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Use proper tactics

Jan 7, 2008 11:38 PM

As it is only a week into the new year, I hope you have all kept last week’s New Year’s resolution are playing games using the proper strategy.

The funny part about this advice is that it probably seems so intuitive for so many casino games and yet so almost farfetched to do for others. This week, I’m going to try and explain how using proper strategy for video poker is really no different than using proper strategy for a game like blackjack.

In the game of blackjack, players generally have two decisions to choose from — hit or stick (take another card or not). In certain cases, they also have to choose whether or not to double down, split or surrender. We’ve probably all sat at a table where a player looks to the other players or to the dealer, hoping to get some free advice on what to do. I don’t think they’re really asking the other players for help in trying to figure out what the next card is. They are looking for advice as to what is the proper strategy, and either they simply don’t know it or can’t remember it in some of the trickier cases.

Many of the decisions in blackjack are rather simple. If you have an ”˜8’ against a dealer’s picture card, you’re going to take a ”˜hit.’ One simple answer to why he does this is that he can’t hurt his hand. This is true. At the same time, the real answer is that mathematically speaking he is more likely to win if he hits than to lose. With an ”˜8,’ he can’t win unless the dealer busts. The same will be true if he draws a ”˜2’ thru ”˜8’ (but he will have the option to draw again). If he draws a 9 or 10/picture card, he will now have new opportunities to win (or push) without the dealer busting. Every decision in blackjack is based on this simple concept. Many of these are obvious as in the above situation. Many are not so simple. Should a player hit a ”˜12’ looking into a ”˜2’? What about a ”˜3’? What about a ”˜4’? Why should the player hit into a ”˜2’ or a ”˜3’, but not into a ”˜4’? Because once upon a time, someone computed that the player who hits a ”˜12’ into a ”˜3’ will win more often than if he sticks. Conversely, a similar computation showed that when the dealer has a ”˜4,’ the player will be better off if he doesn’t hit the very same ”˜12.’

The strategy table for blackjack consists of a chart listing the possible dealer up-cards across the top, and all of the possible hands the player can have (i.e. soft, hard, pairs). In each little square, the player is told what to do (hit, stick, double, split, surrender) if this situation arises. This seems rather simple and I doubt very many people would really argue that by following this type of strategy you will greatly increase your chances to win.

Video poker is really no different. The differences are that there a great more possible hands and what the Player can do with each one has 32 possibilities and not just 2, 3, 4 or 5 (hit, stick, double, split, surrender). Every time a player is dealt his initial 5-card hand, he has 32 different ways to play this hand, ranging from holding all 5 to throwing all 5 (and all the ways in between). In almost every case, 29 or 30 of these ways are quickly discarded without giving much thought to the hand. In many cases, only 1 way is the obviously correct way to play the hand (you’re not throwing away three-of a-kind to go for a 2-card royal), just as there is in Blackjack.

In every case, someone has performed a computation to figure out which of the 32 ways is the best way to play the hand to maximize your chances of winning.

Whereas Blackjack is mostly concerned with winning or losing against the dealer, video poker has to take into account the specific paytable in use. After all, finishing with a pair of kings is not the same as finishing with a straight. In Blackjack, it really doesn’t matter if you have a 12 or a 20, if the dealer busts.

In a video poker strategy table, different playable hands are grouped together and listed in the order in which they should be played.

That is how we know to keep a 4-card flush and not a low pair because the 4-card flush appears above the low pair on our strategy table.

The player has a decision to make and there is a mathematical computation (or computer simulation) that has been done to determine the best way to play the hand from that point. It doesn’t matter if you’re debating between hitting and sticking or a low pair vs. a 4-card straight.

So, if blackjack strategy has been so readily accepted as a good idea, why do so many people fight against the idea that it is a good idea to bring a video poker strategy to the casino with you as well?