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How To Play Pick ‘Em Poker

This non-traditional video poker games has some pretty positive characteristics

By Henry Tamburin


A reader sent me this question:


On a recent visit to my local casino I noticed they had the video poker game Pick’em. I glanced at someone playing it and it sure looked different than the regular Jacks or Better game that I usually play. Can you explain how to play the game?


pickEmPoker_V20cabinetI most certainly can, and as you will shortly see, Pick’em is a non-traditional video poker game that has some positive characteristics. In fact, depending on the pay table, it can actually be a better game than Jacks or Better.

(Note: When this game was first introduced by Bally, it was called Pick’em but nowadays IGT has the same game but with a different name: Pick a Pair Poker. I will refer to both games as Pick ‘em in this article.)

Some of the positive characteristics of Pick ‘em is the playing strategy is very intuitive and easy to master (even easier than learning the playing strategy for Jacks or Better); the Expected Return (ER) for the “full pay” version of Pick ‘em is quite high (99.95%); and Pick ‘em has a relatively low volatility compared to other video poker games (meaning your bankroll will last longer). Additionally, payoffs start at 2-for-1 for a pair of 9s or Better (instead of the usual Jacks or Better) and a royal flush pays 6,000 coins (instead of the usual 4,000 coins).

Pick’em is played with a standard deck of 52-cards. After a player makes a bet, the computer will deal out eight cards, two exposed cards on the left side of the video display screen plus two stacks of three cards on the right side of the screen, with only the top card of each stack exposed. (You won’t “see” the two cards under the exposed cards but they are there.) You must keep the two exposed cards on the left side, and based on the exposed cards on the right side, you must decide which stack you want to keep. After you make your selection, the computer will expose the two cards under the stack you picked giving you a five-card poker hand (consisting of the initial two exposed cards on the left plus the exposed top card in the stack you kept plus the two cards “under” the stack). Depending on the rank of your final five-card poker hand, you will get paid an amount corresponding to the game’s pay table. So, in a nutshell, your only option in Pick’em is to choose stack A or stack B on the right side of the screen. Is this not simple?

When you play Pick’em, you are always comparing one set of three cards to another in order to decide which stack to keep. Let’s try an example so you see how easy this is.

Suppose you hit the deal button and the following cards appear on your screen.


5♠ 9♥       9♦ 3♣




Your two exposed cards, which you must keep, are the 5 of spades and 9 of hearts. You have a choice of selecting either the stack of three cards containing the exposed 9 of diamonds (i.e., keeping the 5♠-9♥-9♦) or the other stack containing the exposed 3 of clubs (i.e. keeping the 5♠-9♥-3♣). The choice is a no-brainer. You would select the stack with the exposed 9 which gives you, at the minimum, a winning pair of 9’s (depending upon what the other two cards are under the 9, you could also wind up with four 9’s, three 9’s, a full house, or two pair).

Let’s try another example.


A♦ 9♦     6♦ J♦


The two exposed cards that you must keep are the Ace and 9 of diamonds. Whether you select the 6 or Jack of diamonds, in either case, you would have a three card flush; however, the best play is to hold the Jack since that maximizes the number of high cards in your hand. (Hopefully, the two cards that are “under” the Jack when exposed will give you a flush, or at least, a pair of Aces or Jacks.)

Most of the choices that you will face in Pick’em are intuitively obvious like the above example. But there are some tricky hands, especially when you dealt three-card straight flushes with or without gaps and high cards so you should take along a strategy chart (or card) that contains the ranking of all possible three-card hands (that way you’ll always be making the right play). You’ll find a strategy chart for Pick ‘em on Additionally, there is a commercially available strategy card for Pick’em (by Dancer/Daily) that you can purchase (see my web store at for details).

Below is the “full pay” pay table for Pick ‘em with the maximum of five coins played. (You should always bet five coins to get the maximum return). The Expected Return, assuming max coins wagered and every hand played perfectly, is 99.95%. Since you can’t replace the two cards on the left side of the screen, it’s harder to achieve a higher ranked poker hand after you select the stack of cards on the right side. That’s the reason you are paid 2-for-1 for the relatively low ranking Pair of Nines and why the chance of hitting a royal flush is one in every 351,818 hands in this game. (Compare that with the roughly 1 in every 40,000 hands for Jacks or Better.) On the positive side, if you were to hit a royal, your payback is 6,000 coins (vs. the 4,000 coin payoff for most other video poker games).


Table 1: Full Pay Pick ‘em Pay Table (Max Coins Wagered)

Royal Flush                 6,000

Straight flush              1,199

Four-of-Kind                 600

Full house                        90

Flush                               75

Straight                            55

Three-of-a-kind                25

Two pair                           15

Pair of 9’s or Better         10


Caution: You will often find lower paying (i.e., “short”) pay tables for Pick ‘em that has a correspondingly lower ER. I suggest that you check the different pay tables for Pick ‘em and their corresponding ERs on Additionally, to find out if your local casino offers Pick ‘em, (especially the Full Pay version), go to, click on the tab “Find the Best Video Poker Game,” and then use the “Search” function to find the casinos in your area that offer Full Pay (and Short Pay) Pick ‘em.


Tip of the Month

You can practice playing Pick ‘em for fun on your home computer, by going to Playing the game at home will give you a feel for how it plays, and allows you to also practice the playing strategy.



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


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