Nov 25, 2003 2:50 AM

You’re on the prowl for a good video poker machine as you stroll through your favorite casino. You come across a bank of machines with some openings and you, of course, check out the pay table. They’re 8/5 Jacks or better machines paying 97.3%. Not a good paying machine for Las Vegas.

Then you realize that it’s a progressive machine with a jackpot currently equal to 8,000 coins. You remember your rule of thumb and with the jackpot 4,000 coins above the normal 4,000 coin royal payout, you add 2% to the overall payback, making the machines a much more respectable 99.3%. You don’t normally play progressives, but maybe tonight is your lucky night.

As we all know, changes in the pay table can cause changes in our strategy. Some changes are subtle, some are significant. Some make little difference to the overall payback, and some can make tangible differences. What does raising the payout of a royal from the usual 4,000 (800 per coin) to 8,000 (1600 per coin) do to our strategy?

There are two factors at work in the strategy for this machine. The first is the reduction of payout for the full houses and flushes, from 9/6 to 8/5. This will cause minor reductions in the EV (expected value) of a variety of hands from partial flushes and straight flushes to pairs and two pairs. These changes will affect the relative rank of a variety of hands from two-card royals, to three-card inside straight flushes to one, two and three high card hands.

If you use the standard 9/6 strategies on the 8/5 machine, you’ll only cost yourself about .1% payback. It’s not a lot, but it’s important to realize that there is an optimal strategy for each pay table that maximizes the overall payback of the machine. The numbers mentioned here, however, are applicable only to a non-progressive 8/5 Jacks or better machine.

Since the machine chosen is a progressive, additional changes are made based on the size of the jackpot. The larger the jackpot, the more we alter our strategy to try and make the royal occur more frequently.

Playing a full-pay 9/6 Jacks or better, using expert strategy, a royal will appear (on average) once every 40,000 hands. When playing an 8/5 progressive with an 8,000-coin jackpot, the strategy is altered to make the royal appear once every 32,650 hands.

The good side to this is that by increasing the frequency between royals, we increase our chances of hitting the Royal. The bad news is that in order to increase the frequency, we REDUCE the overall payback of the machine IF we DON’T hit the Royal.

Let’s look at some bottom line numbers before we discuss specific strategy changes.

If we play the Progressive game using standard 9/6 strategy, our overall payback will be 99.3 percent instead of 99.6 percent. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but turned around it means our loss rate goes from .5 percent to .8 percent or an increase of 60 percent!

So let’s look at some of the strategy changes we need to make to play this progressive. It should be noted that these changes apply for a jackpot of 8,000 coins. As the jackpot goes up, additional changes need to be made as well. As the jackpot goes down, the strategy begins to look more like the standard 8/5 strategy.

One of the most significant changes to our strategy is a hand like the one below:


J§ J¨ Q¨ K¨ 3


In a normal 8/5 game (or even 9/6 game) the play would be to hold the pair of Jacks with an EV of about 1.5. The three-card royal has an EV of 1.4+. In the progressive game, the power of the royal jackpot raises the EV of the three-card royal to greater than 2, making it the easy choice. This hand will not occur very frequently, but it has the ability to account for a significant portion of the .3%.

The other changes occur more frequently but have a less dramatic impact for each hand. Two-card royals (KQ, KJ, QJ, AK, AQ, AJ) now rank AHEAD of four-card inside straights with four high cards, three-card straight flush with no high cards, three-card inside straight flush with one high card and three-card double inside straight flush with two high cards. In fact, the three-card double inside straight flush with two high cards is eliminated from our strategy table because ALL of them will now be treated as a two-card royal!

Two-card royals (10J, 10Q, 10K) now rank higher than two high cards and three-card double inside straight flush with one high card. It should be noted as well that the 10-A royal that is not even considered playable on a non-progressive machine now warrants a play.

The tables below highlight the differences in this portion of the strategy table:

Playing progressives is a tricky proposition. Presumably the real reason for playing a progressive is to hit the royal flush. Obviously, this is often a goal for ANY game, but given that you are usually giving up payout on all non-royal hands for the right to go for the jackpot, if you’re really not playing for the royal, you’d be better off finding a full pay non-progressive.

To optimally play a progressive a careful balance must be struck between keeping a reasonable payout between royals and increasing the frequency of the royal, with the overall goal to maximize the overall payback of the machine, including the royal jackpot. To do this, it must be realized that there may be strategy changes that have to take place as the jackpot grows.

Have an excellent Turkey Day! Think progressively and you may have that much more to be thankful for!

Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas (recently updated for 2003!) and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at, or drop Elliot an e-mail at [email protected]