Bonus Poker

Bonus Poker

Video poker manufacturers use two main ways of creating different video poker variations:

  • 1They vary the number of wild cards.
  • 2They vary the payouts for the various hands.

The most basic type of video poker is Jacks or Better. That's a video game based on 5 card draw, and Jacks or Better uses no wild cards.

Bonus Poker is closely related to Jacks or Better. The game offers larger ("bonus") payoffs for a 4 of a kind. We cover the amounts by which this payoff varies in the pay tables section below-it often varies based on the rankings of the cards in the 4 of a kind.

Multiple variations of Bonus Poker exist, too-there's Double Bonus Poker, Triple Bonus Poker, and Bonus Poker Deluxe, for example. We'll cover those variations on this page, too.

Bonus Poker often offers one of the best payback percentages in the casino, so it's worth learning how to play well. This page offers an overview of how to play, observations about the pay tables, and some strategy advice.

Bonus Poker Basics

If you've played Jacks or Better (or other video poker variations) before, feel free to skip to the next section. We're covering the most basic instructions for how to play below:

Bonus Poker, like all other video poker variations, is a hybrid of slot machines, solitaire, and 5 card draw poker. The game looks like a slot machine, but you're facing some significant differences.

One of the major differences is that on a slot machine, the symbols and probabilities are entirely arbitrary. A lemon or a cherry on a slot machine might have a 1/8 probability of appearing or 1/24 or any other probability. The only people who know those probabilities are the manufacturers, who have access to the PARs sheet for the game.

This makes it impossible to ascertain the payback percentage for a slot machine with any degree of reliability. In fact, slots are the only game in the casino where you're unable to calculate these probabilities. For this reason, we like to say that the payback percentage for slot machines is "opaque".

But a Bonus Poker game, like all other "real" video poker games, uses the same probabilities you'd see with a real deck of cards. Every card has a 1/52 probability of coming up. A card of a certain suit comes up 1/4 of the time, and a card of a certain ranking comes up 1/13 of the time.

You need two pieces of information to calculate the expected return of a gambling game:

  • 1The probability of winning.
  • 2The payoff if you win.

On a slot machine game, you know the payoff, but you don't know the probability of winning.

But on a video poker game, you can calculate the probability of winning with a certain hand. Comparing those two numbers gives you the expected return for that hand. Adding up the expected return for all the possible hands gives you the overall payback percentage for the game.

In practical terms, though, here's what you need to know to play a Bonus Poker game:

The first thing you need to do is insert money into the machine to buy credits. At one time, this was done largely with coins, but modern video poker machines mostly use money readers so you can insert cash. Once you've inserted cash, the machine converts it into "credits" based on the denomination of the Bonus Poker machine.

Most Bonus Poker games are available in standard denominations like 25 cents, $1, $2, $5, or $25. You can find Bonus Poker games for higher rollers at $100 in the high limit slots room at many casinos, too. That denomination determines how many credits you get.

If you're playing a 25 cent machine, and you input $100, you get 400 credits. On a dollar machine, if you input $100, you get 100 credits.

You then get to choose how many credits you want to risk per hand. You can bet between one and five credits per hand, but you should ALWAYS bet 5 coins. (This is also called "BET MAX".)

Here's why:

The biggest hand on almost all video poker games is the royal flush. It pays off at 200 for 1 or 250 for 1 if you bet between one and four coins.

But if you bet five coins, this hand pays off at 800 for 1.

This has a huge positive net effect on your overall expected return-even though you'll only see a royal flush once every 40,000 hands or so. Our advice is to always play for the full five coins per hand, even if you must step down in stakes to do so.

Doing otherwise is just ensuring that you eventually lose your money twice or three times as fast. The goal of gambling smart is to get the most entertainment value for your money, so you should make the moves that keep the payback percentage as high as possible (and that keep the house edge as low as possible).

Once you've chosen how many coins you want to wager on the hand, you hit the "DEAL" button. The game then deals you five cards. This is the "DEAL" round.

Once you get your five cards, you get to decide which cards to keep and which ones you throw away. Most modern Bonus Poker machines have "HOLD" buttons below each card, but they also have touchscreen technology. You can use the "HOLD" button or the touchscreen to choose which cards you keep.

This is the "DRAW" round. You press the "DRAW" button, which is the same as the "DEAL" button, and the game deals you new cards to replace the cards you didn't hold.

The game immediately scores your hand according to the pay table and pays you off accordingly. You can start a new hand by pressing the "DEAL" button again.

Since you have two possible decisions for each card, and since you have five cards, you have a total of 32 different ways to play each hand. Only one of those 32 decision is the mathematically correct one-the decision with the highest expected return. We'll discuss that further in the strategy section, but first we need to cover the payback tables and payout percentages.

What Is a Payback Percentage in the Context of Bonus Poker?

When gambling writers discuss the math behind gambling games, they refer to 2 figures consistently:

  • 1The house edge
  • 2The payback percentage

The house edge is the number used most often when discussing table games like blackjack, craps, or roulette. It's the mathematically expected amount that the casino expects to win on every bet.

When we say that blackjack has a 1% house edge, we mean that on average, the casino expects to win a dollar every time you wager $100 on the game.

This is, of course, a long-term average, as it's impossible to win or lose a single dollar on a $100 blackjack bet. You're going to lose $100, win $100, or win $150 (if you get a blackjack).

And when we say it's a long-term average, we mean an average amount over thousands of hands. Even over 100 hands, you're likely to see results that vary wildly from this statistical average.

But the casino deals with several players per table, several tables per day, with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of bets per player average per hour. All this takes place 24 hours a day, which means the casino is operating in the long run right away.

That's how they remain profitable.

When dealing with machine games, like slots, video blackjack, or video poker, gambling writers discuss "payback percentage".

This is the expected average amount of each bet that you'll see back in the form of winnings. It's essentially 100% minus the house edge.

When we say the expected return or payback percentage for a specific pay table is 99.17%, for example, we're saying that for every $100 you wager, you'll get back $99.17-over the long run, on average.

This means that the house edge for this game is 0.83%.

You can compare the payback percentages for various machines to get a predicted idea of how much money you're going to lose on average over a long period of time. You can also use the predicted payback percentage to identify opportunities for getting an advantage over the casino.

Any time you can improve a payback percentage to 100% or greater, you have a long-term edge over the casino. If you play long enough, you'll make a profit.

The amount you expect to win or lose can be calculated by multiplying the house edge by the amount of money you're putting into action on the machine.

Let's say you're playing a Bonus Poker game with a 99.17% payback percentage, and you're good. You're playing near optimally. You only expect to lose an average of 0.83% per hand.

Most players average 600 hands of Bonus Poker per hour. (If you've never played, that might sound high based on our description of how to play above, but we can assure you that the game plays FAST.)

If you're playing for $5 per hand, you're putting $3000 into action per hour. Your expected loss per hour is $24.90.

Let's compare that with a less optimal pay table. Suppose the best game the casino offers only has a payback percentage of 98.01%. You're expected to loss 1.99% of your total hourly action.

1.99% sounds like a low house edge, and it is. But compared to 0.83%, the difference becomes significant. On $3000 in action, your expected loss is $57.

On the other hand, let's assume you've found a casino that offers you a 1% rebate on all your action. If you're playing a game where the house has an edge of 0.83%, and you're getting 1% back, your actual payback percentage is 1.17%.

You have a 0.17% edge over the house.

You're now looking at an expected hourly win rate of $5.10 per hour.

No one is going to become a professional gambler making $5.10 per hour, but you can have a lot of fun and make a little bit of money gambling at that rate.

Keep in mind two things about house edge and payback percentage, though:

  • 1These are theoretical, long-term predictions only.

    Most players don't get in enough play to enter the long run for months or years. 600 hands is still the short run, so you can probably expect to lose more than you'd expect based on the expected return. Part of that is because you only can expect to see a royal flush once every 40,000 hands. To get in 40,000 hands, you must play for almost 67 hours. And even after 67 hours and 40,000 hands, you might still not hit a royal flush. Or you might hit a royal flush early, skewing your actual results in the other direction from the statistical expectation. But play long enough, and the actual results will start resembling the statistical expectation closely.

  • 2These numbers assume you're playing with optimal strategy.

    No one can play perfectly on every hand. But making the right decisions about which cards to keep and which cards to discard has a huge effect on your actual payback percentage. The more mistakes you make, the lower your actual expected return becomes.

How the Pay Tables for Bonus Poker Work to Create a Transparent Payback Percentage

Here's an example of a pay table for Bonus Poker:

Coins/Hand 1 coin 2 coins 3 coins 4 coins 5 coins
Royal flush 200 400 600 800 4,000
Straight flush 50 100 150 200 250
4 of a kind (aces) 80 160 240 320 400
4 of a kind (2s, 3s, or 4s) 40 80 120 160 200
4 of a kind (any other) 25 50 75 100 125
Full house 8 16 24 32 40
Flush 5 10 15 20 25
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
3 of a kind 3 6 9 12 15
2 pairs 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or better 1 2 3 4 5

Bonus Poker, with its strong resemblance to Jacks or Better, uses the same kind of short hand to refer to a pay table. Most variations of Bonus Poker offer the same payoffs for every hand and only vary the payoff for the full house and the flush.

In a Jacks or Better game, the payoff for the most common best version of the game is 9 for 1 for a full house and 6 for 1 for a flush. Since Bonus Poker offers the bonus payoffs for different ranked 4 of a kind hands, the most common best version of Bonus Poker is the 8/5 pay table-8 for 1 for a full house and 5 for 1 for a flush.

This is also sometimes called a "full pay" Bonus Poker game, although "full pay" is more commonly used to describe the 9/6 version of Jacks or Better. Hard core video poker sites prefer to abbreviate their descriptions of these games even further, so full pay Jacks or Better is referred to as 9/6 JoB, and full pay Bonus Poker is referred to as 8/5 BP.

If you're a complete novice to poker of any kind, here's a quick description of what the names of each hand mean:

  • Royal flush

    A royal flush is a hand consisting of the 10, jack, queen, king, and ace of the same suit. It's the best possible hand in almost all forms of poker, including video poker. It only shows up once every 40,000 hands or so, but it's the jackpot hand and pays off at 800 for 1-IF you're playing for max coins.

  • Straight flush

    A straight flush is a hand where all the cards are of the same suit and have consecutive rankings. For example, if you had the 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 of hearts, you'd have a straight flush. (Perceptive readers will notice that a royal flush is just the highest possible straight flush you could possibly get.)

  • 4 of a kind

    A 4 of a kind is a hand where you have 4 cards all the same rank. In Jacks or Better (and most other video poker variations), a 4 of a kind pays off the same regardless of the rank of the cards. You could have 4 deuces or 4 aces, the payoff is the same.

In Bonus Poker, though, you get a significantly larger payoff for a 4 of a kind made up of aces. You also get a larger payoff for a 4 of a kind made up of 2s, 3s, or 4s.

This is one example of where video poker differs from traditional poker. You're not playing against live opponents, just a pay table. In a live poker game, a 4 of a kind made up of 5s would rank higher than a 4 of a kind made up of 2s, 3s, or 4s.

But counter-intuitively, these lower-ranked 4 of a kind hands pay off more in Bonus Poker than hands that would rank higher in a live poker game.

  • Full house

    A full house is a hand made up of 3 cards of one rank and 2 cards of another rank. For example, if you had a hand with 3 aces and 2 kings, you'd have a full house. This and the flush are important because these are the two hands where the payouts start to vary.

  • Flush

    A flush is a hand where all 5 cards are of the same suit. The rankings don't matter.

  • Straight

    A straight is a hand where all 5 cards are consecutive in rank. For example, a 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 would make up a straight.

  • 3 of a kind

    A 3 of a kind is a hand where 3 cards are of the same rank, but the other 2 cards are not. For example, if you have a hand with 3 jacks, a king, and an ace, you have a 3 of a kind.

  • 2 pairs

    A hand with 2 pairs has 2 cards of one rank, 2 cards of another rank, and one more card of still another rank. If you have a hand with 2 jacks, 2 queens, and an ace, you have 2 pairs.

  • A pair of jacks or better

    In most video poker games, the lowest paying hand is a pair of jacks or higher. This means 2 jacks, 2 queen, 2 kinds, or 2 aces. Any lower pair has no payoff. The other cards in the hand are all different ranks.

We mentioned earlier that you can calculate the payback percentage of a video poker game by comparing the odds of winding up with a hand with the payoff for the hand. Each of these possible hands has an expected return, and when you add all those up, you get the overall expected return for the game.

Of course, there's too much math for most people to do with pencil and paper or even with a calculator. Luckily, mathematicians and computer programmers have done most of the heavy lifting for us already.

Here are a couple of examples:

You'll get nothing at all 54.5% of the time. Since that has no payout, the expected return for "nothing at all" is 54.5% X 0, or 0.

You'll get a pair of jacks or better 21.5% of the time. Since that pays off 1 coin, the expected return for a pair of jacks or better is 21.5%. (21.5% X 1)

You'll get 2 pairs 12.9% of the time. Since that pays off 2 coins, the expected return for 2 pairs is 12.9% X 2, or 25.8%.

You'll get 3 of a kind 7.4% of the time. Since that pays off at 3 coins, the expected return for 3 of a kind is 7.4% X 3, or 22.2%.

If those were the only payoffs, the payback percentage (or expected return) for the machine would be 0 + 21.5% + 25.8% + 22.2%, or 69.5%.

But you also have all the other payoffs listed in the pay table, and the total return for this game is actually 99.17%.

But these percentages also assume you're playing each hand optimally. If you're a complete novice who knows nothing about strategy, your overall expected return might be much lower than this. You might only be able to achieve 95% - 97%.

Also, not all Bonus Poker games offer this pay table. It's the most common "best" version of the game, but you'll also encounter these pay tables with these payback percentages:

  • 7/5 Bonus Poker - 98.01%
  • 6/5 Bonus Poker - 96.87%

But unlike Jacks or Better, there are some additional variations to the pay table that Bonus Poker designers throw in. These are variations for the payoffs for the 4 of kinds.

Here's an example:

There's a 20/6/5 Bonus Poker variation. The 6 and the 5 still refer to the full house and flush payoffs.

But the 20 refers to the payoff for any 4 of a kind from 5 through king. That's a big change from the standard of 25 for 1 for that hand-which is the more standard version. The payback percentage for this variation is 96%.

You might also run into games with higher payoffs for the 4 of a kind. 30/6/5 Bonus Poker pays off 30 for 1 for the full house, making the payback percentage for that variation 96.17%.

Our recommendation for all video poker games (Bonus Poker included) is to stick with games that have a theoretical payback percentage of 99% or higher. For the most part, the only pay table for Bonus Poker offering those kinds of odds is the traditional 8/5 Bonus Poker game.

Bonus Poker Strategy Tips

If you know much about gambling, you know that most games where you make decisions have an optimal strategy. In blackjack, this is called "basic strategy", and most players learn it using a table which lists possible hands and the correct way to play each of them.

Bonus Poker (and other video poker games) use a similar approach, but the strategy table takes the form of a hierarchy of hands you want to hold.

When you're dealt a hand, you start at the top of the chart and read down until you find the hand that matches yours. The highest ranked combination is the hand you keep.

The most common good video poker game in most casinos is 8/5 Bonus Poker with its 99.17% payback percentage, so that's the strategy we list below. If you're playing a Bonus Poker game with a different pay table, the strategy will vary based on the changes in the pay table. (It's not realistic for us to list the correct strategy for every variation, and we suggest only playing the 8/5 full pay version of Bonus Poker anyway).

shows the value of each type of hand on the deal, in order from best to worst. To play a difficult hand, look up all viable ways to play it on the list, and play the highest one.

  • 1The first thing to look for is one of the top hands.

    If you've been dealt one of these winners, you should hold onto them and get your payout: royal flush ,4 of a kind, straight flush. With these 3 hands (which are the top 3 on the pay table), you won't have any real decisions to make, with one exception-you might be dealt a straight flush that close to a royal flush. For example, you might have a 9, 10, J, Q, and K of the same suit. You might be tempted to discard the 9 in hopes of getting an ace and hitting the big jackpot. The reason you don't do that is simple-expected value. If you keep the straight flush, you have a 100% chance of getting a 50 for 1 payoff, which is an expected value of 50 coins. If you discard the 9, you have a roughly 2% chance of getting an 800 for 1 payoff. That's an expected value of 16 coins. (We've simplified the math, because you'd also have to account for the possibilities of getting a payoff for a possible pair, straight, or flush, but even taking those into account, the expected value won't rise to the level of 50 coins.)

  • 2The next hand to look for is 4 cards to a royal flush.

    This is better than any other hand besides the 3 listed in #1. You might have a straight that you're tempted to keep even though you could draw to a royal flush. For example, you might have the 10 of hearts, and the jack, queen, king, and ace of spades. You have a 100% chance of getting a 4 for 1 payoff, but the expected value of that move is only 4 coins. The 2% chance of getting an 800 for 1 payoff is still a 16 for 1 payoff. The same holds true for a flush that might result in a royal flush.

  • 3If you don't have 4 cards to a royal flush, you'll next look for the next batch of pat hands (hands which win without being improved).

    These include straights, flushes, full houses, and 3 of a kinds. You might have 4 to a straight flush but a pat hand of a flush. Stick with the flush. You're looking at a 2% chance of improving to a hand that pays off at 50 for 1, but the expected value of that move is only 1. Keeping the flush is a 100% chance of getting a payoff of 4 for 1.

  • 4If you don't have any of those hands, look for 4 cards to a straight flush.

    This might mean breaking up 2 pairs or a pair of jacks or better, but the expected value of doing so makes it worthwhile. This one might seem questionable, but remember that the strategy chart is accounting for the possibility of improving to a straight flush PLUS the chances of being dealt another pair or the possibility of getting just a plain old flush.

  • 5Next look for one of the lowest two paying hands, 2 pairs or a pair of jacks or better.

    Either of these sure things are better than any drawing hand that isn't already listed in #1-#4. In other words, you'll only every discard a pat hand to draw to a straight flush or to draw to a royal flush. Also, if you're keeping the 2 pairs and/or the pair of jacks or better, you're still drawing and trying to improve to a full house or 3 of a kind by discarding the other cards. (This strategy chart assumes you're only holding the cards indicated.)

  • 6Then you'll look for 3 cards to a royal flush.

    You'll never draw to this hand unless you have no pat hand and no draw to a straight flush.

  • 7Failing that, you're hoping for 4 cards to a flush.
  • 8If you have neither of those, look for the offsuit combination of KQJT.

    You're hoping to get a straight or a high pair by holding this combination.

  • 9If you have none of those, look for a pair of 10s or lower.

    You're hoping to improve to 3 or 4 of a kind.

  • 10If you don't have a pair of 10s or lower (or better) to draw to, look for an outside straight draw.

    This is 4 cards to a straight that can be filled by one of 8 cards. Here's an example: You have the 8,9,10, and jack. You can fill the straight with a 7 or a queen. You're twice as likely to make your hand with an outside straight draw.

  • 11Next look for a 3 card draw to a straight flush with at least one high card and no more than 1 gap.

    You want to skip this if one of the cards is a deuce or an ace.

  • 12Failing that, look for an offsuit AKQJ.

    You're hoping for a straight or a high pair.

  • 13Then look for 2 high cards of the same suit.

    Now you're hoping for a real longshot of a royal flush, a flush, or a high pair.

  • 14Next, look for a 3 card draw to a straight flush with no high cards and no gaps.

    You also don't want a deuce or an ace with this one.

  • 15Failing that, draw to a 4 card inside straight draw, but only if it includes 3 high cards (jacks+).

    You're hoping or the straight, but you'll settle for a big pair here.

  • 16Then look for JQK offsuit.

    You're hoping for a high pair again, but a straight is also a possibility.

  • 17Then hold JQ offsuit, for the same reason.
  • 18If you've gotten this far and still haven't found a playable combination, look for a 3 card draw to a straight flush with a high card and 2 gaps.

    It's okay to play this with an ace, because your choices are getting limited if you've gotten this far.

  • 19Next, look for KQ or KJ offsuit.

    You're hoping for a big pair, most likely, but you also have a shot at a straight and a few other hands.

  • 20Then, look for JT of the same suit.

    You might wonder why this is ranked lower than #19, but it's because of the 10. If you pair the 10, you get nothing, and the extra shot at the high pair makes the KQ or KJ offsuit a better deal.

  • 21Then, any offsuit AK, AQ, or AJ. Again, you're mostly just hoping for a big pair or a straight.
  • 22A single ace is your next best option.
  • 23If you've gotten this far, even a real longshot to a straight flush is a good deal.

    If you've gotten to this point, you can draw to a 3 card straight flush draw with no high cards and 1 gap. In fact, you can even include a 234 of the same suit.

  • 24Then look for KT or QT of the same suit.

    You're hoping for a high pair, a flush, a straight, a straight flush, or a royal flush.

  • 25Then go for a single jack, queen, or king.

    You're hoping to pair it up, but you also have a real longshot to that straight flush.

  • 26Finally, you have the worst 3-card straight flush draw that's still playable.

    This is a 3-card straight flush draw with no high cards and two gaps.

  • 27Start over.

    If you don't have anything else on this list, you really have no choice other than starting all over again.

We should point out, too, that many of the above choices also account for the possibility of getting a 4 of a kind. And they account for the ranking of the 4 of a kind, since that affects your potential payoff.

A "gap" is a space between rankings when you're talking about a hand that's drawing to a straight or a straight flush. For example, if you have a 10 and a queen, the jack is the gap.

You should keep in mind that no video poker strategy chart is entirely optimal. With 52 cards, you have a staggering number of hands available. This Bonus Poker strategy chart is detailed and close to perfect, though. All strategy charts forsake some expected return in exchange for playability, and this one is no different.

Bonus Poker Variants

We cover other variants of Bonus Poker on their own pages, but here's a brief overview of VP games that are based on Bonus Poker:

  • Bonus Poker Deluxe

    In this variation, you only have one payout for a 4 of a kind, regardless of its rank. But you also get a bigger payoff if you get 2 pair.

  • Double Bonus Poker

    So named because it doubles the payoff for a 4 of a kind when compared to a standard Bonus Poker game.

  • Double Double Bonus Poker

    This variation accounts for your kicker when you get 4 of a kind. According to Henry Tamburin, this is far and away the most popular video poker game on the market.

  • Triple Double Bonus Poker

    This variation offers even larger potential payoffs on a 4 of a kind. 4 aces with a 2, 3, or 4 kicker pays off at 800 for 1, just like a royal flush.

Where to Find Bonus Poker Games (Online or Off)

We are, of course, big fans of video poker online. Luckily, Bonus Poker is popular enough that it's available for free or for real money at almost every online casino in the business. The main difference to look for from one platform to the other is the pay table.

Something else to watch for when you're playing Bonus Poker online is the difference in pay tables between the multi-play and single-play versions of the game. Most Internet casinos offer a better pay table for the single-play version of the game.

If you're an online video poker player from the United States, look for casinos powered by Realtime Gaming software. (Rival doesn't seem to offer this game.)

Bonus Poker is also popular at almost every land-based casino in the country. Since casinos are more likely to offer a high (we define high as 99% or higher) payback percentage version of this game than almost any other, it's well worth your time to learn how to play.

Las Vegas casinos are probably the best place to find good-paying Bonus Poker games, especially at the Station group of casinos.

Conclusion

Bonus Poker is one of the most common good-paying (99%+ payback percentage) video poker games in the casino. That makes it worth your while to learn how to play the game well. It's more common than full pay Jacks or Better, even though its payback percentage isn't quite as high.

The game Bonus Poker most closely resembles is Jacks or Better. The main difference is the bonus payout based on the size of your 4 of a kind. The strategies for the 2 games differ because of this, but if you know how to play one of the two games well, you can pick up the strategy for the other with little trouble.

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