When casinos change pay tables on video poker games, they not only change the payback percentage players can get, they change optimal strategy.

If you’re playing Double Double Bonus Poker in an online casino and you see a 9-6 pay table where full houses pay 9 for 1 and flushes 6 for 1, video poker strategy is different than if you see an 8-5 pay table.

The same goes for offline video poker games. The most common changes in pay tables are on full houses and flushes. When they change, players’ approaches to the games must change too.

Flush payoffs drive most video poker strategy shifts. There’s not much you can do to increase the frequency of full houses. If you’re dealt J-J-6-6-9, you’re going to hold both pairs regardless of whether full houses pay 10, 9, 8, 7 or 6 for 1.

But the difference between a 7-for-1, 6-for-1 or 6-for-1 pay on flushes can change optimal play for holding potential flushes and straight flushes.

Here are some sample hands from Jacks or Better, Double Double Bonus Poker and Double Bonus Poker to illustrate.

Jacks or Better

With expert play, 9-6 Jacks or Better returns 99.5% and the 8-5 version gets an average of 97.3%.

Expert play differs on these hands because of the difference between the 6 for 1 and 5 for 1 pays on flushes.

➔    5h, 6h, 7j, Js, Qs: Three-Card Straight Flush vs. Two Parts of a Royal Flush

At the 9-6 pay table, the best play is to hold the three consecutive hearts. We’ll make a two-card draw to a straight flush a lot more often than a three-card draw to a royal. The average return of 3.15 coins per five wagered on the three hearts beats the 3.12 on the two high spades.

When the flush return drops to 5 for 1, so does the value of suited 5-6-7. Strategy shifts, and when flushes pay only 5 for 1, we hold suited Q-J instead with a 3.07-coin average to 2.96 for the three-card straight flush.

➔    Kh, Qc, Js, 8s, 7s: Inside Draw To Three-Card Straight Flush with Two Gaps & High Card vs. Three Unsuited High Cards

In 9-6 Jacks or better, we like the draw to an inside straight flush, suited J-8-7 with an average return of 2.69 coins that beats the 2.58 on unsuited K-Q-J.

Drop the flush payback to 5 for 1, and we turn around and hold K-Q-J instead. The average for the high cards stays at 2.58, but the straight flush draw drops to 2.48.

Ace of diamonds, King of clubs, Queen of clubs, Jack of hearts, 9 of clubs:  three-card  straight flush with two gaps and two high cards vs. four high cards.

We favor three parts of a straight flush and at least as many high cards as gaps in 9-6 Jacks or Better with a 3.11-coin average that beats the 2.98 on holding all four high cards. Reduce the flush payback, and the better play is A-K-Q- at 2.98 vs. 2.91 on the three clubs.

Video Poker

Double Bonus Poker

Way back in the 1990s, it was easy to find a Double Bonus version with a 10-7-5 pay table – 10 for 1 on full houses, 7 for 1 on flushes and 5 for 1 on straights. It paid 100.2% with expert play.

That game is scarce today, but a 9-7-5 version that returns 99.1 percent is around. Let’s compare strategies to 9-6-5 Double Bonus, with a 97.8% average. Some versions pay only 4 for 1 on straights. Avoid them.

Some sample hands:

➔    9h, 6h, 4h, 10s, 3c: Three Parts of a Flush vs. a Complete Redraw

This is a classic example of the complete reversal of strategy changes in flush payback can cause.

In the 9-6-5 Double Bonus and in other video poker games with flush paybacks of 6 for 1 or less, we don’t even bat an eye at three suited cards with no high cards and no straight flush chances. But a 7 for 1 return is worth chasing. In 9-7-5 Double Bonus, average returns are 1.82 coins on the three hearts and 1.64 on  complete redraw.

In 9-6-5 Double Bonus, the redraw is the better play by a 1.63-1.61 margin.

➔    Kd, Jd, 7d, 10c, 2h: Three Card Flush with Two High Cards vs. Two Parts to a Royal Flush

The two-card royal, K-J, is the play on 9-6-5 Double Bonus with a 2.73-coin average return vs. 2.61 on K-J-7. But in 9-7-5 Double Bonus, with an eye on the enhanced flush return, we’d keep all three diamonds with an average return of 2.82 coins vs. 2.77 on K-J.

➔    Ac, Qs, Js, 10d, 8s: Three-Card Straight Flush with Two High Cards and Two Gaps vs. Four-Card Straight With Three High Cards and One Gap

Take your pick: Hold A-Q-J-10 and hope for a King to complete the straight, or hold Q-J-8 and go for the flush with a double-inside shot at a straight flush. In the 9-7-5 game, the flush return would tell us to hold the three spades with a 3.27-coin average return vs. 3.09 on A-Q-J-10. But in a 9-6-5 game, we settle for the inside straight draw by a 3.09-3.05 margin.

Video Poker

Double Double Bonus Poker

The 9-6 version of Double Double Bonus returns 99% with expert play – 98.98% if you want to split hairs. It’s still widely available in online casinos, and offline, too. But in many casinos, you might find yourself playing a 9-5 (97.9%) or 8-5 (96.8%) version.

The drop to 5 for 1 on flushes lead to several changes in expert strategy. Numbers given below are for the 9-6 and 9-5 versions, but 9-5 strategies also apply to 8-5 Double Double Bonus.

Some sample hands:

➔    Kd, Qc, Jh, 8h, 7h: Three High Cards vs. a Three-Card Inside Straight Flush with One High Card and Two Gaps

K-Q-J, or J-8-7? With the reduced flush pay, it’s K-Q-J, with an average return of 2.45 coins vs. 2.36 on the three-card, double-inside straight flush draw.

But when you have the higher flush return in the 9-6 version, it enhances the value of the three-card straight flush. Then the better play is to hold J-8-7 with an average return of 2.56 coins vs. the 2.45 on K-Q-J.

➔    KC, Qc, Jc, Js, 6s: Three-Card Royal K-Q-J Vs. High Pair J-J

That three-card royal is tempting, and with a higher flush payback we’d go for it. But here the average return in 9-5 Double Double Bonus is 7.23 coins on J-J and 7.15 on K-Q-J.  

When you get the bigger 6 for 1 payback on flushes in the 9-6 version, strategies flip. Average returns are 7.34 coins on K-Q-J and 7.23 on J-J.

Not every strategy change at different video poker pay tables is driven by flushes. Big four of a kind payoffs in Double Double Bonus dictate some changes from Jacks or Better, and two-pair returns that are larger on Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker than other games mean some big differences in how we play.

But within each game type, such as different Double Double Bonus versions or different Jacks or Better versions, the common changes are in flushes and full houses. It’s the flushes that matter most in the need to alter strategies.

For nearly 25 years, John Grochowski has been one of the most prolific gaming writers in the United States. He’s been ranked ninth by GamblingSites among the top 11 gambling experts at Gambling Sites and his Video Poker Answer Book was ranked eighth among the best gambling books of all time.