There is no one perfect strategy for video poker. When we check our online gaming options and find a game with a higher than usual payoff on flushes, we must adjust our strategy to maximize flush opportunities.John Grochowski is the author of six gaming books including the "Answer Book" series -- The Casino Answer Book, The Video Poker Answer Book, The Craps Answer Book and a revised edition of The Slot Machine Answer Book. His articles cover blackjack, slots and video poker strategy as well as casino etiquette and getting the most bang for your buck in Vegas. John's website is www.casinoanswerman.com
In a game that pays a big bonus on four Aces, we'll sometimes ignore other potential winners to make a run at the jackpot.
How much do we gain by making such strategy adjustments? Surprisingly little. If we start out by learning expert strategy for 9-6 Jacks or Better, we gain only a few tenths of a percent by memorizing all the special cases that go into more complex games.
A prime example is Double Bonus Poker. On the negative side, Double Bonus pays only 1-for-1 on two pair, instead of the 2-for-1 return on Jacks or Better. To balance that off, there are many pay table enhancements, starting with big bonuses on four of a kinds.
In Jacks or Better, all four-of-a-kind hands pay 25-for-1 or 125 coins for a five-coin wager. In Double Bonus Poker, four of a kinds from 5s through Kings double that, to 50-for-1, four 2s, 3s or 4s pay 80-for-1 and four Aces pay 160-for-1, an 800-coin bonanza with a maximum bet.
There are other differences. In the full-pay version of Double Bonus, full houses pay 10-for-1 instead of the 9-for-1 you get in full-pay Jacks or Better; flushes pay 7-for-1 instead of 6-for-1 and straights pay 5-for-1 instead of 4-for-1.
To someone who wants to play at expert level, all those changes mean a full card of special cases and strategy switches. But let's say you don't want to make learning the game a full-time job. Applying Jacks or Better strategy to full-pay Double Bonus brings an expected long-run return of 99.8 percent, just four-tenths of a percent shy of the 100.2 percent expected with experts' strategy adjustments.
If you want to close the gap between the 99.8-percent return using Jacks or Better strategy and the 100.2-percent return at expert level, there are some important areas to watch:
In Jacks or Better, four-card flushes are good hands to build on. In full-pay Double Bonus Poker, where flushes pay 7-for-1, we extend that to three-card flushes. Let's say we're dealt a hand with a 10, 8 and 5 of spades, along with a 9 of hearts and a 2 of clubs. In Jacks or Better, we'd just discard the entire hand and pray for something better on the draw.
In full-pay Double Bonus, we keep the three spades. We even keep three cards to a flush in 10-7-5 Double Bonus if the hand includes two parts of a straight flush. Dealt King-Queen-8 of hearts, we keep all three, instead of keeping just King-Queen, as we would in Jacks or Better.
One tricky decision comes with four parts of a flush and a high pair, such as Ace-King-Jack-8 of hearts with a Jack of clubs. In Jacks or Better, we'd keep the pair of Jacks for the sure payoff on the high pair and potential for more. But in 10-7-5 Double Bonus, we keep all four hearts.
In the lower-paying 9-7-5 Double Bonus, a 99.1 percent game in which the full house return drops to 9-for-1, we still make these flush pays. We revert to something more like Jacks or Better strategy if the flush return is dropped to 6-for-1.
Upping the straight payoff to 5-for-1 makes inside draws worth our while. In Double Bonus, we draw to hands such as 9-8-7-5 or Jack-9-8-7. In Jacks or Better, we draw to inside straights only if the hand includes at least three high cards.
Aces: Adjusting to the possibility of an 800-coin jackpot for four Aces, we make a play that would be regarded as very strange in Jacks or Better. In Double Bonus, if we're dealt a full house that includes three Aces, we discard the other pair and hope for the fourth Ace. It's a 2-in-47 shot that we'll fill out the quads, but when it happens, that jackpot makes all the discarded full houses worthwhile.
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