Finding your v-poker niche

Feb 5, 2007 4:06 AM

This past week I received an e-mail from a reader who is a blackjack player, but who is slowly getting interested in video poker. He wanted to know what I meant in a recent column when I said to play "full-pay" machines, and what machine should he start out on. These are both excellent questions.

The term full-pay generally refers to the highest paying paytable for each variation of video poker. In some cases, there may be an even higher version that exists, but are not so readily found.

So, I guess full-pay really means the highest paying paytable that can generally be found for a given version of video poker. Since Las Vegas is still regarded as Video Poker Heaven, it is usually where these games are found. Some locales outside of Nevada are notorious for having lower paying machines, and in those areas, ”˜full-pay’ may refer to the highest paying paytables in those locales.

Full-pay does NOT necessarily mean the highest paytables in all of the video poker world. It is very possible that a short-pay Deuces Wild paytable may still be considerably higher than a full-pay Double Double Bonus machine. Full-pay simply means the highest payback for that particular version.

The second question the reader asked is related to the first. I suggest that all rookies to the video poker world start on full-pay jacks or better machines. Why? Well, everyone should try and play full-pay machines. It’s just silly not to. Why would you play at a blackjack table paying 6 to 5 on Blackjack if across the street there is a table paying 3-to-2 for blackjacks with all other rules the same? I can’t tell you which one of the tables you’ll win more on, but I do know that if you get roughly the same hands, you’ll do better playing the 3-to-2 version.

The same is true for video poker. The short-pay machine may give you a Royal Flush on the very first hand. But, if you sit down and play for a couple of hours, you’re FAR more likely to do better on the full-pay machine. Since you don’t know what hands you’ll be dealt, you have to assume that you’ll get about the same ones on either machine. In that case, why would you accept to be paid 1 coin less for every Full House and Flush, which account for about 2% of all hands?

So, why jacks or better for the beginner? There are a variety of reasons for this. The first is that the game is found in abundance, even in the full-pay version. There could be nothing more frustrating than learning how to play a game, heading to the casino and finding out it doesn’t exist there or that there are 6 machines and all have someone looking like they’re ready to play all day long already sitting there.

The second is that jacks or better is relatively easy to learn. There are some easier games, but they are not as abundant. Games like Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus have far more complex strategy tables. The last reason is that jacks or better has a good payback and is not too volatile. This will give the beginner a good chance to play for a while without burning through his bankroll. I love to play Double Double Bonus, but it’s the wild spin-you-around roller coaster of the casino, while jacks or better is a nice simple ferris wheel (not that wild one at Disneyland’s California Adventure!).

Like any casino game, the only way you get to the theoretical paybacks is if you play the game properly. Blackjack can pay out at 99.6%, but not if you’re splitting 10’s! Learning video poker is more complex than learning most table games.

There are 3 keys to learning expert strategy for video poker — practice, practice AND practice. You can do this either with a real deck of cards or with one of several good software packages that will allow you to practice and tell you when you make a mistake.

Once you learn jacks or better, then you’ll be ready to move on to the more complex games. After all, you have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk or run.