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Just over two months to go until National Video Poker Day (Sept. 6 aka 9/6). We’ve got a lot to cover between now and then. The past few weeks, I’ve covered some of how the strategy for video poker is developed, which all culminated in the creation of a strategy table.

Today, it is time to start looking at one of those tables in detail – specifically for jacks or better video poker.

A strategy table consists of two columns and about 30-40 rows. The columns are the description of the hand and the expected value of that hand. That second column is for informational purposes only. There is no need to memorize the expected value or even an approximation. It is not a horrible idea to have some idea of what the expected value is of a hand to keep you on the right path, but it is not necessary.

The box above right shows the first 14 entries in the strategy table for a full-pay jacks or better machine.

This should not seem too hard to commit to memory. Of these 14 rows, nine cover the hands on our paytable. So, it shouldn’t take too much too recognize these hands. The other five hands are the 4-Card Royal, 3-Card Royal, 4-Card Inside Straight Flush (Outside and Inside) and 4-Card Flush. Very few of these hands overlap in any sort of way, so they should cause very little confusion.

Some of you may have noticed a bit of an oddity – a Three of a Kind is ABOVE a Straight even though a Straight pays 4 and Trips pays 3. This is because we still draw on the Trips and could wind up with Quads or a Full House. But, there isn’t much you really need to remember about that as it is not possible to have both Trips and a Straight in the same hand (obviously).

There are some important things to note about these hands. Notice the placement of the 4-Card Royal, by far, the most powerful non-winning hand you can be dealt. If you have a 4-Card Royal that is also a Flush or a Straight or a Pair you will DISCARD those winning hands to for the Royal.

You will NOT, however, discard a Straight Flush to go for the Royal. Don’t be greedy! A 50 for 1 payout is a solid win.

The next thing to pay attention to is the placement of the 4-Card Straight Flushes. We do NOT discard Straights or Flushes to go for a Straight Flush! We DO discard Pairs to go for one. We also play a 4-Card Straight Flush over a 3-Card Royal. So, if you are dealt 9-J-Q-K suited, you do NOT discard the 9!

Next up is our 3-Card Royal. You WILL play this over any 4-Card Flush (and 4-Card Straight, which is even further down on our table). So if that 9 in the above example was offsuit to the JQK, you’d go for the Royal. But, if that fifth card was a J, Q or K, giving you a High Pair, you would hold the sure winner. You would however, discard the Pair if it was a LOW PAIR. So, if that was an off-suit 9 with another off-suit 9, you would still go for the Royal.

Last but not least, we have our 4-Card Flush. We learn from this portion of our strategy table that we do NOT discard a High Pair to go for the 4-Card Flush, but we DO discard a Low Pair (as it is lower on our table). Since a 4-card Straight is not above it in the table, we also will hold a 4-Card Flush over a 4-Card Straight. We also see no 3-Card Straight Flushes above it, so we do NOT discard the fourth suited card to go for any type of a 3-Card Straight Flush (except the Royal).

I specifically stopped at this point on our table because these are the hands that have an expected value of 1.0 or greater. In other words, these are the hands, in the long run, that we win money on. That does not make them any more or less important than the other 30 or so hands.

You must play winners and losers correctly to get to the theoretical payback. But, these are the hands you want to see and see often. They account for just about 25% of our dealt hands. When your machine is running cold, you’ll note these are not likely the hands you are getting frequently.

Next week, we begin on the middle section of our strategy table, which gets a bit more complex.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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