Strategy table makes play easy to read

Jul 25, 2005 5:28 AM

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve described the concepts of Expected Value (EV) and strategy tables. This week we’re going to start looking at a specific strategy table; the one for full-pay jacks or better video poker.

This week, I’m going to review the first 14 items on the strategy table, which are all net winners for the player. That means that the EV is greater than 1.0, or that in the long run, we can expect to win back more than we put into the machine. Since we’re starting at the top, many of the hands will be pat hands in which no draw is necessary and/or hands that have very obvious solutions as to how to play. For those of you who are newer to the game, you may still find a few surprises in store, even at the top of the table.

The top eight entries in our table should be no surprise at all. The majority of these hands can be found on the pay table, and only one is not a sure winner. They are as follows:

Hand Expected Value

Royal Flush 800.00

Straight Flush 50.00

Four of a Kind 25.00

4-Card Royal 18.66

Full House 9.00

Flush 6.00

Three of a Kind 4.30

Straight 4.00

The only hand out of these eight that is not a sure winner is the four-card royal. Nonetheless, the ability for the four-card royal to turn into a straight, a flush, a straight flush or, of course, the elusive royal makes this hand a potentially very profitable one. One thing that can be learned from this portion of the strategy table is that we DO discard straights or flushes when we have a four-card royal, but we do NOT discard a straight flush to go for the royal flush.

The other interesting point to note within these first eight entries is that three of a kind outranks the straight even though trips pay less than the straight. The ability for trips to turn into full houses and quads, increases its value beyond the pay table value of the trips and even beyond the pay table value of the straight. With the exception of the four-card Royal, none of the other hands on this part of our table overlap. Thus, deciding what is the proper play should be relatively easy.

The next six entries consist more of partial hands and sure winners that do not use all five cards, which is what makes video poker so interesting. They are as follows:

Hand Expected Value

4-Card
Straight Flush 3.55

Two Pair 2.60

4-Card Inside
Straight Flush 2.39

High Pair 1.54

3-Card Royal 1.41

4-Card Flush 1.22

There is much to learn from this part of the strategy table. Whereas, we discard a straight or a flush in favor of a four-card royal, the same cannot be said if we are only going for a straight flush. The difference in payback between the two (800 vs. 50) is more than enough to convince us to keep the straight or the flush if dealt to us. Also, we begin to introduce the idea that there is a vast difference in EV between straights that are "outside" or "open ended" and those that are "inside". An inside straight (or straight flush) has a gap on the inside and can only be completed with that specific card. An outside straight has no gaps and thus can be completed TWO ways (one at either end). This makes the outside straight much more valuable. It should also be noted that an A-2-3-4 or a J-Q-K-A straight is to be considered an inside straight because it can only be completed one way. In the case of four-card straight flushes, whether it is inside or open ended does not change our strategy.

The next hand is a high pair, which is also the most frequently dealt winning hand (pre-draw), accounting for roughly half of the guaranteed winning hands (pre-draw). From our strategy table, we learn that we will discard the high pair in favor of any four-card straight flush (including, of course, a four-card royal). We will NOT discard a high pair for a four-card flush (or a four-card straight which hasn’t yet been shown) or even a three-card royal flush.

The next hand is the often forgotten three-card royal. In most versions of video poker, we don’t play three-card straights or three-card flushes. Three-card straight flushes, however, are probably the most misplayed hand in all of video poker. Three-card royals with the extra benefit of having a chance of turning into a royal flush are more valuable than many other hands, and are in fact, winners in the long run. As the table shows, we will discard a four-card flush in favor of a three-card royal.

The last hand is the four-card flush, which is the lowest ranking hand that is still a long-term winner. These hands occur 3-4% of the time, and catching the flush is an important part of a winning session. As we have not listed the low pair on the table yet, we learn that we discard low pairs in favor of the four-card flush.

Next week, we’ll review the next portion of the table, which is long-term, losing hands.