by John Grochowski
Video poker offerings in modern casinos include not only the standard games such as Jacks or Better and Double Double Bonus Poker, they include options galore.
If you want a little spice with your game, you can try games such as Super Times Pay or Ultimate X that multiply your winnings. Hot Roll does the multiplying with a virtual dice roll. And Wheel Poker games add a bonus spin to certain winning hands.
Those bonuses are layered on top of standard games. You can choose to play Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild and other basic games, usually in Triple Play, Five Play or Ten Play formats. Then the bonuses are incorporated.
There’s a price, of course. Bonus payouts have to be funded, so there’s an extra bet per hand to activate the features.
Is the extra bet worth it?
In terms of house edge, yes. International Game Technology designs these features so the payback is at least as high as that on the base games, and usually higher.
Bonuses do bring an increase in volatility. When you’re winning on the multipliers, your credit meter can rise rapidly. But when the bonus wins aren’t coming, the extra bets are a drag on your bankroll.
You can win bigger and you can lose faster than on games with no such bells and whistles.
The key is to stay within your bankroll comfort zone. If your bankroll will handle 15 quarters at a time for Triple Play but won’t stretch to 30 quarters for Triple Play with Ultimate X, then you should think about cutting your denomination to dimes or nickels, or move to a non-bonus machine.
Let’s check out Super Times Pay, Ultimate X and Hot Roll as examples to see how it all works.
**SUPER TIMES PAY: The first of the video poker multiplier games has proven to be a durable favorite.
While most of the later games require an extra bet of five credits per hand, Super Times Pay takes only a one-credit bet. That brings your total to six credits per hand, so that Triple Play version takes an 18-credit bet, with 30 on Five Play and 60 on Ten Play.
In return for the extra bet, you get a randomly occurring multiplier. Either on the initial deal or on the draw, one of the card backs will start flashing through numbers before finally stopping on a multiplier. It will indicate any winnings on the hand will be multiplied by 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 or 10 times.
You’ll get a multiplier an average of once per 15 hands, though you can go dozens of hands without one or get one twice in a row or several times in a short period.
The average multiplier is 4.05. The average payback, including non-multiplier hands, is 20.33 percent higher than without the feature. Your bet is 20 percent higher than usual, so that 20.33 percent payback increase improves your overall return.
How much better is the return than on a non-multiplier game? At wizardofodds.com, Michael Shackelford has a chart indicating 9-6 Jacks or Better, usually a 99.5 percent return with expert play, improves to 99.8 with Super Times Pay, while 9-6 Double Double Bonus rises from 98.98 percent to 99.26 and 9-7-6 Double Bonus rises from 99.11 to 99.38.
All games and pay tables have slightly higher payback percentages with Super Times Pay than without.
**ULTIMATE X: Any winning hand brings a potential multiplier to the following hand provided you bet an extra five credits per line.
The return on the multiplier bet is slightly better than the return on the base game, so you improve your payback percentage by making the Ultimate X wager.
More on that in a minute. First, let’s explain the game,
The bet is five extra credits instead of the one extra credit on Super Times Pay because multipliers are much more frequent. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, for example, expert play brings winners on a little more than 45 percent of hands. Those all leave multipliers for the following play, compared with the 6.67 percent of hands that bring multipliers in Super Times Pay.
Available in Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play, Ultimate X offers a wide range of base games – Jacks or Better, Double Poker, Deuces Wild and many more.
The multipliers vary by hand, game type and number of hand. Full houses leave different multipliers than high pairs, Jacks or Better has a different multiplier table than Double Double Bonus Poker, and Ten Play sometimes has a different table than Triple Play.
Let’s use 9-6 Double Double Bonus in Five Play as an example. Any royal flush, straight flush or four Aces, 2s, 3s or 4s leaves a 2x multiplier for the next hand, but four 5s through Kings leaves 3x. It’s 12x after a full house, 10x after a flush, 8x after a straight, 4x after three of a kind, 3x after two pairs and 2x after a pair of Jacks or Better.
Imagine you finish a play with no winner in the first-hand position, a high pair in the second, three of a kind in the third, no winner in the fourth and a full house in the fifth.
The next hand would begin with a big “2x” next to the second hand, “4x” next to the third, and “12x” next to the fifth. There would be no multipliers on the first and fourth hands.
In the next hand, any winners in the first and fourth positions would get their normal payoffs, but any winners in the other three positions would be multiplied. With a 12x multiplier in position 4, even a lowly pair of Jacks brings a nice 60-credit win instead of the usual five.
Of course, losing hands next to the multipliers are part of the game. You’ll be sure to groan when a winner comes on a no-multiplier hand while the 12x spot goes for naught.
Overall payback percentages increase by close to a percent with the Ultimate X game, as listed by Michael Shackelford at wizardofodds.com. The 9-6 version of Double Double Bonus Poker improves from the standard 98.98 percent with expert play to 99.73 on Ultimate X Triple play, 99.79 on Ultimate X Five Play and 99.87 on Ultimate X Ten Play.
On some games, top pay tables aren’t available because Ultimate X could push them too close to 100-percent payback or beyond for casino comfort. The best version of Jacks or Better spotted on Ultimate X is 8-6, usually a 98.88-percent game. With Ultimate X, it’s 99.30 percent on Triple Play, 99.40 percent and 99.42 percent on Ten Play.
Expert play on Ultimate X can involve some strategy changes meant to optimize chances of landing big multipliers on the next hand that has those bonus payoffs.
In Ultimate X 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, for example, optimal play for a full house that includes three Aces is to hold the full house. In the standard game, the better percentage play is to hold the Aces and discard the other pair to maximize chances at four Aces with or without the low-card kicker. That’s a close call in the standard game, but it’s not at all close in Ultimate X. The 12x multiplier that follows the full house makes the decision easy.
Dealt two pairs that include Ace-Ace, the standard Double Double Bonus play is to hold just the Aces. In Ultimate X, hold both pairs. If you don’t improve the hands, the 3x multiplier after two pairs beats the 2x after a high pair, and by holding both pairs, a one-card draw could bring a full house and that 12x multiplier.
Beyond that, there are a lot of special cases. Four to a flush that includes three high cards is higher on the Ultimate X strategy table than a pair of Jacks, Queens or Kings. The chance at a 10x multiplier on flush bests the guaranteed 2x on the high pairs as long as your partial flush is augmented by chances at high pair pays and multipliers.
Full strategies for several Ultimate X games are linked from wizardofodds.com’s Ultimate X page.
**HOT ROLL VIDEO POKER: For an extra five credits per hand, you activate a randomly occurring roll of two dice. The extra bet means your max-bet wagers are 30 coins in Triple Play, 50 on Five Play or 100 on Ten Play instead of the 15, 25 or 50 without the feature.
On average, you’ll get a roll of the dice onscreen once per six hands. The total number of spots is your multiplier for the hand, so that if you roll two 6s any winnings are multiplied by 12.
You can get dice rolls on consecutive hands, and you can go a dozen or more hands without one, but the average is once per six hands.
Results of the roll are random, with odds the same as rolling two physical dice. The average multiplier is 7.
Your average for all hands, winners and losers, those with and without Hot Rolls, comes to double payoffs.
We can pick any winning hand to demonstrate, but let’s think big and use royal flushes. The standard payoff is 4,000 coins. Per six royals with no multipliers, your total win would be 24,000 coins.
With Hot Roll, the average result would be five with no multiplier, for a total of 20,000 coins, and one with a 7x multiplier for another 28,000 coins. That brings your total per six royals to 48,000 coins – exactly double the total it would be with no Hot Rolls. There is also no need to change your video poker strategy for this game.
Since your Hot Roll wagers are double the standard amount and your wins average twice the usual, the payback percentage is the same with or without the feature. A 9-6 Jacks or Better game returns 99.5 percent with expert play on standard games, and 99.5 percent on Hot Roll.
So it goes with other games and pay tables. Payback percentages are the same with or without Hot Roll. The differences are in bet size and volatility.
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.