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# Leg Two: Playing the right Strategy for Video Poker

26 February 2004

Last week we discussed the first leg of our three-legged stool, which was knowing the right machines to play. The second leg is playing the right strategy. What does this really mean?

A lot of people seem surprised that there is a 'strategy' even to Video Poker. Assuming you are playing in a locale that uses/requires that all machines use Random Number Generators to ensure that the machines are completely random, strategy is one of the major differences between Video Poker and slot machines.

When you are dealt the pre-draw hand, you actually have 32 different ways to play it (there is 1 way to draw 5 cards, 5 ways to draw 4 cards, 10 ways to draw 3 cards, 10 ways to draw 2 cards, 5 ways to draw 1 card and 1 way to 0 cards). For anybody who knows anything about poker, your brain will quickly eliminate the absurd ways to play a hand (it's unlikely you'd throw a pair of kings to go for a 2 card straight!). For the majority of hands, you'll quickly realize there is only 1 way that makes any sense. However, for about 25% of the hands, the decision gets a bit more complex. What's a player to do?

To answer this, you need to realize that a lot of work has already been done for you by someone else. One of the pioneers in this field was my dad, Lenny Frome. Today, you can find numerous other authors and/or analysts who specialize in Video Poker. Like several others, I built my own Video Poker 'engine' that allows me to put in a paytable and determine the best strategy. Basically, the program looks at every single possible pre-draw hand, plays it out all 32 ways discussed above, and then summarizes the results. The end product is what is called a Strategy Table. A strategy table consists of a listing of possible pre-draw hands and the associated Expected Value or EV.

The Expected Value of hand is the average return expected for that hand. For a 'pat' hand, the Expected Value is the payback for that hand (i.e. the EV of a straight is 4 (for Jacks or Better). Hands which result in a draw require some computations. An example will probably illustrate this the best:

Assume you are dealt the following:

 7D 7H 7S 2D JC

With this hand, you obviously would keep the Three 7's. Drawing two cards from the remaining 47 cards in the deck gives us 1,081 combinations of possible draws. 46 of these will result in Four-of-a-Kinds, 66 will result in Full Houses and the remaining 969 will stay Three-of-a-Kinds. To calculate the EV, we multiply the payback of each type of hand by the number that each occurs. So, we have 46 times 25, plus 66 times 9, plus 969 times 3. This adds up to 4,651. We divide this by the number of hands (1,081) for an EV of 4.30. From this, we learn that being dealt a Three-of-a-Kind has an Expected Value of 4.30.

How does this help us? Well, if you're dealt:

 JD JC JH QH KH

Do you go with the Three-of-a-Kind or the 3-Card Royal? When you look at the Strategy Table, you'll see that the Three-of-a-Kind has an EV of 4.30. The 3-Card Royal has an EV of only 1.41. It's not even close! In fact, even a High Pair (EV of 1.54) is played over a 3-Card Royal (unless there is a large Progressive pot, but we'll save that for another day)!

The good news is that there is no need to memorize the Expected Value of each hand. What you do need to learn is the relative ranking of each hand. The hand with the higher expected value is held when a pre-draw hand falls into two or more categories. Let's look at a more complex example.

What do you hold in the following case (assuming a 9/6 Jacks or Better Machine):

 8D 9D 10D 8C JH

a) The low pair (8's)
b) The 3 card straight flush (0 High Cards)
c) The 4-card straight (1 High Card)

A look at the Strategy Table for Jacks or Better shows that the Low Pair has an EV of 0.83. The 3-card Straight Flush has an EV of 0.63. The 4-Card Straight has an EV of 0.74. Now we know the proper strategy is to hold the Low Pair.

The last important part of this leg of the stool is to realize that every different Pay Table and Variety of machine has its own Strategy Table. Slight differences in the Pay Table may or may not cause differences in the Strategy, or the impact may be only slight for playing the wrong strategy. There can, in some cases, be dramatic changes in the strategy as a result of Paytable differences.

To help guide you through this learning process, we strongly recommend that you learn 1 game's strategy table at a time, and, after you have mastered it, move on to other variations. There are some software products out there that will allow you to put in virtually any paytable and it will generate a strategy table for you. Obviously, we recommend our own Winning Strategies for Video Poker by Lenny Frome, which lists over 60 Strategy Tables for some of the most popular games out there.

Next week, we'll cover the third leg, knowing what to expect. You'll be well on your way to becoming an Expert Player!

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Best of Elliot Frome
Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at www.vpheaven.com, or drop Elliot an e-mail at compuflyers@prodigy.net.

www.vpheaven.com

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Elliot Frome
Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at www.vpheaven.com, or drop Elliot an e-mail at compuflyers@prodigy.net.

www.vpheaven.com