Turning calculations into poker victories

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I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to get the beginners among you to make a relatively simple adjustment to your strategy. It involves four relatively common hands – high pair, 4-card flush, low pair and 4-card straight.

As I explained last week, they are played in this order because of their expected values. This week, I will walk through the calculation of the expected values for each of these hands.


We start with the easy one first. It is easy because EVERY high pair has exactly the same Expected Value (EV). Since we already have a pair of jacks or better, we don’t have to worry about what are the specific cards discarded as they cannot help the hand nor interfere with other hands being formed.

When dealt a high pair, we will draw three cards. There are 16,215 combinations we can then draw from the remaining 47 cards in the deck (47 choose 3). Let’s look at the results of all of these draws:

45 will result in a four of a kind paying 25 each for a total of 1,125.

165 will result in a full house paying nine each for a total of 1,485.

1,854 will result in a three of a kind paying three each for a total of 5,562.

2,592 will result in a two pair paying two each for a total of 5,184.

11,559 will result in a high pair paying one each for a total of: 11,559.

The Grand Total is 24,915.

We divide the grand total by the number of combinations to arrive at the Expected Value of 1.5365. Every high pair has this exact EV. By itself, this number means relatively little in terms of our strategy.

Yes, it does tell us that we can expect to win about 1.5 units back when we have a high pair, on average, but it doesn’t tell us if we should play a 4-card flush or a high pair when we have both.


This will generate very similar results to our high pair. The only (and very BIG) difference is that all of those high pair hands at the end will now end up as low pairs and pay nothing. Thus, we will have a grand total of only 13,356, which when divided by 16,215 gives us an Expected Value of 0.8237.


The 4-card flush and the 4-card straight each have 47 possible draws. The flush can result in nine flushes paying six each – for a total of 54.

The straight (NOT INSIDE) can result in eight possible straights paying four each for a total of 32. However, depending on how many high cards each has, it may be possible to wind up with a high pair as well.

For each high card that is in the 4-card flush or 4-card straight, three additional hands can wind up as a high pair instead of a losing hand. These additional three units when divided by 47 possible combinations means that each high card adds about 0.0638 to the Expected Value of our 4-card flush or 4-card straight.

So, a 4-card flush with zero high cards has an expected value of 1.15 (54 divided by 47). If there is one high card, we add .064 to this to get to about 1.21. With two high cards it climbs to about 1.28.

With three high cards – well, we would have a 3-card royal and that’s a whole different hand! So, a 4-card flush has an EV of somewhere between 1.15 and 1.28.

Since no other hand has an EV in between these two, we don’t bother separating these hands out on our strategy chart. Instead, we take the average of ALL 4-card flushes and say that its Expected Value is 1.22.

With regard to a 4-card straight, the Expected Value with zero high cards is a paltry 0.68. With one high card it goes up to 0.74. With two high cards it goes 0.81 and with three high cards to 0.87. Technically, a 4-card straight with 4-high cards is an inside straight (only one way to complete it) so its EV is much lower.

Because numerous other hands, including our low pair have an Expected Value in this same range, our strategy table shows each of these hands separated out.

So, when we look at all of these hands and rank them from high to low in terms of their Expected Values, we come up with the following:

High Pair: 1.54

4-Card Flush: 1.22

4-Card Straight with three high cards: 0.87

Low Pair: 0.82

4-Card Straight with two high cards: 0.81

4-Card Straight with one high card: 0.74

4-Card Straight with zero high cards: 0.68

It is based on these Expected Values that our strategy is derived. I’d like to raise two final important points. First, note that the 4-card straight with three high cards actually outranks the low pair – which is in conflict with the simple rule I gave two weeks ago.

While you should play this 4-card straight OVER the low pair, this particular combination is so rare that ignoring it while you work on learning the strategy will not cost you much. The ONLY way this hand can occur is 10-10-J-Q-K.

This leads to the second important point. For the purposes of this part of the strategy, ALL of our 4-card straights are outside – meaning they can be completed on either end. The other type of straight is an “inside,” which has a gap in the middle or has an ace on one end or the other.

These can be completed only one way and have a much lower Expected Value. In Jacks or Better, most inside straights are not even playable.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy and healthy New Year and remind everyone to make their resolution to break the slot habit in 2012!


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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