Learning video poker strategy takes time

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Last night I received a text message from a friend of mine that said, “I’m playing video poker. I could sure use a strategy.” Kudos to my friend for recognizing the need for a strategy.

Of course, it would have been preferable for him to have one before he started playing. Further, given that video poker strategy is not that easy to learn, it would have been best if he spent some time brushing up before he headed out.

I responded that teaching him video poker strategy via text messages would not be that simple. I guess he could have taken a picture of each hand, texted it to me, and then I could respond with proper strategy. There are a lot of flaws with this plan, starting with the casino probably not caring for it much and ending with he’d have to have a lot of data available on his cell phone plan!

I asked him what type of video poker he was playing. He said Bonus Poker. I took a picture of page 42 of Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and texted it to him. I then told him to play each hand so it had the highest EV. His response was “got it.”

He left to go out of town for the holidays, so I don’t know how he did in the end. I have had conversations with him about the concepts of video poker strategy and he’s become a reader of this column, so while I doubt he played perfectly, hopefully he got something out of our text exchange!

The reality is you can’t learn video poker in a few minutes. I can send my friend the strategy table and he can make use of it only because we’ve talked about what video poker strategy means in prior conversations. This is the equivalent of what my columns do, too. I can explain how video poker strategy is created and why it works. I can present certain specific concepts and hope to call your attention to them. But, in the end, learning the strategy requires some work on your part.

Ironically, while I think understanding how the strategy is created is important to its eventual mastery, it really isn’t absolutely necessary. You don’t need to understand one bit of why any of it works in order to make use of it.

You could have a strategy table in front of you and not even understand what expected value means and still it works. All you need to do is play each hand in the manner that provides the highest expected value.

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So, you simply need to scan the strategy table from top to bottom (it is sorted in expected value order). If the hand on the machine can be played according to the strategy table, that is the correct way to play.

It is not impossible to bring the strategy table with you into the casino, but you’ll be much better off if you spend some time learning it and mastering it at home. It is one thing to use a strategy card while playing blackjack and there is a fair amount of down time between when you get your cards and when you make your decision. In video poker, you won’t annoy any other players, but do you really want to play only 100-200 hands an hour?

As I said earlier, I also think it is important to understand why the strategy table works, even if it is not 100% necessary. Video poker is a very precise math-based game. You don’t have to consider how many other players are still in or how big the pot is. You certainly don’t have to worry about bluffing.

No matter how you choose to play the hand, there is a finite possible way the hand can be completed. You can discard only 1 card and there will be 47 ways (the remaining 47 cards) to complete the hand. If you discard 3 cards, there 16,215 ways for the hand to be completed (choosing 3 cards out of the remaining 47).

Each of these 16,215 possible draws can be analyzed to determine how much the player will get back on average. This is the expected value of playing the hand in that particular manner. Every hand can be played in 32 different ways, ranging from keeping all 5 cards to discarding all 5 cards.

Most of these 32 ways will quickly be discarded by the player as a foolish way to play the hand. It is the last two or three that must be thought about and played in the manner that maximizes the expected value.

No matter how many of my columns you read, it will be very difficult for you to master video poker strategy from them. I highly recommend one of our video poker books if you’re serious about learning the game correctly.

You can check out our titles on my website www.gambatria.com. Order any of our books directly from us. I’m happy to say, we now even take credit cards!

Buy his book now!

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 www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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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