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Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: What would be the better video poker game to play, 9/6 Jacks-or-better non-progressives or an 8/5 progressive Jacks-or-better? Does it hinge on how high the progressive jackpot is as to when it might be the better game? Jack M.

As a refresher for others, Jack, when numbers are used to identify video poker games, the numbers usually refer to the payoffs for full houses and flushes. A 9-6 machine pays 9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 on a flush. An 8/5 would be eight for the full house, five for a flush.

With Jacks or Better, a 9/6 is typically the preeminent pay table. With expert play, a 9/6 Jacks or Better game returns 99.5 percent to keen players. If you drop the full house and flush payoffs to 8/5, the return drops to 97.3 percent. Except, Jack, if you add a progressive jackpot as an alternative to a 4,000 coin royal payday, your return can exceed that paid by a 9/6 machine.

Therefore, Jack, all 8/5 machines are not necessarily dogs compared to all 9/6 machines. For example, an 8/5 progressive machine with a progressive meter reads at least $440 on a nickel, $2,200 on a quarter and $8,800 on a dollar video poker machine allows you cross the threshold to a positive expectation game. Coupling your proficient play with incentives like cash back and other comps and goodies, a progressive 8/5, or a 9/6 machine for that matter, mathematically can give you an overall return greater than 100%.

While we're on the subject, Jack, you always want to bet the maximum number of coins on a progressive machine for both the positive expectation and bonus for your royal flushes.

Dear Mark: When playing on a multi-game video poker machine, if I switch from one game to another, for instance, Jacks-or-Better to Bonus Poker, is the same deck used for both games? John P.

Since each game on a multi-game machine has its own random number generator, each game, John, would use its own distinct electronic deck. Thus, the Jacks-or-better game is dealt from a different deck than is the Bonus Poker game.

Dear Mark: I am confused as to splitting pairs, especially 8s and 9s. I’ve heard that you should always split 8s and never split 9s. Do you find that to be true? Jason L.

Always splitting eights -- actually there’s one exception to that rule: If the dealer hits soft 17, and surrender is offered, surrender the pair of 8s if the dealer shows an Ace. Capiche?

As for splitting 9s, over the years I have probably seen this pair misplayed more often than any other. The correct strategy, Jason, is that if the dealer is showing 2 through 6, you split. If the dealer has a seven, your two-card 18 has the edge so you would stand. If the dealer's up card is 8 or 9, you split, otherwise stand when the dealer shows a 10, face or Ace since splitting 9s would give your two hands a distinct disadvantage.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “An intelligent man gambles because this is a means of surrendering himself and his fortunes to the fates before testing his wits and nerve. He does this because it improves the flavor of living.” --Nick The Greek