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Figuring Out the Video Poker Strategy

For about four months in early 2008, Green Valley Ranch casino had three machines including $1 NSU Deuces Wild Multi Strike. One of the three machines also had the game in $2 and $5 denominations.

ThisBob DancerBob Dancer is one of the world's foremost video poker experts.  He is a regular columnist for Casino Player, Strictly Slots, and the Las Vegas Review-Journa land has written an autobiography and a novel about gambling.   He provides advice for tens of thousands of casino enthusiasts looking to play video poker.  Bob's website is  is a high-paying game (99.92%), especially when multipliers were in effect. Since Station Casinos (including GVR) now allow you to sell back new points earned at a rate of 1,000 points for $1 free play, this is essentially cash back. On 4x, 5x, and 6x point days, often the $5 game ($100 per play) was the most lucrative video poker game in town. You could get about $40,000 through the machine each hour and a 6x point promotion meant a $200+ per hour benefit, if you played well.) I'm not surprised they took it out. I'm only surprised that they left it in for so long.

While the game was around, I didn't write a whole lot about it. After all, there was only one machine that I wanted to play and I didn't want to increase the competition for it. Even without me writing about it, there were times it was locked up for days on end.

Now the machine is gone, I'd like to discuss a few things about the game. The game still exists in lower denominations, which is more relevant for most of my readers anyway. (see the vpFREE database for locations.) Even if the game were completely gone, there is value in discussing HOW I FIGURED OUT certain things. I'm trying to share some of my techniques, and they have to be discussed one at a time.

The only software that includes Multi Strike and its strategies is "Video Poker for Winners." So if you're serious about the game, that's the place to start. There is a +6, +4, +2 methodology you can use on other software (see for a discussion of how to do this) but that's a far more tedious way to go about it. Since this article presumes you are serious about learning, I going to assume you have VPW to start with.

The basic strategy for Level 1x says to hold a pair over 'QJT'. When I started to practice, I found exceptions to this. Since my goal was to play as perfectly as possible, I first needed to figure out what the correct strategy is and then I needed to figure out a shorthand method of transcribing the result. I wanted to discover all of the cases where 'QJT' was superior to a pair and all of the cases where a pair was superior to 'QJT'.

When I first posed this problem to intermediate players and asked them what 5-card hands to look at to get the answer to this question, most of them omitted one or more categories of hands --- although all agreed with the final list when it was presented. As a first step, I suggest you write out all of the 5-card hands that you would check to answer this question, and then later compare your list to mine. Many of you will find this an educational experience.

Not counting deuces, there are twelve different ranks of cards that can form pairs along with 'QJT.' Sometimes one of these cards are suited with the 'QJT' (a flush penalty), and sometimes not. When you have QQ, JJ, and TT in the same hand as 'QJT' there is a fifth card involved. This card may be a flush penalty, a straight penalty, or no penalty at all. (I'll define these terms later on.) This is all the cases (did you get them all?), so let's look at them one by one.

I go to the NSU Multi Strike on VPW, click on ANALYZE --- SELECT SPECIFIC CARDS and I enter in Ah As Qd Jd Td and click on ANALYZE THIS HAND. I arbitrarily chose the 'QJT' to be in diamonds. It could have been any of the four suits. I knew both neither of the aces could be diamonds because that would make it a 4-card royal flush, which is MUCH more valuable than a pair.

When I do this, I see that AA has a value of 12.983 and 'QJT' has a value of 12.938, so this means that AA is worth 4.5¢ more to the $1 player and 22.5¢ more to the $5 player --- which would be me. This follows the normal strategy. So I continue.

I right-click on the bottom of each ace, which turns them into kings. KK hurts more straights starting from 'QJT' than AA does, so it's no surprise that KK is the correct play by a wider margin than AA. I'll come back to QQ, JJ, and TT because they are special cases, so I next look at 99 and 88 versus 'QJT'. Here too the pair is better, and I didn't have to look at cases where a 9 or 8 were suited with the 'QJT' because that would have made it a 4-card straight flush, which is also much more valuable than either a pair or a 3-card royal flush.

When I right click down to 77, now 'QJT' is superior by 54.3¢ for the dollar player (or $2.715 for me). I'm a player who seeks out the best play when it is only a fraction of a penny. Numbers like this are ENORMOUS.

For players who are wondering why there's such a big difference between 'QJT' versus 88 and 'QJT' versus 77, eights are close enough to be in the same QJT98 straight as 'QJT' and sevens aren't. Pairs of eights, nines, kings, and aces all provided double straight penalties to the 'QJT'. Threes, fours, fives, sixes, and sevens have no straight penalties so I would expect each of them to be less valuable than 'QJT' by the same amount. I check to be sure, and that is indeed the case.

When I right-clicked down from AA to 33 to compare the results with 'QJT', each card in the pair was unsuited with the 'QJT'. In the range of 33-77, however, I need to check to see if one of the cards being suited with the 'QJT' makes a difference. When a card is suited with the 'QJT' it is called a flush penalty and it reduces the chances for 'QJT' to become a flush.

When I left-click on the 3s and enter in the 3d instead, I discover that 'QJT' is now the better play by 4.6¢ for dollar players. So it's clear that while the flush penalty definitely affects by HOW MUCH 'QJT' is superior to the pair, it doesn't affect the play.

So now we are going back to look at QQ, JJ, and TT. I'll start with QQ, with the fifth card being an off-suit 3. 'QJT' is the better play by 35¢ for dollar players. I quickly right click on the off-suit queen to verify that JJ and TT have the same results, and they do.

I next check against an off-suit 8 (the lowest straight penalty). It turns out that with 8 and A (the straight penalties that are furthest away from 'QJT') that 'QJT' is still the better play by about a nickel for the dollar player. With K and 9, both straight penalties that hurt 'QJT' more by interfering with two straights rather than just one, now the pair is the better play by 9¢.

We still need to look at the fifth card being a flush penalty, so I key in Qc Qd Jd Td 7d and find out that the pair is better by 15¢.

So now I've checked on all cases. Let's summarize:

AA, KK, 99, 88 are ALWAYS better than 'QJT' (double straight penalty)

33, 44, 55, 66, 77 (with or without a flush penalty) are NEVER better than 'QJT'

QQ, JJ, TT are better than 'QJT' when there is a K penalty, a 9 penalty, or a flush penalty.

It's hard to write this succinctly on a strategy card. Here's how mine looks:

AA, KK, 99, 88 (QQ, JJ, TT with 9p, Kp, or fp)


Pair (other)

There are plenty of ways for to notate things. Whether this notation works for you or not is up to you. Whether you decide that figuring these things out or not is worth it is also up to you. (To me it's a no-brainer, but I am definitely in the minority with this opinion.) Should you want to learn to do this, this article provided a step-by-step approach on how I went about it.

There were a few dozen types of combinations I needed to examine in this game before I was ready to play perfectly. Each one was done more-or-less like this one. The first time I did this sort of thing it took a long time. Now it goes by quickly.
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