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Raising the Odds in Video Poker

Poker machines have become the most popular variant of "electronic gaming" or slot machines, in large part because players believe they can control the outcome with the cards they choose to discard. Perfect strategy is essential, it is true. And this is hard enough to learn, much less apply correctly when the moment of truth comes. You can, however, improve the odds of leaving the casino a winner if you recognize three simple facts.

Be on the lookout, first of all, for full-payout machines. These are video poker terminals that let you win the theoretical payout percentage for whatever poker variant they feature. An EGM with a payout of 99 percent, for example, means that a poker video player may in the long run lose just $1.00 for every $100.00.

Most mainstream casinos do not identify these full-payout poker machines, artfully promoted as "loose slots", because maximizing the house winnings is good for their bottom line. New Jersey regulations allow casinos to set the payout to as low as 83 percent. In Las Vegas and Reno, the minimum payout can be just 75 percent.

There is nothing for it but to try each video poker machine in a bank that is advertised as "loose" or "par". Otherwise, your chances of finding a "player-friendly" terminal are greater in "off-the-strip" casinos or in Reno.

Second, choose the poker variant carefully. The hugely popular "Jacks or Better" poker machine, for instance, has a theoretical payoff of 99.54%. This means that one stands to lose just $46.00 for every $10,000.00 played. For all practical purposes, the casino appears to be giving the poker video player a fair shake. To avail of this full payout, however, the player must choose the option of betting more with each game or "draw" of the cards.

By way of illustration, a Royal Flush (the best possible outcome) pays out 1,000 credits if one had bet 4 tokens or credits before pulling the lever. The theoretical payout leapfrogs to 4,000 credits, however, if one had put 5 tokens in play.

Better yet, hunt down the poker video machines that feature "Deuces Wild", "Double Bonus" or "Double Double Bonus". For all these, the theoretical payout exceeds 100 percent. Even better, "Deuces Wild" can result in a four-of-a-kind winner about every fifteen hands or so.

All these payouts are theoretical because they assume perfect playing strategy. In video poker, strategy is confined to making a judgment on the cards one stands to draw from the rest of the deck after discarding one or more of those already visible or in play. When playing "Deuces Wild", the other critical element is how many two's one has initially.

The other vital element of regular poker play - tracking what cards remain in the deck or the shoe as successive hands are played - does not apply because a random number generator controls every subsequent deal. So it is as if one is playing from a fresh deck each time.

Like regular poker, video poker will always be a game of chance. But you can tilt the odds in your favor somewhat by staying with games like "Deuces Wild" or "Double Bonus". It is even more vital to search for full payout machines and to bet the maximum on each hand.

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