John Grochowski

John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski John Grochowski

Video poker games in which skilled players can claim an edge over the house have become increasingly rare.

Games such as 10-7 Double Bonus Poker, which pays 100.17 percent with expert play, and full-pay Deuces Wild, which pays 100.76 percent, survive in limited numbers in Nevada. But in Atlantic City there are a few 99-percent-plus games, maxing out with a 99.9-percent version of Double Joker Wild. Scanning reports at VPFree2.com finds top games at 99.8 percent in Colorado and Illinois, 99.7 percent in Mississippi and 99.5 percent in Pennsylvania.

And so it goes throughout the country. Gaming labs are better at rating video poker games than they were in the 1990s and casinos are not letting games that rate at 100 percent or better on their floors.

Nevertheless, a disproportionate share of my video poker-related email is about beatable games. Let’s try to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions.

If games pay more than 100 percent, why would any casino offer them?

Most players don’t know expert strategy and don’t get 100 percent. Casinos still make money on these games.

Not only that, the games can be an attraction. Las Vegas locals casinos sometimes mark banks of the games with signs saying “Certified 100 Percent.” The slot director at an Illinois casino that once offered 10-7-5 Double Bonus told me it brought in players, their spouses and their friends.

Should I drop everything and take money out of the ATM if I get a chance to play 100-percent games?

Not necessarily. Unless you’ve studied, practice and know the expert strategy for the specific game, you won’t get the 100-percent return.

Also, the published payback percentages include big payoffs on rare hands such as royal flushes and, in Deuces Wild, four 2s. In 10-7-5 Double Bonus, 1.67 percent of the overall return comes from royal, leaving a 98.5-percent game without royals. In full-pay Deuces, 1.77 percent comes from natural royals and 4.07 from four-deuce hands, leaving 94.92 percent without the jackpot hands.

If I take the time and learn strategy inside and out, can I make a living at 100-percent games?

Probably not. Casinos that offer 100-percent games almost always put them at the 25-cent denomination. They’ve found $1 and higher games are too attractive to pros.

If you play 800 hands per hour making the maximum $1.25 bet on quarter machine, you risk $1,000 per hour. Your average profit would be $1.70 on 10-7-5 Double Bonus or $7.60 on full-pay Deuces. You’d be making more at a minimum-wage job.

Even at that, it’s an extremely volatile return because you lose money on the large majority sessions that do not include a big jackpot hand. You need enough cash in reserve to survive potentially long losing streaks — basically, you can play these games professionally if you don’t actually need the money.

One more thing. Casinos that offer 100-percent games often offset that by excluding them from rewards programs. The return at the game is all you get.

Are those the games video poker pros play?

No, they want higher returns, so they play games that pay more than 99 but less than 100 percent and are eligible for rewards programs. Then they zero in on multiple-points days and gain their advantage through cash back, free play, tournaments, contest entries and other perks.

Still, for most of us, 100-percent games are rare treats. I play them whenever I’m in Nevada. You can’t make a living at these games, but I find playing with any kind of edge to be a reward in itself.