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VP: Betting less than Max and Odds Q&A

The most common video poker games, online and off, requires you to wager five credits to get the best odds. The big change comes in the royal flush jackpot. Most of the time, drawing a royal with one credit wagered will bring 250 in return. You’ll get 500 for a two-credit wager, 750 for three, and 1,000 for four. That’s all proportional, until you get to a five-credit wager. Then the jackpot goes up to 4,000 coins, an 800-for-1 proposition, and a royal flush brings joy and  full pockets.

Still, the temptation is there for a short-bankrolled player to make bets of less than one coin, as with this reader who wrote of her experiences:

I hit a royal flush on a video poker machine. I was thrilled, but now I get lectured from everyone when I tell them I was betting only one quarter at a time. Everyone tells me I should have been betting five coins, and then I’d have won $1,000. I thought my 250 quarters for one coin bet was pretty good, but everyone wants to rain on my parade.
Did I make a mistake?
 
That, I told her, was an issue between her and her budget. If your bankroll and comfort level with wagering tell you that you should play one coin at a time, then that's what you should bet. You get a better payback percentage if you bet five coins at a  time -- that royal would have paid 800-for-1 instead of 250-for-1. I play five coins at a time, and if I can't afford to do it, I don't play. But if you're enjoying your day's entertainment while settling for the lower percentage, it's your quarter.

That being said, there is a price for playing fewer coins than the maximum. When we say that 9-6 Jacks or Better is a 99.5 percent game with expert play, well, part of expert play is betting maximum coins. If you bet fewer coins, it's only a 98.4 percent game.
      
I would warn anyone against betting four coins at a time. Then, you're paying most of the price of video poker without getting the best benefit. Look at it this way. If we break 9-6 Jacks or Better down to five one-coin bets, on the first coin we're getting a 250-for-1 payoff on a royal flush, and our return is 98.4 percent. Same on the second coin, the third and the fourth. But on the fifth coin, our royal pays 3,000-for-1, right?
If we bet four coins, we get only 1,000 back on a royal, but if we bet five, we get 4,000. With that bonus payback in mind, our return on the fifth coin is 106.2 percent.

That's true on nearly every video poker game. The return on the fifth coin brings back in excess of 100 percent of what we put in. When we stop at four coins, we give away so much return in exchange for so little savings.

Betting one coin at a time may be budget-conscious; betting four is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Another reader wondered why the odds on video poker couldn’t better reflect the difficulty of drawing a hand.

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Video poker machines can be programmed to pay off for any hand. So why can’t drawing an inside straight, which has only four chances to win, pay more than an open-ended straight that has eight chances to win? Also, why does a flush pay more than a straight? When you have four cards to a flush, there are nine left that can complete the flush, but with an open-ended straight, you have only eight cards to make a straight.

It is true that the odds are longer against you filling in an inside straight --- a hand such as 4-5-7-8 in which only a 6 will bring a winner, than an open-ended straight such as
4-5-6-7, where either a 3 or an 8 will complete the straight.

However, the goal of video poker game designers isn’t to best reflect the odds of drawing a hand. It’s to design a game that’s playable and fun, one that’ll keep the customers coming back for more.

If you're playing five-card draw around the kitchen table and you win with a straight, you don't get extra credit for drawing to the inside, do you?  The video poker pay table is not meant to be a precise mathematical model of the relative frequency of paying hands.
It's meant to draw players in by giving them a familiar-type game, one in which full houses outrank flushes and flushes outrank straights even though those three hands occur with about the same frequency in video poker.
      
To give a bonus for hitting a straight on an inside draw would mean that the pay table would have to adjusted down elsewhere to keep the payback percentage the same. By splitting hairs like that, we'd create the need for a more complex strategy.

You can find situations like that all the way up and down the  pay table.
Instead of 800-for-1, shouldn't royal flushes pay close to the 40,000-1 odds of hitting one? The answer is no, because other paybacks would have to be adjusted down so far that the game would be unplayable.

John Grochowski’s website is: www.casinoanswerman.com

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