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Video poker is truly a game like no other in the casino. The only thing that is really even close is perhaps Blackjack, but even that is so very different.

Table games are social games. You play about 30 hands per hour. Blackjack has strategy, but it is still a game that you can essentially only win even money on in each hand. If you play the right strategy, you are still most likely going to wind up very close to even at the end of a couple of hours.

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Even jacks or better video poker is considerably more volatile than Blackjack. Admittedly, the hand is rare, but you will hit that Royal Flush roughly every 40,000 hands. Playing the right strategy not only means the highest possible payback, but it also is what gives us the right chance to hit that jackpot.

I’m not going to say that luck doesn’t play a part in the short run for video poker, but it helps to play the hands the right way too. Well, more than just helps. It may seem like an easy decision but not everyone is going to make it. What do you do if you’re dealt a 4-Card Royal that is already a Flush? You discard the Flush and go for the Royal. You discard anything for a 4-Card Royal.

What would you discard for a 3-Card Royal? Don’t discard any sure winners that’s for sure. Not even a High Pair. The High Pair has an expected value of 1.54 while the 3-Card Royal is only 1.41.But you should discard all 4-Card Flushes and 4-Card Straights for the 3-Card Royal. Be careful, you would not discard a 4-Card Inside Straight Flush. So, if dealt 8D 10D JD, QD 4C you keep the 4-Card Inside Straight Flush.

Just a little over 1% of our hands will be played as a 3-Card Royal Flush. They don’t come up as often as we wish they would, but playing them correctly is key to achieving the paybacks that video poker offers. Two-Card Royal Flushes make up a far greater percentage of our hands — roughly 8% of our playable hands. As such, it is super critical to learn the proper play for these hands.

It is hard for me to go over the entire strategy in my column, but one of the most critical things to remember is that two suited high cards have a higher expected than three unsuited High Cards. It is important that you realize I mean high cards and not cards from a Royal. If you have J-10 suited, you have a 2-Card Royal, but only 1 High Card and 2 (or 3) off-suited High Cards have a higher expected value. So, if you have 10D JD QC 3S 5D, the correct play is the Jack and Queen as 2 High Cards over the 2-Card Royal of 10-J.

Remember that Expert Strategy will maximize the overall payback and not the frequency of Royals. It is important to keep the payout of a Royal in mind when determining the expected value of a possible play, but that doesn’t mean it has an unlimited value. 

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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