DOUBLING UP AFTER A WINNING VIDEO POKER HAND

A very common feature on all types of video poker machines is the option to ‘double down’ after a winning hand. There’s a lot of misinformation about this bet and whether or not it’s advisable to play it. Keep in mind that the ‘double down’ is not factored in any machine’s long term payout percentage and it will definitely add to the variance of the game you’re playing. With some variations like Deuces Wild already having significant variance that might not be something you want to increase.

Here’s how it works—after a winning hand you’ll be dealt five cards with four face down, one face up. The face up card is the ‘house’ card. Your challenge is to select one of the other four cards. If it’s higher than the ‘house card’ you’ve doubled your winnings. If your card is lower than the ‘house card’ you’ve lost your original winnings. In most cases a tie is a ‘push’ and nothing happens. Some machines will let you double up repeatedly following a winning hand while others will only do it once.

THEORETICAL VALUE OF THE ‘DOUBLE UP’ FEATURE

In theory, the ‘double up’ feature is one of the better bets a player can make in any casino. We’ll get to that in a moment but first let’s talk about what it isn’t—it isn’t ‘fixed’. I’ve heard some players think that all five cards are programmed to give so many winners and so many losers. That’s not true—the cards are dealt using the same random number generation method as in any other hand. Another incorrect theory—the ‘double up’ feature is set to award winners on lower hands more readily than on higher hands. Once again, this isn’t true because of the way the cards are dealt via the random number generator. The RNG doesn’t care if you’ve got two pair or a royal flush—it’s going to deal five random cards.

So why is the video poker ‘double up’ one of the best casino bets? It’s essentially a coin flip—you get one random number generated card, the casino gets another random number generated card and the higher of the two wins. Assuming that a tie is a ‘push’ and not a loss (and I’ve seen very few video poker machines where ‘ties lose’) it is a 50/50 bet. If the tie does count as a loss it gives the casino an edge of 5.8% on the bet.

PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF THE ‘DOUBLE UP’ FEATURE

There is no consensus whatsoever among video poker experts about the double up feature. Some say that you should ignore it, some say that you should play it, others say that you should play it in certain circumstances. Some say that you shouldn’t do it if you’re not playing “recreationally”, others suggest that you can do it on certain hands.

One thing that is certain—you shouldn’t use the ‘double up’ feature if you’re on a machine with a positive EV payout. This is a point where virtually all experts agree. The reason for this is the math behind it—if you’re playing a game with 100% or higher payback you’ve got a small edge over the house. Even though the ‘double up’ is a 50/50 bet it serves to do nothing but negate a portion of that all too rare edge over the house.

The case against the ‘double up’ feature is variance and volatility. Simply put, you’ll likely to win a lot more very quickly or lose a lot more very quickly than if you were just playing the video poker game without the ‘double up’. And since you’re implementing a strategy when you play video poker it can be construed as unwise to mix strategic decisions on each poker hand with dumb luck on the ‘double up’ feature. That being said, even many of the arguments against the ‘double up’ feature give the caveat that if you’re significantly tolerant of risk there’s really nothing wrong with doing it.

Most of the arguments in favor of the ‘double up’ feature start in the same place—with the warning that the ‘double up’ greatly increases the variance of video poker play. That being said, however, the fact remains that it’s one of the better bets in the casino at 50/50. While it’s tough to find anyone that says you should do it after every winning hand most suggest that there’s no real harm in mixing it in here and there. That brings us to the ‘situationally favorable’ camp—this theory suggests that you might as well do it if you’re playing ‘just for fun’ but if you’re trying to turn a long term profit, hit a progressive jackpot or other ‘serious’ video poker play you shouldn’t mess with. Additionally, there are those who say that you should double down on the ‘middle hands’ but not on low hands or high hands. The definition of what hands should and shouldn’t be played vary widely.

Ultimately, it comes down to the player. If they understand the increased variance and have the requisite tolerance for risk there’s no theoretical case to be made against the ‘double up’ feature. At the same time, since it doesn’t factor into a machine’s payback or the strategy for playing it there’s nothing wrong with ignoring it either. It’s your call.