Issue 333
January 30 - February 5, 2007
Volume 7
page 3

What cards to play
By Elliot Frome

If I told you to follow a particular strategy just because I said so, how many of you would follow it? I don't ask this question to find out how many of you trust me. Quite frankly, I wouldn't follow a strategy anyone gave me without understanding the reasoning behind the strategy. Without going back to read the roughly 200 articles I have written, I'm willing to say that I doubt I have ever asked anyone to play a game just on my say so. All of my strategies are based on sound mathematical principles and quite frankly, could be replicated by any other mathematician or computer programmer. This is the true proof behind any strategy.

So, when you read a video poker strategy table that tells you which cards to hold, it's not because I say so, it's because the math says so. If you choose not to believe in basic math, there isn't much I can do to help you. Just keep in mind that every plane, train and automobile doesn't get to the prototype stage unless it gets through the theoretical science stage. If the numbers don't add up, it isn't going to run, no matter how they build it.

In video poker, when you are dealt 5 cards initially, there are 32 different ways to play the hand. There is 1 way you can keep all 5 cards. There are 5 ways to keep 4 cards. There are 10 ways to keep 3 cards, 10 ways to keep 2 cards, 5 ways to keep 1 card and 1 way to keep 0 cards. This is true for all hands. For example, if dealt the following:

5d 5s 5h 5c 6s

A player COULD choose to hold the suited 5-6, or even just the 6! Clearly, it would make little sense to do so, but in theory, a Player can hold the cards in this manner. There is nothing stopping him.

The good news is that for every hand, the overwhelming majority of the 32 options are quickly eliminated as possible plays. You don't need a strategy table to tell you to hold the Four of a Kind in the above example. I can't imagine what video poker would be like if each of the 32 ways had to be fully analyzed by a human in order to determine what to do next. I would imagine that the game would've died a horrible death if this were the case.

In fact, for most hands, there is only one fairly obvious way to play the hand. The math has shown few surprises in this area. If you're dealt a High Pair with 3 other cards that appear to be 'junk', there is little doubt you should play the High Pair. For the large majority of the remainder of the hands, there may be 2 or 3 or 4 reasonable possible ways to play a hand. It is on these hands that the math truly comes into play to tell us how to play them. At this point, it is probably less math and more computers that really do the job. Programs have been created that will look at every possible draw for each possible way to hold the cards. By summing up the payouts of all of the resulting hands and dividing by the number of possible draws, we have calculated the expected value of any hand. The expected value tells us how many coins we can expect to have returned to us on average per coin wagered. Expert Strategy tells us to always play the hand so as to maximize the expected value (hold the cards with the highest expected value). This will maximize the long term payback of the machine.

I understand that for many of you, what I just wrote seemed to be just a lot of technical hocus-pocus. This is exactly what some other people prey on. The casinos are hoping that the last thing you do is follow something like Expert Strategy. They know full well that their profits can only go DOWN if every game paid out at its theoretical maximum. Anyone playing any other strategy except one that maximizes the overall payback of the game is simply putting more money into the casinos' pockets.

I've often heard the criticism that writers/experts such as myself are really only interested in selling our wares for a profit. I've often found that notion rather laughable (at least for myself and my father). In my articles, I've always been willing to completely disclose the strategy for any game. I'm often unable to go into as much detail in my articles as I do in the books, but the details are really for the few people who really want to read about the nuts and bolts of a game.

To help prove this point, I'd like to offer up copies of Lenny Frome's Video Poker: America's National Game of Chance for only $5.95. This includes 1st class shipping. This essentially is the cost of the book plus the cost of shipping (no profit for me or anyone else!). The book is a 200-page compilation of Lenny Frome's best articles, quizzes and insights into video poker. If you'd like a copy, send a check made payable to Compu-Flyers to P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603.


About the Author

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 (recently updated for 2003!) 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, or drop Elliot an e-mail at


Books by the Author

Purchase this remarkable 128-page compilation of the 60 best games, available online here.



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