Video poker strategy not same as draw poker

Jan 15, 2013 3:00 AM

Many of you have read my column when I talk about how video poker strategy is nothing like regular 5-card draw poker strategy at a poker game. This is absolutely true. 

A video poker machine has one correct mathematical strategy for every one of the initial 5-card hands.  This is because everything is known except for one thing – which cards you will draw. We know the exact payout you will get for any given final hand. We know the probability of winning. We even know the probability of winning with each given hand.

In table poker, there are so many other moving parts. First of all, you are not playing against a pay table. Having a Pair of Jacks does not make you an instant winner. Then you have the variables of how many other players are still in, who those players are and the style of play they use (do they ever bluff?), how big the pot is (i.e. how much will you win), etc.

Plus you may even know how many cards the other players have already drawn. If a player draws two cards, does he have a 3-card Straight Flush, three High Cards or perhaps Trips? If three players draw before you and each draws one card, they might all be pulling for Straights or Flushes or maybe one has Two Pair. 

This may greatly change your thoughts on what to do if you have a Pair of Jacks and a 4-card Flush. The odds of one of those players pulling a Straight or a Flush is moderate. Even if your Pair turns into Two Pair or Trips, it may not be enough, so maybe you go for the Flush? Maybe this decision hinges on the High Card of your Flush. There is no absolute here because there are so many unknowns.

Expert Strategy for a Jacks or Better machine is exactly what it is because we know the pay table. In video poker, you will never compete against multiple players and do not have to worry about winning a hand over another hand. About the only thing that changes is the payout of hands.

Last week, I discussed an alternate strategy one could employ to trigger Royal Flushes to occur more frequently. This hurts our payback but increases the probability of hitting a Royal. But, if a Royal paid more than it currently does, as it might in a Progressive, this strategy could become optimal and result in an increase in both payback and frequency of the Royal.

In reality, what our strategy actually does is determine the frequency of each hand. If a Royal is worth more than 800 units, it may be worth it for us to give up a certain number of Pairs in order to get an additional number of Royals.

Years ago, there was a version of video poker called “Flush Attack.” After every X number of Flushes, it would go into “Flush Attack Mode” in which a Flush paid considerably more than normal for one Flush. It would pay 25 instead of the normal 6. If you played during this mode, your strategy was completely turned on its head.

You would play any 4-card Flush, even over a Pair of Aces! The goal was to hit this Flush as fast as possible. Adding to the fun was that many of these Flush Attack machines were linked in a bank of games. First machine to get the Flush would turn off the Flush Attack mode for the entire bank.

So, the player who could increase his frequency to get a Flush would have an advantage over the other players. Normally, a Flush occurs about 1 in 90 hands when playing using Expert Strategy. Modify this strategy in Flush Attack mode and you could increase this to 1 in 42. In other words, you could more than double the frequency of a Flush simply by altering your strategy.

This is done solely because the Flush pays 25 instead of 6, which makes it the right play. For video poker, holding a 4-card Flush over a High Pair is the right play if the Flush pays 25 (and the other pays are ‘normal’) but you hold a High Pair over a 4-card Flush if the Flush pays only 6. I haven’t bothered to analyze at exactly what point the strategy switches – in case anyone is wondering.

So, that brings us back to the real world environment of table poker. When should you hold a High Pair over a 4-card Flush and vice versa? Could there really be only one answer? There isn’t even really one answer for video poker – as it depends on the paytable.

As you add more variables to the mix, the answer only gets even more complex.

The bottom line is there is the no one-size-fits-all answer for the proper way to draw a 5-card poker hand. Video poker provides the closest answer that can be given, but it is still always dependent on the specific pay table.

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 www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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