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16 April 2016
By Jerry Stickman
Many readers are aware of the paybacks of popular video poker games. For example, full-pay Jacks or Better returns 99.54%, full-pay Bonus Poker returns 99.16%, full-pay Double Bonus Poker returns 100.17%, and full-pay Double-Double Bonus Poker returns 98.98%.
These returns are calculated based on what is called “perfect play.” Playing “perfectly” means for each hand that is dealt, the mathematically highest paying combination of cards is saved. It takes into account all possible combinations of held cards and all possible combinations of hands possible for each saved combination.
Of course the results of each hand played will vary wildly, but after thousands and thousands of hands, the actual returns will very closely match the mathematical return.
This may sound simple in theory, but putting the results of the computer calculations into a playable strategy can get pretty complex. The difference of just one rank in one of the cards can alter the results enough to change the strategy.
The strategy for some games such as Jacks or Better can be fairly straightforward, while others such as Double-Double Bonus can be fairly complex. The more complex the strategy the better the chance for error. Serious video poker players practice long and hard to master the strategies of their chosen games, no matter how complex they may be.
But what about the more casual player, the ones who do not put in the scores of hours of practice that may be needed to master perfect strategy?
Most video poker strategy programs as well as several strategy cards have different levels of strategy. Some have as many as four different levels. Does it make sense to use a strategy that has been simplified and by doing so relegate some of the possible edge to the casino?
Remember, the stated return for a video poker game is based on perfect play. Every mistake that is made shifts more money toward the casino. Some mistakes may only amount to a fraction of a cent, but most mistakes cost the player much more – from several cents to potentially over a dollar.
Using a simpler strategy streamlines the learning process while only minimally reducing the return – in many cases only a tenth of a percent or so. The strategy charts can be dramatically different, however.
Consider the two different versions of strategy (basic and advanced) generated by a popular video poker strategy program. The basic version of strategy for Jacks or Better has 45 separate lines. The advanced version weighs in at almost twice that amount at 87 lines of strategy.
As another example, compare the two versions of strategy for Double Bonus Poker. The basic version has 58 lines of strategy while the advanced version has 94 lines.
Learning all the additional lines of strategy comes at a price. More time is needed to master the strategy and there are many more opportunities to make a mistake while playing. Is all the added complexity worth the additional fraction of a percent return?
Only you can answer that question.
Any casual player who doesn’t have the time or inclination to practice a complex strategy should seriously consider learning a simplified strategy. It may be just what the video poker doctor ordered. Even though the return is slightly lower, it is still better than misplaying the complex strategy or – even worse – playing by hunch with no formal strategy.
May all your wins be swift and large and all your losses slow and small.
Jerry “Stickman” is an expert in craps, blackjack, video poker and advantage slot machine play. He authored the video poker section of "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Pai Gow Poker!" You can contact Jerry “Stickman” at email@example.com
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