A Little Advice

            Last week's column was a gambling related philosophical debate about perfect vs. good enough.  This week, I'm going to the other end of the spectrum.  It is nearly impossible to define a 'bad' strategy as there really is no end to how bad a Player can play most games.  Playing every hand in Three Card Poker would probably meet the definition of a bad strategy, but is it worse than Folding every hand below a Pair?  Probably not, and I'm not going to waste my time to try to find out.

            This is not to say that every strategy that isn't perfect or as per last week's column 'good enough' would necessarily meet the definition of 'bad'.  I don't consider playing Three Card Poker with the strategy of Play any hand with a Queen to be good enough, but I can't really call it a bad strategy either.  With a game like Three Card Poker, there isn't really much to learn so you draw your line in the sand where you do and that's how you play it.

            A game like video poker is far different.  For anyone that doesn't use Expert Strategy, you might be hard pressed to find two people who used identical strategies.  In reality, they may be TRYING to use Expert Strategy (or some other particular strategy) but due to its complexity, they make a variety of errors along the way.  Then there are the multitudes of Players who just play by the seat of their pants, pretty much oblivious to the math that should be guiding them.  To these Players, getting them to even good enough will be quite a challenge.

            But, no matter what level they play at, if they just learn a few simple strategy points that might help them get a little closer to Expert Strategy then at least it is a step in the right direction.  So, today's column is for these Players.  I would like you all to consider learning just this small part of the strategy and trying to implement it.  You may still be a long ways away from playing Expertly, but hopefully, we can save you just a few bucks along the way and add to your enjoyment too.

            Here goes:
            1)  High Pair
            2)  4-Card Flush
            3)  Low Pair
            4)  4-Card Straight

            This strategy only means something on the hands that are either a 4-Card Straight or a 4-Card Flush and are also a Pair.  Approximately 25% of all 4-Card Straights and Flushes fall into this category, so these hands are fairly common.  This is why it is imperative that these hands be played correctly.  Let's take a closer look at why you should play the hands as described above and learn how these are NOT close calls.

            The High Pair is the only sure winner in the bunch, but this is NOT the reason it is at the top of the chart.  The determining factor is always the expected value of the hand, which is the average amount we expect to win with that hand over the long run.  Sometimes, the sure winner is not the right answer, but in this case it is.  The expected value of our High Pair is 1.54 which reflects the opportunities to turn this into Two Pair, Trips, Full House and Quads. 

            Next up is the 4-Card Flush which will win for us in the long run.  This is NOT to say that we will have more winning hands than losing hands.  With 9 opportunities to complete a Flush and perhaps a few more to complete a High Pair (depending on the exact makeup of the 4-Card Flush), we can expect to win with this hand only 20-30% of the time.  But since many of these will win with a Flush, the wins will be significant.  The expected value of a 4-Card Flush is 1.22.  It will be a smidge higher if you have 1 or 2 High cards and a bit lower if you have none.  If you have 3 High Cards, you have a 3-Card Royal and that takes precedence over the 4-Card Flush, but not the High Pair.

            While the Low Pair has the exact same probabilities as the High Pair of winding up as Two Pair, Trips, Full House or Quads, the fact that it starts as a losing hand is enough to bring its expected value all the way down to 0.82.  That means in the long run, this is a losing hand.  It is the second strongest losing hand (behind the relatively rare 10-J-Q-K Straight, which is also the ONLY exception to the rule I'm presenting here as you hold this 4-Card Straight over a Low Pair, which can only happen with a Pair of 10's).  The Low Pair is also BY FAR the most common hand in video poker, accounting for nearly 30% of all hands.

            Lastly, we have the 4-Card Straights.  While a 4-Card Straight with 2 High Cards ranks only slightly below the Low Pair with an expected value 0.81, it is still below it.  It only gets worse with 4-Card Straights with 1 High Card or 0 High Cards with expected value of 0.74 and 0.68, respectively.  These may not seem like big differences, but they will eat at your bankroll over time.

            It would still be far better for anyone reading this to become a truly Expert Player, but any improvements in your strategy are still better than none.  To help you on your way, we continue with our holiday special.  We are offering Winning Strategies for Video Poker, Video Poker: America's National Game of Chance and Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas for $5 each, which includes postage and handling.  Feel free to order as many as you'd like as they make great stocking stuffers!  Send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.  We'll do our best to get them to you before the holidays.