Video Poker: Chance vs. Skill

 Video Poker: Chance vs. Skill

Video poker is a game that mixes pure chance with a dose of skill. You don’t know which cards are going to dealt, but you need to know which ones to hold to have a fighting chance to win.

You also need to consider your bankroll and how much you’re willing to invest in the day’s entertainment.

Take 9-6 Jacks or Better. The numbers refer to the payoffs on full houses and flushes, because those are the hands usually changed when the casino wants to alter the overall payback percentage. With expert play, 9-6 Jacks or Better returns 99.5 percent of wagers to players in the long run.

Assume a quarter machine and wagers of $1.25 a hand. If you play at a modest 500 hands per hour for two hours, your average loss would come to $5.75. The 9-6 pay table can be difficult to find, and many casinos have 8-5 Jacks or Better instead. That returns 97.3 percent with expert play, and your average loss per two-hour session rises to $34.75 per two hours. Go down another step to 7-5 Jacks or Better, a 96.2 percent game, and average loss per two-hour session rises again, to $48.12..

Let’s look at it another way. How much bankroll would you need to limit your risk of ruin to 5 percent – that is, to have a 95 percent chance of staying in action for two yours. On 9-6 Jacks or Better, that bankroll requirement is $165, and it rises to $185 on the more common 8-5 game and $195 on the widely available 7-5 game.

We can do the same thing on different games. Take Double Double Bonus Poker, an extremely popular game because of the 2,000-coin jackpot on hands of four Aces that include a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card. With a 9-6 pay table, it’s a 98.98 percent return, leaving a $12.75 average loss in two hours on a quarter machine, and requires a $300 bankroll for a 5 percent risk of ruin. If you drop to the 8-5 version, the payback percentage falls to 96.79 percent, average two-hour loss increases to $40.12 and the bankroll requirement rises to $320.

The numbers will vary on other video poker games, but the important takeaway is that on almost all non-wild card games, average losses per hour and bankroll needs will rise as the paybacks on full houses and flushes decline.


John Grochowski is an author and gambling consultant who has written about the casino industry since 1994. Look for his posts about gaming strategy and trends on the Down the Road blog.

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