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Best of Mark Pilarski

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One word that assures a happy marriage

6 April 2007

Dear Mark: I'm hoping you can settle an ongoing discussion (argument) my wife and I have. When playing a video poker machine that pays even money for both a high pair and any two pair, she will keep both pair and draw one card. Her reasoning is she is looking to draw a full house. I maintain that if at least one pair is high, you should keep only one high pair and draw three cards increasing your chances of catching three of a kind or possibly an even better hand. You already got your money back and a three-card draw gives you a better chance of improving your hand than a one-card full house draw. Of course, we will both keep two low pair or any two pair when playing a machine that pays 2:1 for two pair. We have nothing riding on this except a smug "I told you so!" and a strategy change for one of us. Ron E.

Unfortunately, Ron, your question is missing some imperative meat-and-potato information, in particular, the rest of the pay table. So the answer is, shall we say, "circumspect." I know how painful it is to have this one word whispered into one's ear.

Astute video poker players understand the difference between full-pay and partial-pay machines. The full-payers shell out the maximum for each winning hand; the partials don't. For instance, if you can find a full-pay Jacks or Better machine that pays 9 coins for a full house, 6 for a flush, and 2 for two pair, you can expect a return rate of approximately 99.5%, making it an attractive machine to be playing.

In your example, Ron, the machine may return 9-for-1 on a full house, and 6-for-1 for a Flush, but it probably is considered a partial-pay machine because the full-versus-partial equation usually changes when the machine pays only 1-for-1 for two pairs. Odds-on, your pay table was that of some kind of hybrid Bonus Poker machine.

If the pay table on the machine you were playing looks anything like this: royal flush 250-for-1; straight flush 50-for-1; four aces 80-for-1; four 2s, 3s or 4s 40-for-1; four 5s through kings 25-for-1; full house 9-for-1; flush 6-for-1; straight 4-for-1; three-of-a-kind 3-for-1; two pair 1-for-1; pair of jacks or better 1-for-1, you could be giving the house an extra five-plus percent on your play. Reducing the return on two-pair hands penalizes the player, even with the increased payoffs on fours-of-a-kinds.

Again, Ron, without knowing the complete pay table, I cannot give you an unequivocal answer, but I'll still take a shot at settling your squabble, that being drawing either three cards or one when paid even money with two pairs, using one of my all-time favorite machines, an All American 8/8 Jacks or Better Draw Poker as an example.

The lower end of the pay table looks like this: four-of-a-kind 40-for-1; full house 8-for-1; flush 8-for-1; straight 8-for-1; three-of-a-kind 3-for-1; two pair 1-for-1; pair of jacks or better 1-for-1. Find this beauty and you can expect a return of 100.7% payback.

The correct strategy based on the average value of all attainable wins after the discards are replaced for two pairs would be, drawing just one card with this exception: three cards to a royal. That scenario would be a pair of jacks with a jack of spades, a pair of 10s with a 10 of spades, and a queen of spades kicker. You would keep the 10, jack and queen of spades and throw away the other 10 and jack.

Of course there is a darn good chance you won't find this doozy at the casino you play at, so I'd recommend you look for and start playing full-pay 9/6 machines where you are paid 2-for-1 for two pair, and pooh-pooh any machine whose pay table remotely resembles the one I first described above.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Lady Luck favors the backbone, not the wishbone." — Doyle Brunson

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.