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A close-up lookat Bonus Poker

Jul 27, 2004 6:08 AM

Last week I reviewed the paybacks of a variety of Bonus Poker games. Starting this week and for the next few weeks I’m going to cover some more of the details of each of these Bonus Poker variations. I’ll cover some of the strategy differences, relative to jacks or better and give you an idea of what to expect when playing these games.

The obvious place to start is with basic Bonus Poker. This game pays 40 for quads (four of a kinds) 2-3-4’s and 80 for quad aces instead of the usual 25 for each.

The "cost" of this increase is that full houses and flushes pay 8 and 5 instead of 9 and 6, respectively. The result is a game that is slightly more volatile and with a slightly lower payback.

Based on the success of the newer games, it would appear that the average player is willing to accept this lower payback for the higher volatility and thus the increased chance at a big win. In the long run, this may not be preferable, but then again, it is called gambling.

When we compare the strategy table for Bonus Poker to full-pay jacks or better, a couple of differences are noticed. However, on closer inspection, we realize that these differences, while affecting the relative strength of the expected value of some hands, do not actually affect our strategy. The fact that three aces ranks over a flush does not change how we play because both hands cannot happen on the same pre-draw hand. True strategy-changes only happen when the hands shown on the strategy table can both occur in the same pre-draw hand.

One of the real strategy differences that we’ll find is that a four-card straight with four high dards now ranks higher than a two-card royal with no 10 or ace. Of course, it’s hard to imagine how an increase payout on quads could cause this. It turns out that it’s actually the reduction of the full house and flush payouts that causes this flip-flop in the strategy table. If we look at the strategy table for an 8-5 jacks or better machine we will find that the four-card straight also ranks above the two-card royal. Since the two-card royal has the potential to turn into either a flush or a full house, its expected value is reduced by the reduced payouts, whereas the four-card straight’s expected value remains unaffected by the change in payouts.

So, as it turns out, the strategy table for Bonus Poker is almost identical to the strategy table for an 8-5 jacks or better game. The effect of the higher payouts on quads are simply not strong enough to make any real impacts on the strategy table. The only real difference we find is that two high cards now ranks over a three-card double inside straight flush with one high card. Truth be told, not all two high card hands are created equal. Without the bonus quads, a J-Q has a higher expected value than a K-A because there are more straight possibilities with a J-Q versus the K-A. We lump them all together in our strategy table for simplicity. The impact to the overall payback caused by this is microscopic and needs to be weighed against the likelihood of errors if we increase the length and complexity of our strategy table. As a result, the impact of the increase payouts for quad aces causes two high cards to rank higher than the three-card double inside straight flush with one high card.

If you’ve already mastered the strategy table for the full-pay jacks or better game, you won’t cost yourself much by using it for Bonus Poker. If you’re used to playing 8-5 jacks or better, you’ll reduce your cost even further. Obviously, ideally, you’ll make all the necessary adjustments to maximize your payback. As we’ll cover in the coming weeks, as the payouts for quads go up, and other payouts decrease, the strategy changes to maximize your payback become more noticeable.