Video Poker Tournament Strategy
How to rack up points and beat the competition
By Jerry “Stickman” Stich
A very fast player in a tournament that allows 20 minutes of play to determine a winner will only be able to play about 500 hands. While this may seem like a lot, keep in mind that a royal only appears once every approximately 40,000 hands.
Video poker tournaments provide a lot of fun and excitement for their participants. Each tournament might have its own particular set of rules, but the one thing they all have in common is that luck plays a large role in the outcome.
Many tournaments only allow five or ten minutes for the contestants to apply their strategies, and hopefully score enough points to win some money. In this short span of time, few hands can be played. A very fast player in a tournament that allows 20 minutes of play to determine a winner will only be able to play about 500 hands. While this may seem like a lot, keep in mind that a royal only appears once every approximately 40,000 hands. On average, a player would have to play in 80 tournament sessions of twenty minutes each between royals.
Luck is indeed a huge factor. But does that mean strategies don’t matter?
Not at all–but there is a real difference of opinion as to exactly what is the best strategy.
While video poker tournament rules vary greatly, many tournaments are timed. The faster you play, the more hands you’ll complete, and the better chance you have of getting a royal. Normally, each contestant plays two rounds and the higher of the two scores is what is used to determine the winner. For the purposes of this article, we’ll go by those tournament rules.
Some experts say to play the optimum strategy, but try to play faster than the others to get more hands and hopefully a higher number of credits. Some say to favor saves that could produce four aces (or 2’s, 3’s and 4’s) as well as royals when given the opportunity, and play optimum strategy on other hands. Meanwhile, others say to strictly favor royals.
Let’s look at the “favor a royal” strategy.
The thought behind this strategy is that hitting a royal means you have a great chance of winning at least something in the tournament. By only saving cards that could lead to a royal, you improve the chances of hitting a royal to about 1 in 23,000 from the 1 in 40,000 with optimum play. While this is still a lot of hands between royals, it’s cut nearly in half. Playing 500 hands in a tournament, you could expect a royal every 46 times.
So how do you play a royals only strategy? If the hand doesn’t have any cards that will make a royal, discard the entire hand. Only keep cards that could make a royal. Using the royals only strategy, you’ll discard a three of a kind or even a four of a kind if it’s less than tens. For example, if you are dealt 3333T, you will discard the threes and keep the ten because the ten could produce a royal flush.
If you have video poker software on your computer, set the pay table to only pay for the royal. The strategy generated for this game will be the royals only strategy. You’ll see it’s very simple; once you learn it you can play very fast, and fast is good in timed tournament play.
This might sound a bit extreme. If you’re playing all or nothing, you’ll end up with nothing most of the time—right? Well, look at it this way. Even if you don’t get a royal on your holds, you will get some high pairs, three of a kinds, four of a kinds, full houses, flushes, straights, and so forth. If you need 4,300 points to finish in the money and you end up with 215 points, you do no worse than someone playing a more traditional strategy who ends up with 4,295 points. You either win some money, or you don’t. The losing score is irrelevant. A loss is a loss. In a tournament, it’s better to go down swinging for the fences than trying to bunt your way on base.
Just remember that tournament play is mostly about luck. If you’re lucky, you will win. If luck isn’t on your side, you won’t. If it’s a timed tournament, play as fast as you can to ensure you play as many hands (and get as many chances for a royal) as possible. If you connect and hit one over the fence, you will most likely wind up in the money.
Video Poker Strategy – How Would You Play This Hand?
While the type of video poker game you’re playing determines much of the proper playing strategy, the pay table also impacts which cards should be saved. Consider the following example.
You’re playing quarter 10/7 Double Bonus Poker, where a full house is paid 10 for 1 and a flush is paid 7 for 1. This game returns 100.17 percent with perfect play. Playing the maximum of five credits, you’re dealt the following hand:
Ah Td As 3c Tc
How would you play it?
Double Bonus Poker games generally pay 160 for 1 for four aces, 80 for 1 for four 2’s, 3’s, or 4’s and 50 for 1 for four 5’s through kings. Because the aces are more important than other ranks, they tend to be saved before other pairs. This hand has a pair of aces and a pair of tens.
Is it better to save the pair of aces in hopes of drawing to three or four of a kind, or is it better to save the two pair in the hopes of drawing another ace or ten and filling a full house?
If you save the aces only, there are 45 different combinations of drawn cards that will yield four aces—and the 160 for 1 payoff. There are 169 combinations of cards that produce a full house and the 10 for 1 return on investment. There are also 1,852 combinations producing a three of a kind with its 3 for 1 payoff, 2,629 combinations producing two pair paying 1 for 1, and 11,520 combinations paying 1 for 1 for the pair of aces. The total average return is 8.8175 units.
Saving the two pair provides four opportunities for a full house paying 10 for 1 and 43 combinations producing nothing more than the original two pair with its 1 for 1 payback. The total average return saving the two pair is 8.8298. For the 10/7 Double Bonus game, the preferred hold is two pair.
Now let’s assume the game’s pay table has been reduced to 9/7 – 9 for 1 for a full house and 7 for 1 for a flush. What does this minor change to the pay table change what we should do with our hand?
There is the same number of combinations producing the same possible hands. The only thing that changes is how much we are paid for a full house. The average return for holding the pair of aces is 8.7653. The average return for holding the two pair is 8.4043. So, it’s now better to hold the pair of aces and discard the second pair.
Make sure you know the pay table for the game you’re playing, and play the proper strategy not only for the game, but also for the specific pay table. It will pay dividends.