Issue 199
July 5 - 11, 2004
Volume 4
page 3

Expert Play Begins Long Before Popping In Coins
By Lenny Frome

Not many people show up at a golf course before they have had lessons to prepare them for the intricacies of the game. Ditto for hang gliding, duplicate bridge or table poker. However, these same people are drawn to playing Video Poker machines before they even know the least bit about them. Misled by the notion that these machines are merely an extension of the table game of 5 card draw, they feed their dough in without a second thought about what they are doing.

The other night we saw a perfect example when a novice player popped in five dollars and stood transfixed for several minutes trying to figure out how to play the hand. In reality, the hand was a bust and the expert play would have been to draw five cards. This player finally decided to hold two non-sequential low cards of the same suit. Statistically, that move was costing about $1.25 of the wager in comparison to the right play. Furthermore, that particular machine was a lower paying version in an area surrounded by full pay machines, so it really should have been avoided completely. In short, that player evidently had no idea what Video Poker is all about.

Expert players know that on the job training can be very costly on Video Poker machines. While expert play can attain near or above breakeven paybacks on many versions, most good players know that the only reason the casinos are so generous is simply that there are enough hackers around to provide an adequate return to the operators.

Training is essential to winning at this game and it's now available in so many good books software products at such a reasonable price that it's ludicrous for anyone to start playing cold. Thinking that the back home table poker games prepare players for Video Poker is fallacious as these examples in Jacks or Better demonstrate.

Dealt 4D 5D 6D AH KH the gut feel is to hold the Ace King and pull for the Royal. Wrong! The better play is to hold the 3-Card Straight Flush. Here's why in a nutshell.

To attain maximum payback, every hand we get must be played in the way that maximizes its average return. Here's the proof for this hand:

(A) Holding two cards to the Royal and drawing three cards opens the possibility of 16,215 unique draws, each being equally likely. The possible outcomes assuming five coin play are as follows:

1 Royal Flush paying
2 Four of a Kinds paying a total of
18 Full Houses paying a total of
164 Flushes paying a total of
63 Straights paying a total of
281 Three of a Kinds paying a total of
711 Two Pairs paying a total of
5,022 Jacks or Better High Pairs
9,953 Non Winners
Total Payout
Divide by 16,215
Divide by 5
.59 (EV)

This Expected Value (EV) 0.59 means a payout of only 59% of our wagers.

(B) Holding three cards and drawing two allows 1,081 unique draws which would be expected to produce this pattern of final hands:

3 Straight Flushes paying a total of
42 Flushes paying a total of
45 Straights payin a total of
9 Three of a Kinds paying a total of
27 Two Pairs paying a total of
24 High Pairs paying a total of
Total Payout
Divide by 1,081
Divide by 5
.64 (EV)

This EV of 0.64 means a payout of 64% of our wagers. This represents a gain of 25 cents on every similar hand on a one dollar machine compared to the erroneous play. The same strategy does not apply for 3-Card Straight Flushes of 2 3 4 makeup.

About the Author

Lenny Frome spent 40 years in the aerospace engineering business before moving to Las Vegas. During the ensuing 10 years, he became one of the most prolific gaming authors, having written 8 books, countless tip sheets and nearly 1000 articles for a variety of gaming magazines. Lenny's ground breaking work in the area of Video Poker earned him the title of the 'King of Video Poker'. He also wrote on a variety of other gaming topics including Spanish 21, Let It Ride, Keno and others. Besides being an author and columnist, Lenny was the premier Gaming Consultant at the time of his passing in 1998. He helped develop paytables for Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, and consulted on literally hundreds of other gaming projects. His son, Elliot, now follows in his footsteps, as a gaming author, analyst and consultant. Their website, and a complete catalog of all their products can be found at Feel free to drop Elliot an e-mail at


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