Gambling Tips >Video Poker

BEST JACKS OR BETTER VIDEO POKER GAMES

By Henry Tamburin


If there were two identical slot machines side by side and I asked you which machine was “looser” (i.e., paid out more), would you be able to tell me? The answer is no, because there is no information on the face of a slot machine that gives you a clue as to what the machine is programmed to return to players. However, this is not the case with video poker machines.

 

It’s relatively easy to tell which video poker machine has a higher payback by simply looking at the pay schedule on the machine’s video screen. Smart video poker players always do this before they sit down and play any video poker game..

 

There are many different types of video poker games in casinos. For example, there are Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Triple Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, Joker Wild, and other variations of these games. The pay schedules for every, say, Jacks or Better game is not necessarily the same. Smart players know when a pay schedule is “full pay” (best) or ‘short pay” (worst). For example, if you examine the pay schedules for Jacks or Better, you will most likely find the following six pay schedules in casinos. (Note: I’ve only listed the pay schedule per coin played for reference, even though you should always play the maximum five coins when you play video poker.)

 

Jacks or Better Pay Schedule

 

 

9/6

8/6

9/5

8/5

7/5

6/5

Royal Flush

800

800

800

800

800

800

Straight Flush

50

50

50

50

50

50

4-of-a-Kind

25

25

25

25

25

25

Full House

9

8

9

8

7

6

Flush

6

6

5

5

5

5

Straight

4

4

4

4

4

4

3-of-a-Kind

3

3

3

3

3

3

Two Pair

2

2

2

2

2

2

Jacks-or-Better

1

1

1

1

1

1

Expected Return (ER)

99.54%

98.39%

98.45%

97.30%

96.15%

95.00%

 

The first column shows the per coin payout for a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. The 9/6 designation represents the payout for the full house and flush. The second column lists the pay schedule for an 8/6 game, the third, a 9/5 game, and so forth. Notice that I’ve included the Expected Return (ER) percentages at the bottom of each column for each pay schedule. Of course, you won’t find this percentage on a video poker machine. This number is calculated based on the Pay Schedule and the assumption that you will play every hand perfectly. The higher the ER percentage, the more the machine will return to players. Saying it another way, smart video poker players will only play Jacks or Better games that have the highest ER. (The casinos will not tell you the ER of their video poker games ... this is something you, the player, need to know if you are serious about winning.)

 

(Note: Notice that even the worst paying Jacks or Better game returns more than the vast majority of slot machines. Doesn’t that tell you something as to why playing video poker is much better than playing slots?)

 

The important figures to focus on when you look at the pay schedule of a Jacks or Better game is the per coin payout for the Full House and Flush (highlighted in the above table). Casinos who want to lower the ER for this game (to generate more revenue), will usually decrease the payout for the full house and flush. Therefore, a 9/6 Jacks or Better game is the best Jacks or Better game that you can play (because it returns 99.54% of all the coins played back to players in the long run). Many casinos opt for the 8/5 Jacks or Better pay schedule, which has an ER of only 97.30%. One of the worst Jacks or Better games (that you should avoid) is a 6/5 game (here the ER is only 95.00%, about 4.5% lower than a 9/6 Jacks or Better game). As a general rule, you should try to play a video game that has an ER that is greater than 99% (the higher, the better).

 

 (Note: Besides looking at the per coin payout for the flush and full house when you check pay schedules, glance at the payouts for the other hands to be sure they are the same as listed in the above table.)

 

A good rule of thumb to estimate the ER of a Jacks or Better game is for every one-coin decrease in the full house and flush, the ER will decrease by 1.1%. Therefore, decreasing the full house payout by one coin (from 9/6 to 8/6) will decrease the 9/6 ER by about 1.1% (from 99.54% to 98.39%).

Some casinos offer progressive Jacks or Better games. This means the payout for the royal flush with max coins will be greater than 4000 coins (normally, in a non-progressive Jacks or Better game, you will be paid exactly 4000 coins for a royal flush). The amount of the royal flush in a progressive game will steadily increase as more coins are played from a series of linked video poker machines (casinos earmark a percent of every coin played toward the progressive jackpot). Usually, you will find progressives on an 8/5 Jacks or Better base game (but sometimes you’ll find them on 9/6 base game). A good rule of thumb to estimate the ER of a progressive game is the following: For every 1000 coins the royal flush exceeds the 4000 base game, the ER will increase by 0.5%. So, for example, if you find a $1 denomination 8/5 Jacks or Better progressive game where the royal flush meter is at $5000, the ER for the game is 97.30% + 0.5% = 97.80%. (If the base game happens to be 9/6, then the ER for a progressive game where the royal flush is at $5000 would be 99.85%.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the above ERs assume you play each hand perfectly. That is not as difficult as it first appears. For example, you can play any video poker game on your home computer, using video poker training software. When you make a playing error, the software will alert you and tell you what the correct play is. The software will also keep track of your playing accuracy. (You need to play with at least 99% accuracy before you risk money in a  casino, which is easy to achieve with the software.) In addition, you should always take a video poker strategy card with you when you play (they are casino legal). You can refer to the strategy card if you not sure how to play a particular hand. (You’ll find the video poker training software and strategy cards that I use when I teach video poker in my online catalog at www.smartgaming.com.)

 

Lastly, you can check whether your local casino offers a 9/6 Jacks or Better game (or any other video poker game for that matter) by checking the inventory of games in casinos located in different regions of the U.S. at www.vpfree2.com.

 

What should you do if your local casino doesn’t offer a 9/6 Jacks or Better game? I’d contact the slot manager at the casino and let him or her know that you will be taking your business to another casino that offers 9/6 Jacks or Better games. When enough players complain and casinos lose customers, that’s usually when they will take some action.