Video poker is a game of skill that offers a small house edge, however if you’re not playing the game ‘perfectly’ the house edge will grow, meaning your bankroll will suffer. This means, of course, that you should endeavor to play the game perfectly at all times – luckily there are ways to achieve this.
In this article I look behind the maths of Video Poker and explain how you can make a calculation to ascertain the right way of playing. I do this by showing a particular hand and a payout chart, and use the two to make a decision on the ‘prefect’ play. I finish with an overview of advanced play.
The Mathematics behind Video Poker
You decide to play a game of ‘Jacks or Better’ video poker and you are dealt the following hand:
At first glance the hand looks pretty good, however you do have a decision to make – do you go for the straight or do you stick with the pair of Kings? To make this decision, you need to look at the payout chart and do some calculations.
Here is the payout chart:
As you may have read in the ‘Basic Video Poker Strategy’ article, we should always play the 5 coin version of the game as this is where the house edge is greatest, so here we’ll use the gold column on the payout chart.
Playing the Straight
Now first, let’s consider what our expected return is if we play the straight draw. So here we’ll hold 10-J-Q-K and ditch one of the Kings (it doesn’t actually matter which one). There are 47 other cards in the pack, so now we can work out the chances of hitting that straight.
Of the 47 cards, eight of them will improve our hand to a straight, which will return 20 coins. This means our expectancy on the straight is as follows:
8 (number of winning cards)/47 (total amount of cards)*20 (winning amount) = 3.40 coins
However, this is not quite the end of the story, as there are three Queens, three Jacks and also two Kings remaining in the pack, which will also improve our hands to a ‘Jacks or Better’ hand, which will return 5 coins. So we can add on the expectancy of this happening using the same calculation.
8 (number of winning cards)/47 (total amount of cards) * 5 (winning amount) = 0.85 coins
If we now add the two amounts together, we can see that the total expected winning return on this hand is 4.25 coins.
Playing the Pair of Kings
Knowing that the expected return is 4.25 if playing the straight, this is actually a very easy decision. One look at the payout chart shows you already that your worst case scenario here is already 5 coins, but it can get much better than this. Here is a run-down of your potential wins herein percentage terms.
Remain with KK – 71.29% of the time (5 coins)
Improve to two pairs – 15.98% of the time (10 coins)
Improve to three of a kind – 11.43% of the time (15 coins)
Hit a full house – 1.02% of the time (45 coins)
Hit 4 of a kind – 0.28% of the time (125 coins)
Another calculation will tell you exactly what your expected return will be:
If you add all of these together, you’ll see that the expected return when playing the pair of Kings is actually 7.68 coins – much, much better than the 4.25 coins you’ll receive on average when playing the straight draw.
Now obviously, this is a long winded method and whilst sat in a casino or playing the game at home you’ll not want to spend this amount of time on each hand – fortunately there are strategy guides to the most popular games on this site here:
However, it does pay to have an understanding of how you’ll work out the correct strategy, as you’ll now have a fuller understanding of the game, and knowledge of exactly how the strategy charts are formulated.
There are situations where you might not want to play the way that will bring you the best EV. For example, you might have three hands to a royal flush, like the 10, Jack, Queen of Hearts – alongside a pair of 2’s. The optimum strategy here will be to discard the 10, Jack and Queen and keep the pair of 2’s. Here you should ask yourself why you are actually playing the game.
If you are playing for long time enjoyment with exactly the right strategy – keep the 2’s.
However, if you are on holiday in Vegas, and want to give yourself a chance of the big one, with no thoughts of bankroll management – go ahead and go for the Royal Flush.
Advanced Video Poker Strategy – Overview
Video Poker is a fascinating game, and nothing beats the thrill of having that big hand and waiting for the right cards to fall and potentially give you that jackpot payout. However, there are times when you can actually minimize the house edge by playing the ‘less exciting’ hand. By playing this way you’re actually giving yourself a better chance of hitting the huge hand in the future, as your bankroll will last much longer. Play smart!
Biggest Choice of Video Poker Games Online
Where you play Video Poker online depends on whether you are US based or International.
Bovada only accept players from the US, this is part of the global Bodog-brand. You'll find the full range of Real Time Gaming Video Poker titles here (worth a look alone!) + some BetSoft games too. Bovada are top-rated for payment processing and customer service - and always have innovative and entertaining promos running too. Check out the Video Poker selection over at www.bovada.lv for yourself!
International players have a lot of choices when it comes to software and the individual casinos which run the games. My rec for Video Poker are the MicroGaming titles, these include some unique and innovative games, alongside the old favourites. UK-licensed 32Red are my top MicroGaming choice, check them out at www.32red.com now.