Jacks or Better optimal strategy
Last Update: Dec. 11, 2011
The following strategy is for full pay Jacks or Better video poker. "Full Pay" designates the following paytable, per coin based on five coins bet, which returns 99.54% of money bet assuming optimal strategy.
To use this strategy, look up all reasonable ways to play a hand, and choose the play that is highest on the list. If a play isn't on the list then it should never be played. The numbers on the right represent the average return. These numbers can vary depending on the discards.
Let's try an example. Suppose you have both four to a flush and a low pair. Should you sacrifice the low pair to complete the flush or sacrifice the possible flush and keep the low pair? From the list below 4 to a flush has a higher ranking and thus is the better play. To test yourself on other hands try my video poker quiz.
I admit this is a long and rather difficult strategy but I believe it correctly advises every possible hand. If used correctly it should yield perfect play.
Three to a Straight Flush Key
Straight Flush draw (type 1): Straight flush draw in which the number of high cards equals or exceeds number of gaps.
Straight Flush draw (type 2): One of the following straight flush draws.
Straight Flush draw (type 3): Straight flush draw with two gaps and no high cards.
Hands that are never played:
By request I have removed hands that are never played from the list. Either some subset of these hands are better than the larger hand, or discarding everything is better. In parenthesis I put what you should do with these hands.
High card: A jack, queen, king, or ace. These cards are retained more often because if paired up they return the original bet.
Outside straight: An open-ended straight that can be completed at either end, such as 6-7-8-9.
Inside straight: A straight with a missing inside card, such as 5-6-7-9. Note that A-2-3-4 and J-Q-K-A are considered inside straights because only one rank will complete them.
Penalty card: Sometimes one must discard a potentially useful card. In rare situations cards you would never keep can still tip the scales in favor of one play over another. For example, take the situation in footnote F. The player has a king of clubs, 10 of clubs, 9 of spades, 6 of clubs, and a 3 of diamonds. The best options are to either keep the suited 10 and king or the king only. The suited 10 and king is usually the better option. However in this scenario two potentially useful cards would be discarded, the 9 (lowering the odds of forming a straight), and the 6 of clubs (lowering the odds of forming a flush). These two penalty cards degrade the value of the suited 10 and king to below that of keeping the king only.
It should be mentioned that this strategy is mainly for academic interest or only the most avid video poker players. For practical purposes I recommend my simple strategy with a return of 99.46% or my intermediate strategy with a return of 99.52%.
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