A poor hand in video poker

A lot of video poker players continue to play with hunches or off the top of their heads instead of using the best video poker strategy.  The reason is very simple: the best video poker strategy seems extremely complex as it has over 30 different hands to draw toward.

In other words, in video poker, the best strategy takes into account both the hand the player gets dealt with his or her first five cards plus the best hand to go for with the draw.  Most video poker players know that in some cases the odds favour giving up a winning pair in order to go after a much higher paying, albeit rarer, outcome after the draw.

We have said this before but it merits repeating here: playing at an online casino as you get familiar with video poker strategy is better than playing at a land based casino.  At an online casino, you can play for free.  And at an online casino, you have not made the big financial investment of getting to a land based casino.

Finally, at Springbok Casino, you can play virtually for free with the Springbok Casino no deposit bonus and with the correct strategy you can win some money whilst you learn the intricacies of video poker strategy.   Video poker has a return to player rate of close to 100%.  That means that players who use the best strategy might play for an hour or more and either win a little or lose a little.  Keep in mind that return to player rates are generally higher at online casinos because they have far less overhead than land-based casinos have.

Start at the Bottom

So, we decided to offer a short series of articles—depending on space there will be either two or three articles—in which we will discuss the best video poker strategy from the bottom up.

We will use the ultimate strategy list compiled by Michael Shackleford who calls himself the Wizard of Odds.   This list has thirty-six lines.  We won’t get into the statistical side of why every possible holding belongs where Shackleford puts it; instead, we will rely on his statistical expertise and simply assume that mathematically, each line represents the best decision for the draw.

What to Do with Nothing

It may be frustrating to get a hand with no cards worthy of keeping but, even in that case, all is not lost.  That’s because in video poker, you can discard all five of your cards.

What exactly is a hand with nothing?  It doesn’t have a pair, it doesn’t have three cards to a straight or three cards to a flush, and it doesn’t have even a single high card which would win the minimal payout if it got paired on the draw.  It’s easy to see that in this case, the best play would be to discard all five cards.

Keeping a High Card

At this point, one would logically expect that the next line on the ultimate strategy card would be keeping a high card but, surprisingly, it isn’t.  The next line is to keep three cards to a straight flush!

A straight flush is the second highest paying outcome in video poker.  Shackleford lists three different kinds of straight flush draws.  This one is the weakest type which he calls type 3.  It doesn’t have any high cards and it has two gaps in the straight flush.  For example: the 3, 5, 7 of the same suit.

You most likely won’t get the straight flush but you also have the chance to get a normal flush or a normal straight plus three of a kind or a high pair.  In other words, it’s a weak hand but there are still some winning chances.  We will see in the next section that this hand is weaker, in some ways, than singleton high cards.

When to Keep a High Card?

The next set of hands involves a singleton ace, king, or queen.  If the only “good” cards you have going in the dealt hand are one of these three cards, you keep the high card and discard the rest of the cards.  Remember that these cards form a better hand than three to a straight flush.

So, what happened to the singleton jack?  After all, we are playing Jacks or Better video poker!  This is the next counter-intuitive play in video poker: a suited ten and king combination is considered less valuable than a singleton jack.

Now, let’s see why a singleton ace, king, or queen are all considered less valuable than a singleton jack.  The answer is simply that to pair the high card, the odds are the same for all four of these singletons but it is a lot easier to get a straight with a singleton jack than with a singleton queen, king, or ace.  That’s because the singleton jack can turn into a straight going in either direction.

Vicissitudes of Suited Ten and King

Shackleford has a side description of when exactly to keep a suited ten and king as opposed to keeping just the king.  In general, keeping the suited ten and king is better than keeping just the king unless to do so you also have to discard a nine or any other card of the same suit.

It is less mathematically sound to keep the three flush cards instead of two cards to a Royal Flush and it also reduces your chances for a straight to discard an unsuited nine.  In either of those two cases, it’s better to keep just the king.

Next Week’s Article

Next week we will begin by talking about suited and unsuited high card combinations.  In the meantime, practice video poker at Springbok and try to see all of the possible hands we covered in this article.  In addition, try to see what the best action might be with suited and unsuited high card combinations.