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Taking the Sure Winner in Video Poker is Not Always Smart

Video poker is a great game. It generally has a low house edge and allows players to select which cards to hold or discard, thereby making them active participants in the game Knowledgeable players can: 

  • Determine the game/pay table combination’s average return
  • Determine the volatility of the game/pay table
  • Develop a playing strategy for the game/pay table that produces the highest possible average return

Novice players can do reasonably well if they have some poker experience. Many players, especially the more inexperienced, will save a sure winner if it is dealt. This is not always the best (meaning most profitable) move. This article covers a couple of instances where it is better to break up the sure winner in order to have a shot at a larger win and improve the overall return.


  1. Dealt hands that are sure winners
  2. The game and pay table combination makes a difference
  3. Specific sure winner hands that are not smart holds
  4. Summary

1. Dealt hands that are sure winners

Note: Due to the nature of wild card video poker games, they are not included in this article.

There are many dealt hands in video poker that are sure winners. They include:

  • High pair
  • Two pairs
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full house
  • Four of a kind
  • Straight flush

Depending on the specific cards in each dealt hand as well as the specific game and pay table, many of these hands should be broken up or discarded for a shot at a larger win.

2. The game and pay table combination makes a difference

It would be great if there was a list of all the sure winner hands that should be broken up in order to attempt a larger win. However, that will not work. 

As is the case with so many other things in video poker, the game and pay table determine which sure winner hands should or should not be held. 

For example, a jacks or better game where all four of a kinds pay the same would have different holds than a double-double bonus game where four aces pay significantly more than four 5s through kings. 

Even within a game, pay tables can make a difference. The following section gives an example of a double-double bonus game where a difference in the pay table changes the hold from holding a sure winner to discarding one of the cards in the hopes of getting a straight flush.

Video Poker

3. Specific sure winner hands that are not smart holds

Now, let us look at specific hands where the proper move is to break up a sure winner. The first game is full-pay (9/6) jacks or better. Assume you are dealt the following hand:

Ac Kc Qc Jc 7c (Ace of clubs, King of clubs, Queen of clubs, Jack of clubs, 7 of clubs)

This hand is a sure winner (a flush). Holding this flush will pay 30-for-5. However, this hand also contains four cards of a royal flush. A royal flush pays 4,000-for-5. Is that enough to warrant discarding the 7 of clubs?

Yes, it is.

Holding the flush will always pay 30-for-5. Discarding the 7 opens a 1-in-47 possibility of a royal flush that pays 4000-for-5. Also, out of 47 possible outcomes from the hold, seven flushes paying the same as the original hand, three straights paying 20-for-5 and 12 high pairs paying 5-for-5 are possible. 

The overall average return from holding the four cards of a royal flush is 92.1277-for-5 – over three times the return from holding the sure winner flush.

Now let us consider a hand in a double-double bonus game. 

One of the common pay tables for double-double bonus pays 9-for-1 for a full house, 6-for-1 for a flush and 4-for-1 for a straight. 

Using this pay table, you are dealt the following sure winner hand.
3c 4c 5c 6c 7d (3 of clubs, 4 of clubs, 5 of clubs, 6 of clubs, 7 of diamonds)

Is holding this sure winner the proper move? 

Yes, it is. This hold returns 20-for-5. Discarding the 7 of diamonds and going for a straight flush returns 17.2340-for-5 on average.

Video Poker

However, what happens if the pay table is slightly different. Assume a straight pays 3-for-1, not 4-for-1. Is holding the straight still the proper move?

No, it is not. The straight returns 15-for-5, but the four cards of an open straight flush returns 16.7021-for-5 on average. In this case, holding the four cards of an open straight flush is the proper move.

These are just two examples. Many more exist given the proper game and pay table. 

4. Summary 

While it may seem proper to hold a sure winner rather than break it up and hold for a possible larger win, that is not always the situation.

Successful video poker play demands holding for the highest overall average return. Depending on the game and pay table, this might be the sure winner. However, many times it is not.

To maximize your video poker winnings, make sure you play the proper strategy for the game and pay table you are playing. Do not rely on what seems proper. Use a strategy chart to make sure you are playing the most profitable game possible.

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