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Jacks or Better Draw Poker
Video Poker for Fun and Profit
by Dan Paymar

When selecting a machine, it is extremely important to differentiate between full pay and short pay games. Full pay generally means the best pay schedule for a given type of game, and short pay refers to any game of the same type with a reduced pay schedule. Here is the five-coin payoff schedule for full pay Jacks-or-Better Draw Poker which offers a bit over 99.5% payback and is currently available in Las Vegas and many other gaming destinations in all denominations:

Final Hand Payout
Royal Flush 4000
Straight Flush 250
Four of a Kind 125
Full House 45
Flush 30
Straight 20
Three of a Kind 15
Two Pair 10
Pair of Jacks or Better     5

This is the well known 9/6 game where a full house pays 45-for-5 (9-for-1), and a flush pays 30-for-5 (6-for-1). The most important things to look for are the payoffs for a full house and for two pair, but some casinos are subtler, cutting other payoffs, so it’s important to check the entire schedule.

Besides the full pay games, there are machines with a progressive jackpot on the royal flush. They almost always appear in banks of eight or more machines tied into a common jackpot counter. Some payoffs may be reduced, the shortfall going to the players by incrementing the jackpot. An 8/5 Jacks-or-Better (i.e., one paying only 25-for-5 for a flush and 40-for-5 full house) is one short pay version, as it pays back only 97.25%. With no other changes, the progressive jackpot on a quarter game would have to be $1,900 to reach 100% expectation. Each additional cut in the full house requires an additional $575 in the jackpot to compensate for the loss.

The main problem with such games is that the short-term payback has been cut in order to step the progressive, so you will experience a greater loss rate on your way to that jackpot. But even with the short payback, such games are almost always a better gamble than the reel slots.

Playing fewer than five coins cuts the long-term payback to only 98% because you don’t qualify for the full 4000-coin payoff for a royal flush. You typically get only $62.50 for a royal for one quarter (250-for-1) compared to $1,000.00 for five quarters (800-for-1). Therefore, if you want to bet only 25¢ total, you are tempted to play five coins in a nickel machine rather than one coin in a quarter machine. That would be a good decision provided the 5¢ and 25¢ games have the same payoff schedule. Often, however, you will be confronted with full-pay quarter machines but only short pay nickel games. You give up about 1.5% of the long-term payback by playing only one coin, but a short pay schedule is even more costly. If you are going to play, it’s better to play one quarter on a full pay machine than five nickels on a short pay machine.

It is just as important to learn how to play the game accurately. Happily it is possible to reduce the strategy on some games to a few easy rules. Here are the freshman level Precision Play™ rules for the above game:

1. Never break any made pay of Two Pair or better, except… Break anything but a pat Straight Flush for any 4-card Royal.

2. Break a High Pair only for a 4-card Royal or any 4-card Straight Flush.

3. Break a low pair for any 3-card Royal Flush or any 4-card Flush.

4. Draw to any 3-card Straight Flush (even a double inside draw).

5. Break A-K-Q-J for any three suited honors.

6. Break any three of A, K, Q and J for any two suited high cards.

7. Hold any one, two or three high cards, except discard the Ace from A-h-h (“h” is any high card: A, K, Q or J).

8. Keep a suited ten with a Q or J if that is the only high card.

These rules are top down. That is, you should follow the first rule that applies to the hand dealt.

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