Solving Jacks or Better draws
July 17, 2018 3:00 AM
by Elliot Frome
We’re less than two months away from the inaugural National Video Poker Day. I’ve spent all summer long focusing on teaching my readers the basics about video poker. The last two weeks have been spent reviewing just over half of the strategy table for full-pay jacks or better. This week, I will finish up the rest of the table, which has many critical hands on it. The fact that these are some of the worst hands you can be dealt does not lessen their importance as they will still account for a large percentage of our hands and thus, playing them correctly is crucial to achieving the theoretical payback.
The bottom part of the table introduces us to the 2-Card Royal. This is a very complex part of the table as a result as there are actually four different types of 2-Card Royals with very different expected values. There are also many key lessons to learn from why these Royals are broken down in that manner.
The highest rank 2-Card Royal is what we call “Version 3” or V3. It is one that does NOT contain a 10 or an Ace. The 10 is probably readily understood by most readers. It is not a high card and thus has a lower value to the hand than a Jack or Better.
But, why the Ace? An Ace makes the hand a Double Inside Straight. While we are hoping for the Royal, which will require a specific three cards no matter what, much of the Expected Value comes from the High Pairs and Straights that we can make. The Ace reduces the chances of a Straight and eliminates all Straight Flushes but the Royal. Thus it’s value is lower than that of a J, Q or K.
Given this, it should be no surprise that a 2-Card Royal Version 2 is one that includes an Ace, but not a 10. Version 1 includes a 10 and not an Ace. Version 0 is an A-10 hand, which you will NOT find on the table above. It is NOT playable in jacks or better as you would play the Ace High only. More so than any other hands on our strategy table, this part of the table has the most overlapping hands, which is why the Royals are broken down this way. The table clearly shows us a JQ suited will be played over a hand that also has a K-A for a 4-Card Inside Straight with four High Cards. BUT, if it is the J-A that is suited, we would play the 4-Card Straight.
Adding to the confusion is if the 4-Card Inside Straight is 10-J-Q-A we would play the suited J-A (or Q-A) over that particular 4-Card Inside Straight.
|2-Card Royal - Version 3 (JQ, JK, QK)||0.60|
|4-Card Inside Straight with 4 High Cards||0.59|
|2-Card Royal - Version 2 (JQ, QA, KA)||0.58|
|3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 1 High Card||0.54|
|4-Card Inside Straight with 3 High Cards||0.53|
|3-Card Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards||0.53|
|3 High Cards (JQK)||0.51|
|2 High Cards||0.49|
|2-Card Royal - Version 1 (10J, 10Q, 10K)||0.48|
|1 High Card||0.47|
|3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards||0.44|
|RAZGU - Draw 5||0.36|
The 3-Card Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Card can come into the mix too. You can have 5-6-8 suited and Q-K of another suit. In this case you would play the 2-Card Royal. But if it is a 10-K suited, you would play the 3-Card Inside Straight Flush!
Next up are our High Card hands. We have three High Cards which MUST be unsuited or it would be played as a 2-Card Royal. Also, these cards must be JQK. If you have JQA you would play the JQ only to increase the chances of a Straight.
We have our 2-Card Royal V1, which is 10-J/Q/K just above a single High Card. Below High Card we have the lowest playable hand besides discarding all five cards. This is the 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards. This is not a common hand and it requires there to be NO cards Jack or Better in the hand and no fourth card in the Straight or Flush. But, you’ll note its expected value is 0.08 (more than 20 percent) greater than the dreaded RAZGU that requires us to throw all five cards. As bad as playing a suited 4-6-8 might be, it’s better than throwing all five cards!
Some of you may wonder how important it is to play these hands correctly given the expected values are all so close. But, the reality is this part of the table makes up more than 40 percent of our hands. Repeatedly play the hands in this part of the table wrong and you could easily cost yourself 0.1% of payback, which may not seem like a lot, but you are playing a game with a 0.5% house edge. Upping it to 0.6% gives the casino a 20 percent greater advantage!
Throw in some of the more costly common mistakes (playing a 4-Card Straight over a Low Pair or, even worse, a 4-Card Inside Straight over a Low Pair) and the house advantage can quickly double! That said, I don’t want to scare anyone into thinking if you don’t play every hand perfectly, you are doomed. We are all human and will make mistakes!