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Frequently Asked Questions - Video Poker Strategy Calculator


This page answers common questions, concerns, and complaints about the video poker strategy calculator.

A proper play is missing from the strategy

This is most likely not an error, but the result of very carefully thought-out methodology.

A good example of this is Suited King-Ten in 8/5 Bonus Poker. This play does not appear in the basic strategy at all — the basic strategy would have you always hold only the King. However, Suited King-Ten being sometimes better than holding only the King does appear in the list of exceptions with examples of the types of hands where this applies.

To understand why this occurs, you need to understand the goal behind the basic strategy itself: The basic strategy is designed to be as accurate as possible when exceptions are not used, however, there are two ways to interpret or accomplish this task:

1. Make the basic strategy return as much as possible, regardless of how many exceptions it ends up having; or

2. Make the basic strategy have as few exceptions as possible, regardless of how much the strategy returns.

The video poker strategy calculator uses the first method, which results in a strategy that returns as much as possible for the player who chooses to disregard exceptions. In the case of 8/5 Bonus Poker, having the basic strategy omit Suited King-Ten returns more in the long run than a basic strategy which includes Suited King-Ten as always beating holding only the King.

If a play appears to be missing from the basic strategy, check the list of exceptions — it is probably there for a good reason.

A lower-paying hand is listed higher than a higher-paying hand

If you look at the strategy for 9/6 Jacks or Better you will notice that the first line has Full House, Straight Flush, and Royal Flush, whereas the second line has the various Four of a Kinds.

There are a couple of reasons why this happens. First, the video poker strategy calculator intentionally treats Four of a Kind (when no kicker is held) as a "partial" play, because in some games (such as Double Double Bonus), a kicker could increase the prize. Second, the strategy calculator traverses the basic strategy and groups together plays of the same type which do not conflict with any of the hands in between them. An example will help explain this process better.

With 9/6 Jacks or Better, before grouping plays together, the top part of the basic strategy would resemble the following:

  • Pat Hand (Royal Flush)
  • Pat Hand (Straight Flush)
  • Four of a Kind (AAAA)
  • Four of a Kind (KKKK)
  • Four of a Kind (QQQQ)
  • Four of a Kind (JJJJ)
  • Four of a Kind (TTTT)
  • Four of a Kind (9999)
  • Four of a Kind (8888)
  • Four of a Kind (7777)
  • Four of a Kind (6666)
  • Four of a Kind (5555)
  • Four of a Kind (4444)
  • Four of a Kind (3333)
  • Four of a Kind (2222)
  • Pat Hand (Full House)
  • etc.

When the software goes through the list from top to bottom, it first sees that Royal Flush and Straight Flush are of the same type, so it tries to combine them. In order to combine two plays, there must be no plays in between them which conflict with either one. In this case there are not (Royal Flush and Straight Flush are adjacent), and you cannot have both in the same hand, so they are successfully grouped together into a single line.

Next, it will try to group this new line with each of the Four of a Kind plays, but it won't even try because they are of different types ("Pat Hand" holds everything whereas "Four of a Kind" holds only four cards, so the plays are recognized as being different and thus not combinable). Then it will reach the Full House, and again check to see if grouping the SF/RF line with the Full House would affect the return of the strategy. Four of a Kind does not conflict with Full House, because you can never have both in the same hand. The software recognizes this and merges Full House into the line which has the Straight Flush and Royal Flush.

Eventually, the software will also look at all of the Four of a Kind plays and recognize that they can all be combined into a single line. The end result is the first two lines of the 9/6 Jacks or Better strategy; the first line has Full House, Straight Flush, and Royal Flush; and the second line has all of the various Four of a Kinds.

This might give the impression that a Full House beats Four of a Kind, however, such a comparison is moot/null/void because you can never be faced with the decision, "Do I keep the Four of a Kind or do I keep the Full House?" in the same hand. Therefore it doesn't matter whether Full House appears above or below Four of a Kind.

Why does the strategy calculator produce different strategies than the manually-created strategies?

There are two reasons why the computer-generated strategies differ from the hand-written strategies listed on my main video poker page.

First, the hand-written strategies are more detailed, often including the expected return of each play.

Second, the hand-written strategies are custom tailored to the specific game to which they apply, whereas the strategy generator is designed to accommodate as many games as accurately and concisely as possible.

For example, in the optimal 9/6 Jacks or Better strategy, there are separate lines for holding only an Ace, only a King, only a Queen, and only a Jack. Having done it this way lets you see the expected return of each such play individually.

By contrast, the automatically-generated strategy has all four of these plays combined into a single line, because ultimately they do not conflict with each other. That is, if you had more than one high card in the hand, a better play applies anyway (JQ, JK, QK, JA, QA, or KA at the bare minimum), therefore all four of them can safely be grouped together onto a single line.

I can't find a specific play in the strategy

If you cannot find a certain play in either the basic strategy OR the list of exceptions, then it means that you should never make that play. For example, Suited Ace-Ten in 9/6 Jacks or Better is never the correct play, thus it never appears in the basic strategy or in the exceptions.

Can you explain the list of exceptions?

As described in the first question, the strategy generator makes the basic strategy as accurate as possible, regardless of how many exceptions it ends up having. That is, if you followed only the basic strategy and ignored the exceptions, the basic strategy itself returns as much as possible in the long run. As a result, there are some cases where the list of exceptions is fairly long, although each individual exception typically accounts for a negligible increase in return. The list of exceptions are sorted such that the first exception in the list occurs the most often, and the last exception in the list occurs the least often.

The way the list of exceptions is designed is as follows: if the basic strategy indicates that Play X is better than Play Y (or Play Y is completely missing from the basic strategy), but there are cases where Play Y beats Play X, an entry will appear in the list of exceptions indicating that "Play Y sometimes beats Play X" with a list of every unique hand where the exception applies.

For example, in 9/6 Jacks or Better, the second exception says that holding only a King sometimes beats holding Suited King-Ten. If you expand the list of exceptions, you'll see a list of the 80 unique hand patterns where this exception applies. The first unique hand in the list is 2♣ 3♦ 9♣ T♦ K♦. If you look at this hand's suits not as absolute suits but as relative suits, you'll notice that the 3-10-K can be any one of the four suits, and the 2-9 can be any one of the other three suits, for a total of 4*3 = 12 similar hands. The list of exceptions only shows one suit rotation for each unique hand, which in this case used clubs and diamonds.

It is up to you to determine how to describe the exceptions; trying to write computer code to pinpoint the exact rules for each exception is exceedingly difficult. If you take video poker seriously enough to worry about the exceptions, chances are you'll be able to figure out when or why each exception applies by studying the list of unique hands. For this particular exception in 9/6 Jacks or Better, it is well known that the situation which causes the King to beat Suited King-Ten is when there is a Flush penalty discard as well as a 9; each unique hand in the list of exceptions for this situation satisfies this condition.