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A look at video poker strategies

A look at video poker strategies

Kay is a veteran reader of this column and she says she loves to play video poker.

“I learned toward the middle of the 1990s and put in a lot of practice time with software that dings when I make a mistake.

“The game I love is 9-6 Double Double Bonus, and that’s the strategy I have down pat. The plays just come automatically.

“On other games, I’m a little unsure. Once, I played 9-6 Jacks or Better because all the DDB games were 8-5 or 7-5. I still played DDB strategy because I didn’t know the adjustments.

“How much did I hurt myself by playing the wrong strategy for the game?”

Kay came at the problem from the opposite direction of most players I know. Jacks or Better is old granddad of video poker, the basic game on which others are built. It has the easiest strategy, and I’ve long recommended learning 9-6 Jacks or Better first to get a solid base.

But Kay learned 9-6 Double Double Bonus first, with its slightly more complicated strategy.

To cut to the answer first, playing optimal strategy at 9-6 Jacks or Better yields an average 99.54-percent return. Playing 9-6 DDB strategy on 9-6 JB trims that average return to 98.51 percent, so you lose 1 percent of your expected average.

Playing the wrong strategy works better in the opposite direction. Optimal strategy on 9-6 DDB yields a 98.98-percent average. Using 9-6 JB strategy the average return is 98.61 percent, so you lose just over a third of a percent of your payback.

Either way, playing the wrong-game strategy misses some fine points. In a comparison between Double Double Bonus and Jacks or Better, the big differences are in the returns on four of a kind and on two pairs.

In Jacks or Better, all four of a kinds pay 25-for-1, or 125 for a five-coin bet. In DDB, the five-coin returns are 250 on four 5s through Kings, 400 on four 2s, 3s or 4s, 800 on four 2s, 3s or 4s an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 kicker, 800 on four Aces, and 2,000 on four Aces with a 2, 3 or 4.

The other big difference is that two pairs pay 2-for-1 in Jacks or Better, but just get your money back at 1-for-1 in DDB.

The higher returns on four Kings or lower are great when you get them, but aren’t strategy drivers. Aces are another matter. That 2,000-coin jackpot is worth chasing.

The lower two-pair payoff drives some strategy differences, too. We draw to four-card inside straights in DDB where we’d make complete redraws in JB in part because the chance of drawing two pairs is more valuable in JB than in DDB.

Both the Aces difference and the two-pair divide come into play when two pairs include two Aces. Dealt Ace-Ace-6-6-9 in 9-6 Jacks or Better, holding both pairs and discarding the 9 guarantees at least a 10-coin return for a five-coin bet and yields an average of 12.98 coins.

But in 9-6 DDB, holding both pairs guarantees only a five-coin payback and the average is only 8.40 coins. Holding just the Aces and discarding 6-6-9 raises the average return to 9.65 coins per five wagered. So we make the opposite of the optimal JB play.

Those aren’t the only strategy differences. A full comparison is a topic for a longer column. But you can see the fine points make a difference. In Kay’s case, it meant the difference between 99.65 and 98.61 as the average payback on 9-6 Jacks or Better.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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