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It is time for a little quiz. The name of the game is full-pay Jacks or Better. How would you play the following hands?

First: 3-diamonds, 4-diamonds, 6-diamonds, jack-spades, queen-clubs.

Second: jack-spades, queen-spades, king-diamonds, ace-clubs. 5-hearts.

Third: ace-diamonds, jack-clubs, 10-diamonds, 3-spades, 7-hearts.

Let’s start with our first question. I think it is fairly clear there are only two ways that could even be considered. The first is the 3-Card Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards. The second is the J-Q (2 High Cards). The correct answer is…the 3-Card Inside Straight Flush. It has an expected value of 0.53 while the 2 High Cards has an expected value of only 0.49.

This is not a hand you want to see often as both appear near the bottom of our strategy chart. But, this doesn’t make it any less important to learn to play properly. Partial Straight Flushes are probably the most missed hand of them all. Players also tend to look for high cards.

Even if you knew the right answer, I’m guessing if you watch someone else play in the casino for a little bit, you’ll see them play this one wrong.

Next up is our 4-Card Straight. Pretty straight forward there, right? I think we’ll all agree to discard the 5-hearts. But what about the fact two of our high cards are suited? Also, technically, this is an Inside Straight as there is only one way to complete it.

So, on closer inspection there again appear to be two ways to play the hand. Which one is it? 4-Card Inside Straight with four high cards or a 2-Card Royal (JQ)? As always, it comes down to the expected values. Our 4-Card Straight has an expected value of 0.59. Our 2-Card Royal has an expected value of 0.60. We play the 2-Card Royal.

This applies only to JQ, JK or QK. If the two suited cards were the AJ, then the expected value drops to 0.58 and the 4-Card Straight wins.

Last, but not least, is the mess in hand number 3. I think we’ll all agree to discard the 3 and 7. That leaves us with a 3-Card Straight? a 2-Card Royal? 2 High Cards? We never play a 3-Card Straight, so we can dismiss that one. 2-Card Royal or 2 High Cards?

When looking at 2-Card Royals, they get categorized into four categories. V3 is JQ, JK, QK. V2 is AJ, AQ, AK. V1 is 10J, 10Q, 10K. V0 is 10A. This is a 2-Card Royal V0. If we look at the strategy chart for full-pay Jacks or Better, we won’t find this hand. This is because it rates below throwing all cards. We will, of course find 2 High Cards on the chart with an expected value of 0.49 so it is the proper play.

At the beginning of this column, I specifically asked how you would play these hands, assuming a full pay Jacks or Better machine. I picked these specific examples for two reasons. The first is they are tricky situations you need to learn if you’re going to become an Expert Player. The second is because the answers change if you find yourself playing slightly different variations of video poker.

In our first example, if you find yourself playing a short pay 8-5 (instead of full-pay 9-6) video poker machine, you’ll find the 3-Card Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards slips just below a 2-High Card hand. Removing the additional unit payout from the Flush has a significant impact on a hand that essentially starts as a 3-Card Flush.

It will complete out to a Flush about 4 percent of the time and each one will cost you one unit relative to a full-pay machine.

We find a similar situation with our second example. The 4-Card Straight jumps over the 2-Card Royal. Or more precisely, the 2-Card Royal slips down below the 4-Card Straight. The 4-Card Straight is not really impacted by the pay table change.

The only possible outcomes are a Straight, a High Pair or nothing. The pay table hasn’t changed for these hands. For the 2-Card Royal, the Flush pays less. Making a smaller impact is that the Full House pays one unit less as well and a 2-Card Royal CAN wind up as a Full House.

In our third example, we find that even if we are playing a 5-8 machine the strategy does not change and the proper play is the 2 High Cards. However, if you find yourself playing a 5-8 machine that is a Progressive and the jackpot is up to a 1,600 coins payout (for each coin wagered), then we find even the A-10 2-Card Royal is not only playable but it outranks the 2 High Card hand.

Learning the right strategy requires knowing which machine you are playing. While the changes may not be massive, there are subtle differences that do occur as a result of what appears to be minor changes in the 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 Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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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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