Strategy table for full-pay jacks or better video poker

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Last week I began reviewing the strategy table for full-pay jacks or better video poker. I got about 20% of the way through the table by volume, but not very far in terms of useful information.

The top 8 hands were mostly of the no-brainer category as they were the pat hands with the exception of the 4-card Royal.

This week, I’ll keep moving down the table and provide some insight into the nuances of video poker strategy. Please remember this particular strategy is applicable ONLY to full-pay jacks or better.

After a Straight, we find the following entries on our table: 4-card Straight Flush; Two Pair; 4-card Inside Straight Flush; High Pair; 3-card Royal Flush; 4-card Flush.

The first thing you might notice about the above entries is we have two for a 4-card Straight Flush and a 4-card Inside Straight Flush. There is a big difference between the expected values for Straights that are open and those that are Inside (or Double Inside).

The common definition of Inside Straight is when the opening is in the middle and not on the ends (i.e. 5-6-7-9). However, this leaves off some Inside Straights. It is more accurate to define a 4-card Inside Straight as one that can only be filled one way.

So, an A-2-3-4 can only be filled with a 5 and thus is an Inside Straight.With this definition you can see an Inside Straight can be completed with only four cards while a regular Straight can be completed with eight cards. Straight Flushes are no different – except they have the possibility of being turned into Flushes as well.

In this particular case, there is really no benefit to splitting out the 4-card Straight Flushes. The one hand that lies between them can’t possibly be a 4-card Straight Flush (Inside or not).

We show them separately because in some versions of video poker, the hands that appear in between may be able to overlap with them and we will find in some cases we will want to keep a 4-card Straight Flush only if it is not an Inside Straight Flush. This distinction becomes very important as we take a closer look at 4-card Straights.

The fourth entry on the table is a critical one – High Pair. It is the fourth most common hand. Thus, playing it correctly is very important. Looking at the entries above it and below it what we learn is a High Pair is played over any 4-card Straights and 4-card Flushes. We will, however, play all 4-card Straight Flushes over a High Pair. But, we will not play a 3-card Royal over the High Pair. So, if you have a suited J-Q-K along with another Queen, you stick with the sure winner – the Pair of Queens.

Below High Pair, we have a 3-card Royal Flush and a 4-card Flush. There is much to learn here as well. The most obvious is if you have a 3-card Royal and a 4-card Flush, we hold the 3-card Royal. This can be a tough choice because the likelihood of hitting the Royal is still relatively small.

By holding a 3-card Royal we give ourselves more chances for a Straight. We might still hit a Flush and we have the longshot at the Royal. Also, with a 3-card Royal, we leave ourselves two to three cards that can be matched up for a High Pair. The expected values are not really all that close with a 1.41 for the 3-card Royal and 1.22 for the 4-card Flush. The decision is relatively clear.

From these entries we also learn if the player has a 3-card Royal that is also a 4-card Straight Flush (8-10-J-Q), we hold the 4-card Straight Flush. With the 4-card Straight Flush, we still have many chances for Straights and Flushes so we don’t throw away the extra card, even if it gives us a chance to get the Royal.

I’ve stopped at this particular point in the strategy table because the 14 hands I’ve listed over the past two weeks are the only ones with an expected value greater than 1.0. That means these hands are net winners in the long run. Some will be winners 100% of the time. Some will not.

In the long run, we can expect to get more back than we wagered. These hands make up about 40% of the table and about 25% of the total hands dealt.

Beginning next week, we’ll review the hands with an expected value below 1.0.

Even though these are losers in the long run, it doesn’t make them less important. In fact, they may be more important because they account for a larger percentage of hands dealt.

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].

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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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