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Best of John G. Brokopp

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Video Poker Poses Intriguing Challenge

7 November 2000

A good friend of mine who lives in Las Vegas usually heads for the craps table when he gets the itch to gamble. It's really the only casino game he takes seriously. He never plays slot machines and only once in a great while will he jump into a blackjack game. There is one game of late, however, that has captured his fancy enough for him to sit down and play with ever-increasing frequency. That game is video poker.

Video poker holds fascination for anyone who takes his gambling seriously. The mathematical probabilities built into the game are the same you would encounter in a kitchen table poker game, unlike traditional reel and video slots which have payout schedules determined by a computer program.

Some video poker machines and video poker games are better to play than others, but this pecking order is determined by pay tables that are visible for everyone to see. All a player has to do is educate himself to learn which machines to play and which ones to avoid. Slot players aren't as lucky. Computer programs which hold the key to better machines are the internal secret of the casino owner.

Anyway, my Las Vegas buddy called me up with a question about a video poker game he was playing at the Palace Station one recent evening. The conversation went something like this:

"It was a nickel 50-times play machine. The game format I like to play is "deuces wild". I was playing maximum coins, which means that even though it's a nickel machine, there's an investment of $12.50 on every deal (twenty-five cents a hand times 50 hands). On one particular play I was dealt three wild deuces on my first hand. My other two cards made the hand a straight flush. This posed a problem for me. I didn't know whether I should hold the straight flush and collect it on all 50 hands, or break it up by holding the three wild deuces and shoot for royals, four wild deuces, and 5-of-a-kind hands on the draw. The pay table was 1,000 coins for four wild deuces, 125 coins for a royal with deuces, 80 coins for 5-of-a-kind, 65 coins for a straight flush, and 20 coins for 4-of-a-kind. I wound up holding the straight flush hand and collected 65 nickels on each of the 50 hands. Was it the correct play?"

Without knowing the math or best "percentage play" involved here, it would be easy to take the sure thing. In this case, his bird in the hand came to 65 nickels times 50 hands, or something like $160, a nice little score. On the other hand, holding those three wild deuces and getting 50 chances to make a big hit sure is tempting. What to do?

In order to get my friend a thorough answer, I sought the advice of video poker and slot expert John Robison. John is the author of Inside Atlantic City's Slot Clubs, published by Compton-Dancer Consulting and available through Paone Press. He is also the author of The Truth About Slots, to be published by Huntington Press. He is the video poker columnist for Midwest Gaming & Travel magazine and Gaming Today and a contributor to Atlantic City Insider and Strictly Slots. Here's what John had to say:

"Many people like to play Deuces Wild because they hit the 1,000-coin mini-jackpot for four deuces once every 5,000 hands or so, on the average. In Nevada, moreover, it's possible to find Deuces Wild machines that pay back more than 100 percent in the casinos that cater to the locals. So how do we play a hand with three deuces? There are many deuces wild pay tables, so you should check the specific strategy for your pay table to make sure you're making the correct play.

"The game your friend was playing sounds like one the late video poker master Lenny Frome called Rocky Mountain in his book, though I can't be sure because the pay tables are sometimes different in how much they pay for the full house, flush, and straight. According to Lenny, this particular pay table pays back 96.8 percent.

"I plugged in the payouts your friend gave you into video poker expert Bob Dancer's "Bob Dancer Presents WinPoker" and got these results: The pat straight flush is worth 65. Holding the three deuces, there are 819 ways to make a 4-of-a-kind, 110 ways to make a straight flush, 66 ways to make a 5-of-a-kind, 40 ways to make a wild royal flush, and 46 ways to make four deuces. The "EV" (expected value) of the three deuces is 73.8.

"There are so many variations on deuces wild pay tables, it makes my head spin. I checked all of the deuces wild strategies I have and they all say to hold three deuces over a straight flush. The possibility of getting the mini-jackpot for four deuces pushes the EV of the three deuces above that of the pat straight flush.

"A good general rule is to hold only the three deuces unless you have a wild royal flush or 5-of-a-kind. And you can refine the rule by not holding the 5-of-a-kind when it pays less than 15. Therefore, my advice when playing wild deuces is to break everything but a wild royal flush or 5-of-a-kind to hold three deuces."


For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
The Video Poker Answer Book by John Grochowski
John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp