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National Video Poker Day (Sept. 6) is just a little over three months away. I have my work cut out for me. Besides trying to get people to recognize a day I essentially have made up, I have the more daunting task of getting you, my readers, to recognize the value of video poker in the casino.

To do this, I will spend the better part of the next three months teaching as much as I can about video poker in my weekly column. Last week I discussed the importance of playing “full-pay” games. These are the commonly found paytables for each video poker variant with the highest payback.

The most obvious is the full-pay Jacks or Better paytable which pays 800-50-25-9-6-4-3-2-1. Note I showed 800 as the top pay, not 250. With almost every version of video poker, the Royal pays 250 for 1 if you play one to four coins and 800 for 1 in you play five coins (known as max coin).

So, before you even get to the strategy of how to play any given hand in video poker, the first thing you need to learn after finding the right paytables is knowing you should play max coin. I’m not suggesting you play for more than you feel comfortable playing. I’m suggesting you are generally better off playing five nickels instead of one quarter. You are better off playing five quarters instead of one dollar.

Sometimes, machines will have lower pays for lower denominations, so you need to be mindful of this. Sometimes they’ll also have lower pays for higher denominations. The bottom line is to always check the paytable of the actual game you will be playing.

Some of you may be wondering why it is so important to play max coin. After all, it will only impact you if hitting a Royal, and it’s not like that happens every day. Well, this much is true. Don’t expect to hit a Royal every day.

If you’re playing the right strategy on a Jacks or Better machine, they’ll hit about every 40,000-plus hands. They won’t occur often, but when they do, you’ll want your full payout for it. But, it’s not just about the psychology. Royal Flushes account for about two percent of the payback of a video poker machine. In a future column, I’ll explain a bit more how that is calculated. 

That 2% of payback is based on the 800 for 1 payout. Playing at 250 for 1 costs you almost 1.4%. Your very nice 99.5% game is now a 98.1% game. The house advantage quadrupled!

Earlier I said be wary of a machine in which the paytable is reduced with lower denominations of coin; now we’ve discovered playing at less than max coin will cost you 1.4%, which is more than lowering the Full House, Flush or Straight by a single unit.

Bottom line: You don’t want to go scouring the casino for the right video poker variant with the right paytable, only to give an additional 1.4% to the casino because you’d rather play a quarter instead of five nickels. I understand about image and it may not be cool to say you were playing nickels not quarters. But, it’s cooler yet to win, and odds of walking away a winner at 99.5% are way bigger than at 98.1%

Expert Strategy is geared to the long run, whether talking about video poker or any other casino game. How long until you get to the long run depends on what game you are playing. I’m sorry to have to keep saying this, but I’ll cover this in the upcoming weeks too! The one thing I can tell you now is every additional hand brings you closer to the long run, which is why it is important to always focus on it.

Who knows when that Royal will happen? But it will, and you have to play today and every day as if it might.

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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