Classic Dancer's Answers
Your monthly serving of tips from the video poker expert, Bob Dancer
Each month, VideoPoker.com brings you exclusive tips and inside scoop from Bob Dancer, one of the best known video poker authors and writers.
Q1: (This originally appeared in March 2001 Strictly Slots) I was playing on a Jacks or Better machine, and the machine was suggesting plays. For example, with 6h 7s 8d 9s Jd, it would recommend 789J. I am not an expert, but I know that can't be right. How can casinos recommend such bad plays? Aren't there rules against this?
A1. Not to my knowledge. And it probably isn't the casino. The manufacturer of the machine will program the "auto-hold" feature. At most the casino can turn it on or leave it off. I spoke to representatives of some manufacturers and to them the goal of auto-hold is to speed up play. Players have a tendency to go along with the recommended play. This increases the player's hands per hour. And since the plays are frequently less-than-best, this increases the player's losses.
On the hand you mention, if you were playing dollar 9/6 Jacks or Better, holding 6789 would be worth $3.40 on average, holding the jack by itself would be worth $2.41, and holding the recommended 789J would be worth $2.02. Anybody who followed the machine's suggestion would be making a large error. Anybody who used this auto-hold feature to learn how to play would be learning a very expensive way to play.
If you notice a machine making less-than-best plays, don't play. You can correct the plays you know are wrong, but only the best players know the correct play on every hand. If you are not sure (such as on a hand like 3h 4h 6h Qs Jd --- do you go for the hearts or the QJ? QJ is better, but for many players it would be a guess), you would have a tendency to take the machine's suggestion. And since you know these suggestions are faulty, you are better off not even seeing them.
Bob Dancer's 2010 update: The previous answer was correct as of ten years ago when it was written. A few years ago IGT greatly improved the auto-hold feature on video poker games. It isn't perfect, but it's closer to perfect that most non-experts can play.
Another change from ten years ago is the number of casinos that have auto-hold these days. It's gone WAY down, partly because the auto-hold is so good. If a casino offers a good auto-hold then a player can simply hit the button over and over again and get good results. This makes it like a slot machine with respect to how much skill is involved. But slot machines return less than 95% usually and video poker machines return quite a bit more. Savvy casino managers aren't interested in giving no-brainer gambling that returns a high percentage.
Q2: You talk about 9/6 Jacks or Better. Well I play in Atlantic City and there aren't such machines. Why don't you tell us how to play the games we can find?
A2: Yes there are such machines there, but they are few and far between. If you want to find them, start looking! AC is a relatively small town, gambling-wise. In less than a day, you can examine every machine there. Spending an entire day looking might not be any fun, but many visitors there go back again and again, so remember what you learned last time! I understand you would prefer to have all the information handed to you on a silver platter, but life isn't always the way you want.
Be careful what you ask for. If I were to tell you how to play the easiest-to-find video poker game in town, the game would be Joker Poker. The most common version of Joker Poker in Atlantic City is very difficult to play correctly and is worth only 97.2% when played well. Knowledgeable dollar players would lose an extra $65 per hour playing this game instead of 9/6 Jacks or Better --- and the typical player would lose even more because the game is so difficult. Although I do explain the rudiments of the game every year or so because of requests from people like you, it cannot be a smart play to invest your time learning a very difficult game where you will lose large amounts of money even if you did master it.