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Video poker strategy quirks

4 July 2015

Recently I played video poker with an old friend of mine. We sat next to each other playing full-pay Jacks or Better which, combined with five times bonus points, made this game a positive expectation game. My friend is a casual player who does not really practice strategy but instead tries to use reason to determine the best plays.

As I observed his play, I realized his method worked quite well for him – except for a few select situations.

When dealt Ac Kd Jh 5s 3h he held the three high cards where the proper play is to hold just the king and jack. When I questioned him, he responded that he also held the ace because it, too, could be paired with another ace to at least get his money back and he could draw two aces and get paid three-for-one.

There are several situations where high-level reasoning may not work when playing video poker. My friends play mentioned above is one. For many people simply memorizing a list of proper strategy plays is difficult. Instead they need some understanding as to why the strategy is the way it is.

Let’s take a look at some of these “unreasonable” strategy quirks. Each different game (or sometimes different pay tables from the same game) has its unique set of strategy quirks. Covering all of them is out of the scope of this article, so I will only cover full-pay (9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush) Jacks or Better strategy here.

The hand my friend misplayed is a very common mistake for casual players. They reason, as my friend did, that any high card is good. While that is generally true, some high cards are worth more than others. Also, sometimes too much of a good thing is bad. In the hand mentioned above - Ac Kd Jh 5s 3h – the best play is to hold the Kd Jh.

The long term return for this hold is about 2.42 credits when playing five credits, whereas the long term return when saving the ace, king and jack is about 2.28 credits. Saving the three high cards gives the player a shot at jacks or better, two pairs, three of a kind, and a straight. If just the king and jack are held the player also has a shot at jacks or better, two pairs, three of a kind, a straight as when holding all three high cards, but there is also a shot at a full house and four of a kind. In this case holding just two of the high cards gives the player a shot at bigger paying hands that are not possible when holding all three high cards.

What about holding just the ace and one of the other high cards? This hold will give the player a shot at all the bigger hands, right? Well, yes it will. Holding the ace and either the king or jack will give the player a shot at all the same hands as holding just the king and jack, however, because the ace is the highest card of a straight, there are fewer straight possibilities than when the king and jack are saved. So while all the same hands are possible, fewer higher paying hands will happen. While holding the ace and one other high card is still better than holding all three high cards, holding the king jack is still the best.

Next, consider the following hand: Ac Tc 8h 5s 3d. While most serious or semi-serious players know that holding the suited ace-ten is not the best play, many recreational players will hold both of them hoping for a royal flush. Holding the ace alone has a long term return of about 2.32 credits (when playing five credits) while holding the ace-ten has a long term return of about 2.30 credits.

Why the difference in returns?

Holding the ace-ten does give the player a shot at a royal flush that is not possible if only the ace is held. But, holding the lone ace still has a shot at a straight flush, many more shots at four of a kind (52 versus 2), full house (288 versus 18), three of a kind (4,102 versus 281), two pairs (8,874 versus 711), and jacks or better (45,456 versus 2,955). All these additional possibilities more than offset the lost royal opportunity.

Some may say that with such a small difference why not go for the royal. They are free to do so. It is their money they are risking. But over hundreds and thousands of hands, getting the highest return for each hand will translate into more hands being played which translates into more playing time for the same bankroll.

Hopefully these explanations will help in logically determining the best play for these seemingly illogical holds. The money you save is yours.

May all your wins be swift and large and all your losses slow and tiny.

Jerry “Stickman”


Jerry “Stickman” is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. He authored the video poker section of "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Pai Gow Poker!" You can contact Jerry “Stickman” at stickmanjerry@aol.com.
Recent Articles
Best of Jerry Stickman
Jerry Stickman

Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in dice control at craps, blackjack, advantage slots and video poker. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. The "Stickman" is also a certified instructor for Golden Touch Craps dice control classes and Golden Touch Blackjack's advantage classes. He also teaches a course in advantage-play slots and video poker. For more information visit www.goldentouchcraps.com or www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 1-800-944-0406 for a free brochure. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at stickmanGTC@aol.com.

Jerry Stickman Websites:

www.goldentouchcraps.com
www.goldentouchblackjack.com
Jerry Stickman
Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in dice control at craps, blackjack, advantage slots and video poker. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. The "Stickman" is also a certified instructor for Golden Touch Craps dice control classes and Golden Touch Blackjack's advantage classes. He also teaches a course in advantage-play slots and video poker. For more information visit www.goldentouchcraps.com or www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 1-800-944-0406 for a free brochure. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at stickmanGTC@aol.com.

Jerry Stickman Websites:

www.goldentouchcraps.com
www.goldentouchblackjack.com