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Short Term Optimal Video Poker Strategy

[Cut straight to the table.]

Keywords: Video Poker optimal short term short-term strategy Australia.

It takes an average of almost 33,000 hands of perfect, optimal strategy play to win a royal flush at Video Poker. Even a straight flush comes only every 8200 hands, and during all that time many good hands have to be wasted trying for these long term payoffs. Most players are not interested in playing that sort of long term game, and just want to have the best chance of walking out of say an hour's play with a profit. What is the best strategy to achieve that goal? I have not seen anyone publish this information, only the optimal strategy for (usually American) long term play.

The strategy presented here is for Australian payoffs, and is designed to maximise the short term return. If you want the strategy for the best chance to win a royal flush, this strategy is not for you. If you want to have the greatest likelihood of walking out after an hour's play with more than you started, or lasting the longest time on a given amount of money, then read on. The strategy is derived by analysing the payoffs that result from the various play choices, as with the standard analysis, but any option that has a frequency of less than 1 in 100 is ignored. These unlikely options do not pay off in the short term, and so are not considered in this strategy. The expectation resulting from the various initial hands is sorted into decreasing order, with the best hands at the top of the list. This generates a strategy that is optimal for the "short term"; the shortness of the term is set by the choice of the 1 in 100 cutoff.

Surprisingly, this strategy does not cost all that much in the long term. While the optimal long term strategy (not playing enough coins to qualify for the jackpot) will return about 96.5%, this strategy will return about 91%. Compare this with casino slot machines (where there is no strategy), which return about 93% in the long term, and much less in the short term (I would guess about 88%). And since the strategy ignores long shots, the return is largely independent of the size of the jackpot.

I should state here for the mathematical purists that technically, the optimal play for the short term is the same as the optimal play for the long term, assuming unlimited play. But that is because most of the time the long term play will win less, and a small percentage of the time it will win more, a lot more, that that makes it the best long term play. But if you look at it this way - if the utility of a very rare, very large win is not as great as that of a lot of small wins, then the strategy presented here will maximise that utility. Enough said.

So here is the strategy. Basically, whenever you have a choice of hands to keep, keep the one nearer the top of the list. For example, if you are dealt
Kh Qh Jh 2s 2c
then you have 3 cards to a royal flush (a long term hand!) and a low pair. The optimal long term strategy is to keep the 3/royal, but in the table below we see that ignoring the long odds, 3/royal is worth less than a low pair! So you would discard the high cards and keep the pair of deuces. When you add up the expected return of the deuces developing into two pair, 3 of a kind, full house, or 4 of a kind, it comes to more than the expected return of the high cards developing into a high pair, straight, flush and so on. The possibility of drawing both the ace of hearts and the ten of hearts for a royal flush is so remote (even though it would pay well), that we are willing to ignore that remote possibility.

Video Poker Short Term Strategy for Australian Payoffs



#Cards  Value      

to draw After draw Hand

--------------------------------

   0   (800)       Royal flush!

   0    100        Straight flush!

   1   (18.6)      4/Royal

   0    15.0       Four of a kind!

   0    8.000      Full house

   0    6.000      Flush

   1    5.419      4/Str-fl 0 ace 0 gap

   0    4.000      Straight

Note - break up no-gap 4-flush straights (like 9x8x7x6x5y) as 4/str-flushes

   2    3.816     3 of a kind

   1    3.468     4/Str-fl 1 ace: 432A/532A/542A/543As

   1    3.439     4/Str-fl 1 gap

   1    2.511     2 pair

   3    1.460     High pair

   1    1.217     4/Flush

   1    0.872     4/Strght 3 hi 0 gap: KQJTu

   1    0.809     4/Strght 2 hi 0 gap: QJT9u

   1    0.745     4/Strght 1 hi 0 gap: JT98u

   3    0.744     Low pair, 10s or lower

   1    0.681     4/Strght 0 hi 0 gap

   2   (0.637)    3/Royal

   2    0.622     3/Str-fl 2 hi 1 gap: QJ9s

   1    0.596     4/Strght 4 hi 0 gap: AKQJu

   2    0.572     3/Str-fl 2 hi 2 gap: KQ9/KJ9s/QJ8s

   2    0.572     3/Str-fl 1 hi 0 gap: JT9s

   1    0.532     4/Strght 3 hi 1 gap: AKQT/AKJT/AQJT/KQJ9u

   2    0.522     3/Str-fl 1 hi 1 gap: QT9/JT8/J98s, x4XA

   3   (0.510)    2/Royal, 2 hi 0 ten

   3    0.497     QJ unsuited (keep K if there is one)

   2    0.490     KQJ unsuited

   2    0.472     3/Str-fl 0 hi 0 gap: e.g. T98s, x432s

   2    0.472     3/Str-fl 1 hi 2 gap: KT9/QT8/Q98/JT7/J97/J87s

   2    0.471     3/Str-fl 1 ace: 54A/53A/52A/43A/42A/32As

   3    0.449     AK/AQ/AJ unsuited

   3    0.449     KQ/KJ unsuited

   2   [0.431]    AKQ unsuited: keep KQu

   2    0.422     3/Str-fl 0 hi 1 gap: e.g. T97s

   2    0.422     3/Str-fl 0 hi, inside: 432s

   4   (0.418)    One high card (keep lowest; A, K same)

   3   (0.382)    2/royal, 1 hi 1 ten: discard ten

   2    0.372     3/Str-fl 0 hi 2 gap: e.g. T86s

   1    0.340     4/Strght 0 hi 1 gap

   2   [0.322]    3/Flush, 0 hi - discard

   5    0.322     Junk

Comparison with long term strategy

There may be several surprises in the above strategy for both casual and experienced (long term) players. Note that 3 cards to a flush (with no high cards and no straight flush chances) are worth the same as junk - you may as well draw 5 new cards. However, keeping a 4 card straight with one gap is better than drawing 5 new cards; this is a change from long term strategy.

Two high cards are always better than one high card, and two suited high cards are worth the same as two unsuited high cards. The only three unsuited high cards that you would keep are KQJ; when dealt AKQ, just keep the KQ. Although QJ is higher than KQJ, this does not mean that you should discard the king (this is an exception). QJ assumes you are dealt QJ and 3 irrelevant cards. It is actually better to be dealt QJ246 than to be dealt KQJ24, but having been dealt the latter, it is best to keep KQJ.

Note that very few hands that don't pay anything as dealt beat the mighty low pair. The exceptions are 4 cards to a flush, (including 4 cards to a straight flush or royal flush), and the three 4 card straights with high cards: KQJTu (the "u" at the end means unsuited), QJT9u, and JT98u. The only paying hand that should be broken up is a straight that is also a 4 card straight flush, as noted in the table. (This hand is very rare).

Even in the short term, it is a bad idea to keep "kickers". For example, if you are dealt A 9 7 2 2, don't be tempted to keep the ace in addition to the pair of deuces. The ace can't help most hands that the low pair can develop into, and keeping three cards means only two draws, and that makes it harder to improve the low pair. Keeping the ace costs over 15% of your expected return!

The large table above seems daunting at first, but you soon get to know it. Start with the common hands, like one high card, low pair, and high pair. As you come across new hand types, remember where they are in the table in relation to these familiar hand types.

Why do I publish this information?

Some readers may be suspicious of my intentions, but the truth is that it is in my interests as a Video Poker player to have my fellow players (who contribute to my jackpots) play longer. Fortunately, playing longer is also in these players' interest also! It is true that they could play even better by playing optimal long term strategy, but the vast majority of players are not interested in the long term, and most of them would not have the bankroll. When I see players keeping kickers, 2 or 3 card flushes, and throwing away low pairs to keep inferior hands, they are costing themselves money. By running out of money sooner, they contribute less to the jackpot, and the jackpot takes longer to become profitable for me. Many times, the jackpot will go off before it becomes break even, so I do not get the opportunity to play at all.

The strategy given here can be verified by grinding through the maths, but the sort of people who can use it probably don't have the mathematical skills to derive it. Players who wish to find the optimal long term strategy for Australian VP can calculate it for themselves, or just use the 8/5 strategy in any of the American books (see my general Video Poker page). American strategies will be close for most hand types; the biggest change is that 3 and 4 card straight flushes are worth a lot more in Australia, and low pair is worth a little less (since 4 of a kind pays less).

So why not use at least some of the ideas on this page in your play? You'll have a better time at the casino, and you'll contribute a bit more to that big meter for me!

This page has been accessed times since 1/Apr/1997.

Original Author's Home Page.

Last Update: 03/31/97 - No longer updated by original author