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This could very well be one of the most important columns that you will ever read about video poker, especially if you are already a pretty good player. Many hands in video poker are rather obvious. One of the first critical lessons in learning how to play video poker is learning how to play 4-card flushes with low pairs and 4-card straights with low pairs.

Next up is probably learning how to play high cards that are intermingled with 2-card royals. But a lesson that is frequently overlooked, yet one that can make a HUGE difference to how your session goes, is one that involves the black sheep of video poker – the straight flush.

In most versions of video poker, the straight flush pays ‘only’ 50 units. This is a far cry from the 800 units of the royal flush and yet only twice that of the basic four of a kind payoff. Adding to the indignation is that when Bonus Poker came along, it was the four of a kind payout that was enhanced, leaving a straight flush which has the 2nd highest ranking poker hand, but sometimes paying no more than a ‘lowly’ four of a kind.

From a contribution rate standpoint, it really is no wonder why the straight flush gets the rap it does. Four of a kinds occur about 1 in 400+ hands. Royal flushes about 1 in 40,000. Straight flushes occur just a bit more frequently than 1 in 10,000, assuming you’re playing the right strategy. It really deserves a payout of about 100 or 150 to get it the respect it deserves, but, alas that is not how the game was designed.

While the straight flush only adds about 0.50% to the payback, that doesn’t mean you can simply ignore it. Those 50 units can quickly turn a losing session into a winning one.

I don’t want anyone to get the idea that you should spend your video poker session looking for straight flushes. However, when the opportunity arises, don’t forget them either. Four-card straight flushes on the deal are rather rare, but the proper play is pretty obvious. It is the 3-card straight flush that is the key.

EVERY 3-card straight flush – even inside and double inside – even if there are no high cards are playable hands. This does not mean that you play these hands above all others, it just means that if you have 3-cards to ANY straight flush, you should NOT be throwing away all five cards.

Generally speaking, if you have a 4-card straight along with the 3-card straight flush, you’re playing the 4-card straight. Remember, however, that this MUST NOT be an inside straight. Where 3-card double inside straight flushes are playable, many 4-card inside straights are not, and a 3-card straight flush will outrank a 4-card inside straight.

On the other side of things, most 3-card straight flushes outrank high cards. So, an 8-9-J (suited) combined with a QK (suited but of a different suit) gets played as a 3-card straight flush, not the 2-card royal.

Learning these rules can be rather confusing, so you need to make sure you learn all of them properly. At the same time, I have no doubt that when they are mastered, it will not take long for you to notice a difference.

Before I learned how to use expert strategy, I almost never hit a straight flush. Now, I find that I hit at least one or two on each weeklong trip to Las Vegas. Almost all of them come from 3-card straight flushes that I used to not bother playing. You’d be surprised at how quickly 50 units can make your day.

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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