Video Poker Strategy

Saturday, 02nd September 2017

No one could cover everything there is to know about video poker strategy on a single page. Even if you just wanted to cover the most popular games, you’d need multiple pages. This page is meant to serve as an introduction to video poker strategy; subsequent pages on this site will cover specific strategies for specific games.

Video poker is a fascinating game. It certainly offers more mental stimulation than slot machines. If you don’t mind thinking about what you’re doing when you’re gambling, then video poker is superior to slots in almost every way, especially in the most important way—monetarily. Learn how to be a smart video poker player, and you’ll lose less money and win more money than any of your “slot machine zombie” friends.


Pay Tables and Payout Schedules

Playing video poker is no more difficult than playing slot machines, but minimizing the house edge (which also maximizes your chances of winning) requires a little bit of knowledge and effort. The first aspect of your gambling strategy involves learning why the pay tables and payout schedules are important.

Video poker games can be divided roughly into two categories:

  1. Non-wild games. These include games like Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, and Double Bonus Poker.
  2. Wild games. These games include Deuces Wild and Joker Wild, among others.

Both games generally offer excellent payback percentages, but depending on the pay table, the payback percentage might be as low as 88% (or even lower) or they might be has high as 100% (or even higher). If you can find a machine with a payout of over 100%, then you can expect to make a profit over the long run—if you play with perfect strategy.

The pay table is a list of possible hands and how much they pay out if you get that hand. The amount paid out per hand determines how low or how high the house edge is. Since all legitimate video poker games mimic an actual deck of cards, determining the payout percentage is relatively simple, mathematically. (This is a big advantage over slot machines altogether, since it’s impossible to determine the payout percentages on slot machine games.)

All the payoffs are based on how many coins you’ve wagered. So if you wager two coins, your payout is twice as much for a hand than if you wagered a single coin. The same is true for three coins and four coins. In Jacks or Better, which is the standard video poker game, the payout (on a royal flush) when playing five coins is significantly higher than all the others.

When you wager a single coin, a royal flush pays out at 250 to 1. When you wager two coins, it pays out at twice that, or 500 coins. But when you wager five coins, a royal flush pays out at 4000 coins, which is 16 times the amount of a single coin. The importance of this can’t be understated:

The first strategy decision is to be sure to always play for the max coins.

The best video poker game to start with is Jacks or Better. Once you understand the fundamentals of Jacks or Better, all the other games become variations. The best pay table available on a Jacks or Better game offers a payback percentage of 99.5%, which makes it one of the best gambles in any casino.

Your initial strategy goal in Jacks or Better is to find a full pay game, which is the variant offering that big 99.5% payout. Luckily, it’s easy to determine the payout percentage on Jacks or Better by looking at the pay table, because the only payouts that vary from one machine to another are the amounts for the full house and the flush. All of the payouts for all the other hands are the same from game to game.

On a full pay Jacks or Better machine, a full house pays off at 9 to 1, and a flush pays off at 6 to 1. Other machines have lower payouts for these hands. Some pay off at 8 to 1 and 5 to 1 respectively, while others pay off at 7 to 1 and 5 to 1. The lower payouts, of course, result in lower payback percentages on the machines, as follows:

  • 9/6 Jacks or Better pays out at 99.5%.
  • 8/5 Jacks or Better pays out at 97.3%.
  • 7/5 Jacks or Better pays out at 96.2%.
  • 6/5 Jacks or Better pays out at 95.0%.

Why is this so important? The payout percentage determines (mathematically) how much you can expect to lose over the long run on a game. The house edge is 100% minus the payout percentage, so the house edge for each game is as follows:

  • 9/6 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 0.5%.
  • 8/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 2.7%.
  • 7/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 3.8%.
  • 6/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 5%.

The house edge is the percentage that the casino expects to win of every bet you make over the long term. So if you make a $100 wager on a game with a house edge of 0.5%, the casino expects you to lose on average $0.50 of each wager.

So if you’re playing a typical Jacks or Better game for a dollar, then you’re looking at wagering $5 each hand. If you play 500 hands per hour, then you’re putting $2500 per hour into action. The house edge determines how much you’re expected to lose per hour, so your expected loss per hour for each variation is as follows:

  • 9/6 Jacks or Better has an expected hourly loss of $12.50.
  • 8/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of $67.50.
  • 7/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of $95.
  • 6/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of $125.

It should be clear why finding a good pay table matters so much. The difference between losing $12.50 per hour and losing $125 per hour is significant.


Tactics and How to Play Each Hand

The next big consideration in video poker is learning the mathematically correct way to play every hand. This is similar to learning basic strategy in blackjack.

All of the house edge and payout information listed earlier is based on the assumption that you’re using expert strategy when you play. Casinos and gambling machine manufacturers assume that you won’t use correct strategy, and that lack of skill equates to an additional 2%-4% in the casino’s favor.

The tactics and strategies vary according to which game you’re playing. Video poker strategy for Jacks or Better is dramatically different than video poker strategy for Deuces Wild. But all of the strategies have some things in common.


How Are the Tactics Determined?

You have 32 different ways you can play each 5 card hand. You have 2 options for each card—hold it or discard it. The correct play in every situation is the one with the highest expected return. Computers are able to determine mathematically which play has the highest expected return. Intuition and skill at playing real poker aren’t enough; you need to do what’s mathematically best in almost every situation.

A video poker strategy for a game takes into account the expected return for every hand. These strategies and tactics are not mathematically perfect—they have to be practical enough to actually be used in a casino, which means that accuracy is sometimes sacrificed to make the decisions easier.

Specific strategy tables are available for each variation on the appropriate pages. Here are some general tips that apply to most video poker games in most situations:

  • Don’t hold a kicker. A kicker is a high card (like an ace or a king) in addition to a pair. Holding a kicker sometimes makes sense in real poker, but seldom makes sense in video poker.
  • Don’t draw to inside straights. An inside straight consists of four cards that could potentially make a straight, but only one possible draw can complete the sequence. (An outside straight draw can be filled by two possible cards.)
  • Don’t hold on to a three card flush or a three card straight. The odds are too slim that you’ll complete your hand in both of those situations.
  • If you’re playing Deuces Wild, never discard a deuce. Never, ever, ever.

These tips only make up the bare beginning of video poker wisdom, but everyone has to start somewhere.


Roulette Strategy

Tuesday, 22nd August 2017

Any discussion of roulette strategy must begin with some observations about the mathematics behind the game. And the math behind roulette is straightforward. I’ll explain why later on this page, but the least you need to know is that roulette can’t be beaten in the long run with any kind of strategy.

All of the bets on an American roulette game offer the same house edge (5.26%) except for one, and that bet (the five-number bet), is even worse. It offers a house edge of 7.29%.


Popular Strategy Articles


The House Edge

The house edge is a percentage that predicts how much of each bet the casino expects to win over the long run. The formula is based on calculating the expected value of each bet.

To calculate the expectation, you look at the probability of winning versus the probability of winning, multiplied by the amounts won or lost.

For example, on a standard even or odd bet, you have a 18/38 chance of winning and a 20/38 chance of losing. If you’re betting a dollar, you’ll win $1 less than half the time and lose a dollar more than half the time. You have a 47.37% chance of winning a dollar, which equates to + $0.47, and a 52.63% chance of losing a dollar, which equates to -$0.53. When you add those together, you get an expected value of -$0.05, or 5.26%.


Surrender

In Atlantic City and some other areas, a rule for “surrendering” is in place. This rule reduces the house edge, but it doesn’t eliminate it. It also only applies to the outside bets that pay even money. These bets include:

  • Red or black.
  • Odd of even.
  • High or low.

With the surrender rule in place, you only lose half your bet if the ball lands on 0 or 00. This reduces the house edge to 2.63%.


European Roulette

The European roulette table has a major difference from the American roulette table. The European version of the wheel only has a single zero, instead of 0 and 00. That’s why European roulette is also often called “single zero roulette”. This variation almost cuts the house edge in half again, to 2.7%.

Mathematically speaking, you’re still almost guaranteed to lose money, but you’ll lose it more slowly.


En Prison

In Europe, they not only offer a single zero roulette wheel, but they also offer a rules variation called “en prison”, which is similar to the “surrender” rule in Atlantic City. If you make an even-money bet and the ball lands on 0, your money is “imprisoned” instead of being lost.

On the next spin, if your original bet is good, then you get your original wager back. On the other hand, if your original bet loses, you lose your original wager.

This further cuts the house edge in half, to 1.35%, which makes single zero roulette with the en prison roulette a bet on par (almost) with blackjack and video poker.


Betting Systems

Multiple con-men and voodoo priests are eager to sell you roulette betting systems. These are all equally worthless, so you should never pay money for a “winning roulette system”. After all, since it won’t work, you might as well use one of the many free systems that are available.

These betting systems all involve variations of raising and/or lowering your wagers based on what happened on your previous bet. For example, when you’re using the Martingale System (one of the most popular roulette systems), you will double your bet after every loss until you get ahead.

Here’s how the Martingale works in actual play. You bet $5 on black. You lose. You bet $10 on black again, and you lose again. So now you bet $20 on black. This time you win. You gain back the $15 you lost on the two previous bets, and you’re $5 ahead for the session.

At first glance, this seems like a “can’t-lose” system, but that’s not how it works in reality. Two things prevent the Martingale from being a winning system:

  1. Betting limits
  2. Limited bankrolls

If you keep doubling your bets, you’ll hit the table limits faster than you might think. Look at the progression below:

$5 – $10 – $20 – $40 – $80 – $160 – $320 – $640

Most roulette tables accepting a $5 bet have a maximum bet of $500. Once you’ve lost seven times in a row, you’re unable to continue your progression because of the betting limits.

Even if you could continue, this still wouldn’t be a workable system, because eventually you’d go on a losing streak that requires bets beyond what your bankroll could cover. In the progression above, you will have lost $1275, so your next bet will have to be $1280. Even if you win at that point, you’re only ahead by $5.

And your chances of winning on that ninth spin are still only 47.37%. Each spin of the roulette wheel has the same odds of winning or losing as every other. The table has no memory of what happened on previous bets.


Biased Wheels

You’ll occasionally see people talk about exploiting biased wheels. The idea is that a roulette wheel is an object, and it’s not perfectly made, so some numbers will come up more often than others.

If you can “clock” the wheel and figure out which numbers come up more often, you supposedly can get an edge over the casino. There are a couple of problems with this “strategy”.

The first is that if you’re going to have any kind of statistical accuracy, you’ll have to record the results of at least 2000 spins. Most roulette tables only make 40 spins an hour, so you’d have to track results for at least 50 hours. Even after doing all that work, you might discover that the wheel isn’t actually biased, so you have to start all over again.

Even if the wheel does display a bias, it might not be significant enough to account for the house edge. Systems sellers will tell you that you can get meaningful information from 100 spins or fewer, but that’s mathematical nonsense.


Tracking the Dealer

Some people think that the dealer will consistently release the ball into the wheel at the same speed every time, out of habit. They then think they can predict where the ball will land, at least within a few numbers.

But this isn’t practical. Not only do you have to estimate how fast the dealer spins the ball, you also have to estimate how fast the dealer spins the wheel. Accounting for the bouncing of the ball caused by the dividers, you’re going to be facing a lot of randomness. Thinking that this is a winning roulette strategy is flat-out wishful thinking.

The best strategy for roulette is to expect to lose. Enjoy the relaxing and social nature of the game, and be sure to get a free drink from the cocktail waitress. Have fun betting on numbers that are significant to you, like your date-of-birth, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that those “lucky numbers” will help you win in the long run, because they won’t. But you’ll have fun.


Craps Strategy Guide

The best craps strategy is to learn how to play the game, understand the basic bets which offer the best odds, and stick with those bets. Betting systems which involve raising and lowering your bets based on some arbitrary criteria are a bad idea, because they don’t affect your chances of winning. Hedging your bets is also a bad idea.

Craps is a straightforward casino game, but the bewildering number of bets, many of which are the worst bets in the casino, make it a profitable enterprise in every casino. The strategy that we recommend involves being realistic and having fun while you play. This page looks at some strategies to avoid, and it also explains which legitimate strategic choices actually make sense mathematically.


Learn How to Play

The best way to learn how to play crap is to take one of the free classes that the casino offers, but keep in mind that they won’t go into a lot of detail about which bets are best and which bets are worst. They will show you how the action works, though, so if you’re new to the game, taking one of these classes is a great idea. There is no faster way to learn the game, in fact.


Know the Best Bets

The number of good bets at the craps table is relatively small. If you stick with these bets, you’ll minimize the house edge, which is the percentage of every bet that you’re mathematically expected to lose over the long run. Don’t be fooled by short-term standard deviation. In the short run, which is longer than you think, anything can happen. The smart play is still to stick with the bets offering the best odds.

The only good bets at the craps table are the following:

  1. Pass
  2. Don’t Pass
  3. Come
  4. Don’t Come
  5. Free Odds
  6. Place Bets on 6 and/or 8

The house edge for pass and don’t pass bets (and for come and don’t come bets) is only 1.41% and 1.36% respectively. That means that the casino expects to win $1.41 (or $1.36) for every $100 you wager at the craps table. Compared to the house edge of 5.26% at the roulette table, this is a lot of entertainment for very little money. And if you take the free odds when they’re available, you can reduce the house edge even more.

On the other hand, most of the proposition bets on the craps table have a house edge of 6% or more. Some of them even have a house edge in the double digits. Don’t waste your money placing bad bets. You’re better off spending that money on a show or something.


Don’t Forget to Claim Your Winnings

One common error that neophyte craps players make is forgetting to pick up their winnings from the table. If you leave it on the table, it’s considered part of the action on the next roll, so be sure to pay attention and claim your winnings when you want them.


Craps Systems Don’t Work

Any number of bogus systems involving changing the size of your bets based on a variety of criteria are available. For example, one system might have you increase your bets when the shooter wins. The stated goal of such behavior is to increase the amount of money you have in action during a shooter’s hot streak.

The reason this doesn’t work is called the gambler’s fallacy. This is the name mathematicians give the idea that previous events have an effect on subsequent events, when in reality, these events are independent of each other.

The thinking goes like this. If a shooter has won four times in a row, he’s hot, and you should bet more in order to take advantage of his winning streak. The fallacy is that the fifth roll’s math has no relation to the previous bets.


Sizing Your Bets

You should bet an amount you’re comfortable with, and you should also put as much money into the free odds bet as you can. For example, if you’re playing in a casino that allows double odds, then bet 1/3 of what you’re comfortable with on the pass line, and bet the other 2/3 on the free odds. By doing so, you’re reducing the house significantly, because the odds bet has no house edge—it pays out at true odds. This turns a good bet at the craps table into a great bet.


Getting Along with the Other Players

We’re big believers that your #1 goal at a gambling table should be to have as much fun as possible. If you win money on top of that, then that’s just gravy. So here’s a craps strategy recommendation that focuses almost exclusively on having fun, proper etiquette, and it’s aimed at new players:

Avoid the don’t pass and don’t come bets.

The odds are slightly better on those two bets, but it’s probably not worth it, because you’re betting against the shooter and most of the rest of the table. Some people might find that to be too confrontational for their tastes.

Besides, isn’t it more fun to root for someone to win, especially if everyone else is? Rooting for someone to lose is just a downer. And that’s bad strategy.


Blackjack Strategy Guide

Monday, 21st August 2017

Blackjack strategy charts are the key to memorizing basic strategy. You probably already know that blackjack offers some of the best odds in the casino, but the catch is that you have to make the correct decisions in order to enjoy those odds. This suits players with the right temperament. Players who have no interest in learning basic strategy should stick with games like slot machines.


How Basic Strategy Works

There is a single mathematically correct decision for every situation you’ll encounter in a casino blackjack game. A blackjack strategy chart puts every decision into a color-coded chart to help people with a visual learning style memorize that information. The chart explains when to hit, when to stand, when to double down, and when to split.

Most casinos have no problem with players using a basic strategy card at the table. Even when you play perfectly, the casino retains a mathematical advantage, so they know they’ll be winners in the long run. Of course, if you combine card counting or shuffle tracking with your use of basic strategy, you can gain an edge over the casino, but it takes more than a color coded chart to do that.


How Basic Strategy Charts Are Organized

A basic strategy chart for blackjack is organized along two axes. The horizontal axis is labeled across the top, and it represents the dealer’s upcard, which is always going to be one of 10 cards: 2 through A.  The vertical axis is labeled across the left side, and it consists of the various player totals that are possible.

These player totals are organized by type. A blackjack hand can consist of 3 different kinds of hands:

A hard hand is a hand without an ace, although it’s also a hand where an ace has to be counted as “1” in order to avoid busting. Your strategy chart is going to cross-reference all hard totals of between 8 and 17 along the side with the dealer cards of 2 through A across the top. You’ll always hit a hard 8 or less, and you’ll always stand on a hard 17 or higher. The other totals require decisions based on the dealer’s upcard.

A soft hand is a hand with an ace, in which the ace can count as a “1” or as an “11”. The soft totals are 13 through 20. You’ll always stand on a soft 19 or a soft 20, but the other totals require decisions.

Pairs are hands that consist of 2 cards of the same rank. For example, 22 and 33 are both pairs, and these hands require different decisions because you have the option of splitting pairs. When you split a pair, you place an additional bet, and the two cards in your original hand become the first cards of two new hands. You’ve probably heard that you should always split aces and eights, and you might have heard that you never split 4s, 5s, or 10s, but the basic strategy chart will provide you with specific instructions for every possible pair.

Blackjack strategy charts are a grid with 28 horizontal rows and 10 vertical columns. That means that there are a total of 280 different decisions to learn, but since many of them are the same, it’s not hard to learn them reasonably quickly.

For example, once you realize that you always hit a hard 8 or less, and that you always stand on a hard 17 or higher, you’ve memorized 20 of the 280 decisions. When you realize that you always split aces and eights, and you never split 4s, 5s, and 10s, then you’ve memorized a total of 50 out of 280 decisions, which is almost 20% of the basic strategy chart right there.


What Basic Strategy Will Do for You

Basic strategy will make sure that you’re playing against the house with the lowest possible house edge. That means that you’ll lose (on average) less money than would if you weren’t using basic strategy. What does that mean over the long run?

If you’re not using basic strategy, the house has an edge of between 2% and 5%. Taking the median, that means over time you’ll lose $3.50 for every $100 you wager on the game—assuming you play long enough to reach the expectation.

Assuming that you play an average of 60 hands per hour at $100 per hand, you’re looking at losing an average of $210 per hour over time at that rate.

On the other hand, if you’re using basic strategy, you can reasonably expect to reduce the house edge to 1%. That means you’ll lose $60 per hour on average over time. That’s a big difference in the cost of your entertainment.


What Basic Strategy Won’t Do for You

Basic strategy won’t give you an advantage over the casino. Advantage play methods that give you an edge over the casino exist, but they require more work than just using perfect strategy. In fact, before you can get an edge over the casino by using card counting or shuffle tracking, you have to master basic strategy first.

Once you’ve mastered basic strategy, you can learn how to count cards, and you can get an advantage of between 0.5% and 1% over the casino. If you’re playing $100 per hand on average, at 60 hands per hour, then you could theoretically earn between $30 and $60 per hour counting cards.

But keep in mind that this is a combination of basic strategy and another technique. Basic strategy is just the beginning of blackjack wisdom. Entire vistas of knowledge become available eventually, but they all start with the memorization of a basic strategy chart.


Guide to Online Betting Strategies


Poker Strategy Guide

Thursday, 17th August 2017

The best thing about studying poker strategy is that you can earn as you learn. As you move from a solid understanding of the basics to the ability to read opponents and make moves at the table – your profits will keep on improving. This page lists strategy articles which go right through the range of poker strategy knowledge. You will find the nuts and bolts to give you a solid grounding in the poker principals, then fresh ideas on making moves which will add much more to your bottom line.

Before you start learning about poker strategy, you need to be aware that not all poker sites are equal when it comes to how easy their games are to beat. Some sites are popular with small stakes pros, who play many tables simultaneously to make a living. Others are more popular with recreational and beginner type players – making the games far easier. Which you choose will make a big difference to your profit, or even determine whether you win or lose. Check out article on selecting the most profitable poker games for more on this important topic.


Poker Strategy Tips – Poker Strategy Basics

Before you can start embellishing your play with creative bluffs and check-raises – you need to have the basics down. This starts with knowing which starting hands to choose depending on the situation, and of course how much to bet when you do get a hand you want to play. Position is a key element in all poker games, and is discussed in our position in poker strategy article.

To help you put together all the different pieces of the poker strategy jigsaw, check out this overview of Texas Holdem cash game strategy. This includes less glamorous, but extremely important principles like good bankroll management. Managing your money well might not feel like much fun, though without this important poker skill you will almost certainly end up going broke.


Poker Strategy Tips – Making Some Moves

Learning poker strategy will involve experimenting with making moves on your opponents when you do not necessarily have the hand you are representing. The best known poker move is the bluff, where you raise without a hand hoping that your opponent will fold. Experienced poker players rarely bluff with no chance of winning – this article on making moves in online poker explains what they do instead.

Math underpins everything you do in poker. Without a basic understanding of your chances of making a flush or a straight you will be leaking chips every time you play. Many people are hesitant to learn about the math, seeing this as somehow difficult or daunting. In reality, these numbers are easy to pick up – and can be used to win more money at the tables right after you learn them. Check this article on how understanding poker math will help you win for more in this key topic. Getting a reputation as someone who defends their blinds can stop your opponents stealing from you, more on this in our article on defending your blinds in online poker.

The very best time to make a move in online poker is when you have a good read on your opponent’s hand. If you know what they are playing (or more likely, a narrow range of possibilities) then you can bluff with confidence or fold without losing any more chips. Hand reading is a topic which you will keep learning throughout your poker career, and our article will give you a framework to get you started. Online poker players have many different styles, and learning to profitably counteract each one can help you win. See this article on adjusting to different types of opponents for more.

Once you know how to beat the games, you can increase your hourly profits by increasing the number of tables you play at once. Check out this guide to learning to play multiple games at once when you are ready for the big money.


Poker Strategy Tips – Tournament Poker

Tournaments have a fixed buy-in and give new players the opportunity to turn a small investment into a big win. These games also offer a lot of poker for your money, assuming you do not bust out on the first few hands. This form of poker has strategy considerations of its own, and these considerations change depending on the format of the game and the stage the tournament is at.

For players new to tournaments, this article gives you a tournament strategy overview, introducing the main factors. You can also find the basics of how to adjust to different tournament types.

If you reach the final table then big prizes await. It can pay to understand the strategy for final table play before you get there. This article teaches you what to look out for and how to approach the game at this point. Of course, you’ll need to cross over the tournament bubble to get to the final table. We have that covered for you in this article on Taking Advantage Of The Tournament Bubble.

You can find small tournaments online, ranging from 1 through to 20 tables. These start as soon as enough players are registered and are collectively known as Sit N Goes. Strategy for these games is similar to that of larger tournaments, though there are subtle differences based on math. Start with our beginners article and from there find more advanced topics like math in Sit N Goes and how to adjust for different Multi-Table Sit N Goes in these articles.


Poker Strategy Tips – Different Poker Variations

So far the articles have focused on Texas Holdem, however there are several more poker games which are popular online.

Omaha is the second most popular game. This is played in 2 formats, high-only and hi-lo split. With 4 hole-cards and pot-limit betting rules, the unique strategy for these games make a refreshing change from Texas Holdem. You can check these articles for information on Pot-Limit Omaha Strategy and Omaha Hi-Lo. Once you have the basics down you can also read about Advanced PLO Strategy.

Stud Poker is a 7-card game where each player has their own individual ‘board’. This is also played as a high-only or hi-lo split game. Check out these articles for strategy tips for beating 7-Card Stud or 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo.

Nowadays, many poker sites offer games where the poker games change after so many hands. Mixed games include HORSE and PokerStars 8-Game. This is a great way to keep online poker fresh and fun, you can find strategy for Mixed Poker Games in this article.