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Best of Elliot Frome

Gaming Guru

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Keeping a Straight Face

1 March 2005

Drawing to a 4-card Straight when you're playing Poker against your buddies at home can make a lot of sense. Basically, you've got an 8 in 47 chance of drawing that Straight, and 12 additional chances to draw a Pair. If it's a high-ranking straight you're going for, the hand looks respectable. Of course, real Poker relies on bluffs and tells. So, anytime you draw a single card, your friends begin to wonder if you're bluffing or trying to make a Straight or a Flush. Maybe you've got Two Pair and you're going for the boat. How you bet and how good of a Poker face you've got can determine whether you'll win the hand almost as much as which card you actually draw. Of course, if you play with the same guys and make the same play over and over again, they'll figure your strategy out sooner or later.

Video Poker doesn't have any of these elements. There are no bluffs, no tells and no raises. You don't base your decision on what to Draw on how anyone else bet. There is no Folding. No matter how much you stare at the machine, it won't 'fold' if you miss hitting the Straight and decide to pay you anyways. This is why Expert Strategy is based purely on hard, cold math. There are no hunches. There is no element of figuring out that one of the players never bluffs or another one takes a sip of his drink when he does. All that matters is the final result of your hand and the paytable in use on the machine you are playing.

So, who cares what a 4-Card Straight is worth at home against your friends, or even in the casino's poker room? The real question is how does a 4-Card Straight rate when you're playing Video Poker? Honestly, if you were dealt nothing but a steady diet of 4-Card Straights, you'd run out of money in a hurry. In full-pay jacks or better, the best possible 4-Card Straight is one with three High Cards. With this hand, there are 8 ways to complete the Straight and 9 ways to pick up a High Pair. Since the Straight pays 4 and the High Pair pays 1, we calculate the expected value by summing up the expected wins (8 straights times 4 plus 9 High Pairs times 1 equals 41). 41 divided by 47 is 0.87 and this is the expected value for a 4-Card Straight with 3 High Cards. Keep in mind that J-Q-K-A is defined as an INSIDE Straight as there is only one way to complete the straight, not two.

Each High Card in our straight increases the expected value relative to a similar straight with fewer High Cards. So, a 4-Card Straight with NO High Cards is worth only 0.68. With 1 High Card, it is worth 0.74. With 2 High Cards, its expected value is 0.81. Why do we care about how many High Cards there are? When I wrote about 4-Card Flushes a few weeks ago, we didn't bother. The problem is that the strategy table in this range is a bit more cluttered than the range for 4-Card Flushes. Thus, while a 4-Card Flush with 2 High Cards is worth more than a 4-Card Flush with no High Cards, we don't bother separating them on our strategy table because the number of High Cards does not affect how we play the hand.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for 4-Card Straights. We find many other hands that sneak in between the different varieties of 4-Card Straights, so in order to maximize our overall payback, we need to break them down to make sure we play each hand properly. For example, a 4-Card Straight with 3 High Cards is the ONLY Straight that ranks over a Low Pair. Admittedly, there is only 1 way this hand can occur (10-10-J-Q-K), but it's just indicative of why we separate the 4-Card Straights by the number of High Cards. A Low Pair outranks ALL other 4-Card Straights. When playing regular Poker, you might decide to throw a Low Pair in favor of a 4-Card Straight. Your Pair of 6's aren't worth much unless you pick up a third one. Hitting the Straight will give you a near lock on the pot.

In Video Poker, an 'all or nothing' approach could cost you a great deal. Low Pairs have an expected value of 0.82, which is considerably higher than all the other 4-Card Straights, and we haven't even brought Inside Straights into the discussion yet. Playing the Low Pair, hoping to catch the Trips, even though a Straight outranks it is still the proper play.

So far, I've discussed 'outside' Straights that can be filled in 2 different ways. Inside Straights that can only be filled 1 way have far lower expected values. The highest-ranking one (J-Q-K-A) has an expected value of only 0.59. So, despite having 4 High Cards, the ability to make the straight with only 4 cards (instead of 8 with an outside Straight) lowers the expected value greatly. As a result, in full-pay jacks or better, we find that if the 4-Card Inside Straight doesn't have at least 3 High Cards, we'd be better off playing just the High Cards, or even throwing all 5 cards if the 4-Card Inside Straight doesn't have a High Card. Additionally, many 3-Card Straight Flushes will outrank these 4-Card Straights making them relatively rare plays. As always, I strongly recommend you study the strategy table before putting your hard earned money at risk in a casino.

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at www.vpheaven.com, or drop Elliot an e-mail at compuflyers@prodigy.net.

Elliot Frome Websites:

www.vpheaven.com

Books by Elliot Frome:

> More Books By Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome
Elliot Frome is a 2nd generation gaming author and analyst. His father, Lenny Frome was considered one of the premier authors of Video Poker books. Titles include, Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas and Winning Strategies for Video Poker, which includes the strategy tables for 61 of the country’s most popular versions of Video Poker. Check out Compu-Flyers website at www.vpheaven.com, or drop Elliot an e-mail at compuflyers@prodigy.net.

Elliot Frome Websites:

www.vpheaven.com

Books by Elliot Frome:

> More Books By Elliot Frome