Different hands require different video poker strategies

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I’ve spent the last couple of weeks discussing some important math concepts regarding volatility. My apologies if this brings anyone bad memories from high school math class.  

When I write, I have a choice. I can either tell you to just play a certain way and hope you’ll listen, or I can explain why I suggest you play a certain way and explain why I say what I do. It is important to understand the why behind something. 

Perhaps you trust me implicitly, but then again, perhaps you don’t.   

This week, I’m going to turn to a lighter topic. I received some e-mails from a reader asking me how certain hands should be played in video poker. In my responses, I did pretty much what I do here in my column. I gave detailed explanations for why the hands should be played as they are.  

The response for the reader (along with more questions) was to thank me and to essentially say that the short versions are good enough. I guess I don’t realize how much some of you trust me!

I’m going to answer her questions in my column this week, as I think they were good questions and bring to light situations that we have all faced when playing.

The first was in the game of Double Double Bonus, should she hold only the pair of Aces when she has a Full House?  

I’ll give the short answer here. No! This is not even close. The expected value of the Full House is 9. The expected value of the pair of Aces is below 2. But, this question, brings up two others. Should you keep only the pair of Aces if you have two pair? Should you keep Trip Aces in a Full House?

The answer to both of these is yes! The Trip Aces has an expected value of 12-13 depending on whether you discarded some 2/3/4’s at the time. A pair of Aces has an expected value of 1.9 vs. the 1.7 for two pair.

The case gets closer if the other pair was 2-4’s, but still worthy of keeping the Aces.  Double Double is the only common version of video poker where these cases are true. 

Next up were three similar but slightly different hands.  They were as follows: 

2♥ 8♠ 10♠ Q♠ A♦

3♥ 8 ♣ J♣ Q♣ A♠

A♣ A♦ 2♦ 3♦ 4♦

These are complex hands that can seemingly be played a variety of ways.  Let’s take them one at a time. I think it is clear that the 2 is toast in the first hand. That leaves us with seemingly two choices. The 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 1 High Card (8-10-Q) or maybe the 3-Card Double Inside Straight with 2 High Cards (10-Q-A)? Then again, maybe just the 2-Card Royal (10-Q)?  

To answer the question, we go to our strategy table. One of the most overlooked hands in any version of Video Poker is the 3-Card Straight Flush. It is not a very strong hand. But the reality is that frequently our choices are between poor hands and it is still imperative that we play it the best way possible.

That is the case here. The 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 1 High Card has an expected value of 0.5. The 2-Card Royal is just a little over 0.4.  The 3-Card Straight with 2 High Cards is not even a playable hand. The Two High Cards would actually be the better play, but still below our 3-Card Straight Flush. 

Our second hand is rather similar. Do we play the 3-Card Straight Flush with 2 High Cards or the 2-Card Royal or the 3-Card Straight?  Our answer is pretty similar to the prior hand. We still play the 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush. With 2 High Cards, the expected value goes up to just over 0.6. The 2-Card Royal, this time without a 10 goes up as well, but only to a bit over 0.5.  As before the 3-Card Straight is not playable. 

The final example is a bit different. Here we have a 4-Card Inside Straight Flush vs. a pair of Aces in a Double Double game where those Aces are worth far more than your basic video poker game. 

I was actually a bit surprised to see how ‘close’ the decision was. I figured it would be extremely one-sided. Our 4-Card Inside Straight Flush has an expected value of 2.3. The pair of Aces is about 1.9. Given we would be discarding a 2, 3 and 4, it would probably actually be even a bit lower. So, close is a relative term here. There is an obvious winner here, but not quite as lopsided as I expected. 

It can be very tempting when playing Double Double to go Ace hunting the way some might go Royal hunting on any other version of the game. If you goal is to hit a big hand, you can definitely do this more often by altering your strategy. But over the long run your bankroll will not benefit. 

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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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