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I recently found a blog post by a player who was asking about the effects on payback from a feature called double-up.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with double-up, it’s a feature available only on video poker and only on machines where it has been activated by the casino. Even though probably 80% to 90% of video poker machines in use today have the capability of double-up, many operators choose to leave it off for reasons I’ll explain later.

If you find a machine with the double-up feature turned on, you won’t know it until you play a hand of video poker and win the hand. Once you win the hand a little yellow button will appear on the bottom of the screen that says – you guessed it – “Double Up.” Some newer machines will emblazon a “Double Up?” question across the screen instead of popping up the little, easy-to-miss yellow button, but the feature works the same either way.

If you hit the double-up button, you have committed to letting your winnings ride on a chance deal of the cards. The machine will deal out five cards with the first one exposed. The exposed card is the machine’s “dealer” card, and the remaining four are left face-down for you to choose from. Choose a higher card than the dealer and you win, a lower card, you lose, and the same value card is a push.

If you lose the double-up challenge, all credits wagered are gone and you’re returned to the video poker screen. If you win or push, you’re left with the decision to stop and take your winnings or double-up again. This continues until you lose, until you take the money and stop, or until you hit the maximum double-up limit set by the casino.

The facts: Double-up does not affect the payback percentage of the base video poker game being played. It is a straight 50-50 shot to double your winnings. The machine uses the same virtual deck to deal the double-up hand as it does for the regular video poker game you’re playing. And yes, it certainly matters which card you choose.

Some players think they’ll get the same card no matter which they choose because the machine has already decided if they’re going to win or lose. Not so. Again, as ensured by gaming regulations, the games must deal out five random cards off of a virtual 52-card deck. The game is made to operate just like a live card game, so there really are four cards waiting for you to choose from. And there is no useful strategy on which one to pick because it truly is a random shuffle, so guess carefully.

The same deck fact is what keeps me from ever using the double-up feature when I’m playing though, not the lack of strategy. I used to double-up occasionally, but then I had a couple of instances where the double-up hand would have been a real good video poker hand. I knew I would have gotten the same exact hand if I had hit the “max bet” button instead of the “double-up” button, assuming I would have hit either button at precisely the same time.

That knowledge becomes a real drag when you get dealt four-of-a-kind on a double-up hand. It’s especially disappointing when the fifth card is lower than the value of the four-of-a-kind, and that’s the card you end up picking to beat the dealer. It’s the only way I know of that you can actually lose on a four-of-a-kind, and it is a very painful experience. In fact, even if you win a double-up like this, you’re probably winning 10 or 20 credits instead of several hundred. Ouch!

Also, once the button is hit, there is no way to go back. The double-up must be played to its conclusion. For this reason, casinos sometimes find themselves in an awkward no-win position when someone claims to have accidentally hit the double-up button. Do you pay the player if they lose the double-up? If they win it, do you take the winnings back? Legally the casino can force the player to play it out and live with the consequences since it’s the player’s responsibility to hit the correct button, but that’s also a losing proposition because doing so upsets the player. Of course the dealer card is usually a high card in cases like this, making the casino rightfully skeptical of the player’s claim in the first place.

This is why double-up is rarely offered in larger casinos, because it’s just not worth the hassle. It’s only offered in bars and smaller casinos because it’s easier for them to monitor the play and the honesty of their clientele. In fact, I offer it on every machine I can at Stetson’s, but only because our smaller, friendly environment allows me to safely do so.

Double-up might be the fairest bet in the whole casino since it really has no house edge at all, but once you know the cards you get could have been your next video poker hand, it loses some of its luster. So if you decide to double-up next time you play video poker and you end up with a monster hand on the screen that doesn’t pay squat compared to what it should, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Even if you win, it can really hurt.

(Editor’s Note: Brad Fredella is general manager of Stetson’s Saloon and Casino in Henderson, Nev.)

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