Video Poker: A Pro�s Play
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by: John Grochowski.
If you?re a true video poker aficionado, you know that some video poker games pay more than 100 percent with expert play. You won?t find them everywhere, but when you do, they?re a special treat.

Regardless of whether you find them online or in a brick and mortar casino.

Not every player will get 100 percent out of these machines, of course. Most make enough strategy mistakes that they really get back a couple of percent less than the theoretical payback percentage. One such game is 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker, meaning full houses pay 10-for-1, flushes 7-for-1 and straights 5-for1. With expert play, it returns 100.17 percent. Most players get considerably less.


It?s one of the games that top-line video poker players love, and it?s a game a fellow named Jack had on his mind when he phoned me recently.

?There are video poker pros in Nevada, right?" Yes, I told him, although there are fewer opportunities for video poker advantage play than there used to be.

And most video poker ?pros? have other jobs or businesses. You have to be well-bankrolled and able to withstand the inevitable losing streaks to really press home the small edge you can get at some video poker games.

"It's that bankroll part I wanted to ask about. When a pro finds himself without enough money to bet five coins at a time, does he switch to one-coin play?"

No, I told him.

"Never? I mean, surely, it doesn't make any more sense for a pro to overbet their bankroll than it does for an average player."

Never. A short-bankrolled pro is a pro who doesn't play until the bankroll is sufficiently padded.


"But surely a little one-coin play can help the pro through the tough times. Can't that help build the bankroll little by little so the pro has enough to bet it all again?"

It's more likely that one-coin play would erode the bankroll little by little until the pro hand nothing left.

"But these guys are experts, and the edge is the edge, right? They know all the expert strategy you like to write about."


Expert strategy is more than knowing which cards to hold and which cards to fold.

It's also not overbetting your bankroll, and knowing that you can't get an edge on a video poker game unless you bet maximum coins. That's because of the huge jump in the royal flush payoff with five coins wagered. On most machines, a royal pays 250 coins for a one-coin wager, 500 for two, 750 for three or 1,000 for four. But on the fifth coin, the royal jumps to 4,000 coins --- essentially, you're getting 3,000 coins for the royal on that final coin wagered, but only getting 250 per coin on the first four coins.


The only exception, I told him is if the pro finds an online game that returns 800-for1 on all royal flushes, making the payback percentage the same with one-unit wagers as with five-unit wagers. Eight hundred-for-1 is the same percentage as 4,000-for-5. Most of the time, though, it takes that five-unit bet to get that 4,000-coin jackpot.

"Royals are rare. Does that make much difference, that a pro wouldn't even play for the smaller payoff?"


It makes all the difference in the world. Take 10-7-5 Double Bonus Poker, where full houses pay 10-for-1, flushes 7-for-1 and straights 5-for-1. With expert play, that's a 100.17 percent game. The pro squeezes out a small profit on the game, and cash back and comps through player rewards systems are gravy. But when the royal is worth only 250 coins per coin wagered, the payback with expert play drops to 99.11 percent. It's not a beatable game.


Or take full-pay Deuces Wild. That yields a 100.76 return with expert play. But with four or fewer coins wagered, that return drops to 99.75 percent, under that magic 100 percent mark.

Betting fewer than five coins turns even the best video poker games into games that will pad the house's bankroll, not yours.

"So to get the edge, you have to bet five coins?"

Right. In video poker, the house makes ALL its money on coins Nos. 1 through 4. On the fifth coin, the player has an edge. That goes even for lower-paying games. On 8-5 Jacks or Better, the payoff on coins Nos. 1-4 is only 96.06 percent. But on the fifth coin alone, we get back 102.26 percent, raising the overall return on the machine to 97.3 percent.


"I wish I could bet just the fifth coin."

So do I. If we got that payoff on every coin, we'd all be pros --- until the games disappeared.
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