Table talk

Aug 8, 2005 2:15 AM

I’ve spent the past two weeks dissecting the strategy table for full-pay jacks or better. Besides teaching each of you how to play this popular and easy to find version of the game, the goal of this series of articles has been to teach you how to analyze a strategy table.

I suppose it’s possible to just remember it line by line. I prefer however, to get a complete understanding of the table, which I find makes it much easier to remember all the little tricks that each unique strategy table contains.

This week, we’ll finish up the rest of the strategy table. Even though these hands are the poorest payers on the table, that doesn’t make them any less important. Mistakes on any part of the strategy table can shrink your bankroll in a hurry. Also, since these final 12 rows also contain the 2-card royals, misplaying these hands can greatly reduce your chances for hitting that royal. It is important to realize the power of the 2-card royal, without giving them either TOO much power or not enough power.

The next six rows of our strategy table are as follows: Hand Expected Value

2-Card Royal (Version 3) 0.60

4-Card Inside Straight with 4 High Cards 0.59

2-Card Royal (Version 2) 0.58

3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 1 High Card 0.54

4-Card Inside Straight with 3 High Cards 0.53

3-Card Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards 0.53


The first row on the table is the first of our 2-Card Royals. Unlike 3 and 4-Card Flushes and Straights, we cannot simply count the number of High Cards in the hand. Instead, 2-Card Royals have a classification all their own. Version 3 (or V3) is a 2-Card Royal with no 10 or Ace (i.e. JQ, JK, QK). We subtract 1 from the ”˜Version’ if the 2-Card Royal contains an Ace, and subtract 2 if it contains a 10. Thus a QA is a V2, a Q10 is a V1 and a A10 is V0. As we’ll soon see, A10 (or V0) is not even playable in this version of video poker. Remembering how to calculate the version number of a 2-Card Royal and how its expected value compares to other hands is very important. The hands in this part of the table overlap greatly with 2-Card Royals, and playing them wrong can be costly.

Right away, we see that a 2-card royal V3 has a higher expected value than a 4-card inside straight with four high cards. This hand can occur only 1 way (J-Q-K-A-X). Thus if the JQ, JK, or QK are of the same suit, you throw away the 4-card straight and go for the 2-card royal. However, if the JA, QA or KA are the two suited cards then we keep the 4-card straight.

Similarly, we hold these V2 2-card royals over a 4-card inside straight with three high cards (i.e. 10-J-Q-A-X). Of course, if three or more of these cards are suited, it would be a 3-card royal and a 4-card royal and then we would DEFINITELY go for the royal.

The rest of the hands on this portion of the table are just the expected 3-card straight flush variations that were discussed last week.

The final six rows of our strategy table are as follows: Hand Expected Value

3 High Cards 0.51

2 High Cards 0.49

2-Card Royal (Version 1) 0.48

1 High Card 0.47

3-Card Double
Inside Straight
Flush with
0 High Cards 0.44

Razgu 0.36


The last part of our table introduces two of the most common hands we have to play when playing video poker. It’s not very good news that they appear near the bottom of our table. These two common hands — two high cards and ”˜one high card — will account for about 30% of all of our hands.

Far less common but similar in terms of play is the three high cards. The three high cards MUST BE J-Q-K. They must be unsuited, or we would play them as a 2-card rRoyal (V3). If the three high cards contain an ace, then we play it as two high cards, UNLESS the ace is a suit match to one of the other high cards, in which case it is a 2-card royal (V2).

Also important to note is that there is no 4-card inside straight with two high cards. So, if dealt 9-10-Q-K-X, we do NOT go for the straight, but rather hold only the Q-K. The lowest playable 4-card inside dtraight must contain at least three high cards. So, a 9-J-Q-K is played unless a 2-card royal exists within it.

Sneeked in between the two high cards and the one high card is the last playable 2-card royal for this version of video poker.

If you are dealt one high card and a 10 of the same suit, we hold this 2-card royal instead of the single high card. IF however, there is a second high card, we play it as two high cards.

So, if dealt 10-J-Q, where the 10 and Queen are of the same suit, we still hold the J-Q for two high cards. Below one high card is the final 3-card straight flush version. You can’t get any worse than this in terms of a straight flush. It is double inside and has NO high cards. What we do learn from this is that EVERY 3-card straight flush is playable. That doesn’t mean there aren’t variations we throw away in favor of a better hand, but at no time do we throw away a 3-card straight flush and draw five new cards.

That brings us to the infamous Razgu. My father coined this phrase because it sounds better than saying garbage hand. When all else fails, we draw five cards.

The expected value is a rather low 0.36, but it’s is still better than drawing to a 4-card inside straight with no high cards, or holding a 2-card straight flush or one medium card. As bad as a Razgu is, these other hands are far, far worse.

Well, that’s the whole strategy table and a lot of insight into how to use it to help you on your way towards learning expert strategy. It’s important to remember that EVERY change to a video poker paytable can affect the strategy. The next step in the process is to practice, practice, practice. You can use a deck of cards at home, but to really learn the game, I would strongly recommend you buy a good version of video poker software for your PC. My father worked closely with the developers for Masque Video Poker Strategy Pro, which plays 61 versions of video poker, but there are other good ones out there as well. Once you have mastered the game at home, you are ready to go to the casino and try it with real money.