Element of skill can produce profits

Jul 11, 2005 1:55 AM

Last week I explained why you should declare your independence from slots and switch to video poker. Any casino game that requires the player to use strategy will inherently have a better payback than the games that require no strategy.

The fact that video poker requires a relatively complex strategy means the potential payback is significantly better than it is for slots.

At this point, the beginner will be wondering, "there’s strategy to video poker?" Well, if you’re dealt the following, there isn’t much to think about.

J J 3 5 8

The obvious play is to hold the pair of Jacks (I’m assuming that the machine is a basic jacks or better machine). Roughly 75% of the hands will be fairly obvious to even the beginner.

The strategy comes in for the more complex hands, for which it’s not as obvious what is the proper play. Let’s take a look at the following hand:

3 3 4 5 J

How should this hand be played? It would appear there are perhaps as many as four or five ways to play this, especially if you’re stepping up to video poker for the first time. The choices include holding

pair of 3’s

3-card straight

3-card flush with 1 high card
(the Jack)

1 high card (Jack)

no cards and draw a new hand.


In order to figure out what is the right play, we simply need to figure out which hand will return the most coins back to us. To do this, we use a computer program that figures out the outcomes if we choose to play the hand each of the above ways.

Hand Frequency Pays Payout

Four of a Kind 45 25 1,125

Full House 165 9 1,485

Three of a Kind 1,854 3 5,562

Two Pair 2,592 2 5,184

Losing Hand 11,559 0 0

Total 16,215 13,356 For example, if we hold the pair of 3’s, we can expect the final hand results as noted in the accompanying table at the top of the next column.

We now divide the total coins paid out (13,356) by the total coins wagered (16,215) to come up with the expected value of the hand. In this case, it is 0.82. If we repeat this for all the other hands, we find the following expected values for each hand:

Played Hand Exp’d Value

Pair of 3’s 0.82

3-Card Straight 0.26

3-Card Flush 0.43

1 High Card 0.47

Throw 5 away 0.36

From looking at this table, we realize that this really wasn’t much of a decision after all. We always play the hand with the highest expected value, and in this case, it is the pair of 3’s, which is considerably higher than any of the other hands.

The good news is that you don’t have to memorize the expected value of hands. The bad news is that for any variety of video poker you DO have to learn the relative rankings of expected values. This is known as a strategy table.

Most strategy tables have about 30-40 different entries on it. Many of these are easy to remember. Some are more difficult. This is why I said earlier that video poker has a relatively complex strategy.

Also, each version of video poker has a completely different strategy table, and even minor variations in the paytable can alter the strategy table. This is why it is important to learn the strategy table for the specific type and paytable that you are planning to play.

Video poker can offer high paybacks for those players willing to learn the appropriate strategy tables. This is why the casinos can offer paybacks near 100% and once in a while even over 100%.

They know that most players don’t use the right strategy. Most turn their favorite poker machine into nothing more than a glorified slot machine. So, to truly declare your independence from slots you have to not only give up the slot machines, you have to avoid turning your video poker machine into a slot machine.