John Grochowski

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When you see payback percentages listed for video poker games “with expert strategy,” players need to understand that betting maximum coins is part of expert play.

If you don’t bet the max, not only is the overall payback percentage reduced, but strategy for holding cards changes, too.

What brings this to mind is an email from a reader who asked if the entire reason to bet the max was the jackpot jump on the 1 in 40,000 shot at a royal flush, of if lesser bets also decreased the frequency of lesser winning hands.

The full reason is the royal jackpot leap from 250-for-1 with bets of four coins or fewer to a whopping 4,000 when you bet five. Frequency of other winning hands does not change as long as you are playing the same strategy.

Royals account for about 2 percent of the overall payback, with minor differences depending on game and strategy. If you’re getting 250-for-1 instead of 800-for-1 on your royals, the percentage of paybacks coming from royals shrinks, and so does the overall payback percentage.

Let’s use 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker as an example. With expert strategy, including paying max coins, the game returns 98.98 percent, with 1.96 percent coming from royals.

If you bet four coins or fewer, the overall return drops to 97.83 percent, with 0.48 percent coming from royals.

Even getting that lower payback percentage depends on adjusting your drawing strategy.

A few examples:

King-Queen-Jack of diamonds, King of spades, 9 of hearts: When you’re betting the max, holding three high diamonds is the best play with an average return of 7.27 coins per five coins wagered compared to 7.23 for holding the pair of Kings.

But with a short-coins wager, the average royal return drops to 4.73, while the pair of Kings keeps its value at 7.23.

King-Queen-Jack-7 of diamonds, 9 of hearts: Holding all four diamonds has an average return of 6.70 coins regardless of whether you bet the max or short coins.

If you discard the 7 of diamonds along with the 9 of hearts and just hold the three parts of a royal, average returns are 7.22 coins if you bet the max, but only 4.67 if you bet less. So optimal play is to hold King-Queen-Jack if you’re betting the max, and to hold all four diamonds if you bet less.

Jack-Queen of diamonds, 9 of hearts, King of spades, 6 of clubs: If you hold the 9 and King along with the suited Jack-Queen, you have an inside straight draw. The average return is 2.66 coins per five wagered regardless of bet size.

If you hold only the suited Jack-Queen, your average return is 2.81 coins if you bet the max and 2.64 if you don’t. Again, the optimal play switches from giving yourself a chance at a royal if you bet the max to making the one-card draw if you bet less.

That’s by no means a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Max bettors need to be more concerned about leaving royal options open than those who bet less.

None of this is to say all players should bet the max in all situations. If you’re short of bankroll, can’t afford to be the max and are out for a little video poker entertainment, I’m not going to mobilize the max bet police. Staying within wagering levels you can afford is rule No. 1 for casino survival.

Just be aware that there’s a bet-size component to expert strategy, and small bets bring lower payback percentages.

Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).

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