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by Jerry "Stickman"

Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in craps, blackjack, video poker and advantage slot machine play. Frank Scoblete's and Jerry "Stickman's" book "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker" presents dozens of video poker games and strategies for maximum returns. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at

I received an email form a friend a couple of week's back that contained a fairly simple question about strategy for Jacks of Better video poker. It went something like this:

Hello Jerry,

I just finished reading one of your articles. I have a question that is different from your examples. Many times I am dealt either AKQJ or a variation with a 10. Many times, there will be two pairs of cards with the same suit, for example. AK suited, QJ with a different suit, or a 10 as one of those pair. Do I go for the straight, or do I pick one of the suited pairs hoping for a flush or royal? My gut feeling is to go for the straight. Is that correct?

The strategy for playing Jacks or Better is among the simpler strategies, but even this strategy can be complicated at times. The example mentioned in the above email is one of those times. In the discussion below it is assumed that the dealt hand does not contain three cards of a royal flush as this would be held before any of the holds mentioned below. Also, the holds that are stated below were determined assuming maximum credits played and using the strategy for full pay (9/6) Jacks or Better.

There is no one rule to determine whether to hold for a straight. Instead, it depends on several different factors. There is only one situation where four of a straight would always be held over two suited high cards or three of a flush and that is when the straight is a KQJT.

If the dealt hand does not contain a KQJT, but does contain two suited high cards (or two sets of suited high cards), then the ranks of the suited cards are used to determine which to hold.

Suited QJ's are the most powerful followed by suited KQ's or KJ's followed by suited AK's, AQ's or AJ's. When considering saving two suited high cards, one must also consider what are known as penalty cards. There are two basic penalty classifications; flush penalty and straight penalty. Any other card in the hand that is the same suit as the two suited high cards would be considered flush penalty cards. Any cards in the hand that could be used to form a straight with the suited high cards would be considered straight penalty cards. In my friend's email, all of the examples mentioned have two straight penalties

Assuming the fifth card was not the same suit, or a card that would form a straight with the two held cards, here is the order of holding the cards.

    1. Suited QJ
    2. AKQJ
    3. KQ or KJ
    4. AK, AQ, or AJ
    5. Four card inside straight with three high cards (AQJT or AKJT)

If the fifth card is the same suit or could be used to form a straight with the two suited held cards the order of holding the cards is:

    1. AKQJ
    2. QJ
    3. KQ or KJ
    4. AK, AQ, or AJ
    5. AK, AQ, or AJ
    6. Four card inside straight with three high cards (AQJT or AKJT)

But, what if the player gets the order wrong? How much is the return reduced? Playing five credits, the total difference from the highest hand's return to the lowest in this range is .35 credits. Playing a quarter machine, this can total as much as about a 44 cent reduction in return every time the hand is misplayed. This is not a trivial amount.

If you are a casual player just playing for the fun of it, always saving for the straight in this situation may be an easy way to go. But if you want to get the most out of your video poker play, studying the proper strategy is the only way to go.

Buying a video poker strategy program or book can help you make the proper strategy play. For example, "Everything Casino Poker," a book that I co-authored, contains descriptions and strategies for scores of video poker games. Copying the strategies from the book onto small slips of paper (or printing out the strategies) will give you a reference while playing the game of your choice. When in doubt about a hand, simply refer to the strategy slip or printout for the proper play. This method will keep the amount of preparation low while allowing for the maximum return for your play. Small mistakes do add up. Give yourself every chance to succeed.

Let's look at some other hands that are similar to those above...

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