When I walk through video poker areas in casinos, the game I see played most is Double Double Bonus Poker.
Typically, there will be a few Deuces Wild players, a few on the extremely volatile Triple Double Bonus Poker and some on Bonus Poker Deluxe or Double Bonus Poker.
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It's almost become a surprise to find anyone playing Jacks or Better, the game that was a runaway hit in the early 1980s and sparked video poker's popularity. Player preference is for games with big four-of-a-kind jackpots rather than the 125-coin return on any quads for a five-coin bet in Jacks or Better.
I was talking this over with my longtime casino buddy Jack, and he wasn't a bit surprised even though he was a Jacks or Better-loving player from the beginning.
"It's a bit boring compared to the others, isn't it?" he said. "Who's going to play for 125 coins when some of those four-Ace jackpots are 800, 1,200, 2,000, even 4,000 coins? Four of a kind on Jacks or Better keeps me in the game. Four Aces with a kicker on Triple Double Bonus makes my week."
Nevertheless, Jacks or Better has its little following, so I offered Jack a couple of reasons why the game holds its place in casinos:
Jacks or Better is one of the least volatile video poker games. If you’re looking for a game designed for extended play rather than big jackpots, this is your game.
The reason is the 2-for-1 payoff on two pairs. Assuming a five-coin bet, two pairs gets you 10 coins — you get your bet back plus five coins in winnings. In Double Double Bonus, Double Bonus, Triple Double Bonus, Bonus Deluxe and many other games, two pair just gets your bet back and no more.
That extra payoff on a frequently occurring hand makes Jacks or Better much less volatile than other games.
Lower volatility means it takes less money to play extended sessions. Let's say you're on a casino trip and expect to play 10 hours of quarter video poker at $1.25 per hand. How big should your bankroll be to have a 5 percent risk of ruin — a 95 percent chance of still being in action after 10 hours?
If your game is 9-6 Jacks or Better, paying 99.5 percent with expert play, the necessary bankroll is $450. The average payback percentage is even better at 99.6 percent on 9-6 Bonus Deluxe, but the increase in volatility raises the bankroll requirement to $770. And on 9-6 Double Double Bonus, a 99.0 percent game, the bankroll needed is even higher, at $825.
Even lower-paying versions of Jacks or Better have lower bankroll requirements for a 5 percent risk of ruin. It's $570 on 8-5 JB, a 97.3 percent game, and $575 on 7-5 JB, a low-payer at 96.2 percent.
Strategy for Jacks or Better is relatively easy to learn, and a good starting point for other games. If you know 9-6 JB strategy, haven't learned DDB strategy and find yourself at a 9-6 DDB game, the expected return drops only from 98.98 to 98.44 percent. On 10-7-5 Double Bonus, the expected return drops from 100.17 percent with a specialized strategy to 99.63 percent with JB strategy.
If you start with JB strategy, you develop a strong base for learning other games.
It's true that Jacks or Better isn't the most exciting game. If you don't draw a royal flush, the opportunity for a really big winner just isn't there. But some players still are attracted by extended play without extreme ups and downs, and JB is the game for them.
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).