In Search of Full-Pay Machines

            This past week, I received a letter from a reader who found some 'errors' in my Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas book.  I'm a bit skeptical when someone tells me these things as the numbers have been out there for so many years and looked at by so many people.  As it turns out, they were more like typos, which I guess technically is an error, but I put it into a different category.  Fortunately, neither of the typos would lead a Player to go very far astray.  One of the typos listed the number of Four of a Kinds from the Draw on a Three of a Kind.  Right below the typo is the correct number which was used in the actual calculation of the Expected Value.  So, it might have been a bit confusing, but most readers would probably realize it was just a typo.  Also, I don't think too many people are confused about how to play a Three of a Kind.  It is one of the more self-explanatory hands.


            The second typo was when I list out the paytables of some common full-pay machines, I accidentally listed a 6 for Full House for Bonus Poker instead of 8.  Fortunately, later on in the book, when I list even more Bonus Poker paytables, I have the correct payout and the associated payback.  Hopefully more of my readers have relied on this table in the Appendix than the one in the main body of the book.


            This all made me wonder what type of impact could this have on someone.  An entire chapter in the book is devoted to nothing but which games to play - and why.  Essentially, it talks about the importance of playing full-pay machines.  In video poker, the paytable is EVERYTHING.  The manufacturers are not legally allowed (in most jurisdictions) to alter the natural occurring randomness of hands.  That's a big phrase, so let me simplify it a bit.  It means that just because you're playing on a computer, doesn't mean that the cards can show up any less random than they would if you were playing with a real-life deck.  There are 52 cards in a non-Joker deck.  Calculating the probability of each 5-Card deal is relatively simple.  Even if you don't want to calculate them, you can create a computer program that plays all 2,598,960 hands and tabulate the results. 


            The only thing that affects the final (post-draw) distribution of hands is the choice of which of the 5 dealt cards you choose to discard.  This is driven by the strategy of video poker.  The strategy of video poker is driven by paytable for video poker.  So, if we know the paytable, we know how to play every hand.  If we know how to play every hand, we can calculate with absolute precision the payback of a particular paytable/machine. 


            This is the complete opposite of slot machines.  In theory, a paytable that looks more generous could have a lower payback because the winning combinations have had their frequencies lowered.  In video poker, it is NOT possible for a paytable with a lower payout to have a higher payback.  Thus, if one machine pays 6-9 on Flush/Full House and another pays 5-8 (all other pays equal), the 6-9 MUST have a higher payback.  There is no gut feeling.  It doesn't matter how good or bad you saw someone do on the lower paying machine yesterday.  Yes, machines will have hot streaks and cold streaks, but you can't predict these.  What you can do is play the right strategy and let the machine do what the machine is programmed to do.


            This is why playing 'full-pay' machines is so important.  Full-pay machines are the commonly found highest paytable for a particular variety.  This does NOT mean that it is the absolute HIGHEST paytable.  You never know when a casino will decide to put in a couple of machines with a paytable above 'full-pay' so that they can use it for marketing purposes.  It would be nice if you stumble across these, but the goal is to find the full-pay machines which should be found without too much looking around.


            When you find the full-pay machine, you are giving yourself the best chance to win.  While the paybacks vary a bit, most full-pay machines will pay between about 99% and 101%.  When the casinos take a unit off a couple of the payouts, it generally reduces the payback by 1% for each unit reduced for each payout (I'll discuss this more in detail in a coming week).  So, if you go from a 6-9 full-pay to a 5-8 short-pay, you'll give up 2% in payback, from 99.5% to 97.5%.  This may not sound like a lot, but it means the house advantage increases fourfold.  Your bankroll is going to take a hit.