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Video Poker 101
This chapter is designed to provide a fast and clear overview of the game of casino video poker for those readers who wish to learn something quickly and be able to play the game immediately without being victim to bad odds, bad machines, and bad payback percentages. Here, I will show you what is meant by the 9/6 and 8/5 and 10/7 and all those numbers that appear in all books and texts about video poker, and what they really mean. You will also learn the game's various bonus derivatives, and which among them are the better games and why. All of this is required knowledge if you want to be a winner, or if you want to play better than most people who wonder why they lose when the person next to them is winning. Chances are those losing players are playing a machine with below standard payback, perhaps less than 92 percent, while the winning player next to them may be playing a machine that looks identical, but pays back 99.5 percent, or more.
To play a video poker machine to at least as near its optimum payback potential as possible, you must know three things:
1. Which machines are the good payers, and why?
2. How do you tell them apart?
3. How can you play them to get the best payback possible?
In this introductory chapter, I will give you quick answers to these three essential questions. Remember that these are only cursory explanations, designed to allow you to gain a basic mastery of the game. This chapter opens the door to your video poker knowledge and winning potential, allowing you a glimpse into the world of profits that these games make possible. However, to be able to walk through that door and into that new world, you will also need to read the rest of this book as well. For those of you who already know video poker, or perhaps think that you know it, I would still encourage you to read this chapter anyway. You may find something here that you have forgotten, or perhaps it will spark some new thoughts that will help you play better. This first chapter is the foundation upon which the rest of this book is built. What we learn here is what we will rely on in later discussions. And so, let us begin.
Since 1995 there has been a literal explosion of video poker games. All these new machines, playing options, and the programs to which they play are the direct result of numerous advances in computer technology. Even as you read this, the new generation of video poker machines is being prepared, tested, and improved and is undergoing the various required regulatory approvals. By the year 2010, casino gaming machines will be as different from those of today as today's are to those of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
The major advances that will shape the future of video poker machines have little to do with the principles of the game itself, but rather a lot more with computer technology—more specifically, the memory capacity of the machines. How quickly all this will come to be, and how fast these new generations of video poker machines overtake the ones currently on the casino floor, depends on a still-to-be-determined series of issues. Competing technologies, and various regulatory problems, may delay the full introduction of these games for a few more years. Several of the newer video poker machines are being tested right now, while others are already available. In the end, the final test will be yours—you, the casino visitor, the player, will decide whether or not this new technology and the new machines will be a success. After all, if the players don't like the machines, they won't play them. Consequently, the manufacturers won't be able to sell them because the casinos won't buy them. You, therefore, have the power to decide the future of video poker machines.
Video poker machines have become the most popular form of gambling in the modern era. To help you understand why, I will start with the basics. Even if you already know how to play these machines, you may still find something here that you may have overlooked, or that you can use to improve your chances of winning. There are many varieties of video poker machines, but almost all are based on a singularly simple premise: the five card draw. In order to take you through the nuances of video poker, I will first assume that you know very little about it, and therefore will begin with some fundamentals. If you are familiar with all the items of basic video poker knowledge, you may skip this section; but a "refresher" course may help.
Virtually all video poker games currently found in all major casinos are based on the principle of the five card draw poker game. In it, you are dealt five cards. You then have the choice of keeping any or all of them, or throwing away any or all of them. For each card you throw away, you get another to replace it. The object is to win, which can be done either by keeping the winner already dealt to you, or by improving your "hand" (the final set of cards you decide to keep) and making it into the highest possible and probable winning hand on the "draw." This is the format currently used as the basis for almost all casino video poker machines. There are some other versions, but with the video poker strategy you learn here you will easily be able to play the vast majority of other versions of video poker as well.
On a video poker machine, you begin play by inserting your coins in the slot. The same is accomplished by playing "credits" (more on "credits" play a little later). Almost all video poker machines take from one to five coins. The only exceptions are $5, $25, $100, and higher denomination machines, some of which take two or three coins as "maximum."
To be a winner, remember these three points:
You can only win the jackpot, the top prize, by playing the "maximum coins" allowed on the machine you are playing.
You cannot win that top award otherwise, and therefore if you ever plan to play this game for less than maximum coins you are already a loser.
Never, ever, play any video poker machine without playing maximum coins. Ever! Period!
If you can't afford to play those maximum coins—which is five coins on most standard machines—do not play the game at all. Go play something else instead, or save your money until you can play the game properly. You would be surprised how many thousands of people make this crucial mistake, and then wonder why they didn't win anything. If you play video poker for less than maximum coins, you are enriching the casino and will never, ever, get anything close to the machine's available programming payback potential. You will soon find out the reasons for this, but the best reason was already stated here: You can't win the top jackpot if you don't play maximum coins.
Once you deposit the maximum coins, the machine automatically deals you the first five cards. (If you play less than maximum coins, and you just didn't get the point of the previous paragraph and did this anyway, you must hit a lit button called "deal." The machine will then deal you the same five cards you would have been dealt if you had played any number of coins, including the maximum coins.)
After you receive the first five cards, a row of buttons on the machine will light up, usually with the word "hold" written on them. These buttons are used to "keep" the cards you wish to hold. There are five of these "hold" buttons, one for each of the five cards you have been dealt. Normally, these hold buttons are directly underneath each card, making it easy to see which cards you are selecting. By pressing one of these buttons, the word "held" will appear above or below the corresponding card. This means that when you take the next step in playing this hand, the machine will keep this card and not throw it away. Pushing the button simply tells the machine what your decision is. On some of the newest machines you can touch the card itself, and it will also "hold." This is called "touch-screen technology," and is used on the most recent of the new machines. You can hold any one, two, three, four, or all five cards, as you wish. Once you have selected the cards you wish to hold, you press the "deal" button. The machine then keeps the cards you selected and throws away the rest, immediately dealing you the replacement cards. If the combination makes a winning hand, the machine pays you automatically and the hand is over.
Most modern machines pay on "credits," numerically displayed either at the bottom right-hand or the top left- hand corner of the video screen. For instance, if your win is five coins, these machines will indicate the win by displaying the word "winner" and running up the amount of five coins on the "credit meter." After the credits are paid, the words "player paid five" will usually appear. Of course, if you win 30 coins, this message will say "player paid 30", and so on. You can then play the next hand by using your credits. Simply press the "bet" button—once for one coin, twice for two coins, three for three, four for four, or you can touch the "play maximum coins" (or "bet maximum") button, in which case the machine will automatically deduct five credits—the normal for most machines—as the maximum bet and automatically deal the next game. The whole process is then repeated each time you press this "bet" button until your credits are gone, or until you decide to collect your winnings. By using the "credit meter" option, each time you win a hand the machine will pay the amount of your win to it. Each time you lose a hand, the "credits" you used to play that hand are gone, lost in the same way your coins would have been had you been playing them. If you have credits left on the credit meter and wish to collect them, you can do this at any time after each hand is completed by pressing the button marked "collect." The machine will pay you by dropping your coins in the tray mounted below the machine. On some of the newest machines, you may get a printed ticket instead of coins; many of them are therefore called "ticket in, ticket out" machines. So, if you were to cash out, say, 100 coins, instead of dropping those coins to the tray below the machine, such new machines will print you out a ticket instead. This ticket has a large bar code on it and the amount of your cash-out shown in dollars and cents. You simply pull it out, and go. No need to wait for all those messy coins. It can then be cashed at the casino cage, change booth, or used in other machines that take tickets. Whatever the value of those 100 coins may have been (or whatever the amount of your cash-out), you will be paid exactly that amount at the cage or change booth, or have that identical amount credited to the credit meter of another machine that accepts these tickets. This is the latest trend in coin-free gaming, which will soon lead to cashless gaming altogether. More on this later.
Although there are many different kinds of video poker machines now available, all of the machines I refer to in this book are based on five card draw, and all—except those machines that employ "wild cards" or are "progressives"—offer the same payoff schedule.
"Payoff schedule" means the structure and hierarchy of winning hands and the amounts these winning hands will pay you if you hit them.
Payoff schedules on the majority of video poker machines employ the same hierarchy, reflecting the value of Poker hands as determined by the rules of regular Poker. Most video poker machines begin this hierarchy with a pay- off schedule of "Jacks or better," appearing at the bottom of the display. This pays even money: For five coins in, if you get a pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces, you will get five coins back.
The payoff schedule—highest to lowest pays—is as follows:
Four of a Kind
Three of a Kind
Pair of Jacks or better
The object of the game is to make one of these winning hands. The Royal Flush is the biggest prize, but also the hardest to get. The higher the listing, the harder the hands are to make.
Most regular video poker machines now available are what we call 9/6 (nine-six) machines. I will explain later what this means and how this applies to your choices. On such a machine the payoffs for a one-coin bet will be as follows (see also Photo 1, opposite):
Royal Flush 250
Straight Flush 50
Four of a Kind 25
Full House 9
Three of a Kind 3
Two Pairs 2
Pair of Jacks or better 1
If you hit a winning hand, as listed here, you will be paid that winning amount for a one-coin bet. These payoff amounts increase proportionately for each additional coin bet, with the exception of the fifth coin for the Royal Flush.
If you bet five coins, all winning schedules are multiplied by factor 5, but not the Royal Flush. Instead of just 1,250 coins, the Royal Flush typically pays 4,000 coins. The reasons for that are very simple: This is a bonus amount designed as an incentive for players to play five coins. Of course you don't have to play the five coins, but the successful player—who wants to win—will always do so. The jump in payoffs for the Royal Flush hand consists of a large portion of the machine's available programmed payback percentage. The largest portion of our expected win potential is vested in this Royal Flush hand. For example, the above payoff schedule is for the typical standard Jacks or Better machine, the traditional staple of video poker games. This game is programmed to pay back 99.54 percent with expert play. However, if you don't play the maximum coins, you can't win that 4,000 coin jackpot, and therefore you will only be getting about an 88 percent payback. This is worse than virtually all slot machines. Once again, it's always a bad idea to play video poker for less than maximum coins, and always a good idea to play something else if you can't afford to play the maximum coins in the video poker machine you pick.
A wide variety of video poker machines are now common- place in Nevada casinos, and are also increasingly available in other gaming centers.
PROGRESSIVE VIDEO POKER
Progressive video poker is regular video poker with a different payoff schedule and a jackpot shared among several machines. Any one of these machines can hit the top jackpot if that player receives the Royal Flush. There are two main differences, which are as follows.
First, the jackpot is not a fixed amount, as in regular video poker, but is a progressive amount shown on the "progressive meter." This meter increases the value of the top jackpot in increments, usually either one cent for each dollar that is put through those machines linked to that progressive jackpot, or a specified fractional percentage of the money put through such machines, which each casino decides for itself. This doesn't sound like much, but the progressive jackpots usually start at $1,000 for the 25-cent machines, and $4,000 for the $1 machines, and quickly increase in value. How fast the top Royal Flush jackpot increases on these progressives depends on the amount of play all the machines in such a carousel get, combined, as well as on the percentage of coins played allocated to such progressive jackpots on that carousel. Normally there are about 12 machines per carousel, all linked to one jackpot.
You can see how easily the top jackpot increases in value, given that for each dollar played in all the machines the jackpot grows. This jackpot continues to grow, play after play, until a Royal Flush is hit. But you must play the maximum coins in order to win the top jackpot, which is the amount that the progressive pay meter shows at the exact moment the Royal Flush is hit. Additionally, such progressive banks of video poker machines also usually offer secondary and tertiary smaller progressive jackpots, such as on those machines that also offer bonus hands. More on this later.
Excerpted from Powerful Profits from VIDEO POKER by Victor H. Royer. Copyright © 2014 Victor H. Royer. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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