It All Ends with a Razgu


            We're down to the final hands on the strategy table.  For the past several weeks, I have been slowly walking through the strategy for full-pay jacks or better video poker.  Along the way, I've been doing my best to provide insights to help you both understand the table and understand the WHY behind the table.  So, without further ado, I bring you the final five entries on the strategy table:


  • 2 High Cards
  • 2-Card Royal - V1
  • 1 High Card
  • 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards
  • Razgu


            The third most common hand is the 2 High Card hand.  It occurs about 15% of the time.  As we have already described the 2-Card Royal, this means that the 2 High Card hand consists of unsuited cards.  This also means that if there is a 3rd High card which matches suit with one of the other two, then the hand is played as a 2-Card Royal.  Unlike the 3 High Card hand described last week, which cannot include an Ace, the 2 High Card hand does not have this restriction.  If you've got an offsuit Jack-Ace, that qualifies.


            Next up is the 2-Card Royal V1.  This is the 2-Card Royal that consists of a 10 and no Ace.  So, we are talking about a 10-J, 10-Q or 10-K.  Because the 10 does not qualify as a High Card, the expected value of this 2-Card Royal is far below that of the others.  Also, this means that if you have a suited 10-J with an offsuit Q, the hand is played as 2 High Cards and NOT as the 2-Card Royal.  There are also countless partial Straights and Straight Flushes that will be played over the 2 High Cards.


            The second most common hand is the very lowly 1 High Card hand.  Falling only below the Low Pair in frequency, the 1 High Card occurs about 16% of the time.  So, when you play if you seem to run into an endless string of 1 High Card and 2 High Card hands, you're probably not imagining it.  Together they account for nearly 1/3 of all hands.  The 2 High Card hand has an expected value of 0.49 while the 1 High Card hand is at 0.47.  This means on average you'll get back less than half of what you wagered each time these hands show up.  These are not the hands you win money on.


            The 1 High Card can be any card between Jack and Ace.  Since we've already defined the 2-Card Royal and the 2 High Card hand, there isn't much to watch out for in the area of High Cards here.  If you have a second one, you're going to play it in some fashion.  This also means that the other 4 cards are between 2 and 10.  You don't want to ignore these four other cards which may contain 4-Card Straights and/or 3- and 4-Card Straight Flushes.


            The one exception to this is our next to last hand.  If you have a 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush (i.e. 3-5-7 suited) along with a single High Card (not part of the 3-Card Straight Flush) then you play the single High Card.  If, however, that High Card is part of ANY type of 3-Card Straight Flush, then the hand is played as this. 


            You'll note that ALL 3-Card Straight Flushes (open, Inside and Double Inside) are played regardless of how many High Cards there are.  Sometimes, the hand is played as something higher, but if you have a 3-Card Straight Flush and don't have anything else to play you play the 3-Card Straight Flush.


            The only other alternative is our final entry - the Razgu.  My father gave this name to the hand that is absolute garbage.  It means you throw all five cards and draw a new hand.  The expected value of this hand is a paltry 0.36.  It will occur about 3.5% of the time.  As bad as the expected value is, it is still better than playing the hand in some way not described to this point.  If you play a 4-Card Inside Straight with 2 or fewer High Cards you'll find that the expected value is below that of the Razgu.  Play any 3-Card Straights and you'll find the same problem.


            It may be painful to throw away all five cards, but if you can't find any other way to play the hand on the strategy table, you'll still be better off in the long run.


            Well, that is the end of our strategy table.  There is no magic formula that you can use to learn it.  The only way you can is to memorize the order and/or to practice using a real deck of cards or using one of the many training programs that are out there.  There's an old joke that asks if you know the way to Carnegie Hall.  The answer is Practice, Practice, Practice.  What a coincidence - that the same way to become an Expert Player.