Last week, I mentioned how holding an Ace kicker is a terrible play in video poker. It won’t take much to convince anyone that holding an Ace kicker with a Pair is a useless proposition.
(For the novices, a kicker means holding an ‘extra’ card that you hope to match up in same way with your draw cards). In video poker, Two Pair of Aces and Kings are no more valuable than 3’s and 2’s. If you’re going to hold an Ace when you have a Pair of 7’s, you might just as well hold a 3, 10 or 6.
I shouldn’t really have to spend much time showing that holding any kicker with a Pair is a bad move. The chances of getting a specific Two Pair may increase, but the odds are worse for getting Trips and Quads – hands you are shooting for in video poker.
The less obvious time that it is wrong to hold a kicker is in the bonus video poker games where having Four of a Kind with certain kickers pays considerably more than Quads without them. The most common is Double Double Bonus where the big payout is Four Aces plus a 2,3 or 4.
If dealt Three Aces plus a 2, 3 or 4, should you hold this extra card or not? The answer lies in the expected value of each potential way to play the hand. You can either draw two cards to the Trip Aces or draw one card to the Trip Aces + kicker. In the latter case, you have one way to draw Four of a Kind (with the kicker) and three ways to draw a Full House.
When we do the math, we have an expected value of 11.5+. If we decide to discard the kicker, we have 11 ways to get Four of a Kind with the kicker, 35 to get Four of a Kind without the kicker, 66 to get a Full house and the remainder to keep the Trips. When the math is done, the expected value is 12.5-, nearly a full unit more than the holding the kicker.
Even if both of the other cards were a 2, 3 or 4, the expected value of the first option doesn’t change. The second option decreases by only 0.2, leaving the decision unchanged.
If your only goal is to hit Four Aces with a kicker, then hold onto the kicker card. Your chances of hitting the big hand will more than double. Your bankroll, however, may not last long enough to get to this point.
While it is possible a paytable could be built that would make it worthwhile to hold a kicker, none come to mind. Make sure of the proper strategy for the paytable you are actually playing. So far if you are in doubt, the odds are you should avoid both kicking yourself and holding a kicker.