Some video poker players make think of this as a paradox and some might think of it as downright blasphemy, but here’s an important concept to get the most out of video poker games: Making the draw that will win most often is not always the best play

.Think about that for a second, and consider a hand with 5s of clubs and diamonds, a 7 of hearts, 9 of clubs and a King of spades.

In non-wild card games such as Jacks or Better or Double Double Bonus Poker, you’ll win the most hands if you hold the King. But you’ll win the most money if you hold the 5s.

That’s a key to video poker strategy. The best play is the one that will bring the highest average return.

Let’s break down that 5-5-7-9-King hand for both 9-6 Jacks or Better and 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, where the “9-6” means full houses pay 9-for-1 an flushes 6-for-1.

In either game, if we hold just the King, there are 178,365 possible draws, and 118,540 of them will bring no return.

Of the winners, 45,324 will be pairs of Jacks or better, 9,033 will be two pairs, 4,177 will be three of a kind, 446 will be straights, 493 will be flushes, 297 will be full houses, 53 will be four of a kind, one will be a King-high straight flush and one will be a royal flush.

Assuming a five coin bet on 9-6 Jacks or better, you’ll get back five coins for each high pair, 10 each on two pairs, 15 on three of a kinds, 20 on straights, 30 on flushes, 45 on full houses, 125 on four of a kinds, 250 on the straight flush and 4,000 on the royal.

You’ll win on 33.5 percent of hands, with an average return of 2.4 coins per hand. What if you hold 5-5- instead?

Then there are 16,125 possible draws, with 11,559 losers. Of the winners, there are 2,592 two-pair hands, 1,854 three of a kinds, 165 full houses and 45 flushes. The presence of two 5s precludes high pairs without it turning into two pairs, and there are no straights, flushes, straight flushes or royals.

Now you win on only 28.3 percent of hands, but the average return soars to 4.1 coins.

By holding the pair instead of the high card, you win fewer hands, but you also win more money.

That’s an important piece of strategy to remember in a wide variety of video poker games. Low pairs are more valuable than unpaired high cards.

Players sometimes wonder if that applies in games such as Double Double Bonus Poker, which pays only 1-for-1 on two pairs. That lower payoff is offset by big boosts in four of a kind pays – 250 if the quads are 5s through Kings, 400 on 2s through 4s, 800 on Aces, and in Double Double Bonus boosts to 800 if an Ace, 2, 3 or 4 accompanies the 2 through 4 quads or 2,000 if there’s a 2, 3 or 4 with four Aces.

In 9-6 Double Double Bonus, you’ll still win on 33.5 percent of hands if you hold the King and 28.3 percent if you hold the pair instead. But you’ll still get a higher payoff for holding two pairs, with average returns of 2.2 coins in the King and 3.7 coins on the pair.

Evaluating a low pair vs. a high card is one of the most important hands in video poker because it’s a situation you’ll see frequently. But it’s not the only time the draw that will win less often is the better option.

Let’s look at a few with average returns per five coins wagered on 9-6 Jacks or Better and 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker:

LOW PAIR VS. FOUR CARDS TO A FLUSH

  • Faced with 5 of clubs and 5, 2, 8, 10 of hearts.
  • You’ll still win on 28.3 percent of hands in which you hold the pair of 5s.
  • You’ll only win 19.1 percent of the time when you hold the four hearts.

But that 6-for-1 pay for a flush is a powerful incentive. Your average returns for holding the pair are 4.1 coins in Jacks or Better and 3.7 in Double Double Bonus, but average return on the four-card flush is flush return is 5.7 coins in either game.

HIGH CARD VS. FOUR CARDS TO A FLUSH

The effect is even more pronounced here since the average return on a high card is lower than the average return on a pair.

Dealt a King of hearts along with 2-5-7-10 of spades, the average return per five coins wagered in 9-6 Double Double Bonus is 2.2 coins on the King and 5.7 coins on the four spades. In 9-6 Jacks or Better, it’s 2.4 on the king and 5.7 on the four-card flush.

  • Either way, the four-card flush, which pays off only 19.1 percent of the time, is the better play.
  • The high card brings winners on 33.4 percent of draws.

HIGH PAIR VS. FOUR CARDS TO A ROYAL FLUSH OR STRAIGHT FLUSH

This is a rare situation, but let’s take a look just for fun.

When do you discard a sure winner? When it gives you a chance at a huge jackpot.

If the Initial deal is a King of spades along with Ace-King-Queen-Jack of clubs, holding the two Kings will give you a winner every single time. The average return is 7.7 coins in Jacks or Better and 7.2 in Double Double Bonus.

If you discard the King of spades and hold just the four clubs, 24 of the 47 possible draws are losers. But one of the winners is a royal flush, and that sends the average return to 92.7 coins in either game. There’s no way you can pass that up.

The effect is smaller if you have four to a straight flush, such as Jack of spades with 8-9-10-Jack of clubs. Then the average return is a mere 17.9 coins for holding the four clubs, still more than double the average for holding the sure-thing high pair.

All that makes a difference in the overall payback percentage you’ll see at the games. The important thing is to make the plays that will bring the highest average return, and it’s especially important to remember that a low pair is a more valuable starting point than an unpaired high card.

About the Author
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For nearly 25 years, John Grochowski has been one of the most prolific gaming writers in the United States. He’s been ranked ninth by GamblingSites among the top 11 gambling experts at Gambling Sites and his Video Poker Answer Book was ranked eighth among the best gambling books of all time.

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