Have a game plan when playing video poker

Mar 10, 2009 4:07 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

This week’s lesson is playing the wrong strategy on the right machine won’t get you much further (maybe even less so).

Expert Strategy requires that you play the right machines (paytables) using the correct strategy. I guess this is one thing that slots have over video poker machines. If there is a sign over a slot machine saying, "this machine pays 99.5 percent," then over time that slot will pay that amount.

With video poker it will only pay that amount over time if you play the right strategy.

This explains why you’ll never see such a sign over a slot machine. Video poker machines don’t have to announce their paybacks. Once you know the paytable, you can know the payback. Also, because video poker requires an element of skill, the casinos will never offer slot machines with the same potential paybacks as video poker machines.

Casinos get the best of both worlds. They get to advertise 99.5 percent, but rarely have to pay it out because most players choose not to play correctly.

Video poker is not about guessing which cards to discard, or getting a gut feel about which cards to hold. It certainly isn’t about bluffing! Video poker is about hard, cold math. Every time you are dealt five cards, you need to make a decision between the 32 different ways you can discard. They can range from 1 way to discard all 5, to the 10 ways you can discard 3, to the 1 way to hold all 5.

Most of these will be quickly ignored by even the novice player. You’re not going to hold the K-2 off suit if you’ve got a JK suited as well. In fact, probably 75 percent of the hands are completely intuitive – that is, even if you know little about video poker, you’d play them the right way because it’s obvious what right is.

For the remaining 25 percent, it gets far more complicated. What do you hold, the Low Pair or the 4-card Flush? What about the 3-Card Straight Flush or the 4-Card Straight? What about all 3 High Cards or just the 2 Suited ones? What are the right plays in these and many other scenarios? This is where my work comes in.

Using computer programs, I can analyze each of these situations and determine the best way to play each hand. This is done by analyzing each of the 32 possible ways to draw and considering every possible outcome of each of these 32 ways. Each is assigned an ‘expected value’ or EV for short.

The expected value is calculated by looking at each possible outcome and determining how many units will be paid out. The total is then divided by the number of possible outcomes. This tells us the average number of units we can expect to win by playing the hand in that particular way. Whichever of the 32 ways has the highest average becomes the best way to play that hand.

This value is only an average and that the range of values for a given hand could be enormous. Consider holding a suited JQ. It is possible to wind up with any possible winning hand from a High Pair all the way up to a Royal Flush. Most of the time, you’ll wind up with absolutely nothing (EV = 0) and you’ll wind up with the Royal once in 16,215 tries (EV = 800).

The rest of the time it’s something in between. The Expected Value is a mere 0.60.

By analyzing every possible 5-card deal (nearly 2.6 million of them), I can categorize each hand and the way it should be played. The end result is a strategy table that can determine how to play each hand.

You don’t need to memorize expected values or calculate them. You don’t need to know how to program computers to do all this analysis. You just need to learn how to read a strategy table and to probably memorize it.

Using this strategy table will allow you to earn the high paybacks that video poker can offer to you.