Low Pairs, just over 28% of our video poker draws

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Have you ever sat down at a video poker machine and seemingly been dealt an endless stream of Low Pairs? There are nine ranks of Low Pairs and four of High Pairs, yet they don’t seem to run in this ratio.

In reality, these hands make up more than 40% of our initial deals in video poker. If they don’t seem to run in a 9:4 ratio, the odds are this is your selective memory getting the best of you. Because we discard a few extra Low Pairs in favor of things like 4-card Flushes, we’ll actually have a few more High Pairs than 4/13 of our pairs.

Low Pairs by themselves make up just over 28% of our hands (roughly 2 in 7). Thus, getting a streak of three or four together is hardly the indication of a broken or rigged machine. The Low Pair hand is memorable for a few reasons. The first I’ve already mentioned is that it is so frequent. The second is that it is a losing hand in the long run.

While a 0.82 expected value might not seem that bad when we compare it to many of the other hands, it still essentially means we’re playing an 82% payback game every time we are dealt one. This is not a recipe for success.

The third reason is the hand has a limited amount of outcomes. Starting with a Low Pair, you have no chance for a High Pair, Straight, Flush or Straight (Royal) Flush. In one of those strange twists of math coincidences, your likelihood of winding up with a winning hand is also roughly 28%.

The overwhelming portion of these will wind up as Two Pair (55.6%) or Trips (39.8%) which are winning hands, but not big winners. 3.5% of your winners will be a Full House with the remaining ones being Quads. Is it any wonder the Bonus games have been so popular given they give a chance of your low Low Pairs hitting big?

Adding to the frustration of the Low Pair is that the second most common hand is the Single High Card, which accounts for another 15.5% of our hands. Add them together and you get nearly 44% of all hands. Stringing together several of these hands combined (Low Pair and One High Card) will be relatively common and lead to a fair amount of frustration.

The One High Card hand is at the bottom of the strategy table with an expected value of a mere 0.47, barely above a Razgu (throw all five) which has an expected value of 0.36. Comparatively speaking, the Low Pair will look good relative to the One High Card.

Last but not least, we add on the Two High Card hand with its expected value of 0.49 and a frequency of just under 15%. When we put these three together, they account for 58.5% of our hands and we can quickly gain an understanding of how video poker can be so streaky.

Run a streak of 10 of these hands together and you’re not likely going to have a hot streak. It’s not even going to be medium. It’s likely going to be a bit cold.

So, what is a player to do with all of these bad hands? There is only one thing – make sure you play them all correctly. Out of frustration, you can decide to throw away all five cards instead of holding onto the One High. But as just shown, you’ll simply be lowering the expected value from 0.47 to 0.36.

I’m sure once in a while it will work out in your favor, but in the long run, you’ll be costing yourself 10% of payback (on these hands) for this maneuver. It doesn’t matter if both hands are low or high ranked. A 0.1 difference in expected value will still cost you in the long run.

When you get frustrated that your Low Pairs are winding up as, well, Low Pairs this doesn’t mean you start dumping them in favor of 4-card Straights and 3-card Straight Flushes. You don’t get back in the game by taking wild risks and going off-strategy. Make sure to stay the course and stick to the strategy.

The Low Pairs will turn into winners 28% of the time with that small fraction of them even hitting big with Four of a Kind.

Poker room poker and video poker have relatively little in common. One aspect that they share is that they should both be played emotionless.

In the case of the poker room, you keep your emotions in check so you don’t give away your hand to your opponents. In the case of video poker, you are free to show your emotions all you want, just don’t let it affect your strategy.

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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