you can affect the probability of it occurring. There is nothing you can do to make snake eyes come up on craps dice.

Video poker is a truly unique game in the casino landscape. This is why I find myself wanting to play it more than I want to play blackjack. I find playing video poker is both enjoyable and adrenaline producing.

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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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