Ace can lose value in video poker

Feb 17, 2009 5:03 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

One of the first things that video poker players need to learn is that video poker is not poker.

Poker is a game played against other players where knowing cards can take a back seat to betting decisions and bluffing. In Poker, the best hand doesn’t necessarily win if you get a guy with a better hand to fold thinking you have him beat.

These things don’t occur in video poker.

There is no bluffing, no other players. Generally speaking, there are no betting decisions except which cards to hold or discard. The game is one of pure cold math.

It should be no surprise that many things right for regular poker is just dead wrong for video poker. If you were playing regular 5-card draw poker, your decision as to what to discard would be affected by a variety of factors including your knowledge of the other players and how much they wager.

In video poker, the only thing that matters is the exact number of winning hands that can be formed by each set of possible draws and how much each pays. Drawing the Straight means a guaranteed winner in video poker, as would a Three of a Kind. In table poker, neither hand is a sure winner, even if the likelihood is great. Thus, in video poker the correct play would be to hold the Low Pair instead of the 4-Card Straight.

There is also the matter of an Ace Kicker. Sometimes players with Low Pairs or nothing will keep an ‘extra’ Ace either hoping to pick up a second one or ensure that if another player has the same Low Pair they will still win with the higher kicker. In this case, the Ace truly has more value than any other card in the deck.

In Video Poker, this is a disastrous play for two reasons:

• Keeping kickers is a terrible idea to the math. Even in Double Double Bonus where that kicker can enhance the payout significantly, it still doesn’t pay to hold one. You’re better off having an extra shot at drawing the quads.

• An ace is not worth more than any other high card. In many cases it’s worth less. A pair of Jacks is worth as much as a pair of Aces in your basic Jacks or Better game.

What happens if you hold a single jack vs. a single ace?

An Ace can participate in only 2 Straights (10-Ace, A-5). The Jack participates in 4 Straights (7-J, 8-Q, 9-K, 10-A). This means that a single Jack has a higher expected value than a single Ace. We rank J-A, Q-A, K-A below that of JQ, JK, QK. We don’t even play a 10-A, but do play 10-J, 10-Q or 10-K.

An Ace participates in less Straights and Straight Flushes than many other cards. Kings actually participate in only two as well, but when we hold a 10, J, or Q, we still have two shots at the Straight. We only have one with an Ace.

In the end, an Ace is no more desirable a card to have than a Jack. Holding a kicker (Jack or Ace) is something that should be left for the card table, not the video poker machine.