Every video poker game has its own expert strategy. If you want the most out of Double Bonus Poker, you won't play exactly the same strategy as Jacks or Better, and you'll need to adjust to something a little different for Double Double Bonus Poker.
But how much difference does it all really make? If all you learn is strategy for 9-6 Jacks or Better and make no adjustments, what does it do to your payback percentage on other games?
My friend and colleague Henry Tamburin pointed me to a website with the answers, Video Poker Help. On one of its pages, videopokerhelp.net/wrong_strat.html, it lists video poker games with their expected returns given expert strategy, then lists the expected return if you use the strategy for a different game.
Let's say you've mastered the strategy for 9-6 Jacks or Better, a game that returns 99.54 percent with expert play. It's the easiest game to learn and a good starting point for players who want to get the most out of the game.
What if you run across a 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker machine, paying 10-for-1 on full houses, 7-for-1 on flushes and 5-for-1 on straights? With expert strategy, that game pays 100.17 percent. If the only strategy you know is for 9-6 Jacks or Better, you won't get that full payback, but your expected long-term return is a more-than-acceptable 99.63 percent. You lose half a percent by not making the strategy switches experts make, but you still have a great game to play.
That doesn't mean I advocate not bothering to learn the twists and turns and special cases of Double Bonus Poker. If you're going to play often at the 10-7-5 game or the 9-7-5 version that returns 99.1 percent with expert play, it's worth your while to learn the twists, turns, exceptions and special cases that go into getting the full return. The enhanced paybacks on both flushes and straights means we're more aggressive in chasing those hands as well as straight flushes in Double Bonus. But if you're just going to encounter the game once in a while, it's still a high-paying game even without an adapted strategy.
Move to Double Double Bonus Poker, one of the most popular games around, and the situation is similar. Instead of the 98.98 percent expected with expert play, your expected return is about half a percent less at 98.44 percent. Some of the special cases revolve around hands that include Aces. Four Aces accompanied by a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card brings a 2,000-coin bonanza for a five-coin wager. We have to make allowances for that, breaking up a full house to hold just the three Aces, breaking up two pairs to draw to a pair of Aces, and sometimes holding an Ace by itself in hands with multiple unsuited high cards.
There are games in which Jacks or Better strategy performs far worse. Try using it on 9-7 Triple Double Bonus Poker and you lose 2.43 percent from the 99.6 percent return with a specialized strategy.
If you want to get the most out of Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker or other games, you need to learn their special cases and strategy exceptions. So if you're going to play those games often, a little extra study is called for. But what the Video Poker Help site is telling us is that if you at least know Jacks or Better strategy, there's no need to shy away from high-paying versions of other games for occasional play.
When you read that 9-6 Jacks or Better video poker returns 99.5 percent with expert play, or that 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker returns 100.17 percent, it doesn't mean you're going to lose only half a percent of your Jacks or Better wagers or make a 0.17 percent profit on Double Bonus every time you play.
Even expert players have more losing sessions than winners. That's because a significant share of the games' payback comes on relatively rare hands. Royal flushes come up an average of only once per 40,391 hands in 9-6 Jacks or Better, but account for nearly 2 percent of the game's return. A $1,000 royal flush jackpot for a five-quarter bet should guarantee a nice winning session. Winning sessions without royals are tougher to come by.
If every player always played at expert level given millions of plays, 9-6 Jacks or Better machines would give back something very close to 99.5 percent of all wagers. Likewise, if you played only 9-6 Jacks or Better machines and played every hand at expert level, over a very long time your return would be something very close to 99.5 percent. The majority of players do not play at expert level, so the games really make a few percent more than their theoretical worth for the casino.
Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski's weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly.