by John Grochowski
Video poker payback percentages such as 99.54 percent on 9-6 Jacks or Better and 98.98 percent on 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker come with a disclaimer: “with expert play.”
If you use a non-optimal strategy or hold and discard by guess and feel, your average returns will be reduced.
There’s a disclaimer within the disclaimer: Expert strategy includes making maximum bets – usually five coins per hand.
Not only that. The worst-sized bet is one that falls one short of the max. If you bet four coins instead of five, you are giving the house its maximum profit.
The reason is the payback structure for a royal flush. When you bet the five-coin max, the standard payback on royals is 4,000 coins, or a tidy $1,000 on a quarter machine. But if you bet less, the return is only 250 per coin wagered.
With a four-coin bet, your royal returns 1,000 coins. Betting one more coin boosts it all the way to 4,000.
Put another way, royals pay 800-for-1 when you bet the max, but only 250-for-1 when you bet less.
All other paybacks are proportionate to your bet. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, a pair of Jacks or higher will pay one coin if you bet one, two if you bet two, three of you bet three, four if you bet four and five if you bet five.
Same deal on all other hands up through straight flushes. The basic payback for a one-coin bet is multiplied by the number of coins you wager.
Only on royals do you have a disproportionate jump on the fifth coin. Because of that jump, your payback percentage is higher when you bet five coins than when you bet fewer.
Imagine you could divide a five-coin bet into five separate pay tables, one for each coin of your wager. The top of the pay table would be a 250-coin return for a royal flush on the one-, two-, three- and four-coin tables, but a 3,000-coin royal on the fifth coin.
If you could play just the fifth coin, without having to settle for the lower returns on the first four coins, the average return with expert play would be in the neighborhood of 106.1 percent.
Assuming you play the expert hold / discard strategy for a five-coin bet, the return on each of the first five coins is only about 97.9 percent. A short-coin player can boost that to about 98.3 percent with an adapted strategy that is less aggressive about chasing royals.
Imagine you bet $5,000 on 9-6 Jacks or Better and broke the results into paybacks for $1,000 for each of the five coins per wager. With rounding your average results would be a $21 loss on the first coin, $21 on the second, $21 on the third and $21 on the fourth.
If you bet only four coins per hand, you’d average $84 in losses. However, on the fifth coin, you’d make a $60 profit, reducing your total losses to $24.
At the end of the trial, you have $4,976 of your original $5,000, or 99.5 percent, the normal return with expert play on 9-6 JB.
Note that your maximum average loss comes with a four-coin bet. Despite increased wagers, you lose more with two-, three- or four-coin bets than with five-coin bets. That fifth coin is a big gainer for you.
If you’re short-bankrolled and want to play for fun with one-coin bets, that’s your business. But if you’re going to bet more than one coin, then the expert play is to bet the max. Betting less costs you money.
That’s the case with virtually every video poker game. The percentages differ for different games and pay tables, just as overall payback percentages differ. But you get the best payback percentage with max-coin bets, the fifth coin brings a positive return that cuts losses on the first four coins, and your maximum losses come with four-coin bets.
Regardless of whether you’re playing Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Bonus Poker Deluxe, Double Double Bonus Poker or any other common video game, betting the max is part of expert play. Betting four coins maximizes losses.
John Grochowski has been covering casinos and casino games for nearly 40 years. He is the author of six books and his work appears in newspapers, magazines and websites around the world.
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