Every casino game that is more than pure luck has some strategy associated with it. This goes beyond the basic strategy that simply says you’re better off not playing at all.
For many games, the strategy can be summed up with a simple sentence or two. For Three Card Poker it is: Play Q-6-4 or better. Four Card Poker has a two sentence strategy that tells you when to fold and when to raise. Let It Ride’s strategy takes a few sentences telling you when to pull down the 1 and 2 wagers.
As strategy gets more complex, it is helpful to try and put it into as easy a format as possible to help a mere mortal utilize it. It is relatively easy to program a computer to play a game perfectly. Very few humans can take every game to this level.
Also, expending that much energy on memorizing a very complex strategy can pretty much sap the fun right out of the game. Blackjack utilizes a relatively simple matrix that crosses the player’s hand with the dealer’s upcard.
Creating a strategy for video poker is quite a challenge. As said earlier, telling a computer which one of the 32 ways to play a hand is relatively easy. But, there are 2,598,960 unique 5-card deals from a standard deck.
Coming up with a way to group these together in a manner a player can use is a whole different story. I believe it was my father, Lenny Frome, who was the first person to accomplish this. He grouped hands together in a way players could easily understand, and hopefully memorize.
A video poker strategy table consists of only two columns. The first contains the hand rank as it was categorized by my father. The second contains the expected value of the hand. Ironically, this second column isn’t even needed to play video poker properly. It is there just for reference.
That means the video poker strategy table consists of a single column – usually with about 30-40 rows/entries in it. To play video poker the correct way, you have to memorize the order of these entries. This is not nearly as daunting as it seems.
About 10-15 of these entries are more than a little obvious. So, you’re left with about 25 hand types you need to learn.
Let’s start at the top of the strategy table, which contains the most obvious hands: Royal Flush; Straight Flush; Four of a Kind; 4-card Royal; Full House; Flush; Three of a Kind; Straight.
We’d be having a great night at video poker if these were the only hands we were dealt. These are all big winners, all with expected values of 4.00 or better. In fact, only one of these hands is not a sure winner – the 4-card Royal. This is also the only hand that might overlap with any of the others, creating the only strategy decision in the bunch.
What do you do if you are dealt a Straight (or a Flush) that is also a 4-card Royal? Well, here’s the answer. You have to throw away the sure winner to go for the big winner. The good news is, if you have a 4-card Royal, you have a very good chance of still winding up a winner.
There are 47 possible draws, one of which will result in the Royal. Another will give you a Straight Flush. Six or seven more (depending on whether you threw away a Straight or Flush) will result in a Flush. Five or six will result in a Straight and a host more will give you at least a High Pair, which will seem like small consolation.
While this decision might be agonizing, mathematically, it is very clearly the proper play. The expected value of the 4-card Royal is 18.66. The expected value of the Flush is 6 and the Straight is 4. Of course, don’t expect to see this hand every hour. A 4-card Royal will show up once in about 2,700 hands and only about a third of these will be a Straight or a Flush.
One other key point to note. Do not throw away a Straight Flush to go for the Royal. That Straight Flush has an expected value of 50, which far exceeds the 18-plus of the 4-card Royal.
Next week, I’ll move down the strategy table to the hands that require a bit more thought.
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].