This week I received an e-mail from a reader interested in a game called Triple Bonus Poker.
He enjoyed playing the one and only machine he could find of it in Las Vegas, but was unsure of the payback and strategy. Not familiar with the game off the top of my head, I went to check my copy of Winning Strategies for Video Poker and found the game the reader was talking about. He had actually found a full-pay version of the game and its payback was a very respectable 99.6%.
What also quickly struck my eye was the strategy table was much shorter than most others. Then I noticed the top of the page, which said "Kings or Better." Triple Bonus Poker doesn’t pay on Jacks or Better, it only pays on Kings or Better.
Yes, the payback is still 99.6%. It does this by paying well for Quads (240,125,75 – no kickers required) and very well for Full Houses and Flushes – 11 and 7, respectively. It should be noted it only pays 1 for a Two Pair, so this game is going to be very streaky.
So, why play this wild game? Well, that very short and easy to learn strategy table is what intrigues me. I’ve often wondered what the error rate is for many players given the intricacies of the standard jacks or better strategy table.
Keeping track of those high cards makes for a long strategy table with subtle differences between four-card Straights and three-card Straight Flushes. Look at the strategy table for Triple Bonus and most of it is fairly intuitive. Yes, it helps to know for sure you throw a Full House if you have three aces and you dump Two Pair if you have a pair of aces, but these are easy things to remember.
The strange part is, despite having a respectable payback and a relatively easy strategy table, my source for games in Las Vegas tells me none of these games exist. As this source is user maintained, it is on occasion incorrect, as it is in this guess.
There appears to be at least one table in Las Vegas. Easier to find is a game called Triple Bonus Plus or Triple Play Plus.
One has to be very careful to not confuse these two games as their names have more in common than the actual games themselves do. First of all, the latter game is a Jacks or Better game.
This means a full-length strategy table. The Straight Flush is upped to 100 from 50, but the Quads pay of 75 is lowered to 50. Most noticeable is the payouts for Full House and Flush are the more pedestrian 9 and 5, respectively. The end result is a payback of 99.8%.
A game that pays 99.8% can actually be profitable for a player when you include cashback and comps. Or, at the very least, it can be a neutral game you can play for very long periods of time with a relatively small bankroll.
I’m not one to dismiss this idea. Also, while 99.8% and 99.6% might seem very similar, I am frequently the one to point out you should look at this from the other side. One has a 0.2% house advantage and the other a 0.4%. In other words, Triple Bonus Poker has twice the house advantage of Triple Bonus Plus.
That all said, Triple Bonus Poker offers the player a relatively easy game to learn without all of those pesky high cards. I have little doubt that for the average player, the error rate will go down and the gap between the two games will be reduced to below the 0.2%. If you are truly an expert player, this will matter less to you.
Of course, it would seem the casinos have taken the choice away from the players anyway. While there is perhaps a single machine of Triple Bonus Poker in all of Las Vegas, my source states Triple Bonus Plus can be found in moderate abundance – at least in some casinos that target locals.
This part isn’t a surprise because the best paying machines are generally found in the locals casinos. What we don’t know is whether the casinos removed the Triple Bonus games because players didn’t like the very streaky (and lower hit frequency) or because the real paybacks were higher due to a lower error rate.
If this is what happened, it may have been a case where less was more for most players.
FINDING the EDGE
Poker players who want to stand the test of time need to find an edge. This ability to find and exploit an edge is the main factor in who makes it and who doesn’t. The following story illustrates how you can have both earning power and an edge at the same time. I was heads-up with a player named Mike Harthcock in the last satellite for the World Series of Poker Main Event.
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