In video poker 3-Card Straight can be tricky to play

February 05, 2013 3:00 AM

There are 36 entries on the strategy table for Jacks or Better video poker. I’m sure I could categorize them numerous ways, but for today, I’m going with a particular thought.

Six of the 36 are complete hands in which there is no need to draw any more cards. This includes Quads, in which the fifth card is meaningless. Four more deal with “sets” – Three of a Kind, Two Pair, High Pair and Low Pair. That leaves us with 26 others.

Of these 26 others, five are reserved for partial Royal Flushes and one belongs to a partial Flush. There are four more belonging to the “mutt” hands – 3 High Cards, 2 High Cards, 1 High Card and the Razgu. That leaves 16 more. Of these 16, there are six belonging to 4-Card Straights. That leaves the final 10, which belong to…drum roll, please…partial Straight Flushes.

Two belonging to the 4-Card Straight Flush and 4-Card Inside Straight Flush and the remainder all belonging to some variant of a 3-Card Straight Flush. This means more than 22% of the strategy table belongs to a hand that is probably the most forgotten on the entire pay table.

It pays only double what a Four of a Kind does, yet is more than 20 times as rare (partially because of its relatively low payout). It occurs about four times as often as a Royal, yet the Royal pays 800 vs. a mere 50 for a Straight Flush.

Despite all this, a Straight Flush is a significant contributor to our overall payback and learning how to play it correctly is critical to mastering Expert Strategy. Earlier, I said 22% of the strategy table is taken up by these hands, yet they make up only 2.4% of our dealt hands.

Keep in mind, this does NOT mean 1 in 40 hands contain a 3-Card Straight Flush of some type. This means you should be playing about 1 in 40 hands as a 3-Card Straight Flush. Many of these will be played as something else.

For example, we play all pairs over a 3-Card Straight Flush of any type. So, if you have 7D, 8D, 9D, 9S, KC, you play the Pair of 9’s. This is not even a close decision. The Low Pair has an expected value of 0.82, while the 3-Card Straight Flush is only 0.63. The numbers for the 3-Card Straight Flush only get worse if it is Inside or Double Inside (6D, 8D, 9D, 9S, KC).

The rules for 3-Card Straight Flushes are very subtle. We play a 3-Card Inside Straight Flush over a 2-Card Royal, So, if you have 9H, JH, QH, 2C, 3C, we play the 3-Card Inside Straight Flush over the 2-Card Royal. However, if the 9H was an 8H, making it a Double Inside Straight Flush, then the JQ wins out and we play as an RF2V3 – a 2-card Royal containing a JQ.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the impact of mistakes is based on the difference in expected value and the frequency of the mistake (assuming it is a repetitive mistake). Hands involving 3-Card Straight Flushes are not the most common. The difference in expected values will vary greatly between the different hands we are talking about

If you’re dealt 3H, 4H, 5H, JC, KS – the correct play is the 3-card Straight Flush by a difference of about 0.14. Even, if the hand were 2H, 4H, 5H, JC, KS then you would still play the 3-Card Straight Flush, but the difference narrows to a mere, 0.04. However, if we change the hand to 2H, 4H, 6H, JC, KS then the 2 High Cards outranks the 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush.

One of the key things to remember about 3-Card Straight Flushes is that they are all playable. This does not mean if you have one you play it. It means you NEVER discard a 3-Card Straight Flush of any type in favor of a Razgu. So, even if you’re dealt what appears to be a horrendous hand (2D, 3D, 6D, 8S, 10C), you play the 3-Card Double Inside Straight with 0 High Cards over throwing all five cards.

If I had to take an educated guess, I’d say most new players do one of two things with 3-Card Straight Flushes. Either they miss them completely and virtually never play them, or they play them over many superior hands (i.e. 4-Card Straights and Low Pairs). The reason why casinos can offer 99-plus percent paybacks on video poker is because more players don’t use the right strategy.

 Learning how to play 3-Card Straight Flushes may not be the first lesson in Expert Strategy, but it is still an important piece and shows why you must pay attention to all the details.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is Contact Elliot at

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