Straight talk for players

Apr 30, 2007 2:17 AM

The 4-card straight is one of those do or die hands in video poker. You either finish up with a straight, which generally pays 4. This is not exactly a jackpot, but it IS a nice winning hand.

If you have high cards in your partial straight, you’ll also occasionally wind up with a High Pair, which is essentially a push. A 4-card straight is also a perfect example of why video poker is not the same as playing poker at home.

If you were dealt a 4-card straight with medium sized cards (7-8-9-10), along with a 2, while playing poker against your friends, you’d very likely hold the 4-card straight (or perhaps fold if the betting before the draw is to rich for you).

Even if the 7-8-9 was suited, you might keep the 4-card straight instead of going for the straight flush. This is because when you play poker against other people, in a game like 5-Card Draw, the value of a straight vs. a flush vs. a straight flush is almost the same.

There is a pretty good chance you’ll take the pot with any of them. In video poker, finishing with a fflush instead of a straight gives you a 50% bonus (payout of 6 vs. 4). If you hit the straight flush, you are talking about a payout more than 12 times that of the straight. This means that a flush is worth considerably more than a straight and a straight flush is worth a lot more than the other two. So, the decision between the 3-card straight flush and the 4-card straight may not be so easy to make.

As it turns out, the prior example IS actually played as a 4-card straight. Four-card straights have a higher expected value than their 3-card straight flush counterparts (i.e. equal number of high cards). While we increase the chances of many other hands, such as pairs, two pair and trips, as well as give ourselves a shot at the straight flush, this is not enough to compensate for the loss of the number of straights.

That said, however, in our poker table example, a player would be just as likely to hold the 4-card straight even if it were a 4-card inside straight (7-8-9-J) along with a 2. In video poker, the math changes dramatically.

Because we now have only four chances to get a straight instead of 8, the expected value drops by more than 0.33. When we combine that with the fact that each high card is worth about 0.065 to our expected value, we find that a 4-card inside straight with one high card is not even a playable hand!

In this case, the proper play if at least three of the cards are not suited (not including the 2) is to hold only the one high card, with its poor expected value of only 0.47. Some 4-card inside straights are playable. If the partial straight contains at least three high cards then it may warrant a play.

The same must be true of 3-card inside straights? If in our example, the 8-9-J is suited, do we play it or play the high card? The 3-card inside straight flush with one high card has an expected value 0.63, which puts it WELL ahead of the single high card.

In fact, even if the 7-9-J was suited, the hand would STILL have an expected value of 0.54 and rank above the high card. Only a 3-Card Double Inside straight flush with 0 high cards is below a single high card. This would be a hand like 2-4-6 (suited), plus a 9 and a Q. In this case, we would play the Q. If the other two cards were a 9 and a 10, then we would play the 3-Card Double Inside straight flush.

The overall lessons here are that 4-card straights outrank their 3-card straight flush counterparts. However, a 4-Card Inside straight is far less valuable than one without the gap. So much so, that most 4-Card Inside straights are not playable. We also learn that ALL 3-card straight flushes (whether with no, one or two gaps) are potentially playable. I use the word ”˜potentially’ because they would not be played over Pairs, 4-card straights or 4-Card flushes. Learning the proper play for these hands are a key part of learning expert strategy. It may sound confusing, but with some practice, you will quickly learn to recognize the patterns of partial straights and partial straight flushes.