What’s Wrong with Jacks or Better?

What’s Wrong with Jacks or Better?

In terms of number of hands played, or number of dollars played, 9/6 Jacks or Better has been the video poker game I’ve played most in my career. Not so much recently, but certainly over my entire career.

The major things I like about the game are:

a. Return (99.54%). This isn’t high enough to be playable by itself, but several casinos (at least in the past, and still a little bit today) include a package of benefits with playing the game that make it worthwhile

b. Simplicity (it’s arguably the easiest game to play perfectly)

c. Availability in High Limit rooms (at least in the past)

d. Memories (most of my $100,000 and higher jackpots have been on this game)

With that said, if you poll players about whether they would prefer playing 9/6 JoB or 9/6 Double Double Bonus (98.98%), given identical slot club and other benefits, I believe a majority would take DDB — the game that returns 0.56% less.

To me this makes no rational sense. It’s just my opinion, of course, but I believe the reason to play video poker is to make money. I don’t play for the fun of it. I don’t play for the excitement. Voluntarily leaving more than an extra half percent on the table (in the machine or in the casino owner’s pocket, more correctly) is something I would never do.

My beliefs on this matter, which are quite strong, are clearly a minority opinion. In today’s blog, I want to address why this is.

There are millions of players who prefer DDB to JoB and with the vast majority of these I’ve never discussed this matter. Any list of reasons I give can’t hope to be all inclusive. I believe, though, the reasons fit under two main categories:

a. Volatility/Excitement

b. Chance of winning today

Volatility is usually measured by the mathematical term ‘variance.’ The variance of JoB is 19.5, which is about as low as you get in video poker. The variance of DDB is 42.0, which is moderate. This term represents the range of results you get and how far those results vary from the average. In JoB, you get fairly consistent results.  (Frequencies of the following hands discussed are approximate.) The royal is exciting, to be sure, but it only comes around once in 40,000 hands. It’s a fairly smooth, downhill ride, with the royal bump coming in only rarely. You do have a 1/9,000 chance for a 250-coin hand and a 1/423 chance for a 125-coin hand, but these don’t really get the blood boiling.

With DDB, the results are much more exciting. There is a slightly worse chance of getting a royal (1/40,800) compared to JoB, but there are several other nice hands possible. There’s a 1/16,000 chance of a 2,000-coin hand, a 1/3,200 chance for an 800-coin hand, a 1/2,600 chance for a 400-coin hand, and a 1/575 chance at a 250-coin hand.

The opposite of excitement is boredom. One lady I know says she’d rather watch paint dry than play JoB. So, for those who say JoB is too boring, I’m including those folks into this category.

The other reason is related, but not the same. A large number of players really care about today’s score — as opposed to an annual score or a lifetime score. To me, today’s score is just a number I write down in my daily log. I prefer plus scores to win, of course, but I know there are going to be plusses and minuses. Whether I’m winning for the year is important to me, but not so much whether I’m ahead today. Again, my view represents a minority opinion. I strongly suspect that the majority of DDB players do not keep good records of how much they’ve won or loss.

The following chart represents the chance of being ahead after a certain number of hands:

500 hands 1,000 hands 5,000 hands
JoB 37.22% 34.57% 27.86%
DDB 34.07% 35.52% 38.82%

I created these numbers using Video Poker for Winners. If you play fewer than about 800 hands, JoB gives you a better chance of winning a session than DDB does. But for more than that, DDB comes out ahead more frequently. The 5,000-hand column basically represents a long day of single-line play, and the difference is striking. 

What isn’t shown on this chart, however, is how big your wins and losses are. The size of the losses in DDB are much larger than the size of losses in JoB. The game does return 0.56% less, after all. But if you look at the frequency of the losses, it’s the other way around!

The discussion presumed that casinos treat the games equally. This is often not the case. At many casinos in the Eldorado (formerly Caesars — formerly Harrah’s) system, you get one Reward Credit per $25 coin-in playing 9/6 JoB and one Reward Credit per $10 coin-in playing DDB. (These numbers vary by individual casino.) Under this system, RCs are cheaper to earn playing DDB than JoB and you earn more RCs per hour of play. 

If these were my only two choices and I valued the benefits I received from playing at this casino more than the cost of receiving them, I’d play DDB under these conditions instead of JoB. Not for the reasons listed above, but simply because it’s faster and cheaper to get those benefits playing DDB than it is playing JoB. On the other hand, while I do value the benefits from this system highly enough to fade 9/6 JoB to earn them, playing 9/6 DDB the same amount includes a much too expensive price to pay for those benefits. Just my opinion, of course, and again, it’s a minority opinion.