When a full house won’t do

Dec 21, 2004 4:33 AM

One of the most exasperating hands for the video poker player has to be when you’re playing a bonus game, and you watch the first three cards unfold as aces and the next two cards complete the full house. It’s hard to believe that you can actually be frustrated with a full house, but we’ve all been there. So close to those four aces and its big payout, yet how can you be upset about a pretty decent winner dealt to you?


Yet, you realize you have a decision to make. Do you keep the full house or scrap the pair and go for the quad aces? There are some people out there reading this who have already made up their minds regardless of the pay table — they will always go for the four aces. They’re playing to gamble and there’s no stopping them.

The bottom line is the full house payout, usually ranging from nine to 12 coins is all yours. Is it worth risking these coins for the 200 to 800 coins that the quad aces can bring?

The answer is "sometimes." Of course, it all comes down to maximizing our expected value, which basically answers the previous question, accounting for all the possible outcomes. If we throw away the full house, we will end up with a three of a kind 968 times, four aces 46 times, and another full house 67 times.

In kicker games such as Double Double Bonus, a portion of the quad aces will be of the kicker variety, therefore increasing the expected value all the more (the payout is greater with a designated kicker, such as a king or three).

If the expected value of keeping just the three aces is greater than the payback of the full house, then it makes sense to do so. If it’s not, then essentially the player is risking his winnings on a new bet that pays less than 100 percent.

In some cases, the payback of this new "bet" will be well below the overall payback of the video poker machine. The large payout of the quad aces has the ability to cloud one’s judgment. If you’re looking for a chance for a large payout with a so-so payback and high volatility, roulette may be the game for you, not video poker.

Of course, there are also some players out there who will always go for the quad aces, and upon hitting it will declare the tenets of expert strategy to be nonsense. First of all, it has to be understood that the odds of hitting the four aces from a dealt full house does not change based on the pay table. Second, according to expert strategy, many of the bonus poker versions of video poker DO warrant playing the three aces over the full house.

Offered here is a table that covers some of the more common games and the expected value of holding the full house versus holding the three aces. In all cases, I am assuming the full-pay versions of the games. The less than full-pay versions may have different strategies. The shaded box tells us the proper play:

As the table shows, there is no "one size fits all" answer for this problem. In some cases, the decision is not even close. In others the difference is very small and can easily be swayed by the payback of the full house changing by a single unit. As always, make sure you learn the strategy for the specific game and pay table that you are playing.