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Having Fun and Winning on Video Poker
Video Poker for Fun and Profit
by Dan Paymar

For more than two decades video poker has intrigued visitors to casinos. They may have heard that the payback is higher than reel slots (which is generally true), perhaps they like the challenge of making decisions instead of just pulling a handle, or maybe it’s just to try something new. After a short try, however, many move back to the one armed bandits. Why do they give up so quickly? Are the games too difficult? Are they losing even more than they did on the reel slots? Is it the five-coin requirement to qualify for full payoff on the royal flush jackpot? Or is it just that they have a very small budget for gambling and there are too few nickel video poker machines available?

This column will delve into video poker for non-professional players, especially those whose gambling has been limited mostly to nickel or quarter slots. By seeking out the good games and following just a few simple playing rules, you can cut the house edge to one half of one percent or less. In some cases you can gain a real edge over the casino, even on some nickel machines.

If you want a get-rich quick scheme, then look elsewhere. If you are looking for a way to overcome the house edge that is built in to nearly all casino games, I will offer nothing to build your dreams upon. If you want to know how to find a hot machine, you will only be disappointed when I tell you that there is no such thing (but, happily, there is no such thing as a cold machine, either). If you want a guaranteed win, then buy a casino. But if you want to learn how to achieve a small but real advantage on certain games (and have fun doing it) then this column is for you.

Most players’ “intuitive” decisions will yield about 1% to 5% less than a game’s maximum payback. Statewide statistics from Nevada casinos show an average payback on video poker of about 2% less than what it would be if everyone played perfectly. This is why the casinos are able to offer some games with over 100% payback potential, thus making it possible for us to gain a small but real edge on some games. Even in a casino that doesn’t have 100%-plus games, video poker generally offers a higher return than any other low stakes game, and a good slot club or promotion may boost your total expectation above 100%.

The big advantage of video poker over the “no brainer” reel slots is that the maximum payback can be determined from the payoff schedule on the front of every machine. No, you don’t have to do any math. In just a few minutes you can learn how to read a machine’s payoff schedule to select an attractive game. Then, only a few hours practice with an easy strategy can make you an expert. Together, these skills will give you a real edge on some video poker games.

Accurate strategies are computer-generated and proven by professional players, yet they are simple enough for even a novice to use. By following just a few clear rules, you can become a favorite to be a winner in the long run and have fun at the same time.

But already I hear you say, “I don’t want to be bothered with rules. I’m on vacation, and I just want to have some fun.” But isn’t it more fun if your limited bankroll lasts longer, and even more fun when you’re winning? Of course it is!

Space limitations prevent me from going into more detail here, but in the next issue I will show how to cut the house edge to less than one-half of one percent on the most common video poker game, Jacks or Better Draw Poker. In the meantime, if you want to play that game, look for one that pays 45 for a full house with a five-coin bet. Good luck!

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