Common 'misteaks' in video poker

Jan 20, 2009 5:02 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

Have you ever seen a list of the most commonly misspelled words? How do they know and who does the polling?

I’m sure there is some amount of science to it. At the same time, I’d imagine that there is a certain amount of subjectivity as well – that is, it is based on the particular author’s experiences.

I’m going to use that same freedom to list some of what I consider to be the most common mistakes when playing video poker. This is not a scientific study based on watching millions (or billions) of hands, but one mostly based on my own recollection of how I played before my father invented Expert Strategy along with what I casually witnessed over the years.

Tops on the list: The 4-Card Flush/Pair/4-Card Straight Conundrum.

One of the more common hands is having a Pair and a 4-Card Straight or a 4-Card Flush. How should this be played? Adding to the complexity is that the pair might be a High Pair or a Low Pair.

Let’s get right to the proper strategy. A high pair is never tossed for a 4-Card Flush or a 4-Card Straight. It is tossed for a 4-Card Straight Flush. The potential 50-unit payout is enough to break up the sure winner. Throw in the possibility for the Flush or the Straight and we have nearly a third of the remaining cards that can help us win. If one of the cards of the 4-Card Straight Flush is a Jack or better, we get three more additional ways to win.

From here, it gets a bit trickier.

We hold a 4-Card Flush over the Low Pair, and a Low Pair is held over a 4-Card Straight. Just remembering this simple rule can significantly change the outcome of your session. What makes the difference is not just that there are nine ways to make the Flush and only eight ways to make the Straight, but that the Flush pays 6 while the Straight pays 4.

By itself this is a significant difference. As with the 4-Card Straight Flush, if any of the cards being held is a High Card, you’ll get a little higher return as there is a chance to pick up the High Pair.

One of the next most common mistakes: The Three High Card hand.

Many players hold all High Cards when they have nothing else. This is not the right move most of the time. First of all, if two of the cards are suited, then you hold only those two cards. So, if you have a suited J-A and an offsuit K, you hold the J-A.

There are a variety of reasons for this. The odds of coming up with a High Pair is similar in both cases. But you greatly reduce your chances for a variety of other hands, most importantly the Royal Flush, which drops to zero if you hold unsuited cards.

It may be only a 16,215 to 1 shot to get this Royal, but with an 800 for 1 payout, this is a significant boost to the expected value of the 2-Card Royal.

The only time we keep 3 High Cards is if it is JQK unsuited. If two of the three are suited, we keep those two. If the third card is an Ace, we keep either the two suited cards (including the Ace) or the other two cards if none are suited.

The likelihood of drawing a Straight goes down enough by holding this Ace that it pays to discard the Ace and take your chance with even the two unsuited High Cards. Aces may be of higher value in regular poker, but its value in video poker is actually less than that of other High Cards (except in Bonus Poker games).

The next most common mistake: Not recognizing the power of 3-Card Straight Flushes.

These are the forgotten hands of video poker, often overlooked because they appear to be ‘so far away’ from paying off. While this is true in many respects, that 50-unit payout carries a lot of weight. Thus, most 3-Card Straight Flushes still outweigh hands like one or two High Cards.

Perhaps I’ll cover this in further detail next time.