The Video Poker Kicker Strategy

Every video poker game has its strategy quirks dictated by their pay table. How to play video poker and get the most out of the game is different when you’re playing Jacks or Better, with a 2-for-1 payoff on two pairs, compared to Double Bonus Poker, with bigger pays on four of a kind but only 1-for-1 on two pairs.

And when you get to Double Double Bonus Poker and Triple Double Bonus Poker, that’s another thing altogether. They present special problems in video poker strategy.

What makes them different are the enhanced jackpots when your fifth card is a 2, 3 or 4 with four Aces or an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 with four 2s, 3s or 4s.

Assuming a five-coin bet in Double Double Bonus Poker, four Aces pay 800 coins without the fifth-card kicker, but 2,000 with it. Similarly, four 2s, 3s or 4s pay 400 without the kicker, but double to 800 with one.

Triple Double Bonus Poker takes that concept to an extreme. Four Aces usually are worth 800, but leap to 4,000 with a low-card kicker. That’s a bonanza equal to a royal flush.

With four 2s, 3s or 4s, payoffs are 400 without the kicker, but a whopping 2,000 with. That’s half a royal flush, or $500 on a 25-cent machine.

There are tradeoffs on the pay tables, of course. Two pairs just get you your money back, and on Triple Double Bonus three of a kind pays 2-for-1 instead of the 3-for-1 on most games.

More of the overall payback is tied up in the big-paying hands in most games. That makes it imperative to make the right plays in potential kicker situations.

The biggest dilemma comes when you’re dealt three Aces, 2s, 3s or 4s along with a kicker. Obviously, you should hold the three of a kind, but should you hold the kicker, too?

If you discard the kicker, you get a two-card draw and maximize chances at completing four of a kind. If you keep the kicker, you get only a one-card draw, but every time you complete four of a kind it will bring the kicker jackpot.

Let’s look at each situation in 9-6 and 8-5 Double Double Bonus Poker, then in 9-7 and 8-5 Triple Double Bonus Poker.

Overall, 9-6 Double Double Bonus returns 98.98% with expert play, while the 8-5 version returns 96.79%. In 9-7 Triple Double Bonus, the average return is 99.58%, while the 8-5 game returns only 95.97%.

There are intermediate TDB pay tables at 9-6 (98.15%) and 9-5 (97.02), but strategy differences on three of a kind plus a kicker are influenced by the 9-for-1 vs. 8-for-1 payoffs on full houses. Flushes are not a possibility when you start with three of a kind, so flush payoffs don’t influence strategy on these hands.

DOUBLE DOUBLE BONUS POKER
Ace-Ace-Ace and a 2, 3 or 4: If you hold the kicker along with the Aces, there are 47 possible one-card draws.

Of the available cards, 43 will leave you with just your original three of a kind for a 15-coin payoff. Three will pair up the kicker for a full house, worth 45 coins on the 9-6 version or 40 on the 8-5 game.

One draw will be the fourth Ace, and keeping the kicker makes that worth 2,000 coins.

If you hold just the Aces and discard both of the other cards, including the kicker, there are 1,081 possible draws.

Of those, 969 will not improve on three of a kind, leaving the 15-coin pay. You’ll pair up the kicker for full houses 66 times, worth 45 or 40 coins each, depending on the pay table. Thirty-five draws will bring the fourth Ace without a kicker for 800 coins, while 11 draws bring an Ace and a kicker for the 2,000-coin jackpot.

When all those payoffs are added and divided by the number of hands, the 9-6 pay table brings an average return of 62.45 coins if you hold just the three Aces, or 59.15 coins if you hold the Aces with a kicker.

With an 8-5 pay table, average payoffs are 62.14 coins on Ace-Ace-Ace, and 58.83 on Ace-Ace-Ace and a kicker.

So regardless of pay table, you’re better off maximizing your chances at drawing the fourth Ace rather than going all-out for the Aces-plus-kicker bonanza.

2-2-2, 3-3-3 or 4-4-4 and an Ace, 2, 3 or 4: Proportions are exactly the same with three low cards and a kicker as they are with four high cards and a kicker. Your possibilities are still 47 draws with 43 three of a kinds, three full houses and one four of a kind with kicker if you hold the kicker, and 969 three of a kinds, 66 full houses, 35 four of a kinds, and 11 four of a kinds with kicker if you don’t.

What’s different is the payback on the quads – 400 coins without a kicker, 800 with one.

When those lower four of a kind paybacks are plugged into calculations, the result on the 9-6 game is average returns of 37.28 coins if you discard the kicker and hold the three of a kind, and 33.62 if you hold the kicker along with the trips. On the 8-5 version, averages are 36.98 coins if you hold just the three of a kind, and 33.30 if you hold the kicker, too.

Just as with the Aces, you’re better off discarding the kicker on either pay table. Maximize your chance at four of a kind, and let the kickers take care of themselves.

TRIPLE DOUBLE BONUS POKER
The 4,000-coin jackpot on four Aces with a kicker is a game changer. On a 25-cent machine – the most popular coin denomination in video poker – that’s a $1,000 return, and it comes up more than three times as often as a royal flush.

With expert play, royals come up once per 45,358 hands in 9-7 TDB, while you’ll get four Aces with a kicker an average of once per 14,214 hands.

Draw possibilities and proportions of outcomes are the same as in Double Double Bonus Poker. The difference is in the huge four of a kind with kicker payoffs and in the reduced 2-for-1 payoff on three of a kind.

Given that, we can jump straight to the average returns.

Ace-Ace-Ace with a 2, 3 or 4: In the 9-7 version, if you hold the kicker with the Aces, your average return per five coins wagered is 97.13 coins, and that beats the 78.32 if you hold just the Aces and discard the kicker.

In the 8-5 version, average returns are 96.81 coins with the kicker and 78.01 without.

2-2-2, 3-3-3 or 4-4-4 with an Ace, 2, 3 or 4: In the 9-7 game, if you hold the kicker with the three of a kind, the average return is 54.57 coins, better than the 45.01 on the three of a kind by itself.

With an 8-5 pay table, averages are 54.26 if you hold the kicker and 44.71 if you don’t.

That means in Triple Double Bonus Poker, the best video poker strategies are opposite those in Double Double Bonus Poker. Regardless of whether you have three Aces and a kicker or three 2s, 3s or 4s and a kicker on the initial deal, you hold the kicker along with the three of a kind in Triple Double Bonus, but discard the kicker in Double Double Bonus.