Playing video poker on a 3-legged stool

Apr 28, 2009 5:06 PM
by Lenny Frome, GT Archives |

Three rules to stay on track

The magic number for expert video poker players is three because we must know three essential facts to stay on the winning track. One can visualize the analogy of a three-legged stool, which is the steadiest form of construction according to engineering theory.

Knowing Which Machines to Play

The first leg is knowledge of which machines to play. The nature of video poker is such that once the deck is defined and the pay-table value of winners is posted, the percentage payback is known (predictable) and is unalterable.

For example, the ever-popular Jacks or Better version with its pay-table shown at right.

The machine will return 99.6 percent when five coins are played and 97.3 percent when less are played, the difference being found in the royal flush line where an incentive for maximum coins is offered.

Expert players look for these machines or variants, which offer the highest paybacks and call them full-pay machines. Each version of the game has its full-pay schedule.

Knowing the Expert Strategies

To attain these optimum paybacks consistently, expert players know that they must play their hands in the way that extracts the highest mathematical percentage of winners. Many hands are pretty obvious but a significant portion of the hands dealt, especially those of low expectation and the partial straights, partial straight flushes, and multi-high-card hands require previous memorization to be played expertly. In essence, for each machine there is an optimum ranking of hands and we must discard in the way that leaves us with the highest ranked hand to draw. Leg two is to know the strategies.

Knowing the Statistics of the Game

This leg is often overlooked by students of video poker simply because their texts (or software) fail to spell it out. Aside from the payback percentages, the various versions of video poker have their unique playing characteristics. Unless a player is aware of these traits, it is difficult to avoid being psyched out by the machine. As in any game, the players who understand the nature of the opposition will be better prepared to accept what happens in play.

Players who know the frequency of each level of winner, the hit frequency and the streakiness (volatility) of their version of video poker will be prepared with the right bankroll and the right mental attitude to ride through the inevitable streaks. They will not be disappointed because they expect too much and will stay with the expert strategies even when the session is going against them.

For Jacks or Better, here are guidelines to basic strategy: