Wandering through a modern casino can be an intimidating experience for anyone. For the video poker player it can be even worse. Trekking through 10s of thousands of square feet of casino floor trying to find a decent video poker machine requires not only determination but the ability to resist temptation. Casinos are constantly introducing new games and variations on old ones. The player is met with lurid colors, flashing lights, music playing and brightly lit titles such as SUPER ACES!,FANTASTIC FIVES, SUPER ACEY-DEUCY, SUPER DUPER TRIPLE WHAMMY MEGA-BONUSJACKPOT FREAKOUT!

Each of the machines have their own tantalizing come-on. Most offer very high jackpots for bonus quads of one denomination or another. Each reduces some other payoff to pay for it. Occasionally (not very often) a new variety will actually be a good machine for the player (I.E. above or close To a 100% expectation.) Occasionally (but very rarely) a casino will introduce a machine that is so good for the player that they will quickly pull them out or modify the payout table.

One famous example of that was the “Royal Aces” bonus poker that paid 4,000 coins for any quad aces. Although the machine had the payoffs on the other hands lowered, it was not nearly enough to offset the giant jackpot for the quad aces. How does something like this happen? It might’ve been that the manufacturer made a mistake on their analysis (it can happen.) More likely is that the manufacturer and the casinos underestimated how quickly a good game would get analyzed and the word passed around among the local professional players. If happens that I lucked out on the Wild Royal machines at Arizona Charlie’s myself. I had read about them in the video poker column in Poker Player magazine that I just happened to pickup when my wife and I stopped at a card club at Lake Elsinore, California when we were on our way to San Diego. While the columnist (I’m afraid I don’t remember his name) gave the expected return on the machine (and it was well over 101% as I remember) he didn’t offer any playing strategy. A few days later, I was in Az Chuck’s pumping quarters into the** 168bet **machines as fast as I could (yes, I was playing two.) Amazingly, I was actually winning a little before hitting the aces. This was surprising considering I was playing at least at a 6% disadvantage, waiting for the bullets . I had to use what knowledge I had and some common sense to try to figure out how to play. Obviously, we weren’t in Jacks or Better land any more, Toto. I decided to hold 1 ace over a small pair, break up aces-up and aces-full to draw to the aces. I was strictly guessing, not a good way to play, but I got lucky and hit quad aces twice in about 2 hours! After that the drain started getting serious and we left (still up over $1600)to treat ourselves to a fine dinner.

A few weeks later we returned and the Royal Aces were gone. The most amazing thing about this whole episode was that there were only a couple of these machines in the place and nobody was playing them! I suspect that word was just getting out about that time and the pros descended on them like white on rice. I never have found out exactly how long they lasted. The manufacturers of video poker machines analyze the expected payout percentage from their new designs. They also know (or should know – anybody can make a mistake) what the “perfect” play is (as calculated by their computers.) The game manufacturers are known to estimate to the casinos that the average return on a machine is about 2% less than the “perfect play” percentage. That figure is probably low for many low paying forms of video poker. Certain games are played exclusively by players who have little idea what they are doing. No player that has any knowledge of the game will be caught dead playing a machine with a best possible return of 97 or 98%, yet amazingly many of these exist in the casino. Since the expert player ignores these machines, they are seldom, if ever, analyzed as to the correct playing strategy, so that even if you wanted to play the best possible strategy you would have to analyze it yourself on software such as VPTUTOR and develop a playing strategy. Nobody is going to do that when there are good games to be found, most or all of which have already been analyzed and the playing strategy published. So the games probably end up with a hold of close to 10%!

I can’t prove that figure in any way, but I’m pretty sure I’m not far off. Frequenters of casinos are often confronted with banks of Video Poker machines that week in and week out, have very few players. One may wonder how it’s economically feasible to have machines that get played so little. Well, the above scenario would help explain it. If you have machines that are giving you a 10% return, you don’t need that much volume on them to be making money. Anyway to get back to the point of this article, what’s a poor VP player supposed to do when confronted with the new machines popping up every day? One real good answer is DON”T PLAY THEM! Wait until you can analyze the game on your computer or read an analysis by someone who has. This is no doubt the very best advice in this situation and I know you are going to go out there and ignore me, just like you ignored your mother when she told you not to hang around with ‘those’ kind of girls (or boys, as the case may be.) Well, OK, there is a method that can help and I will go over it here, but please remember, don’t risk any noticeable percentage of your bankroll on an unknown game! If you have to feed in one of those hard-earned twenties in your pocket, well it’s your money and the name of the game is fun, but you must promise to exercise good judgment here, or I won’t let you read any further.

OK; I believe you. About 90% of the new games you find in the casinos These days are based either on Bonus Poker (with the following pay schedule:1,2,3,4,5,8,[25,40,80],50,800) or Double Bonus Poker (with this pay schedule: 1,1,3,5,7,10,[50,80,160],50,800.) I suspect that I just lost a couple of you so let me backtrack a little. The numbers I used to define the pay table for the two games I just mentioned is in the form that has achieved a kind of de facto standard for noting video poker pay tables. They show the pay for each unit bet for all of the winning hands starting with a high pair (Jacks or better,) The form is high pair, two pair, 3 of a kind, straight, flush, full house, 4 of a kind (quads), straight flush and royal flush. Even though the pays are shown for 1 unit, it is assumed that the maximum coins have been bet so that the royal flush pays the full 800:1. When there is a bonus for a particular rank of quads, the different pays are shown in brackets. Thus the pay table for Bonus Poker can be read as 1(for jacks), 2 (for 2 pair), 3 (for 3 of a kind), 4 (straight), 5 (flush), 8 (full house), [25 (quad 5-K), 40 (quad 2,3,4), 80 (quad Aces)], 800 (royal flush.) Note that the Double Bonus only pays even money for 2 pair, same as a high pair.

Bonus Poker has the same jacks through full house pay table as 8/5 jacks or better. This fact alone is an interesting point to consider in game evaluation. Even with the extra payouts for the bonus quads (40-1 for twos, threes, and fours and 80-1for Aces) Bonus poker returns only about 99%. Yet, you will find people playing 8/5 Jacks or better machines without the bonus quads in nearly every casino you walk into, often just a few feet from bonus poker, 9/6Jacks or better or full pay Deuces Wild. True, these games are often progressive on the royal flush, but the vast majority of them have a royal flush only a few coins over “RESET”. Bonus poker is often found with a bonus for a sequential (in either direction) royal flush. This can bring up the expectation quite a bit, but it’s very long term and requires a jackpot of about 80,000 ($20,000 on a quarter machine) to be even money. Double Bonus Poker not only doubles the payout for the bonus quads but also increases the pay for straights, flushes and full houses. All of this is paid for (almost) by the reduction in pay for two pair from 2 for 1 to even money. That fact tells you something about how much two pair contributes to your total return on video poker. In fact in typical 9/6 or 8/5 poker, the high pair, two pair, and 3 of a kind constitute nearly 70% of the overall expected return, including about 25% from the two pairs. However, the overall return of this game is about 100.2%, a considerably better game than straight Bonus Poker.

Starting from one of these two games you can make a quick judgment about most variations. You can determine which game to use as a comparison by checking the two pair payout. If it pays even money, start with Double bonus. If it pays 2 for 1, start with bonus poker. I think the best way to explain from this point is through an example.

EXAMPLE – Aces Over Deuces.

There is a new game called “Aces Over Deuces”. This game has the following pay table 1,2,3,4,5,8[10,12],50,[50/250],25,[50,400],800.

That is; you have your regular 8/5 pay table up through the flush hand.

Then, for the full house: 222AA pays 10, AAA22 pays 12.

The straight flush pays the normal 50.

For quads the pay is:

Quad deuces with a 3-K kicker pays 50, quad deuces with an ace kicker pays 250, Quad 3-K pays the normal 25, quad aces with a 3-K kicker pays 50, quad aces with a deuce kicker pays 400.

First, since this game is based on the 8/5 pay table with 2-1 for two pair, we will use Bonus Poker as the comparative game. The next step is to determine the value of the bonus quads, but first let’s consider the full house changes. There are 156 types of trips (13 overs * 12 unders or vice versa.) So lets figure the value of the full houses this way:

1*10….= 10 (222AA)

1*12….= 12 (AAA22)

154 * 8 = 1232 (all others)

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156 FHs = 1254

1254/156 = 8.038

In other words, the difference is so small it’s not worth bothering with. But you could tell that just by looking at it. You didn’t have to do the math. Now whip out your calculator and let’s check the bonus quads (here’s where the real consideration is.) First of all when dealing with quads with a kicker you need to remember that there are 12 varieties of any particular rank of quads (one for each possible kicker.) This game pays 400 for 1 out of 12 Aces quads (AAAA2)and 550 for all the others combined (11*50.) That’s 950 for all 12 varieties of aces quads. 950/12 = 79.17 average coins for quad aces, less than the 80 paid by regular bonus poker. You might want to skip that last step and just do the multiplication for regular bonus(you can do this in your head can’t you?) Bonus Poker pays 80 for all ace quads so 12 * 80 = 960 as compared to the 950 for the Aces in this new game. Not so hot, yet the big 2000 coin payoff for the “Aces with Deuce” (with 5 coins in)is a real eye-catcher as you’re walking through the casino.

Using the same math we see that the deuces pays 850 coins for all possible deuces quads while regular Bonus Poker pays 480 (12 * 40.) So the new game pays almost twice as much for deuces (actually – calculator back out now- it averages out to 70.83 per quad deuces. But wait! Bonus Poker also pays 40 for quad deuces and threes, while this game just pays the non-bonus25 coins. At this point you already know the game is a loser but let’s go on with the example. Taking the ‘small’ bonus quads as a group we have the following:

For Bonus Poker 2s, 3s, and 4s pay 40 coins

For “Aces Over Deuces” they pay an average of 40.28 (70.83 for deuces + 25 for threes +25 for fours = 120.83 / 3 = 40.28.)

So what did we find out about this game? We found out it pays virtually the same as regular Bonus poker (99%.) What’s more, we did it with nothing more needed than pencil and paper or possible a pocket calculator and about 3 minutes worth of figuring. As a matter of fact a quick mental calcu- lation or two and you would have a pretty good idea of what you can expect from this game. And for many people, with a just a little practice, you don’t really need pencil and paper or a calculator to do the math at all on many or even most of these games. You will have a real good idea with just a couple of minutes of studying the payout table and doing the math in your head. The alternative, if you’re not comfortable with all this is what I recommended in the first place. Wait until you can run it through VPTUTOR or whatever means you have to have the game analyzed. There’s still another way to do a quick analysis of a new game but that will have to wait for another time.