Video poker strategy often is about winning the most money rather than winning the most hands.
That’s a point I’ve often stressed, usually making an example of a hand that includes a low pair and an unpaired high card. In most games, the low pair brings a higher average return even though the high card brings more winning hands.
A Michigan reader wrote to ask just how far we would go in pursuing bigger payoffs. “Do you ever break up winning hands?” she asked. “Are you willing to lose money instead of taking a guaranteed win?”
The answer is yes. The situation doesn’t come up often, but it is sometimes better to risk a loss to chase bigger wins.
Let’s use 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker as an example.
Check out these hands where you must make a choice between a guaranteed win and a bigger average return.
Ace-2-3-4 of spades and an Ace of hearts: A pair of Aces is a great start in DDB. Long-shot possibilities include four Aces, with or without a kicker. At the very least, you’ll get your money back on the pair of Aces or two pairs, and could improve to three of a kind or a full house. The average return is 9.42 coins per five coins wagered.
But if you hold the four spades, you have a 1 in 47 chance at pulling a 5 of spades for a straight flush, and could complete other straights, flushes or pair up the Ace. You’ll get no payback 33 times per 47 draws, so there is risk, but the average return of 11.91 coins means you make more money by holding suited Ace-2-3-4 than the pair of Aces.
8-9-10-Jack of diamonds and a Jack of clubs: With high cards lower than an Ace, there’s a wider gap favoring holding four to a straight flush. The straight flush is open on both ends, so there’s a 2 in 47 chance, and four of a kind payoffs are lower with Jacks, Queens or Kings than with Aces.
Average returns on the above hands are 17.87 coins if you hold the diamonds, or 7.23 if you hold the Jacks and discard the rest.
Jack-Queen-King-Ace of clubs, 7 of clubs: A pat flush is nowhere near enough to pass up the chance at a one-card draw for a royal flush. Average return per five coins wagered is 92.13 on Jack-Queen-King-Ace, while the flush returns only 30.
Jack-Queen-King-Ace of spades, 10 of hearts: Just as with flushes, you’re better off breaking up straights to chase a one-card royal draw. The 92.13 average return on four to a royal is miles better than the guaranteed 25 on a straight even though the royal draw will leave you with no return on 24 of 47 possible results.
Jack-Queen-King of diamonds, King of clubs, 6 of spades: It’s a much closer call when you’re looking at three cards to a royal. The royal is a 1 in 1,081 shot, so you’re looking at other possible straights flushes and a possible straight flush to boost the value of Jack-Queen-King.
The result is an average return of 7.35 coins when holding Jack-Queen-King and 7.23 on King-King.
I break up pairs of Kings, Queens or Jacks to draw to suited Jack-Queen-King, and pairs of Jacks or Queens to draw to suited 10-Jack-Queen. If you’d rather have the guaranteed high pair payoff, that’s your call, but getting the most out of the game overall means making the tough call in favor of the higher average payoff.