STICKMAN'S STANCE: VIDEO POKER TOURNAMENT STRATEGIES
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" firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free tournaments are still a big part of a casino's strategy to maintain and grow their customer base. Based on history of play, the casino will offer its customers a chance to win some decent prize money for finishing among the top contestants. Slot tournaments are the most common, but casinos also have blackjack, craps and video poker tournaments - and most of the time entry into these tournaments is at no cost to the player. While the prizes can vary greatly, first place for a free video poker tournament can be several thousand dollars. This certainly is enough to make a player want to do whatever possible to try to grab a share of the prize money.
Video poker tournaments are limited to either a certain number of hands per session or a specific amount of time per session. Sometimes the tournament has both a time limit and also a limit to the number of hands. For example, each session of a video poker tournament could be 10 minutes in length. The player attempts to play as many hands as possible in those 10 minutes. Other tournaments may limit the contestants to 200 hands per session with no limit on the amount of time. Still others might limit players to 200 hands or 10 minutes - whichever comes first.
With no time limit, a player can take the time to play a strategy that is more complicated than when there is one. If there is a time limit, you should play your hands as fast as possible. This will give you the greatest chance to get a royal (or other high paying hands) that will almost certainly be necessary to finish in the money. Most of today's video poker tournaments have time limits making the "fast play" strategy more desirable.
So, what is the best strategy for playing in a video poker tournament? Some prefer to play the same strategy as in non-tournament play; that is, play the optimum strategy designed to get the most return from each hand played. The reasoning is that the player will have to be lucky to win the tournament and this strategy will give you the most return from each hand. Hopefully that will be enough to put the player in the winner's circle.
Still others advocate to forget about all the lower-paying hands and "go for broke." This means to simply save for a royal flush on every hand. Those who favor this strategy also realize that in order to win a video poker tournament, the player will need luck. If you are not lucky, you will not win the tournament. It does not matter whether you are out of the money by 10 points or by 10,000 points; either way you will not win any money if you are not lucky. So why not give yourself the best chance you can to get some royals? If you are lucky with this strategy, you will win - and win big. If you are not lucky, nothing will change - you will be out of the money either way.
Video poker tournament strategy can also vary because of the specific game that is used for the tournament. If the game selected for the tournament is Jacks or Better, saving for just a royal flush (and possibly a straight flush) may be the strategy of choice. Let's take a look at what this "Royals Only" strategy would look like for a Jacks or Better game. Tournaments could use several different versions of the game such as 9/6 (9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush), 9/5, 8/6 or 8/5. It really does not matter what the actual pay table is for a "Royals Only" strategy since you will only be saving for royals.
To use the "Royals Only" strategy, you save only those cards that could produce a royal flush. This is so simple that you may not even need to generate a formal strategy. Simply save for a Royal Flush. If you have three, four, or five cards of a royal, save those cards. If you have two of a royal, save those two. If you have two different two card royals, save the one that is closest to a Jack/Queen as that has the best chance to fill other lower paying hands. If, however, you have a video poker program (or app) that will generate playing strategies, here is how you would set up the five-credit column of the pay table.
As you can see, the only hand that means anything in this strategy is the royal flush. Using a video poker strategy program that I have, I generated the strategy for this pay table. Since we are looking to play as fast as possible, we don't mind simplifying our play a little so I chose the basic strategy option over the advanced strategy option of my software. In some cases, more than one line was generated that had the same exact return. When that is the case it does not matter if the lines are combined. The strategy after combining the lines follows.
If you prefer to also include saving for straight flushes, the five credit column of the pay table used to generate the playing strategy would look like this:
The strategy that was generated from this pay table, after combining lines with equal returns looks like this...
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