Learn strategy

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As is fairly common, I was asked recently by a friend what is the best game to play in the casino. The answer is always the same – video poker. It is the ONLY one that can offer paybacks over 100%, but they are getting harder to find. My friend then asked me how video poker differs from regular poker. I responded that in regular poker, bluffing an opponent is part of the game. In video poker, all that matters are the mathematical probabilities of drawing cards to the ones you choose to hold. The next question was “so what is the strategy for video poker?”

I didn’t really know how to answer that one. I decided to tell him it was a lot like blackjack, a game he was familiar with. You hit when you are supposed to hit, you stick when you are supposed to stick, you double down when you are supposed to double down and so on. There is no way to summarize the strategy for video poker the way you might for a game like Three Card Poker. I can’t just say play Queen-Six-Four or greater. Learning to play video poker properly is a bit more complex than that.

It is this complexity of the strategy that allows the casino to offer paybacks so high. Only a small fraction of players play correctly (or anywhere near it). So, a small percentage of players earn the near (or greater than) 100% payback. The rest of the players hand their money to the casinos and I guess everyone is happy. My question to you is which one do you want to be? Do you want to be one of those that learn how to play? Or do you want to be those that THINK they know how to play but are really the reason why those that play properly can be paid greater than 100%?

Video poker is not the easiest game in the casino to learn, nor is it the hardest. I think that distinction belongs to blackjack. The full amount of the strategy you need to learn is similar, but with blackjack you’re playing in front of other players and you don’t have the luxury of time. With video poker, you are generally not rushed into making a decision, so you can take your time as your are learning how to play.

Strategy for video poker is dictated by a strategy table. A strategy table consists of about 30-50 rows in a table that describes each hand and includes the expected value for that hand. The expected value is the amount we can expect to win back for each unit wagered. While I think it is a good idea to understand how expected value is determined, it is not necessary to know this information in order to learn how to play. All you need to do is remember which hands are higher up on the strategy table (the table is sorted from higher ranking expected values down to the lower ones).

So, the work that you need to do is to look at the 5-card hand that is dealt to you and determine how to categorize it. Most hands can be categorized only one way. Some can be categorized 2 or 3 ways. Based on these categories, you scan the strategy table and play the hand according to the description that appears higher on the strategy table – this will be the one with the higher expected value. So, perhaps a hand is both a Low Pair and a 4-Card Straight. Whichever of these hands appears higher on the strategy table is the correct way to play it. A different strategy table is used for each different possible paytable. Thus, it is possible that the hand will be played one way for one paytable and a different way for a different paytable.

Learning how to play video poker is not going to happen overnight. It does take some time and practice to learn how to recognize hands and to play the proper one from the strategy table. For the month of July, we are celebrating Independence Day – Independence from Slots, that is and offering BOTH Winning Strategies for Video Poker (which contains the strategy tables for some of the most popular games around) AND Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance – 200 pages of Lenny Frome’s best articles for ONLY $15 – which includes postage and handling. It is a great way to get started on learning how to play video poker the Expert way. Send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603

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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