Ask the Wizard: Video Poker - Double Up
Certain video poker machines have a "double down" or double-or-nothing wager feature when you win a hand. I usually avoid this wager, not wanting to risk winnings in excess of my original bet. But I AM tempted to try this wager on winning hands that only pay even money on the original bet. My reasoning is that the machine's usual payback is somewhere in the 96-99% range, which includes rare hands over the long haul; but in this circumstance, this bet would seem to payback an even 100% over a shorter period of time.
— Ron from Manchester, New Hampshire
The double or nothing feature in video poker is the only other casino bet, besides the odds in craps, with no house edge. Whether or not you take it depends on your reason for playing. If you are playing a negative-expectation game, for purposes of entertainment, then I think you should accept the double-up option in moderation, depending on on your desire or aversion to volatility. The reason is that it is better to play a game with zero house edge than a positive one. However, you have to balance that against your tolerance for risk. If you are fortunate to be playing a positive-expectation game, then I would decline the opportunity to double.
What are the guidelines for doubling up on winning hands in video poker? If I do double up and the 5 cards show a winning hand, would that have been my next hand had I not doubled up?
— Tim from Springfield, IL
The double up feature is truly fair and has no house edge. This is one of the few times I say you can go either way and just do what you want. From what I know of how slots are programmed the cards you get in the double up screen are not what you would have got on the next hand. Random numbers are constantly being drawn and those chosen at the exact moment you hit "deal" determine what cards you get.
You wrote, "The double up feature is truly fair and has no house edge. This is one of the few times I say you can go either way and just do what you want." The same, of course, is true of true odds bets at craps. So, why promote taking odds at craps and not promote doubling up? Just as you can drop the house edge to essentially nothing at craps, you can do the same thing at video poker or blackjack...My own reasoning is that cutting cards against the casino for fair stakes is just boring, but I'd be interested in your opinion.
— Jonathan from New York City
You are of course quoting me from my March 24
column. This is a good and fair question. I should point out that taking or laying the odds in craps does not help the player to win more, only to bet more at no additional expense. The reason I encourage craps players to bet on the odds is that it is the cheapest bet on the table and is truly a craps bet. All odds, as well as place, buy, and lay bets win if one number is thrown before another. This is a very fundamental aspect of the game. It only makes sense for the player to make the bet with the lowest house edge. Refusing the odds in craps to bet on something else instead is like refusing a free coffee refill in a restaurant and instead buying another cup.
As I pointed out in the last column some video poker games allow the player to make a double or nothing bet with no house edge. The reason I am not as forceful about taking this bet is that it does not follow the flow of video poker. The video poker player is generally not there to make a mindless even money bet. Gambling should be thought of as entertainment, for which the player should expect to pay for. If the player doesn't get any entertainment value out of the double up feature then he shouldn't pay for it, even with no house edge. So my advice to the video poker player is make the double up bet if you enjoy it, otherwise don't.
How does multiple doubling up in video poker cut the house edge?
This question refers to advice I gave in my newsletter, suggesting video poker players take the double up option when playing for a bonus at a Playtech casino. Doubling up does not lower the house edge of video poker, but does introduce another bet with zero house edge. For the same reason you should take or lay odds in craps it cuts the overall house edge playing video poker if you take the double up feature. Playtech does count double up bets towards the play requirement, so it gets the player to the bonus with less expected loss. So unless you are playing a machine with a return of over 100% and you don’t mind extra volatility then I recommend accepting the double up option.
In your last column you said you liked the double up feature in video poker. How many times is the player allowed to double up and how many times do you recommend?
I understand that at least with some machines the number of doubles is configurable but is usually set to 4 or 5. How many times you should take the double up depends on how good or bad the pay table is and your tolerance for risk. If your goal is to achieve the highest expected return then you should double up the maximum number of times, or at least until a win would put your over the W2G threshold of $1200. When I play negative pay tables online I usually double up to $100 to $1000, depending on how much action I have to grind through and my winning goal. My advice is to ask yourself how much you are comfortable betting on the turn of a card and keep doubling up to that point.
If there is no house advantage in the double up feature in video poker, why do the casinos offer it?
Just to attract customers who like it. It definitely lowers hands per hour, and thus profits, but if they get extra players it may be worth it.
I am a very big fan of using the double up feature of video poker. Is there any limit to the amount of money you can win with double up or is it pure luck. For instance does a game only pay out for instance 99% of all credits doubled, or can you win any amount not matter how much credits has been lost at double up. It is crucial for me to know this.
Any legitimate game maker has the double up feature as a truly fair bet with a 100% return. So you have a 50/50 chance of winning any given bet (not counting ties) regardless of the amount bet or the results of past bets.
In slots or video poker, when playing with a double or nothing feature, how many times should I try to double?
— Joseph R. from Manila, Philippines
It depends on your reason for playing. If you are trying to achieve some winning goal, like doubling your bankroll, then you should keep doubling until you reach your goal, or you reach the maximum number of doubles allowed. If you are trying to play as long as possible on a given bankroll, then I would double only on small wins, and then only once. If you have some combination of both goals, then I would have a mixed strategy. The more important winning is to you, the more aggressive you should be doubling. The more important “time on device” is to you, the less you should be.