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 91 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.
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. But luck would have it, Pete wasn’t doing well the first week. He had already endured a half-dozen losing sessions and he wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t because he wasn’t playing accurately; he just wasn’t getting the cards. 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-Ace in clubs. He had been 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. I explained to him that he made a big mistake and he should have thrown away the 6 of clubs and draw to the four-card royal. Even though the five-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. 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.” He was beside himself that he forgot such a critical play.
Fast forward two days. I went to a casino to watch some friends play in a blackjack tournament and Pete came along. He quickly got antsy and wanted to play some jacks-or-better. Fortunately, I found a 9/6 jacks-or-better machine in the Hilton’s Sports Book so after getting him settled-in on a machine, I went to the main casino 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 flashed a payout ticket for slightly more than a grand. I said, “Don’t tell me you hit the royal?” His response was, “Yep, and guess how?” I couldn’t imagine what he was referring to until he explained what happened.
It turned he was dealt –would you believe- the same hand he got a few days earlier except in spades. He was dealt a 6 of spades and also the 10-Jack-King-Ace of spades. However, this time 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 was ecstatic 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.