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Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve described how an expected value is calculated in video poker and a bit on how it is used.

The relative values between two playable hands is not relevant to the decision of how to play the hand. The difference could be 0.01 or 1.5 and the decision is still to play the hand with the higher expected value.

The difference, however, does give us some idea of just how much we might cost ourselves if we don’t follow the proper strategy. But we need to make a distinction between not following the proper strategy and simply making an occasional mistake by mis-reading a hand or by playing too fast.

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This past week, I was playing Jacks or Better. On one occasion, I was dealt a Low Pair. Playing too quickly, I missed the pair until it was too late and wound up discarding all five cards.  The expected value difference between Low Pair and a Razgu (throw all five cards) is about 0.46.

On the whole, this is not a small difference in the expected values.  Nearly 30 percent of our hands will be a Low Pair.

If I were to play the hand routinely in this manner, I would be giving up nearly 15 percent of payback. You read that right. If a player were to discard every Low Pair and play as a Razgu, a full paying jacks or better machine would actually play all the way down to 85 percent or so.

I don’t know anybody who actually plays in this manner. More likely, there are some people who play Low Pairs that also happen to have 2-cards Royals as the 2-Card Royal. The expected value difference here is ‘only’ 0.25 (on average, depending on which 2-Card Royal) and of course, 30 percent of our hands are not Low Pairs with 2-Card Royals. So, the impact to the overall payback will be far less.

What did I cost myself by missing this one hand? On a theoretical level, I cost myself 0.46 times my total wager. If I were playing nickels, it would mean about 12 cents. On a 25-cent wager, this is significant. 

But, if I played 800 hands of video poker, wagering $200 over time, then I cost myself 12 cents out of $200 or less than 0.1 percent. If I make 1 mistake over 800 hands of this magnitude, I’ll cost myself about 0.1 percent of payback. It’s not earth shattering nor is it something to strive for.

We are all human and mistakes will be made. The goal is to minimize these random human errors. And most certainly, we must make sure that our routine play does not include strategy errors that takes our mistake rate from 1 in 800 to potentially 3 out of 10.


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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