Gambling Tips > Video Poker


Sometimes it Pays to Discard a Winning Hand in Video Poker

By Henry Tamburin

This is a true story that recently happened to my father-in-law, Pete. I’ve written about him before and his love of video poker. At age 86 he is in fact one tough player. Quarter jacks-or-better is his game and he learned how to play correctly by practicing on WinPoker software on my computer (he practices often). He also always brings a strategy card with him when he plays.

Pete and my mother-in-law, Helen, visited us for 2-weeks in Las Vegas this past January. Knowing that he wanted to play Jacks-or-Better, I did some research to find out which nearby casinos offer the full pay 9/6 version (that means the machine returns 9 coins for a full house and six coins for a flush per coin played). It turned out I had quite a few local casinos to choose from but the one I liked best was the quarter jacks-or-better game at Casino Montelago for two reasons. First, besides offering plenty of 9/6 machines they paid a 50,000 coin bonus for a sequential royal flush. Even though the chance of hitting a royal flush in the exact sequence of 10-J-Q-K-Ace from left to right or vice versa was slim, if it happened Pete would cash out a nice 50,000 coin bonus (that’s $12,500).

The second reason I choose to play at Casino MonteLago was the slot club promotion that they were running during the month of January. They normally offer their slot club members a liberal 0.25% in additional free machine play which is just like cash (i.e. for every $400 in coin in you get back $1 in free machine credits). During January, they were running a promotion whereby you could earn double slot points when you play Monday through Thursday. This increases the free machine play from 0.25% to 0.50%. The bottom line is that with the combination of the 9/6 pay table + the bonus for a sequential royal + double slot point promo, I figured my father-in-law had the slight edge over the casino when he played as long as played accurately. Not bad for someone 86 year’s young.

So off we went to Casino MonteLago. If you haven’t been there it’s worth a drive if you have some time to kill in Vegas. Casino MonteLago is located in the beautiful Lake Las Vegas Resorts, about 20 minutes southeast of the Strip (take 95 south then east on Lake Mead Drive, Lake Las Vegas in on the left). The Resort is nestled within the desert mountainside and it contains spectacular residential communities that surround the privately owned lake. Many of the rich and famous, including Celine Dione, have made Lake Las Vegas their home. Anyway, Casino MonteLago is a small and less crowded casino located next to the world class Ritz Carlton Hotel and easy to find (just follow the signs).

As luck would have it, Pete wasn’t doing well the first week he played his jacks-or-better there. He had already endured a half dozen losing session and he wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t because he wasn’t playing accurately; he just wasn’t getting the cards. Then it happened.

One evening out of the blue Pete asked me about a hand that he had played earlier in the day that bothered him. He was dealt the 6, 10, jack, king and ace in clubs. He had been dealt a winning 5-card flush that paid 30 coins. He also realized at the last second that he also had a four-card royal in the same hand, but because he had been on such a prolonged week-long losing streak, he decided to take the sure paying flush. I explained to him that he made a big mistake and he should have thrown the 6 of clubs away and drew to the four-card royal. Even though the four-card flush paid 30 coins the expected value for drawing to a four-card royal is almost 92 coins meaning holding the four-card royal is by far the more profitable play to make in the long run than holding the sure 30-coin paying flush. Of course, after he reviewed his strategy card he realized what a big mistake he made. The strategy card clearly states “break a FLUSH or STRAIGHT for a four-card royal flush. He was beside himself that he forgot such a critical play.

The next morning Pete told me that he went to bed he kept thinking about what would have happened if he threw that 6 of clubs away and drew to the royal. I told him to forget about, it’s history, you made a mistake, learn from it and just remember to always discard a paying flush (or straight) if in the same hand you hold a four card royal.

Fast forward 2 days. I went to the Las Vegas Hilton to watch some of my friends play in the monthly qualifier of the Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament and Pete came along. He quickly got antsy and wanted to play some jacks-or-better. Fortunately, the Las Vegas Hilton has 9/6 jacks-or-better machines in their Sports Book. So after getting him settled, I left to watch the blackjack tournament.

A short while later while I was chatting with friends I saw Pete out of the corner of my eye sitting next to a slot machine. I couldn’t imagine why he was there and not playing video poker so I approached him to find out if there was a problem. He was all smiles when he flashed that payout ticket for slightly more than a grand. I said, “Don’t tell me you hit the royal?” His response was, “Yep, and guess how? “ I couldn’t imagine what he was referring to until he explained what happened.

It turned he was dealt –would you believe- the same hand he got at Casino MonteLago except in spades. He was dealt a 6 of spades and also the 10, jack, king and ace of spades. This time, however, he discarded the 6 and the sure paying 30 coin flush and instead held the four-card royal. He needed to draw a queen of spades, a one in 47 shot, and nearly died when it popped up on the screen for a $1,000 royal flush.

The moral of this story is that when you play video poker a bird in the hand is not always worth more than two in the bush. You agree, Pete?