When to play less
than max coins

Apr 9, 2007 5:46 AM

I always suggest that players play max-coin whenever possible. Virtually all video poker machines pay extra for the royal flush when the player plays 5 coins instead of 1 to 4 coins. Usually, the payout is increased to 800 per coin wagered from the usual 250 per coin wagered.

Given that for a game like jacks or better, the 800-coin payout is worth about 2% of the total payback, playing at a 250-coin payout should cut the overall payout of a machine by about 1.375%. So, instead of playing a 99.5% game, you’d be playing a roughly 98.1% game which is a significant difference.

The question that frequently gets asked is if there is ever a time that you SHOULD play less than max-coin. Not including unique tournament scenarios, there are only two or three situations in which I can think of when it might pay to do so.

The first is when you are learning how to play. While most of your practice sessions should take place at home, at some point you may feel ready to try at a real casino. In these cases, you may want to take it slow.

A second occasion may be if your bankroll is too small to warrant playing max-coin. In this case, however, I would suggest that you try and drop down in denomination so that you can play max-coin at a lower wager.

This leads to the third scenario. What if the payback of the lower denomination machine at max-coin is LOWER than the payback of the higher denomination machine at less than max-coin? In this case, barring finding a different casino, you may just be better off playing 1-coin.

If playing five nickels will net you a 97.4% payback because the paytable is the 8-5 variety, but the quarter machine is full-pay, you’ll be better off playing one quarter instead of five nickels.

I stated earlier that the payback of playing a full-pay jacks or better game at 1 to 4 coins is about 98.1%. This would be the case if you played using the strategy for max-coin.

However, as is often the case, the change in paytable causes a change in strategy. These changes in strategy can result in increasing the payback to its maximum theoretical amount. In this case, altering the strategy can bring the payback up to 98.37%.

Because the payout on the royal is greatly reduced, we find that partial royals have shifted down somewhat on our strategy table. Four-card royals are still safe, but the expected value has been chopped from 18+ down to 7. Three-card royals are now below 4-card flushes, so if one of the two remaining cards is of the same suit, you do NOT discard it. The 4-card flush stays relatively unchanged at about 1.23, while the 3-card royal gets reduced from 1.4 down to 0.91.

Two-Card Royals get the most complex in this scenario. If the 2-Card Royal is also a 3-Card Flush (except if the 2-Card Royal is JQ), then you play the 3-Card Flush instead of the 2-Card Royal. Admittedly, the expected values of these hands are virtually identical so if you always play the 2-Card Royal or the 3-Card Flush, you will not cost yourself much.

However, it is interesting to note that by lowering the payout on the Royal, while keeping the payout of the Flush constant, that the 3-Card Flush actually becomes a playable hand. The final strategy alteration involves the 2-Card Royals that are comprised of 10’s (10J, 10Q and 10K — 10A is not playable in jacks or better). The payout change causes these hands to fall below any Two High Cards. So, if you have a suited 10Q, but also have a J, K or Ace of another suit, you are better off playing the two High Cards. The diminished value of the Royal is not worth discarding a High Card.

I don’t advocate playing below maximum coin. However, if you find yourself in the situation where you are playing it, it is important to make the necessary strategy changes to maximize your overall payback. This is a lesson that should be followed ANYTIME the paytable changes.