Expert Strategy at Video Poker
2 January 2014
By John Grochowski
I often receive requests asking just what is meant by “expert strategy” in video poker. Does what you hold really make a difference? Is the strategy different in different games?
The answers are yes, and yes. In licensed casinos in nearly all U.S. jurisdictions, cards must be dealt from a randomly shuffled, 52-card electronic deck. The odds are the same as if you were dealing from a physical deck of cards. Because of that, we can calculate odds and strategies.
Expert strategies are designed with each game, and each pay table in mind. The plays that will get you the best average returns on Jacks or Better, where five-coin bets will bring 125-coin payoffs on four of a kinds and 2-for-1 pays on two pairs, are different than those that bring the best return on Double Double Bonus Poker, where quad payoffs range from 250 to 2,000 coins but two pairs pay only 1-for-1.
Further, the 9-6 version of Double Double Bonus, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1, presents us with a slightly different set of conditions than the 8-5 version of the same game. Expert strategy is slightly different, mostly because of the flush return.
A couple of readers have emailed me recently to ask if I can write about what the expert strategies are for different game. I told them I’d try, but they need to understand that explaining the full strategy for any one game takes a book chapter, not a short column.
What I can do is to explain a few of the key dilemmas video poker players face in specific games. Let’s start with the basic game, 9-6 Jacks or Better, and some of the plays that separate the experts from the casual players.
- Low pairs are more valuable than individual high cards, or multiple high cards in different suits. Dealt a hand such as Jack of clubs, 4 of spades, 4 of hearts, 7 of hearts, 10 of diamonds, players often hem and haw over whether to hold the Jack or the pair. The chance to pair up the Jack means you will have paying hands more often if you discard the pair and hold the high card. However, winners when you hold the pair will be more valuable, with every winning hand being at least two pairs. Average players often see this hand as a close call, but it’s not. The average return per five coins wagered is 4.12 coins if you hold the pair, and only 2.43 if you hold the Jack.
- Low pairs also are more valuable than four-card straights. Dealt 5-6-7 of mixed suits to go with your pair of 4s, your average return will be about 4.12 coins if you hold the 4s, 3.40 if you go for the straight.
- Flushes, on the other hand, are worth chasing even if it means breaking up a low pair. Dealt 2, 4, 7, 10 of hearts and a 4 of spades, average returns are 5.74 coins for holding the four hearts, and 4.12 for holding the pair.
- We do not chase inside straights in 9-6 Jacks or Better. Dealt 4-5-6-8-10 of mixed suits, we would not hold 4-5-6-8, we’d just toss all five cards and try again. The difference between 4-5-6-8 and 4-5-6-7 is that with the first, we can complete the straight only by drawing one of the four 7s, while with the latter hand, we can complete it with any of the four 3s or the four 8s, giving us eight possible winners. The only time we chase straights that can be completed only with one of four cards is when the hand includes at least three high cards. Dealt 3-9-J-Q-K of mixed suits, we do just discard the 3 and hold the other four cards.
- Do keep an eye on that royal flush jackpot. Dealt Jack of clubs, King of diamonds, Queen of diamonds, and 7-4 of off suits, your best play is to hold King-Queen, discard the Jack-7-4 and leave open the royal flush possibility. Given a hand with three high cards, including two royal flush cards of Jacks and higher, you’re going to want to hold the suited cards and discard the third high card.
- Part of expert strategy is betting maximum coins. The big jump in the royal flush payoff from 1,000 coins for a four-coin bet to 4,000 with a five-card bet means that the payback percentage is highest when you bet the max. Don’t overbet your bankroll, but given equal pay tables, you are better off betting five coins on a quarter game than a single coin on a dollar game.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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