Gambling Tips > Video Poker

Switching Games In Mid-Session Not Always a Good Idea


By Henry Tamburin


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen video poker players that are playing next to me switch from one game to another during a session. They’ll start off playing one game and when their bankroll starts heading south they’ll switch to another, and sometimes, a third game in the hopes that one of the games will bring them some luck and turn their fortunes around. Constantly switching games like this during a session is a bad habit for the following reasons:

 

You may be switching to a game with a lower average return or EV (i.e., expected return).
Depending on the pay schedule, every video poker game has a theoretical payback (also known as “expected value or EV,” and expected return or ER”... I’ll use EV in this article for simplicity). Your objective is to play only those games with the highest EV. I’ve seen many players start out playing a game which has a high EV (such as 9/6 Jacks-or-Better) and then switch in mid-session to playing a short-pay Double Bonus game with a much lower EV.  Before you play any video poker game, you should know beforehand what the EV of the game is and then scout the casino and find that game. Every video poker game has a full-pay schedule, and often, a casino will also have several short-pay schedules for the same game. For example, with Jacks-or-Better, the best pay schedule pays 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush (per coin played) which results in a  99.5 percent EV. If you decide to switch to a Double Bonus game that also pays 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush, the EV of this game is only 97.8 percent (the full pay version of Double Bonus pays 10/7 for full house and flush respectively). The point is that when you switch games, you need to check the pay schedule of each game to be sure you are not switching from a full-pay game to a short-pay game (with a lower EV).

 

Playing Strategies are Different
I doubt it never occurs to game-switchers that the playing strategy for the game that they are playing might be different than the game that they are switching to.  For example, the playing strategy for Jacks-or-Better is not completely the same as it is for Double Double Bonus. For example, in Double Double Bonus you should hold three aces over a full house and a pair of aces over two pair  (not so in Jacks-or-better). And you certainly shouldn’t be using a Jacks-or-Better playing strategy if you switch to a Deuces or Joker Wild game (the playing strategies for these wild card games are much different). Get my point?

 

It’s Very Difficult to Play Three (or more) Games Accurately
Sometimes it’s necessary to learn a new video poker game because either the good pay schedule for the game you are playing has been downgraded, or there is a juicy casino promotion but it’s not available for your game. So learning more than one game is sometimes a necessity but switching between three or more games during the same playing session often leads to excessive playing mistakes. It’s best to learn a base game and a secondary game and play them accurately rather than to switch back-and-forth between three (or more) different games.

 

Volatility is Different
Most players judge the value of a game solely by its EV. That’s good for starters but there is another very important variable that you need to understand and consider before you switch games, namely, the game’s volatility, meaning the ups and downs of your bankroll.

 

A game that is very volatile means you can expect large positive and negative swings from your expected average result. In plain English you will need more bankroll to play a game that has a high volatility compared to a game which has a lower volatility (or to say it another way, a $50 playing bankroll on a quarter denomination machine is less likely to last very long if the game is very volatile compared to a game that is less volatile). You can get a good idea of the volatility of any video poker game by looking at its pay schedule. If you see short payouts for the more frequent winning hands (at the bottom of the pay schedule), and higher payouts for the less frequent hands (at the top of the pay schedule), the game is volatile. For example, the following table compares the pay schedule for Jacks-or-Better and Double Double Bonus. Notice that with Jacks-or-Better, you get paid double (2 for 1) every time you are dealt two pairs (a frequent hand); whereas, with Double Double Bonus, you get paid only even money for the same hand. Also, the less frequent four-of-a-kind hands in Double Double Bonus pay more than the same hands in Jacks-or-Better. The net result is that the volatility of Double Double Bonus is much greater than it is for Jacks-or-Better.

 

One way to quantify the volatility of a video poker game is to calculate the variance of the game (last row in the table). I’ll have more to say about variance in a future column but for now just remember that the higher the game’s variance, the higher its volatility.

 

                                  Pay Schedule per Coin Played

 

Hand

Jacks-or-Better

Double Double Bonus

Royal Flush

250*

250*

Straight Flush

50

50

Any four-of-a-kind

25

-

Four Aces with an 2, 3, or 4 kicker

              -

400

Four 2’s, 3’s or 4s with an Ace, 2, 3, or 4 kicker

-

160

Four Aces

-

160

Four 2’s, 3s or 4s

-

80

Four 5’s to Kings

-

50

Full House

9

10

Flush

6

6

Straight

4

4

Three-of-a-kind

3

3

Two Pair

2

1

Jacks-or-Better

1

1

EV

99.54%

100.07%

Variance

19.51

42.18

* 5-coin payout for a royal flush is 4000 coins

 

Player’s Club Points Might be Different
Sometimes the amount of points a player can earn on their player’s club account will be different depending upon the game they play. For example, some casinos require double (or more) the coin-in to earn a point when you play full-pay video poker games compared with short-pay games. Also, special multiple point promotions may be available for video poker games that have an EV less than 100 percent but not for games that have an EV greater than 100 percent. Game-switchers may not realize these nuisances and, therefore, they miss out on earning more points (and more potential cash back or bounce back) by switching from one game to another.

 

The bottom-line advice for game switchers is this: you’d better think twice about constantly switching games in mid-session because if you are not familiar with the game’s EV, volatility, and playing strategy, you may be doing more harm than good when you switch.