Generally speaking, I advise players to play max-coins when playing video poker. For most versions, this means 5 coins.
The penny player puts up 5 cents, the nickel player 25 cents, the quarter player $1.25 and the dollar player $5 per hand. This is done for one simple purpose. On most video poker machines, the top payout – the Royal Flush – changes from 250-for-1 to 800-for-1 when that fifth coin is put in. If you are playing a Progressive, the only way to win that jackpot is to play 5.
A payout of 800-for-1 on the Royal is worth approximately 2% of the total payback of the machine. A payout of only 250 reduces this down to about 0.65%. So, the player is giving up more than 1.25% of payback if he plays below max-coin.
In similar fashion, if the machine is offering a Progressive, which should push the Royal payout to above 800, then the player would be surrendering even more payback by playing below the max-coin level.
The notion of playing max-coin does not mean you should wager five times the amount you feel comfortable wagering. Instead, you should consider lowering your denomination to the next lower level and then play 5 coins. So, rather than playing 1 quarter, you should play 5 nickels.
This, of course, assumes all things are otherwise equal. It is certainly possible when you go to a nickel machine (or change to the nickel option on a multi-denominational machine) the paybacks may change and you may find the payback on the nickel machine well below those of the quarter game.
This makes things a bit more complicated. If the quarter machine pays 99.5% at max-coin, then it will be closer to 98% if you play 1 quarter. If the nickel machine pays 98.5% at max-coin, you’ll still be better off playing max-coin nickels.
There are a few times when you may want to play less than max-coin. The first is when you are first leaning how to play. As you are more apt to make mistakes at this point, you might be better off simply playing 1 nickel at a time. Yes, you will be playing at a lower payback, but at this point, your goal is to become a better player while playing on a real machine.
Ideally, you’d spend most of your “learning” time playing on your computer (or phone or tablet) at home for free ,but I realize playing for free may be a lot less exciting than even playing for a single nickel.
Another reason you may not want to play max-coin is your bankroll. If your bankroll is not large enough to support playing max-coin then you might be better off playing single-coin. Once your bankroll is gone, you’re done, so you need to make sure you have enough money available to ride out the cold streaks.
Of course, one solution to this issue is again to simply drop down in denomination. So, this advice really only applies if machines of a lower denomination are not available. Since the advent of the multi-denominational machine, finding machines that play the denomination you want to play has become much easier, however.
This second reason may have limited practical applications. If you find yourself in a situation where your bankroll will support 5 nickel play, but you only have quarter machines available, you may want to consider playing a single quarter as opposed to five quarters.
One critical point to consider. Just because you switch a machine from quarter play to nickel play, don’t assume the pay table is the same, even if you are switching to the same variety of video poker. There are no requirements that state a machine must use the same pay table when you move from one denomination to another.
In similar fashion, don’t assume a bank of similar (or identical) looking machines all have the same pay table. Casinos frequently, and presumably purposefully, mix the machines up, making sure to sprinkle higher paying machines in with lower paying ones. I dare say you may find no rhyme or reason to the pattern of machines on the casino floor.
Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].