Video Poker is a game of variance, skill and luck.
Even a knowledgeable player playing an advantage game can lose a ton of money really quickly. An advantage game one is where the player actually has an edge over the house — in Video Poker, this advantage is usually no more than a few percent if you include cashback, comps and casino perks. The best consistent game in Reno offers players a 0.762% advantage on the base game (Full Pay Deuces Wild).
I’ve been on a bit of losing streak, aka negative fluctuation. These fluctuations are the real world results of variance, or the standard deviation from the expected return (ER). Example: holding four cards to a Royal Flush has a 1 in 47 chance of turning into a Royal Flush; on single play, I’ve been dealt over 60 of these (RF4) without completing the Royal Flush. This isn’t very unusual, but it does suck.
Because the Royal Flush makes up, on average, between 2.5-3% of a game’s return, any given cycle without a Royal is played at a negative. Royal Flush Cycles (the average number of hands played between hitting Royal Flushes) are usually between 37,000 and 44,000 hands, and unfortunately, it’s not unlikely that you’ll play through several cycles without a Royal.
Understanding the math behind the game makes session losses a lot less painful, but it still sucks when you’re trying to make money and leave with less than you started with. Playing Video Poker is not an easy moneymaking endeavor; if you play less than perfectly (failing to hold the mathematically most valuable cards every time — not always intuitive or psychologically easy), you cannot expect the theoretical return in the long run.
And then there’s Lady Luck.
Good luck, or bad, makes up a significant part of the Video Poker experience. Any given day, you can do everything right and lose your entire bankroll while the idiot next to you plays poorly a terrible short-pay game, hits Four-of-a-Kind after Full House after Flush and feels like a genius. Although mildly irritating, I accept it. I also know that that sort of player will be a long-term loser, and that that type of play keeps casinos open 24/7.
As stated, recently, my luck hasn’t been great. I normally play Deuces Wild ; when dealt three Deuces (or any three-of-a-kind), drawing two leaves a 1 in 23.5 chance of getting that elusive final card. I’d been dealt three deuces 51 times on single-play and 11 times on triple play (three line Spin Poker) without getting a fourth Deuce. Many times I’d thrown away Straight Flushes (such as WWW45) and Five of a Kind (WWW77) when 5oK pays 75 instead of 80 coins (as it does on NSUD, normally a 99.73% return game) and ended up with a 25 or 20 coin Four-of-a-Kind.
And then finally on Sunday, magic happened.
I was essentially killing time before a slot tournament, playing off $20 free play with a 5¢ Spin Poker machine with the NSU version of Deuces Wild, playing three lines (75¢ per play). A few hands go by, some missed Wild Royal Flush chances… and then I’m dealt Three Deuces — and it completes in the center line. Woo! Though only a $50 win, it was still a relief to finally see the elusive hand.
I played a few more hands, was dealt a Straight Flush playing nine lines (+$22.50) cashed out, and moved to my usual 25¢ “progressive” NSU Deuces Wild game.
(It’s called Progressive, but the reality is that the Royal Flush is just set at a perpetual $1199 — one dollar underneath the W2-G amount and $199 more than a normal quarter machine Royal Flush.)
Initially, I was dealt into several Flushes and natural Full Houses (no wild cards), drew into a bunch of Full Houses some Straights. And then luck turned and $70 turned into $1.25 really quickly.
I dropped in another $20 and fluctuated between $30 and $2.50 over five minutes. I was considering quitting to walk around a bit because nothing exciting was happening. A lot of Wild Royal misses. Not fun. Last hand, I suppose.
I was dealt a single Deuce and garbage. On average, holding a solitary Deuce is worth about even money. I’ll get my bet back and cash out. Draw.
The remaining three spill out. +$250
Up about $300 for the 35 minute session with hours until my slot tournament round, I played for an hour or so and stayed even. I hadn’t eaten lunch, so at 5pm I went to the Chinese restaurant in the casino and had a decent fried rice while relaxing, resting, writing/working a bit and watching some YouTube videos. After eating, I still had a few minutes to kill, so I sat down again. Put $25 in and lost most of it really quickly, and then drew a Five-of-a-Kind.
At 6:30 I played my slot tournament round, got a decent score but nowhere near the top ten (I did manage to place finally last week, somewhere between 21st-40th, at JA Nugget in Sparks, NV — winning $100 free play), and headed over to another casino (Grand Sierra Resort) to pick up a free gift that they give away every Sunday. It happened to be a Christmas dinnerware set; apparently, it was extremely popular because they ran out and needed to get more from the stock room. Twenty minute wait I was told. Sigh.
At this casino, the best game I’ve found is a particular Progressive Double Double Bonus quarter machine.
Recently on Instagram, I was indirectly criticized for playing $1199 Royal Flush Jacks or Better (99.956% return) instead of (probably 9/6 — Full House returning 9 coins per coin bet, Flushes returning 6) DDB (a practically unplayable 98.98% return). However, because the GSR progressive was at a decent number, it’s playable, albeit volatile.
The night prior, I hit four Queens twice in five minutes ($125) so psychologically, I felt good about the game. Plus, I needed to earn some tier points to get the next level card (Earning me a free buffet every Tuesday. My parents like to go there on Tuesday).
I sat down and started playing, staying fairly even. A few Flushes and Full Houses, many Three-of-a-Kinds and tons of duds. About 25 minutes in, I thought that the sets were stocked so I hit the service button so an attendant could watch the machine for a moment. A minute later, a slot guy came by. Right then, I was dealt a Full House, Aces and Eights. I immediately hit hold on the Aces.
While many people are probably happy with a guaranteed 45 coins, ($11.25) it’s the wrong play. By a lot. Playing Double Double Bonus, Aces are worth so much that you toss the pair and keep the three Aces. Most of the time, this will end with a 15 coin Three-of-a-Kind; on a rare occasion, it will become a Full House again (albeit with another pair since it’s impossible to draw discarded cards). Very rarely, it will become Four Aces (worth 818 coins on this particular machine, though normally 800).
But when luck is on your side…
I was just about to leave to get the free Christmas set before drawing two replacement cards, but thought, I shouldn’t leave the machine mid-game. I hit draw.
Very, very rarely, three Aces becomes Four Aces w/ 2,3,4 — a hand that normally pays 2000 coins, or $500 on a quarter machine — but this progressive was at $547, or 2188 coins. That’s why you don’t just hold the Full House with three Aces. Most of the time it’ll be disappointing, but occasionally: jackpot!
In this DDB game with the 2188 coin progressive 4 Aces w/ Kicker and 818 coin Four Aces, a Full House is worth just 9 coins for every coin bet for a total guaranteed return of 45. Holding three Aces and drawing two is worth an average of 13.1665 coins — about 1.46 times more than the Full House.
In the long run, holding the Full House instead of just the Aces on a quarter machine will cost you about $5 each time.
After this big win, I cashed out, got my free Christmas dish set and checked my tier points. I was close to upgrading my card, so I went back to play the machine. (Incidentally, since hitting the Aces with kicker, the game went from being practically even to a slightly negative game.) Unfortunately, someone was sitting there playing Video Keno (a game with a huge house edge) 5¢ per play. With several bucks in the machine, I thought it’d be a long wait. Unfortunately, there’s only one in the progressive bank of machines set with a good payable, and he happens to sit there and play a game he could find on dozens of nearby machines. I almost offered $5 for the seat; I wasn’t thrilled about it however, because the game was worth slightly less due to the progressive reset. Fortunately, he ran out of money and left after several minutes.
Since I only needed a few tier points, I didn’t need to play too many more hands. Fortunate, since I wasn’t really feeling well. Twenty or so hands in, nothing exciting. I was about to leave, down about $20 or so. And then I hit four Sixes.
With perfect play on a positive game, you’ll still lose about 60% of the time.
If you’re going to play Video Poker with the goal of making money, know that after any several hour session you play, you’re likely leave the casino with less money than you started with. Competent players can play 500-900 hands per hour; most people play quite a bit slower than that. Within a several thousand hand sample size, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit a jackpot hand, which can account for 2-3% of the game’s payback (depending on the game type).
It’s a very risky way to try to make some money, but if and when you do hit that big hand, it’s pretty nice. If you’re going to play, remember the odds and the math — and practice, practice, practice.
For more Video Poker stuff, check out my Instagram (@bradtastic).
Since I normally play Deuces Wild, here’s a bit about the variations worth playing:
The NSU game paytable (99.73%), betting five coins, should have the following numbers from Royal Flush down to Three-of-a-Kind: 4000=1000=125=80=50-20-20-15-10-5 — With the $1199 Royal Flush, this game has a slightly positive return.
Full Pay Deuces Wild (100.762%): 4000-1000-125-75-45-25–15-10-5 — It seems like a lesser paytable, but the 25 coins for Four-of-a-Kind makes all the difference. In Deuces Wild, 4oK is a common hand due to the presence of the wild cards, mathematically more frequent than Full Houses, Flushes and Straights, appearing about 6.5% of the time.
Note: These variations of the same game cannot be played the same way. There are numerous strategy changes based on the payout.
Lastly, I’m not a “video poker expert” — if you’re looking to learn, check out books by Bob Dancer and Dan Paymar. Good place to start. If you’re looking to check unique paytables, check out the Wizard of Odds Video Poker Strategy Calculator. It lists the odds of the game, probabilities and generates a strategy chart.