PH Casino Guide

Analyzing Some Key Combinations in Video Poker

(Note: The abbreviations s, c, d, and h are used to designate the suit of a playing card in this article: spade, club, diamond, and heart.)

When playing Jacks or Better, one of the hands that usually confuse players is when there is a suited high card and a suited 10 along with another unsuited high card. For example, how would you play this hand? 

Jh 3d Qs 10h 6c

You have two playing decisions to consider:

  • Hold the suited J-10 of hearts and discard the unsuited Q.
  • Hold the unsuited J-Q and discard the 10.

The correct play (the one with the higher expected value, or EV) is to hold the unsuited J-Q and discard the 10. Here’s why.

(Note: The EV is the expected number of coins you will win on a five-coin wager assuming an infinite number of trials.) 

If you use the “Analyze Hand” function in the Video Poker for Winners software to analyze the possible outcomes, the software will generate all of the 32 possible ways to play the hand, sorted by most valuable (highest EV) to least valuable (lowest EV). 

The table below shows the data for the first two rows of this analysis for 9/6 Jacks or Better. Note that the second column in the table contains the EV for the two holds in question, which are 2.49 for the unsuited J-Q and 2.48 (rounded) for the suited J-10. The EVs for both holds are close but you’ll gain a bit less than 0.01 more coins per hand when you hold the unsuited J-Q over the suited J-10.

Hold EV Total No Win High Pair Two Pair 3K ST FL FH 4K SF
J-Q Unsuited 2.49 16,215 10,037 5,022 711 281 144 0 18 2 0
J-10 Suited 2.4841 16,215 11,987 2,847 711 281 204 161 18 2 2

The data also shows that there are 16,215 outcomes when you hold the unsuited J-Q or the suited J-10. If you look across each row, you’ll see the frequency of each outcome. For example, if you hold the unsuited J-Q, 10,037 times you will wind up without a win on the draw, 5,022 times you will end up with a high pair, 711 times you’ll have two pair, 281 times you’ll have three of a kind, and so forth.

Further Analysis of 10 Combinations

If you compare the outcomes for the unsuited J-Q versus suited J-10, you’ll see that you will get a lot more high pairs when holding the unsuited J-Q. (5,022 vs. 2,847, which makes sense since you’ll be holding two high cards on the draw giving you a greater chance at getting a high pair.)

This greater frequency of high pairs more than makes up for the decreased number of straights (and no chance for a flush, straight flush, or royal flush), resulting in the slightly higher EV for holding the unsuited J-Q over the suited J-10. 

Not all suited high cards with a 10 combination have the same value.

  • The suited J-10 has more value than a suited Q-10, which has more value than a suited K-10.
  • The suited A-10 has the lowest value; in fact, it’s lower than holding just the ace alone. (Which is why you should never hold a suited A-10.)

Video Poker

The Ace-Ten Dilemma

Many players give me that confused look when I tell them it’s sometimes okay to hold suited J-10, Q-10, and K-10 but you should never hold suited A-10. Their usual response goes something like this:

“They all have the potential to make a royal flush, so what gives?”

The reason that A-10 has such a low value is that you can only make one straight (Ace-high) and no straight flushes; whereas, say, with a suited J-10, you can get four straights (A-high, K-high, Q-high, and J-high), and three straight flushes (K-high, Q-high, and J-high). 

If you look at a 9/6 (or 8/6) Jacks or Better strategy card (or a table of hand rankings), you’ll see the ranking of the different suited high card-10 holdings and two unsuited high-card holdings. Memorizing the rankings for these holds can be daunting.

When I first started playing video poker, I used to refer to my strategy card to be sure I was always making the right decision when my hand contained a suited high card and 10 along with another unsuited high card. Then it dawned on me that for the case of either the suited J-10 or Q-10 along with an unsuited high card holding:

  • You should always hold the two unsuited high cards when the unsuited high card in the hand was adjacent to the highest-value card in the high card-10 combination.

For example, if your hand contains a suited J-10 and the other unsuited high card is a queen, you should hold the unsuited J-Q (because the queen is adjacent to the jack). Suppose a hand contains a suited J-10 and unsuited K? Since the king is not adjacent to the jack, your best hold is suited J-10. Get it?

Video Poker

Follow the ‘Adjacent Rule’

This led me to what I call the “adjacent rule” as a simple way to remember how to play J-10 and Q-10 hands. However, the adjacent rule only works for suited J-10 and Q-10. The suited K-10 (and A-10) is much lower in value than the J-10 or Q-10. Therefore, you should always hold two unsuited high cards over a suited K-10 (and you should never hold A-10)

For example, if your hand contains a suited K-10 and an unsuited Q, you should hold the unsuited K-Q. Likewise, if you have a suited A-10 and an unsuited Q, you would hold the unsuited Q-A.

An Example to Test Out

Try playing these hands using the adjacent rule, or the rules for suited K-10 and A-10 where appropriate, so you see how easy it is to make the right play.

  1. 6s 5h 10d Jd Qc
  2. 10h Qh Ks 4h 6c
  3. Ah 6d Jc 10h 5s
  4. Js Kd 7s 3d 10s 

Answers:

  1. Hold the unsuited Jd and Qc.
  2. Hold the unsuited Qh and Ks.
  3. Hold the Ah and Jc.
  4. Hold the Js and 10s.

The above strategy can be used for Jacks or Better (JOB) games where the flush pays six times your bet (e.g., 9/6 JOB and 8/6 JOB). You can use the above strategy for Jacks or Better games where the flush pays five times your bet (e.g., 9/5 JOB and 8/5 JOB) with this exception.

  • Hold an unsuited A-Q over a suited Q-10.

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