Posted in Guides June 2, 2020

The Best Video Poker Strategy

Video poker is a blend of luck-oriented games like roulette and skill-based games such as Texas Hold’em. In this game, fortune may play a role initially, but at the end, a player’s skill decides victory or defeat.

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The connection between skill and luck is tricky in video poker. If you find it hard to distinguish between a straight and royal flush or haven’t played much video poker, it’s tough to make the best decision.

Keep a Pair of Kings or Go For Royal Flush?

Let’s discuss some difficult decisions players face while playing video poker. If you understand the basics, these decisions become easier since you comprehend the math behind the game.

To get the biggest hypothetical value, you need the right cards to gain the hypothetical return from the video poker game. In this example, you have a pair of kings, and you want to choose between a potential three of a kind, a four of a kind draw, royal flush draw, and a flush draw. 

If you analyze the possibility and payout for each hand, you can calculate the anticipated value of each hand. However, that’s not an easy task, and most video poker players can’t do it. Instead, it’s easier to let the machine do the math, and based on the calculations, create guidelines to determine the evaluation of each hand.

Using the given example, the computer will calculate the anticipated value of both choices:

  1. Keep the royal flush draw
  2. Keep the two kings

Then calculate the anticipated return based on the probability of getting a winning hand and payout. As you have a pair of kings, all 16,215 outcomes will be winners. 

The following winning outcomes are possible:

  • 2,592 combinations get two pairs
  • 11,559 combinations get a pair
  • 1,854 combinations get three of a kind
  • 166 combinations get a full house
  • 45 combinations get four of a kind

However, if you keep the royal flush, only 47 possible outcomes will be available. Out of these, you will get jacks or better eight times. There are 27 losing outcomes, eight outcomes could give a flush, while only one can lead to a royal flush. 

If you multiply the likelihood of getting a royal flush (1 out of 47) with its value, you’ll get an anticipated return of 85.12 for your hand. 

Subsequently, once you determine the anticipated return for every possible winning outcome such as a straight, flush, and jacks or better and add every expected value together, you’ll get an overall anticipated return of 92.33% for a royal flush. 

When carrying out the same calculation for the two kings, the anticipated return is 7.67%. Hence, it would be a huge mistake to only keep the pair. Although a royal flush is scarce, the likelihood of a big win makes it worth going for it.

Keep a Small Pair or Go For a Straight?

The following decision is also tough to make. You have two options:

  1. Keep the pair of fours and aim for a full house, three, or four of a kind
  2. Keep the open-ended straight and aim for a straight

The anticipated return for aiming the straight draw is 3.404%, while keeping the pair of fours will have an anticipated return of 4.118%. Hence, it’s evident that the pair of fours has a more significant anticipated value than the open-ended straight draw. However, this is accurate only for the full pay game pay table, and not so much for other variants or video poker games.

This shows that you can have a general video poker strategy if modest variations are present in games or pay tables. But for more significant variations in games or pay tables like Deuces Wild, you’ll need to have an entirely different strategy. 

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Optimal vs Simple Video Poker Strategy

Video poker players use either of two strategies, basic or optimal. The basic strategy groups outcomes with similar anticipated values and is more straightforward and easier to understand. On the other hand, the optimal strategy is harder to grasp but delivers slightly higher theoretical payout than a simple strategy.

When comparing both strategies, the difference in theory payout for simple and optimal strategies is negligible, only 0.09%. This small difference is present only because of players’ mistakes.

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