Analysis worksfor video poker

February 26, 2008 1:17 AM
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I’ve spent the last few weeks explaining how strategy is developed starting with blackjack, a game most people would agree on deciding what the best play is.

I showed how if this type of analysis works for blackjack, then a similar more complex analysis also works for video poker. The past two weeks, I walked through two examples of how based on the initial deal, computer programs can be developed to determine which of the 32 possible ways to play that hand results in the highest expected value (the most number of units returned on average).

With nearly 2.6 million possible initial deals, however, it is not reasonable to expect that anyone could learn how to play each hand individually. Instead, similar hands are grouped together and placed into what is called a strategy table to help the video poker player. Blackjack players have a strategy table as well.

In blackjack, each possible type of hand and point value is listed down the left side (i.e. soft 14, hard 16, pair of 6’s), with the Dealer’s Up card along the top of the table. In each square where the two intersect is the appropriate strategy for that hand (hit, stick, double, surrender). Video Poker is a bit more complex and requires a slightly different type of table, but many of the concepts are still the same. A strategy table consists of rankings of the initial 5-card deal. Besides hands that do not require a draw (i.e. Straight, Full House, Flush, etc...), we also list a variety of partials (4-Card Flush, 3-Card Inside Straight Flush, etc”¦) and those having value by themselves, but still allow for a draw (Three of a Kind, High Pair, etc”¦).

These rankings are listed by the hands with the highest expected value at the top, all the way down to the lowest ranked (playable) at the bottom. Generally speaking, the highest hand is the Royal Flush, while the lowest is what we call a Razgu, which requires discarding all five cards. There are many times that discarding all five is preferable than trying to hold two or three and praying to make a Straight or a Flush.

Most video poker strategy tables have about 30-35 rows on them. Many of the hands are fairly obvious and generally require very little energy to memorize. You don’t need much help to know to keep a Straight Flush or a Four of a Kind. Some hands, however, required a fair degree of memorization in order to learn the proper way to play.

It is not necessary to memorize the expected value for any hand, but rather the relative rank of each hand as compared to others. Based on our example from last week, we will find that the Low Pair is higher on the table than a 4-Card Straight, which is higher than a 3-Card Straight Flush — with the same number of High Cards.

There are two keys to learning a video poker strategy table. The first is to memorize the order of the hands on the table. Each paytable can have its own unique strategy table because every change will alter the expected value of many hands.

The second key is learning how to recognize partial hands. If you look at your dealt cards and only see the 4-Card Straight and not the Low Pair, then you might wind up playing the hand wrong even if you memorized the table correctly. Games with Wild Cards can be far more difficult in this regard than those without.

This is why I always suggest that if you’re just starting out, begin with a full-pay Jacks or Better machine. The strategy is not too long and recognizing hands is far easier than with a Wild Card game.

Video poker strategy is neither magic nor voodoo. It is based on the same mathematical principles as every other casino game. If you’re willing to sit and play video poker while ignoring the strategy, you might as well sit at a blackjack table and flip a coin to decide whether to hit or stick.

You might actually do better at the blackjack table using this method.