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Best of Henry Tamburin

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How to play straights and pairs in video poker

16 March 2012

Most of the hands that you receive in video poker are no brainers in the sense it's fairly obvious which cards you should hold and which ones you should discard. However, there are the not so obvious hands in which you must choose between two possible plays. For example, suppose you are playing Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker, and you are dealt the following hands. How would you play them?

  1. 2d 3h 4s 5h 3c
  2. Jd 10h 8c 9s Jc
  3. 10h Kd 10c Qs Jc

The dilemma in hand #1 is that you have a four-card consecutive straight (2-3-4-5) and a low pair (pair of 3s). Is it better to hold the 2-3-4-5 and draw one card, hoping to get an ace or 6 for a paying straight? Or, should you hold the pair of 3s and hope you draw one (or more) 3s for trips (or quads), or possibly draw a different pair for two pair, or three-of-a-kind for a full house?

Nowadays, it's not that difficult to determine which play is the right one. All you need is one of the popular video poker training software programs and a personal computer and you can quickly determine which playing option -- keeping the low pair or the four-card consecutive straight -- has the higher average return or expected value (EV). For hand #1, the EV is 82 cents per dollar bet when you hold the pair of 3s and only 68 cents per dollar bet if you hold the four-card straight. Therefore, holding the low pair is a better play than holding the four-card consecutive straight.

How did you play hand #2 above? The answer is fairly obvious. If holding the low pair is the best strategy for hand #1, then certainly holding the high pair in hand #2 has to be the better strategy over holding the four-card consecutive straight (8-9-10-Jack). It is to the tune of 82 cents per dollar wagered (the EV of the high pair is $1.54 and the EV of the straight is 72 cents).

As an aside, do you know why the EV of the four-card straight in hand #2 (8-J) is slightly higher than that of the four-card straight in hand #1 (2-5)? That's because the four-card straight in hand #2 has a high card (the J) so if you were to hold the straight and draw another Jack you would have at least a high pair.

How do you play hand #3 above? Did you hold the low pair (10s) or did you hold the four-card consecutive straight (10-J-Q-K) that contains three high cards?

I won't keep you in suspense. Here are the EVs per dollar bet for the two choices:

Hand

EV

10s

82¢

TKQJ or KTQJ

87¢

Notice that it doesn't matter which four-card consecutive straight you hold. They both have the same EV, which is 5 cents higher than the EV of holding the pair of 10s.

So, we learned something, didn't we? Normally you should hold the low pair over the four-card consecutive straight if you are playing Jacks-or-Better or Bonus Poker but if the four-card consecutive straight contains three high cards, specifically 10-J-Q-K, then the latter is preferred over the low pair.

As you can see, the strategy for playing video poker hands can sometimes be different from what you would intuitively think it should be. That's why it's important that you learn the basic playing strategy for your favorite video poker game so you don't make costly playing mistakes, and you bring a strategy card with you when you play just in case you are not sure how to play a hand (strategy cards are legal to use in a casino).

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin