Strategy tables good aid at machines

Strategy tables good aid at machines

December 12, 2018 3:00 AM


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried my best to break down the concept of expected value, how it is calculated and a bit of how it is used.

In doing so, I showed how some of the most common hands are likely being played wrong by a vast majority of beginners. Quite frankly, I recall my father, Lenny Frome, telling me when he first started analyzing video poker that he was blown away when he came to the realization that you play a 4-Card Flush over a Low Pair, but a Low Pair over a 4-Card Straight.

When you play regular poker against your friends, you would probably play the 4-Card Straight and 4-Card Flush in a similar manner vs. a Low Pair. But video poker is not about bluffing or having a better hand than your opponent. It is about the actual final hand you achieve, the probability of achieving it and the payout you receive if you do.

With this in mind, how does expected value calculations actually help you play the game of video poker? I’ve given you essentially one rule to play by. While those hands are very common, they still account for relatively small percent of the hands. How are you going to know how to play all the rest of the hands? To do this, we don’t rely on a series of written rules. We rely on what is called a strategy table. 

Strategy tables have existed for a long time for casino games. The most common one is for Blackjack. This is usually a little matrix that lists out all the possible Player hands (hard, soft and pair hands) and every possible Dealer up-card. In each box, you have the Player strategy – what he should do when his hand matches that condition. You have a hard 16 vs. a Dealer 7, you hit. You have a hard 9 vs. a Dealer 5, you double down. A video poker strategy table provides similar information, but in a very different format.

A video poker strategy table lists all the playable hands in order from highest to lowest expected value. The good news is that there are usually about 35-40 different playable hands. The bad news is that there are 35-40 different playable hands. In order to play video poker using Expert Strategy, you have to learn how to read the hand that is initially dealt to you. If you have some familiarity with poker, this really won’t be too tough. There are essentially four categories of hands – sets, straights, flushes and high cards.

Sets are the Pairs, Two Pairs, Three of a Kinds, Four of a Kinds and Full Houses. These are generally the easiest hands to spot. Next are the straights. I’m not going to define a Straight for you but we are not talking about only a full Straight. After the deal, your hand is not finished. So you have to figure out if your hand is some sort of partial Straight. It might be a 3-Card Straight or a 4-Card Straight. You’ll have to recognize if it is an outside Straight or Inside Straight (are there openings within the three or four cards are do you need cards on the edges to complete the Straight)?

Next are the Flushes. A bit more straight forward than Straights as you really are just counting how many cards of a single suit you have. 

The fun begins when you start looking at hands that are both Straights and Flushes for the potential Straight Flush. Given the payout of the Royal, it is no surprise that we pay very close attention to cards that can make up the Royal.

Last, but not least are the High Cards. These are some of the most common hands we are dealt (unfortunately). Because most forms of video poker pay on Pairs of Jacks or better, hands above a Jack have more value to us then 2’s – 10’s. 

So not only do we sometimes play hands of only High Cards, we also have to pay attention to the number of High Cards that are contained in our partial Straights and partial Flushes.

I don’t mean to scare any of you off from playing video poker.  But, unlike many games in the casino, video poker strategy is complex – as complex as Blackjack Strategy. 

But with a little bit of practice you can recognize the different possible ways to play a hand and to memorize the strategy table so that you know which of these ways is the right way to play the hand.