Sometimes it Pays to Discard a Winning Hand in Video Poker

By Henry Tamburin

This is a true story that happened to my father-in-law, Pete. I’ve written about him before and his love of video poker. At age 90 he is in fact one tough player. Quarter jacks-or-better is his game and he learned how to play correctly by practicing on video poker training software on my computer (he practices often). He also always brings a strategy card with him when he plays just in case.

Peter and my mother in law Helen visited us in Las Vegas. Knowing that he loves his jacks-or-better, I took him to a local casino that offers the highest paying jacks-or-better pay schedule (so called 9/6 jacks-or-better, where the full house pays 9 coins and the flush 6 coins per coin played). But as luck would have it, Pete wasn’t doing well the first week he played. He had already endured a half dozen losing session and he wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t because he wasn’t playing accurately; he just wasn’t getting the cards. And this short-term blip in his bankroll is normal for the game albeit it can be frustating. Then it happened.

One evening out of the blue Pete asked me about a hand that he had played earlier in the day that bothered him. He was dealt the 6, 10, jack, king and ace in clubs, meaning he was dealt a winning five-card flush that paid 30 coins. He also realized at the last second that he also had a four-card royal in the same hand, but because he had been on such a prolonged, week-long losing streak, he decided to take the sure paying flush. Keeping that tempting paying flush, however, was a mistake and he should have thrown the 6 of clubs away and drew to the four-card royal. Even though the four-card flush paid 30 coins the expected value for drawing to a four-card royal is almost 92 coins meaning holding the four-card royal is by far the more profitable play to make in the long run than holding the sure 30-coin paying flush. Pete knew better and, of course, after he reviewed his strategy card he realized what a big mistake he made. The strategy card clearly states "break a FLUSH or STRAIGHT for a four-card royal flush," so he should have discarded the 6 of clubs and draw one card. He was beside himself that he forgot such a critical play and made the wrong play. I told him to forget about, the hand is history, just learn from your mistake and never keep a paying flush (or straight) if you also have a four-card royal flush in the same hand.

Fast forward two days. I went to watch some friends play in a Blackjack Tournament and Pete came along. He quickly got antsy and wanted to play some video poker. Fortunately, I found a 9/6 jacks-or-better machine in the sports bar, so after getting him settled, I left him to play video poker while I went to watch the blackjack tournament.

A short while later I saw him out of the corner of my eye sitting next to a slot machine. I couldn’t imagine why he was there and not playing video poker so I approached him to find out if there was a problem. He was all smiles when he pulled his TITO ticket out of his pocket and flashed it front of me ...it was for slightly more than a grand. I said, "Don’t tell me you hit the royal?" His response was, "Yep, and you wouldn’t believe what happened? " I couldn’t imagine what he was referring to until he starting to explain.

It turned he was dealt ... would you believe ... the same hand he got a few days earlier except in spades. It was a 6 of spades and also the 10, jack, king and ace of spades. This time, however, he discarded the 6 and the sure paying 30 coin flush and instead held the four-card royal. He needed to draw a queen of spades, a one in 47 shot, and he nearly died when it popped up on the screen for a $1,000 royal flush.

The moral of this story is that when you play video poker a bird in the hand is not always worth more than two in the bush. You agree, Pete?


Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of www.smartgaming.com. For a FREE three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/free. To receive his FREE Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.