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Simple Playing Strategy for Jacks or Better


Simple Playing Strategy for Jacks or Better

The playing strategy for most of the hands you’ll receive when you play the popular Jacks or Better video poker game is a no-brainer because it’s fairly obvious which cards you should hold and which ones you should discard. But then there are the not so obvious hands in which you must choose between two (or more) possible plays. For example, how would you play a hand in Jacks or Better that contains

A high pair and also a four-card flush, or

A low pair along with three cards to the royal flush?

If you are bewildered, worry no more because by the time you finish reading this article you’ll know exactly how to play these hands.
 
Hands that are often troublesome are those that contain a pair along with either 3-cards to the royal or 4-cards to the flush, or straight flush. The dilemma is whether or not to keep the pair, especially if it’s a high pair (Jacks through Aces), or discard them and try for the potentially higher-ranking and higher-payout hand. 

CHOICES

1. Low or high pair and 4-cards to the straight

2. Low or high pair and 4-cards to the flush

3. Low or high pair and 4-cards to the straight flush

4. Low or high pair and 3-cards to the royal

STRAIGHT AND PAIRS

A hand that fits example 1 is the following.

    2d    3h    4s    5h    3c

How would you play it? Would you keep the pair of 3s or the four unsuited consecutive cards (2 through 5) and try a one-card draw for a straight?

Nowadays, it’s actually not that difficult to determine which play is the right one. All you need is one of the popular video poker training software programs and a personal computer and you can determine which of the two playing options — keeping the low pair or the 4-card flush — has the higher expected value (known as EV).  In the above example, your EV is 82 cents per dollar bet when you hold the 3s and only 68 cents per dollar bet if you hold the 4-card straight. The best play is the one with the highest EV, which in this example is to

 - hold the low pair over the 4-card straight.

Does this mean you will win every hand if you follow the above video poker strategy? No. What it means is that after playing this hand many times, you’ll end up winning more money when you choose the play with the highest EV. 

It should be obvious that if keeping a low pair over a 4-card straight is the best play, then keeping a high pair over a 4-card straight is also the better play. And it doesn’t matter if your straight consists of four unsuited consecutive cards (like 5, 6, 7, and 8) or four cards with a gap (like 5, 6, 7, and 9).

But what if you have a 4-card consecutive straight that contains three high cards, specifically unsuited 10, J, Q, and K. In this case, keeping the 4-card consecutive straight with three high cards has a higher EV over the low pair.

Let’s formulate the above playing strategy into a simple rule and then show a table that ranks the different playing options to make learning the rule easy. 

Keep the high pair and a low pair over a 4-card straight unless the 4-card straight contains three consecutive high cards. If it does, keep the 4-card consecutive straight with three high cards over the low pair.

SIMPLE PLAYING STRATEGY TABLE

High pair
4-card consecutive straight with three high cards
Low pair
4-card straight

The above table shows a high pair, 4-card straight with three consecutive high cards, low pair, and a 4-card straight ranked from highest EV (high pair) to lowest EV (4-card straight). You always select the playing strategy that is higher ranked in the table (e.g., high pair and low pair over 4-card straight).

Flushes and pairs 
Let’s continue to build our simple strategy table by looking at the troublesome hands that contain a low or high pair and 4-cards to the flush. Examples are:

    2h    3h    2s    8h    9h

    Jh    3h    Js    5h    8h

How would you play them? You are correct if you chose holding the 4-card flush over the low pair (first hand) and the high pair over the 4-card flush (second hand).  


Keep a high pair over a 4-card flush, and the latter over a low pair.

Incorporating this rule into our simple playing strategy gives the following.

SIMPLE PLAYING STRATEGY TABLE

    High pair
    4-card flush
    4-card consecutive straight with three high cards
    Low pair
    4-card straight

Remember that the above simple strategy ranks the hands with the highest EV (top of the table) to the lowest EV (bottom of table). A quick glance tells you to keep the high pair over a 4-card flush or 4-card straight; the 4-card flush over the low pair; and the low pair over the 4-card straight.  

Royal Flushes and pairs
Let’s try sorting out hands that contain three cards to the royal flush along with a pair. How would you play them?

    6s    6d    Qh    Kh    Ah

    Jd    Js    Qh    Kh    Ah

The play with the highest EV in the first hand is to discard the low pair (6s) and keep the three cards to the royal flush and draw two cards. In the second example, however, the best play is to keep the high pair (J’s) and discard the 3-card royal flush.

Keep the high pair over a 3-card royal flush, and the latter over the low pair.

Speaking of royal flushes, if you have a hand that contains four-cards to the royal flush, you should always discard the lone card and draw one card except if you also have a pat straight flush. The EV for the latter is higher than the 4-card royal flush. 

Keep the 4-card royal flush except if you have a pat straight flush.

Incorporating these rules into the simple strategy table and ranking the hands by their EV yields the following.

SIMPLE PLAYING STRATEGY TABLE

Straight flush
    4-card royal flush
    High pair
    3-card royal flush
    4-card flush
    4-card consecutive straight with three high cards
    Low pair
    4-card straight

Straight flushes and pairs
Hands that contain four cards to a straight flush along with a low or high pair also confuse players. Here is the rule that covers these hands.

Keep the 4-card straight flush (with or without gaps) over a high or low pair. 

The table below summarizes the above rules into a simple strategy table that ranks the hands by their EV.  If you are a beginner, I would suggest you write down the information in the table on an index card. Take that card with you when you play and refer to it when one of the above hands appears on your screen. Just remember to always pick the play that is closest to the top of the strategy table. 

SIMPLE PLAYING STRATEGY TABLE FOR JOB

Straight flush
4-card royal flush
4-card straight flush
High pair
3-card royal flush
4-card flush
4-card consecutive straight containing three high cards
Low pair
4-card straight

Note: Once you get familiar with using the above simple playing strategy for Jacks or Better, you should consider learning the complete basic playing strategy (which includes several more plays). The latter is available on the Internet or on commercially available video poker strategy cards.

 

 

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