Players should play those hands out

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Players in the casino don’t like to give up. If I could capture every event in the casino, I’m fairly certain I would find that players are shy about hitting into busting in blackjack, fold too infrequently in most other games and almost never use the Surrender option in blackjack.

We want that showdown. We’ll take a 10% chance to win in a showdown over surrendering half of our wager even though that is the smart play. We won’t hit that 14 against a face card because we don’t want to risk busting. After all, what if the dealer busts too!

This same mindset carries over to video poker. Players don’t like to give up all five cards even when playing the hand that way is what makes sense. It is like surrendering in blackjack. My first thought would be the Razgu (discard all five) is probably the most underused hand on our strategy table. My second thought is that while it is probably greatly underutilized, it may not be the most underutilized. This award probably goes to the 3-Card Straight Flush and all its related hands.

The only thing that might make it close is, for all the people who don’t like to play a Razgu, they have to play something. Unknowingly, they may wind up playing 3-Card Straight Flushes rather than a Razgu. Ironically, the 3-Card Straight Flush would be the right play over the Razgu, but not necessarily over every other possible hand.

So, as much as players hate to play a Razgu, playing a hand as a 3-Card Straight Flush is almost as bad. Combine that with the idea sometimes 3-Card Straight Flushes (especially of the Double Inside variety) are hard to spot, and these hands are likely underplayed as well. If only the cards would come out in rank order, it would be so much easier to spot the hands!

So, say you’re dealt a 3-5-7 of diamonds and a Jack of spades and Queen of hearts. What’s the right play? The play is the Jack-Queen. But, if the hand were 3-5-6 of diamonds instead, then the play is the 3-Card Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards. As always, we go to the expected values to tell us what to do. That 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards has an expected value of only 0.44. If we change that 7 to a 6 and make it only an Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards, then the expected value goes up to 0.53.

One High Card has an expected value of 0.47. Two High Cards has an expected value of 0.49. So, we see that even One High Card is worth playing over a Double Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards. But, if we close the gap in the Straight Flush just a little, it warrants playing over the High Cards.

However, we have to remember 2 High Cards means unsuited! If we have two suited High Cards, then the hand is classified as a 2-Card Royal, which would have a minimum expected value of 0.58 and would be played over a 3-Card Inside Straight Flush.

The rules around a 3-Card Straight Flush are relatively complex. There are a lot of different combinations of Double Inside and Inside Straight Flushes with a variety of High Card situations. When we look at our strategy table, we find these hands interwoven with many overlapping hands – 4-Card Straights, 4-Card Flushes, 2-Card Royals, etc.

We combine this with what can be described overall as very weak hands, and perhaps you can understand why I’m taking an educated guess that they are very underplayed hands. Players don’t see them, and they don’t like them. This is not a good combination, but we must remember to follow the math no matter what our emotions tell us.

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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