Needless to say, those of us who play video poker is going after a Royal Flush; it’s the jackpot — the big payoff. But, since it happens so seldom, it contributes a really small portion to the overall payback of a game. In most video poker formats, a royal only gives us about 2 % of the long term return.
So, where does the “big” money come from? This is not only a good trivia question; it also will give you some insight to why payoffs vary from machine to machine and will help you to understand why proper basic strategy at the game of your choice is so important. Every day I see players draw to any two cards of a royal and throw away better plays in the process. Sure, they will hit a royal quicker that way, but they will make less money in the long run. How can that be, you ask? Let me explain. Figuring the long term payback of a video poker game requires us to know two things: how often will an event happen, and what is the payback is for that event.
A royal may pay 4000 coins, but it will happen only about once in 40,000 hands. The “expectation” of that is the result of multiplying the % occurrence by the payout. At 1 in 40,000, the % occurrence (or probability) is 1 divided by 40,000 or .000025. Multiply that times the payoff of 800 coins (per coin played) and you can see that the result is about 2%. So, for every coin you put in the machine, your expectation is to get back 2% of that coin from a royal. Not very impressive, is it? Now, let’s look at a Jacks or Better game. There you can expect to receive two pairs once every 8 hands, on average. That’s a probability of about 12.5%.
The payoff for two-pair is 2 coins for each coin put in, so that’s .125 X 2 or 25%. You can see that for every coin you put in the machine, your expectation is to get 25% back from a hand of two pair. Twenty-five percent! That is an impressive number. Why do some games only pay 1 for 1 at two pairs? Now you know. Of course, they make up for that some of that by paying more on other hands, but you can see the effect. Ever wonder why some Joker Poker machines pay 20 coins (per coin played) for four-of-a-kind and others pay only 15? The probability of 4K at Joker Poker is about once every 120 hands; that calculates to 0.833%. Multiply .00833 X 20 and the payback is 16.66%. Cut the payoff to 15 coins and the payback is reduced to 12.45%, a four percentage points decrease. Ouch!
What about Deuces Wild; what’s the big payoff here? It is , like Joker Poker, the four-of-a-kind (followed closely by three-of-a-kind). A 4K at Deuces Wild will happen, on average, about once every 16 hands, or 6.25% of the time. If the game pays 5 coins for a 4K, it contributes .0625 X 5 or a whopping 31.25% of the payback. Cut that to 4 and the total return is reduced by over 6% (only 25%)! Now you know why it is so important to read AND understand the pay schedule of any video poker machine you intend to play. Dear reader, there are people out there who sit up all night trying to think of ways to get your money into their machines and they want to keep it. So, don’t be tempted to break up those hands to shoot for the royal. Learn and follow the proper basic strategy; your share of royals will come.