Start play with expert strategy

Jul 24, 2007 12:05 AM

Last week, I explained why casinos offer such high paybacks on video poker machines. They know that only a small fraction of players will use the right strategy to achieve these paybacks. It merely takes practice to learn this right strategy — a strategy I call Expert Strategy.

Expert Strategy is comprised of three key elements — playing the right games, playing the right strategy and knowing what to expect. Today, I will continue to focus on the second of these key elements, playing the right strategy.

Last week, I began this portion of the topic by explaining what Expected Value (EV) is. It is the average of the expected return of all possible outcomes from the current point. For video poker, this means considering every possible draw based on the particular way the player chooses to hold cards.

Whichever way results in the highest expected value is the proper play. Fortunately, most hands in video poker are fairly obvious. There is little to think about when you are dealt a two pair.

Some hands, however, can be far more confusing and at quick glance will appear to have several ways that might be the best one. For example, what if you were dealt the following:


8§ 9§ 9© 10§ Jª


There would seem to be three possible plays that are best. The first is the pair of 9s. The second is the 3-Card Straight Flush and the last is the 4-Card Straight. Which is the right play?

To make this determination, we turn to the expected value of each play. The good news is that you don’t have to calculate the EV yourself; you merely have to look it up in a strategy table.

But, for those that are curious, I’ll give a brief explanation of how the expected value is calculated. For the low pair, a computer program analyzes each of the 16,215 possible draws and tabulates how many winning hands there are and the payouts of these hands. This amount is then divided by the 16,215 possible draws and the result is the expected value. For a low pair, the expected value is 0.82. An expected value below 1.00 means that in the long run, the Player will lose money on this hand.

For the 3-Card Straight Flush, we analyze the 1,081 possible draws. When this is done, we find that the expected value is 0.59. If you were to look at a strategy table, you’d probably find the value of 0.63, but this is the average of ALL 3-Card Straight Flushes with zero high cards. Because we are discarding a 9 and a Jack, cards that have the potential to help us on the draw, the expected value is a bit lower than average. I’ll cover more of this in the near future.

The other thing to note is that 3-Card Straight Flushes and 4-Card Straights are sub-categorized by the number of high cards that exist in the hand (ONLY the part that we are keeping). As these high cards have the potential to create high pairs, they contribute significantly to the expected value, to the point where it affects our strategy. This too, I’ll cover in more detail in the coming weeks.

Last but not least is our 4-Card Straight (with one high card). This is the easiest one to calculate, as there are only 47 possible draws. Eight will result in a straight and three will result in a high pair. The expected value is 0.74.

When we compare the expected values, we find that the low pair has the highest expected value, and thus it is the proper play for this pre-draw hand. As I said earlier, you don’t have to go out and calculate the expected value each time you’re dealt a hand. Instead, you simply have to memorize the relative rankings of each hand for the particular paytable you want to play.

This sounds tougher than it actually is. A strategy table usually has 30-40 entries, but many of them are fairly obvious. It will take some practice, but when you have mastered the strategy, you will be able to join the small fraction of the population that is able to take advantage of the high paybacks the casinos offer on video poker.