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The laws of math are long term

Expert Strategy is NOT for the impatient. It is a strategy based on the long-term expectation of the results of playing a casino game. The long-term might be months or it might be years, depending on the game we are playing. You will likely notice a positive impact in your bankroll in far shorter time. While a full-pay jacks or better machine pays just a smidge below 100%, effectively making it a toss-up with the casino, this does not mean that you can expect to win 50% of the time.

As with most casino games, especially those with relatively high-paying top hands, video poker has been developed so that a minority of people win the majority of the money. Since the machines have no way of knowing who is who, this really means that the majority of a player’s sessions will result in losses. To even this out back to nearly 100%, a player should expect that while his winning sessions will be more infrequent, they should be a bit larger than his losses. Of course, this is heavily swayed by getting his fair share (or more) of royals.

Taking this down to the micro level, a player has to realize that about 54+% of all hands will wind up as losers. Another 21% will end up as High Pairs – i.e. pushes. This leaves the remaining 25% of the hands to be where we make our money from. Thus, it is not unusual to go 10, 20 or even 30 hands without an actual winner (Two Pair or better).

There are 36 types of hands on the strategy table for jacks or better. Of these, 22 of them are losers on average (expected value below 1.0) while only 14 of them are winners. The losing pre-draw hands account for roughly 75% of our hands. To make matters worse, more than half of the losing hands are big losers, with expected value of 0.60 or less and the other ‘half’ are at about 0.80 or less. To sum up, you have to learn to sit through a lot of very frustrating hands to try and come out on top.

It becomes very easy when you get one of these cold streaks to start believing that you should change the strategy you are utilizing. Due to the nature of luck, you might just do better for a hand or two. But, in the long run, the laws of math will easily overtake the luck and you’ll just find your bankroll taking the bigger hit.

There are a number of common steps players tend to take to break up the cold streak that really play into the hands of the casino. One of these is to start going for 4-card Inside Straights. The expected value on Inside Straights tend to be about 0.40 – about 20% below holding onto the 1 or 2 High Cards that are usually the alternative. Holding the 4-Card Straight also eliminates the possibility of a bigger payback but eliminating anything but a Straight and maybe a High Pair as outcomes. Holding a single High Card (or two) gives you the opportunity for a faster turnaround by pulling out the rare Four of a Kind, or perhaps a Royal from a 2-Card Royal.

Another commonly seen misstep is to hold kickers. I really don’t even know how to explain the logic of this move. Kickers are held in table poker because there may be significant value in pairing up an Ace over a different pair. Or, in the case of a tie, having that Ace may be enough to put you on top. In video poker, an Ace is actually worth less than a Jack, Queen or King. It is easier to draw Straights with a single Jack, Queen or King than an Ace. A pair of any of these other cards is worth as much as an Ace. All other hands, the specific rank matters not at all. A Straight to the 6 is as valuable as a Straight to the Ace. Basically, kickers can provide NOTHING while taking away 5-7% of the expected value for a given hand.

When you find yourself abandoning the strategy and pulling stunts like these, the best thing you can do is get up and stretch for a moment. Take a few deep breaths and remember that patience is a virtue that can serve you well in a casino.


You can try out your strategy by playing our video poker game.

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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