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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How Do Video Poker Paradigms Differ from One Another?

25 January 2006

Video poker comes in a flood of flavors. The overwhelming majority of offerings fits one of three basic paradigms: jacks or better, deuces wild, and joker wild. And this is generally a player's primary choice. None of these fundamental options is inherently superior to any other.

The usual standard of comparison, "return percentage," depends on payoffs within games as opposed to contrasts among types. And a glance at a row of ostensibly similar games will show numerous nuances involving different payouts for winning hands and bonuses for special results. Further, the same paybacks, for instance, 95 and 97 percent, aren't uncommon in all three implementations.

So, assume there's nothing about deuces or jokers that drives you particularly wild, or that your personal 1-900-PSYCHIC advisor has said to seek or shun. How do you decide what's best for you?

One criterion would involve the size of the jackpot you're hoping to win. Another would be the versions of the game for which you'd learned optimum strategies. Given all possible starting hands, it's no simple matter to know how to maximize either the return percentage or the chance at the big bucks. Having mastered the moves for one or more configurations, you'd be silly to squander your skill by playing by guess and by gosh at anything else.

What are the other disparities, and how relevant are they to your gambling experience? To answer this question, make believe three machines boast equal jackpots of 800-for-1 $1,000 back for five coins at once in a 25-cent game. Further, pretend they all have payouts for winning hands that yield 97 percent return.

Many solid citizens are interested in the chance of hitting the jackpot. For the prototype games in this example, strategies that maximize return give odds of 40,160-to-1 for jacks or better, 46,728-to-1 for deuces wild, and 39,619-to-1 for joker wild. Second-biggest payoff at jacks or better is normally no great shakes. But deuces wild often pay a respectable 200-for-1 on four deuces with odds of 5,032-to-1; together, a natural royal jackpot or four deuces has odds of 4,543-to-1. Likewise, joker wild might be worth 200-for-1 getting five of a kind at odds of 10,387-to-1 and 100-to-1 on royals with jokers at odds of 10,310-to-1; combined, the three top payoffs have odds of 4,576-to-1.

Another potentially crucial factor is hit rate the chance of keeping your hopes alive by receiving any return at all -- even if it's just your original bet. The jacks or better and deuces wild games hit on the average of 45 percent of all tries. The joker wild game, with a 1-for-1 return on pairs of kings or aces, is close at 44 percent; eliminating the kings drops this to 37 percent and no return on any pair cuts it to 30 percent.

Volatility, which anticipates the swings your bankroll is likely to undergo during a session, differs slightly among the games. Per pull, it's equivalent to 4.4 bets ($5.50 for five quarters) at jacks or better and approximately 5.0 bets ($6.25 for five quarters) at both deuces and joker wild. Multiply these dollar amounts by 100 to estimate the bankroll you'd need to be highly confident of not going broke in a three-hour session if you foolishly forget to bring your rabbit's foot to the casino.

Skewness also diverges among the games. Values are 150 for jacks or better, 102 for deuces wild, and 109 for joker wild. These skews are all positive and high, indicating lots of losses and small wins with occasional moderate or large returns. The higher skew on jacks or better than the others helps if you're set on going for the gold but hurts when you're trying to survive.

Which is your best shot? It's a matter of personal preference. Nobody can decide for you. But, you now have more information than most video poker buffs to help you do so. Or, maybe you were happier before, with fewer facts to muddle your mind. In such a case, you might mull this maxim by the muse, Sumner A Ingmark:

Distinctions exacting may keep you from acting,
Thus leaving you mired with little transpired.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.