Poker and video poker have different angles

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Last week’s column was about how there is no bluffing in the casino outside of the poker room. For most games, this probably isn’t hard to swallow.

Sure, you see some people trying to outguess what the dealer has underneath those up-cards, but no one thinks he’s holding the secret. They’re just trying to guess what card is face down.

This is not bluffing.

No matter how much you stare at the card, the probability of it being each possible card is based strictly on the probabilities dictated by which cards have already been dealt.

For some reason, however, video poker seems to confuse people a bit more in this area. People who don’t know the right strategy have a tendency to play hands the way they would if they were playing against someone else in a real game of poker.

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If you’ve got a Low Pair and a 4-Card Straight, your decision on how to draw is going to be impacted by what you think the other players have based on how they are betting and maybe some tells. Video poker machines don’t make any wagers and they certainly don’t have any tells.

The decision on what to do in the situation I just mentioned should be based on math alone. Because there are no additional wagers made, we can use expected value to determine the best way to play the hand. In the simplest terms, expected value is the average number of units we expect to have returned to us given any particular play.

It is calculated by looking at every possible draw and summing up the units returned for each draw and dividing by the number of possible draws. So, if we hold a 4-Card Straight with no High Cards (Jacks or better), there are eight ways to complete the Straight.

A Straight pays 4 so we multiply the 8 possible Straights by the payout of 4, which gives us 32. Every other draw results in a loss. So, we take the 32 and divide by the 47 possible draws and arrive at the expected value for a 4-Card Straight with no High Cards – 0.68.

Our other possibility is to hold the Low Pair. There are 16,215 possible draws (3 cards from the remaining 47 cards). Most of these will not improve the hand. Others will result in improving the hand to Two Pair, Trips, Full House and Four of a Kinds. Just as we did with the straight, we sum up the payout for each of these 16,215 draws and divide by 16,215. When this is done, we’ll get 0.82.

So, we have two choices in front of us: Play the 4-Card Straight and expect to get back just over 2/3 of our wager; or go with the Low Pair and expect to get back just over 80% of our wager. Yes, it is a choice between bad and worse. But, when gambling, bad beats worse. We hold the Low Pair.

Now, this may not be the best strategy in a poker room. When you draw 3 cards, you tell all the other players that the best you had was a Pair. If you draw 1, you leave them wondering if you’ve got Two Pair, a 4-Card Straight, a 4-Card Flush or perhaps even Trips with a kicker (to confuse) or Quads! There is a valid reason to keep the other players guessing. There is no value in trying to confuse the video poker machine.

There are countless other situations like this that you will come across when playing video poker. If you are dealt a 4-Card Flush that is a 3-Card Royal Flush, which do you go for? In a poker room, a Flush is probably enough to beat the other players.

Whether you have a Flush or a Royal Flush as your final hand doesn’t impact how much you win – or at least not with any certainty. Assuming you win the hand, you’ll win the pot and nothing more. In video poker, you are rewarded for achieving a higher hand. So, the decision on whether to go for the 3-Card Royal or the 4-Card Flush will come down to the math.

The math is dependent on the payout. So, if you have only 1 unit in and a Royal pays 250, you may find yourself playing the hand differently than if you had all 5 units in and it paid 800. One of these hands has an expected value of 1.41 and the other 1.22.

Which way would you play the hand? If you go for the Flush, you’d be wrong. This would likely be the right play in a poker room, but it is the wrong play at video poker.

If you said the 4-Card Flush, you need to learn the right strategy before you sit down and play video poker. It isn’t that hard to do. There are two ways of going about it right now. You can read my column for the next few weeks and I’ll explain the basics or you can order Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas.

It normally sells for $9.95, but I’ve long made it available to GamingToday readers for $5, which includes shipping and handling. If you’d like to order, just send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author, whose math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud and many other games. His book is “Expert Strategy for Three Card Poker”. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected]

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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