I was sitting at a video poker machine, just minding my own business and waiting for four of a kind to come, when the couple next to me started talking strategy.
She was playing Bonus Poker DeluxeJohn 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 and was dealt a pair of Jacks and a pair of 5s, along with a 3.
"What do you do with this?" she asked. He leaned over from the next machine to take a look.
"Just keep the Jacks," he said. "It's worth five coins by itself. You'd get the same if you kept both pairs, and you wouldn't get a chance at four of a kind."
I winced a little, and inwardly I groaned. He was giving her bad advice. But I kept my eyes on my own screen, and pushed the button for another hand. I don't play Mr. Know It All in the casino, offering unwanted advice.
She still wasn't certain what to do. "I could get a full house, though," she said. And she turned to me.
When my opinion is asked for, I'm only too happy to give it. I kept it short and simple. "If it was my hand," I told her, "I'd keep both pairs. You're a LOT more likely to draw a full house starting with two pairs than four of a kind just starting with a pair."
The man jumped back in. "But you could get three of a kind, too, or even a full house. I think you have to go for it."
I went back to my own game. She looked at her companion, then back at the screen, and said, "Well, why not take a chance, and held just the pair of Jacks. She didn't improve the hand, just collected the five-coin payoff and went on playing.
That, I thought, was one of the more common video poker mistakes around, one that's been going on since games such as Double Bonus Poker and Bonus Poker Deluxe were introduced in the early 1990s.
In the earlier video poker games, Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker, it was a no-brainer. You'd keep both pairs, collect at least a 2-for-1 payoff, and take a chance on a one-card draw for a full house. But in games such as Double Bonus Poker and Bonus Poker Deluxe, along with a host of games that have followed, two pairs pay only 1-for-1, the same get-your-bet-back payoff that you get on a high pair, Jacks or better. On those games, you get more of your payoffs on big four-of-a-kind bonuses, and less on the more common two-pair hands.
Holding just a high pair sounds logical enough, but the math of video poker doesn't back that up as a sound strategy. When we hold two pairs, we have four chances in 47 to draw a full house --- will make it an average of once every 11.75 hands. That far outweighs the once per 360 trials we'll pull four of a kind when we start with a pair, even if you add in the chances of drawing three of a kind or a full house.
In 8-6 Bonus Poker Deluxe, the game woman next to me was playing, the bottom line is that dealt two pairs, our average return per five coins wagered will be 7.98 coins when we hold both pairs, but only 7.60 coins when we hold just the high pair.
There are exceptions for Ace pairs when we're playing some games with big four-Ace bonanzas, but that's a subject for another time. With those Ace exceptions noted, your best play when dealt two pairs is to hold both of them and take a shot at a full house, even if two pair pays only 1-for-1.
My friend and fellow author Frank Scoblete, who has written casino classics such as "Beat the Craps Out of the Casinos" and "Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution," has a new venture going, one that promises great things for serious players.
The latest from Scobe is a series of "Casino Killer Colleges," teaching best methods to attack casino games. The first will be April 21-22 in Tunica, Miss., with a larger event planned Oct. 27-28 in Las Vegas. On the Tunica weekend, with each of three seminars costing $199, Scoblete and his team will teach the Golden Touch craps dice control method, along with a seminar on advantage play for pai-gow poker and another for slots and video poker.
I'll be part of the Las Vegas weekend. With a team that includes Scoblete, Dr. Henry Tamburin, Queen of Comps Jean Scott, poker expert Bill Burton, the Dominator, Street Dog and Stickman from the Golden Touch team, there will be seminars on poker, blackjack, video poker and comps, slot machines and pai-gow poker. My 2-1/2-hour seminar will take in baccarat, roulette, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud and Four Card Poker.
In Vegas, the first seminar costs $295, with two seminars for $495 and each additional seminar $100. Should be a great, fun weekend. For reservations, call Fred at (800) 944-0406.
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