A few months ago, I wrote a column that discussed the value (or lack there of?) of a Suited Hand. It started by discussing the relative value of a suited pocket hand in Texas Hold'em vs. an unsuited hand. It then touched on the topics of 3-Card Flush and 2-Card Royals in video poker. The former is quite unplayable and the latter is just barely playable due to the 800 for 1 payout of the Royal and the added value of the High Cards you would be holding. It also glanced over the 3-Card Straight Flush. The black sheep of video poker hands.
Why is this? Well, first of all, the payout for a Straight Flush is AWFUL relative to how often they occur. A Royal occurs every 40,000 hands or so and pays 800 for 1. Quads show up every 423 hands and pays 25. Straight Flushes occur every 9600 hands and pays only 50! Of course, part of the reason they show up ONLY every 9600 hands is because they pay 50. If they paid 100, the frequency would likely go up quite a bit.
Secondly, they can be hard to spot. 6-7-10 Suited scattered out of order amongst a total of five cards can get missed. Related, a 3-Card Straight Flush will often be a 4-Card Straight. If it is an outside Straight (2 ways to complete it), then this would be the right play. If your 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush becomes a 4-Card Inside Straight, you're better off with the 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush.
Third, they just are hard to play. You're dealt 2-5-7-9-10 with the 5-7-9 suited. The only choices are between the 3-Card Double Inside Straight Flush and the Razgu (throw all 5). With the 3-Card Straight Flush, the only way you win is with help from BOTH cards. You might get dealt a High Pair, or match up 2 different cards already in your hand, or get to a Trips or a Straight, or a Flush or a Straight Flush. With a Razgu, who knows what might happen? Maybe you'll get dealt something good! The reality is that the expected value of these hands is just not all that close. The Razgu is 0.36 and the Double Inside Straight Flush with 0 High Cards is 0.44. This is 20% higher.
Admittedly a good deal of that difference is due to the Straight Flush, which is only going to happen 1 in 1,081 hands. Those are long odds. But along the way, you'll hit some Flushes and Straights and you'll do so far more often than by drawing five new cards. After all, you got this train wreck of a hand by drawing five cards a few seconds ago!
Don't get me wrong, you don't want to be dealt an over abundance of 3-Card Straight Flushes. In the best case (9-10-J), you're up to an expected value of 0.72, which is still below that of a Low Pair (0.82). But a good deal of video poker is not about playing winning hands, but about minimizing losses on all the losing hands. About 2% of all hands played will be played as some form of 3-Card Straight Flush. It is critical to play them correctly. Throw in the 7-8% of hands that are played as a 2-Card Royal and understanding these hands becomes a significant aspect of playing the game to the theoretical payback. It is important to realize that relationship between 2-Card Royals and 3-Card Straight Flushes as they do overlap quite a bit.
3-Card Straight Flushes also overlap a good deal with High Card Hands. At least one of the other 2 cards can frequently be a Jack or Better. What's the right play? Unless the hand is a 3-Card Double Inside with 0 High cards (the 5-7-9 described earlier), you would play the 3-Card Straight Flush over 1 or 2 High Cards. Unless, these High Cards are suited and now you have a 2-Card Royal as well!
In the past few weeks, I've had the opportunity to play more video poker than I have in the several months before that. I can definitely relate to how hard it can be to play these 3-Card Straight Flushes. The strategy is tricky and even when you get it right, you just don't want to do it. I don't think there is any other hand even remotely like it. The only thing that comes to mind might be holding Two Pair (with one High Pair) in Double Double. But that strategy is straight forward. 3-Card Straight Flushes get tangled with a lot of other hands. It is important that you learn the right strategy.
There are many ways to do this. One of the best is by reading one of our video poker books. For Gaming Today readers, I have three of our best video poker books at a special price of $7 postage included or $20 for all three (or three of the same if you really want!). The three titles are Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas (a great all around book that teaches you everything you need to know about Expert Strategy), Winning Strategies for Video Poker (nothing but strategy tables, so this is for someone who gets the concepts and just wants to know the final answer) and Video Poker: America's National Game of Chance (a compilation of about 100 articles from my father, Lenny Frome. A great tool if you like to learn from anecdotal stories and the like). If you'd like to order, please send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133.