Which Bonus to Play and Why

            I almost never play jacks or better video poker anymore.  It is to video poker what blackjack is to table games.  That is to say, relatively boring.  Unlike blackjack, whose strategy is more complex than most table games, jacks or better strategy is about average in complexity for video poker.  Overall, though, it is the least volatile of the video poker games.  This means that your chances for big wins (or big losses) is smaller than with many other versions.  There is only one big winning hand in jacks or better and that is the Royal Flush.  It hits about every 41,000 hands, it will take a few dozen hours of play to hit one, on average.  In between, there's a lot of High Pairs and Two Pairs.  And, even when you hit a Four of a Kind, it pays 'only' 25 for 1.


            Fortunately, an entire suite of bonus video poker games were invented.  When they first came out, I was stupefied by this amazingly simple and obvious enhancement to video poker.  It started by making certain Four of a Kinds pay higher.  Then, it paid even more for these Four of a Kinds.  Next, they paid even more if the kicker card (the 5th card that wasn't part of the Quads) was of a certain value.  Making this all the more intriguing is that it is the LOW CARDS (2's - 4's) that are worth more and not the picture cards.  But, Quad Aces would be the real winner.  All of a sudden, you don't know whether to root for Face cards or lots of 2's!


            But, the real question is which one is the best one to play?  Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker or Double Double Bonus Poker.  From a purely mathematical standpoint, the answer is always the one with the highest payback.  Assuming you can find full-pay paytables, this would be Double Bonus Poker, which pays 100.1%.  It will be tough to get rich on that 0.1%, but it does mean that over time, you should see virtually no loss.  Combine it with some cash back and free play and it can amount to some free entertainment.  From what I'm told, you'll find most of these machines at Station Casinos.  There aren't a lot per casinos, but you can find 6-12 at most of their properties.


            Next on the list would be Bonus Poker.  It has a payback of 99.2% with a full-pay paytable.  This is a bit below jacks or better, but you get a little more action for your 0.3%.  With cashback and free play, you could play for a very long time on this type of machine.  It has lower volatility than the other two (but a bit more than jacks or better), so you won't need as large of a bankroll.  Like Double Bonus, you will find most of these at the locals casinos like the Station Casinos.  But, you can find some of these on the Strip too.   Per my sources, you can find some of these at Excalibur, MGM Grand, Westgate, Luxor and a few others.


            Last of the three is Double Double.  Its payback is 98.8%.  Even with cashback and free play, you're likely to wind up negative over the long haul.  But, is the extra excitement worth it?  That's subjective, so I can't give you a definitive answer.  It offers what amounts to a secondary jackpot of Four Aces with a 2/3/4.  This will pay 400 for 1 or $500 if you're playing max-coin quarters.  I won't call this life changing, but it is a big win.  You'll hit this ever 12-13K hands (ballpark), so it's not like you're going to see this nightly, but it is still far more frequent than the elusive Royal.  In the meantime, you have other chances to make a good comeback with Quad 2's - 4's and even more so if you can make the 5th card be another 2/3/4. 

            Ironically, despite having the lowest payback, this might be the hardest one to find.  Station Casinos do NOT feature full-pay Double Double machines, although you might find them occassinally.  You'll find them at a variety of other local casinos (Suncoast, Downtown Grand), and a few Strip casinos (SLS, Riviera). 


            Of course, the paybacks I cite here assume that you play the machines correctly.  If you take your jacks or better strategy to the Bonus world, you give up a little on each machine.  As is always the case, I recommend that you learn the right strategy for the right version of the game to maximize the payback.  You can find these strategies in Winning Strategies for Video Poker by Lenny Frome.  You can order this (and other titles) at www.gambatria.com.