This past week, I met someone who was visiting Las Vegas from California. I told him about my work with video poker and he asked me what is the best game to play. My natural reaction to that is to just laugh. How am I supposed to answer that? Besides the fact that 'best' is a very subjective term. Admittedly most people want me to answer which games are the best mathematically. But, as this guy was stating on the strip, the odds (pardon the pun) that the best game is anywhere near is rather slim. In fact, I'm a bit scared to tell him to play a particular type of machine in fear that he'll find it, but not at anything near full-pay.
As the conversation continued, he told me that he likes to play Double Double Bonus Poker. I was certainly not surprised to hear this. It is a very popular game and he cited the biggest reason that it is - the extra chance to get a huge jackpot with the Four Aces and a kicker. He also told me about the time that he was playing a ten-play Double Double Bonus machine and was dealt Four Aces plus the kicker on the initial deal. Multiply that by 10 and it is a NICE payday even if you are playing a relatively small denomination or not max-coin.
When you get dealt a hand like that, you might just be hooked for life. It reminds me of the day I was playing golf with a friend. Neither of us are all that good. I still had a great time, but he wasn't happy with how poorly he played. Well, until we got to about the 17th green and he rolled in about 30 foot putt. Then he wanted to know when we could play next.
I suggested to the man that he try to find some Double Bonus machines, which at full-pay have a 100.1% payback. Double Double Bonus has a payback of only 98.8%, also at full-pay. I then told him that the best paying machines were variants of Deuces Wild, but only if he played proper strategy. I really didn't know if he had a clue as to proper strategy for even Bonus games, yet alone Deuces Wild. I figured that he would still be better off sticking to what he was familiar with than trying to play a game like Deuces without the benefit having attempted to learn the strategy. While there are differences between Double and Double Double, at least he is still in the same general universe with those two.
Of course, the real problem with answering his question is that he was going to be playing on the strip, which isn't exactly know nowadays for having too many full-pay machines. Much to my surprise, I checked my source for video poker inventory - www.vpfree2.com - and found that the casino he was staying in (I won't name it), DOES have a some full-pay machines, but all at denomination of $1 or more. It took me a second to fully comprehend this. Usually casinos only put out full-pay machines for low denominations. If you want to play at nickels they'll allow some winners. Then it hit me, NONE of their full-pay machines were over 100%. If you want to play Double Double at full-pay, they'll be happy to let you at $5 per hand ($1 max-coin). With a payback of 98.9%, the casino can expect to clear more than $30 an hour! Of course, they may have some quarter machines to play, but those will be short-pay and you may find the same loss rate as a result.
I'm not naive. I fully realize that most video poker machines have paybacks below 100% and that means that you will lose over the long run. I have stated many times that gambling is just a form of entertainment for almost everyone. But given the nature of gambling is that the cost is variable and that sometimes you can win money, your goal should be to minimize the losses and give yourself the best chance to win.
To do this, you need to find games that have paybacks as close to 100% (or over) being played at a denomination that you feel comfortable with. If you are okay with playing a $1 machine, that's great, but make sure you have enough bankroll for it. Don't expect to walk over with $100 and play all night. If you start with $100 don't be surprised if it is gone in a hurry and once your bankroll is gone, there is no coming back from it.
If you don't feel comfortable playing $1 machines or you don't have enough bankroll to do it, make sure that when you step down in denomination that the paytable doesn't take a big step down too. Or, as I told this gentleman, if he really wants to find good video poker options, he might have to venture to one of the 'locals' casinos where the paytables are known to be a bit more Player friendly.