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How to play some tricky video poker hands

By Henry Tamburin

Often times when you play video poker, the cards you should hold is a no brainer. Sometimes however, a hand pops up on your screen that makes you think, “should I hold these cards or those cards.” Here are a few of these “tricky” hands and the best way to play them. (Assume the game is Jacks or Better.)

The following hand used to drive my late father-in-law crazy. He knew the correct play but he was always tempted to make the wrong play. How would you play it?
The temptation is to hold the three-card consecutive straight flush 5-6-7 in spades (did you spot it?) because of the potential for a large 250-coin straight-flush payoff (assuming max coins played). But, alas, this is the wrong play and it’s not even close. The correct play is to hold the low pair (pair of 5s). (The general rule is you hold a low pair over any three-card straight flush.)

How would you play this hand?
Most players can easily spot the two-card royal flush (J and Q of hearts) and the temptation is to hold them. But that’s the wrong play. The better play is to hold the three-card straight flush 8-J-Q of hearts. When you see a two-card royal flush in a hand, tempting as it is to hold these cards, look again to see if it can be extended into a three card straight flush. The rule is this: When the three-card straight flush is either consecutive (except A-2-3 and 2-3-4) or if it contains gaps where the number of high cards equals or exceeds the number of gaps, then the better play is to hold the three-card straight flush over the two-card royal flush.

How would you play these hands?
Even though both hands contain a three-card straight flush, the A-2-3 in the top hand is much weaker than 4-5-6 in bottom hand. The reason has to do with the number of straight and straight flushes that can be obtained on the draw. In the case of suited 4-5-6, you can obtain the following three suited straight flushes and three unsuited straights.

2-3-4-5-6 (suited and unsuited)

3-4-5-6-7 (suited and unsuited)

4-5-6-7-8 (suited and unsuited)

With an A-2-3 straight flush, the number of possible straight flushes and straights is not three but only two. If you hold A-2-3 suited and draw, you have the possibility of ending up with only one straight flush (A-2-3-4-5) and one straight (A-2-3-4-5). This makes suited A-2-3 not nearly as valuable as suited 4-5-6. (Ditto for a 2-3-4 straight flush where it’s possible to end up with only two straight flushes and two straights.) Therefore, the correct holds for the above two hands are:

With A 2 3 Q K, you hold the Q K

With 4 5 6 Q K, you hold the 4 5 6

Here’s another hand that a majority of players misplay. How would you play it?
There are three possible holds in this hand:

the low pair (10s)

the two-card royal flush (J-Q) and

the four-card consecutive straight (10-J-Q-K).

Most players would hold the pair of 10s in this hand but that is the wrong play. Even though holding a low pair is the better play over a two-card royal flush, it is not the better play over a four-card consecutive straight that contains three-high cards. The consecutive straight 10-J-Q-K is the most valuable consecutive straight there is because it contains three high cards. It is, in fact, more valuable than holding a low pair. (The rule is to hold the 10-J-Q-K straight over a low pair and the latter over any other consecutive four-card straight.)

Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of the website and the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains books, strategy cards, and software for casino players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at


Here’s a way how you can find out how much coin-in you need to play to get one point at any casino. Go to and click on “Explore 440+ Casino with Video Poker.” Next, click on a region and you’ll be taken to a list of casinos in that region (along with a list of each casino’s best video poker games). Next click on the name of the casino and on the next page, click on Player’s Club (top). The latter page will summarize how much coin in is required when you play video poker to earn one point.


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