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Tactical Play in Jacks or Better Video Poker

By: Joan Peppin, Friday May 22nd 2015
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The difference between tactics and strategy escapes a lot of people because it's a relatively subtle thing. Strategy is about an over-arching, long-term plan, but tactics are more about knowing what to do in the moment. While there is a lot of talk about strategy in video poker, the real focus for new players and people who haven't been playing for that long should be on tactics. We're going to look at tactical play in Jacks or Better to give you some examples of why this is so important. The focus here is to get good at making one decision at a time: a decision about the hand that's in front of you in the moment.

Most video poker hands are pretty straight-forward to play. There's usually an obvious high card, pair hand or draw to play with, and it's the only reasonable way to go. However, the hands that really make a difference in how you play them are the ones where you need to make a decision between two different reasonable ways to play. This normally happens when you have two draws you could play or the choice between a pair and a draw.

Suppose you have a high pair in this game, and you also have a flush draw. It could be something like AsAh9h5h2h. One option would be to go for the high pair and keep your AA, and the other is to keep the flush draw. Both are fine options, but it's actually better to keep the high pair. On the other hand, if you had a low pair with a flush draw with something like TcTd9d5d4d, then you should keep the flush draw. High pairs are better than flush draws, and flush draws are better than low pairs.

Open-ended straight draws come into play in this game as well. We know that they're worse than flush draws since they're harder to hit and pay a lower payout when they do hit, but how do they compare to low pairs? As it turns out, low pairs are better than open-ended straight draws in almost 100 percent of cases. The lone exception is when you have exactly KQJTT without a flush draw. Here, the draw is slightly better than the pair because of all of the high cards in it that can make high pairs, but this is the only exception.

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