Know the odds on this hot video poker game

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Video gaming can be an electric experience, but it helps to know the numbers of the most popular games. | FILE PHOTO

Double Double Bonus Poker is one of the most popular video poker games around.

Players love the 2,000-coin jackpot for a five-coin wager when four Aces are accompanied by a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card. On a quarter machine, that’s $500, a nice secondary jackpot below the usual $1,000 for a royal flush.

It’s also one of the higher-paying games you’ll see in the Chicago area. A number of casinos here offer the game in its full-pay version that returns 98.98 percent to those who play at expert level. Most players aren’t experts and will get 2 or 3 percent less than that, but even to the average player, the full-pay version is the one to look for.

On full-pay Double Double Bonus Poker, the screen will display a pay table that shows these payoffs on winning hands that start at a pair of Jacks: Pair of Jacks or better, 1-for-1; two pairs, 2-for-1; three of a kind, 3-for-1; straight, 4-for-1; flush, 6-for-1; full house, 9-for-1; four 5s through four Kings, 50-for-1; four 2s, 3s or 4s, 80-for-1; four 2s, 3s or 4s with an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card, 160-for-1; four Aces, 160-for-1; four Aces with a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card, 400-for-1; straight flush, 50-for-1; royal flush, 250-for-1, with a jump to a 4,000-coin jackpot if you bet five coins.

Players who take their video poker seriously should note a couple of things on that pay table.

First, when casinos want to change the payback percentage on non-wildcard games, the most common way to do it is to change the payoffs on full houses and flushes. Players in the know often refer to the games by the payoffs on those hands.

The pay table described above is a 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker machine, because full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1. Take a walk around casino floors, and you’ll also see 9-5 and 8-5 Double Double Bonus games, with the flush payback or the full house and flush paybacks reduced by a unit. Whenever the payback on either hand is lowered by one, it reduces the game’s overall payback percentage by a little more than a percent.

The other important thing about Double Double Bonus is the big jackpot on four Aces plus a 2, 3 or 4 as the fifth card. That 400-for-1 payoff means that with a maximum four-coin wager, it’s worth 2,000 coins. On a quarter machine, that’s $500, half as much as a royal flush.

That jackpot brings players a couple of strategy problems to mull over.

Dealt Ace-Ace-Ace-9-2, what do you do? Do you hold all three Aces to give yourself two chances at drawing the fourth Ace? Four Aces without the low-card kicker is a nice jackpot of 800 coins with a five-coin bet, or $200 on quarter machine. Or do you hold the 2 along with the three Aces, so that when you draw the fourth Ace, you have the kicker in place and assure yourself of that 2,000-coin bonanza?

That’s a problem that’s drawn a lot of email from readers over the years, asking which is the better play. And watching people play in casinos it seems there’s close to a 50-50 split on how they play the hand.

By the numbers, you’re better off holding just the three Aces. Hold the 2 along with them, and you’ll draw the fourth Ace once per 47 hands. With a two-card draw, you’ll draw the fourth Ace once per 23.5 hands, and a little under a quarter of the time you draw the fourth Ace, you’ll also draw a low-card kicker.

Bottom line: Hold just the three Aces, and your average return per five cards wagered is 62.4 coins; hold Ace-Ace-Ace-2, and that average return drops to 59.1.

There’s also a strategy decision to make when dealt two pairs that include two Aces, such as Ace-Ace-6-6-9. In most non-wild card video poker games, we’ll hold both pairs. Does the potential for a big four-Ace jackpot change the play in Double Double Bonus Poker?

Yes, it does. If we hold Ace-Ace-6-6, our average return per five coins wagered is 8.4 coins. That reflects the guaranteed five-coin return for two pairs, plus the 4-in-47 chance of drawing either an Ace or a 6 for a full house. Hold just the Aces, and there’s a chance at three of a kind, full houses, four Aces and four Aces plus a low-card kicker for the big jackpot. That drives the average return up to 9.7 coins per five coins wagered.

Do Double Double Bonus players need to keep an eye on that Aces-plus kicker bonanza? Yes, they do, with two-pair plays being a prime example. Is holding a low-card kicker along with Aces the way to go? No. It’ll work sometimes, but overall it undermines your bankroll.