Don't Quit Your Day Job

Dear Mark,
In a past column, you stated that video poker has a return of 99 percent to the smart player and can be mathematically one of the best bets in the casino. My question is this. If I combine my passion for the game, a low house advantage and jackpots that run more than $1,000, is there any possibility that I could make a living playing video poker? Ted L.

Assuming, Ted, you were to do all the right things like finding full-pay (9/6) jacks-or-better machines and play perfect basic strategy, I would still recommend the following advice. Don't quit your day job! Even though your expected payback is more than 99 percent, actually 99.544 percent, you must take into account that those high returns are based on you hitting the royal flush. And why a royal flush? Because a royal on a full pay (9/6) jacks-or-better machine accounts for 1.981 percent of your total return. Also of note, Ted, plan on playing video poker an average of 60 hours, with rapid play, before hitting a royal flush. Even a straight flush can be expected only once every six hours, and four-of-a-kind hands occur just once an hour. Those hands are significant because they represent another five percent of a player's return.
What this all means to the video poker player, Ted, is that the casino has a 10 percent advantage while you're waiting for the big payoff. Finally, Ted, your bankroll. It's going to take you, again on average, a wad of cash about as large as the royal flush itself to survive long enough to hit it.
Is a Friday paycheck starting to sound good about now?

Dear Mark,
By reading your column and listening to your tapes "Hooked on Winning," you've got me trained to look for the best value on 8/5 progressive video poker machines. What are the key jackpot figures I'm looking for to at least break even against the house? Susan, L.

Susan, to be even against the house you need to find a machine with a progressive jackpot that is larger than 1750 maximum bets ($440 for $.05 machines, $2,200 for the $.25 machines, and $8750 for the $1 slots). Want a mathematical two percent edge? Look for jackpots of $625 on your nickel, $3,125 on the quarter, and $12,500 on the dollar machines. Tough to find, but do they exist. Good luck.
(When Susan was referring to 8/5, and I, 9/6 in the Q&A above, we meant the payoff for a full house and a flush with one coin inserted.)

Dear Mark,
How would you go about identifying a good-paying "deuces wild" video poker machine versus a bad one? Angela C.

The key to evaluating the potential return on a "deuces wild" machine, Angela, is the payoff on four-of-a-kinds. If your local casino has little competition, that hand is paid 20 for 5, rather than 25 for 5. Since four-of-a-kinds occur frequently, this lower payoff drops the percentage return by well over six percent. Some machines, though, will give you a little extra by paying more for the full house. But overall, if you're playing on a machine which pays just 20 for a four-of-a-kind, you're playing less than a full pay version of Deuces Wild.

Dear Mark,
Is it important in video poker to play the full number of coins? Jerry R.

Yes, because if you look at the paytable closely you will notice a non-symmetrical progression on the royal flush payline. Your typical royal flush payline looks like this; 250, 500, 750, 1000, 4000. Note the jump with the fifth coin inserted. Not playing that fifth coin, Jerry, will cost you 12% over the long haul.