You can learn how to play perfect strategy, but picking machines with lousy paytables won’t really do you a lot of good.
The first component: know which games to play. Once you’ve decided on video poker, pick games with higher paytables. For each type of video poker, the highest commonly found game is generally referred to as the ‘full-pay’ version. These are what you want.
In Jacks or Better, this means a paytable offering 800, 50, 25, 9, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 from the Royal down to the Pair of Jacks or Better. This is usually referred to as the 9-6 paytable because the payouts for the Full House and/or Flush are the most commonly changed by casinos that lower the paybacks. The payback of 99.5+ percent is very good.
Unfortunately, you won’t always find full-pay versions in the casinos. Lower paying versions are called ‘short-pay.’ When this occurs, you may want to find another casino. But, should you choose to play, understand the payback.
Unlike slots, where the payback can be anything the casino wants it to be, the payback of a video poker machine can be calculated using computer software once you know the paytable. A book or software that will tell you what the payback is.
There are ways to approximate payback based on how much it differs from another game with a known payback. We multiply the frequency of a winning hand by the payout of that hand and sum up the values. The payback of our 9-6 video poker:
• The frequency of Royal Flushes multiplied by the payout of a Royal.
• PLUS the frequency of a Straight Flush multiplied by the payout of a Straight Flush.
• PLUS (keep the process going until you get to a Pair of Jacks or Better).
To figure out the impact of a change to the payout for a particular hand, we multiply that change by the frequency of that hand. The good news is that the frequency of the most common hands whose payouts change (Full Houses and Flushes) are just over 1 percent. So for every unit the payout is reduced by 1, our payback is down by just over 1 percent. So, if the payouts are changed to be 8 and 5 (from 9 and 6), the payback will be reduceED by just over 2 percent. The overall payback of an 8-5 paytable will be just below 97.5.
Casinos also like to change the pays on the Four of a Kind and Straight. For every four units the payout of the Four of a Kind is reduced, the payback will decrease by 1 percent. The Straight is similar to the Full House and the Flush, causing a 1 percent decrease in the payback for each one unit decrease in payout.
This calculation works in both directions. If the payouts are increased, the payback will rise the same way. So, a 10-5 machine would have a very similar payback to the 9-6.
The frequencies shown here are only approximations. For a more accurate calculation, use a more exact frequency. The difference of 0.1 or 0.2 percent is probably not going to sway you massively. Also every time you change the paytable, the frequencies change just a little bit
As the payout of a particular hand goes up, the frequency rises as that hand has more value. Some hands work against each other, so raising both Four of a Kind and a Flush may surely offset each other in terms of the frequency.
Although you may be able to approximate the payback, odds are if you need to do this, you are playing a machine where the strategy isn’t fully known. This could cause you to give up a bit more in payback. It’s best not to shoot yourself in the foot playing short-pay machines.