Sometimes it Pays to Discard a Winning Hand in Video Poker

By Henry Tamburin
This is a true story that happened to my father-in-law, Pete. I’ve written about him before and his love of video poker. At age 91 he is in fact one tough player. Quarter jacks-or-better is his game and he learned how to play correctly by practicing on video poker training software on my computer (he practices often). He also always brings a strategy card with him when he plays.
Peter and my mother in law Helen visited us in Las Vegas.  Knowing that he loves his jacks-or-better, I took him to a local casino that offers the highest paying jacks-or-better pay schedule. But luck would have it, Pete wasn’t doing well the first week. He had already endured a half-dozen losing sessions 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-Ace in clubs. He had been dealt a winning five-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 away the 6 of clubs and draw to the four-card royal. Even though the five-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.
Fast forward two days. I went to a casino to watch some friends play in a blackjack tournament and Pete came along. He quickly got antsy and wanted to play some jacks-or-better. Fortunately, I found a 9/6 jacks-or-better machine in the Hilton’s Sports Book so after getting him settled-in on a machine, I went to the main casino watch the blackjack tournament.
A short while later I saw him 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 a 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 a few days earlier except in spades. He was dealt a 6 of spades and also the 10-Jack-King-Ace of spades. However, this time 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 he was ecstatic 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.

(Note  from Steve Bourie- I am sorry to say that Henry's father-in-law, Pete, passed away in April 2010. Fortunately, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Pete during one of our trips to Las Vegas. He was a great guy and we extend our sincerest condolences to Henry and his family on their loss.)
Henry Tamburin has been a respected casino gambling writer for the past 50 years. He is the author of the Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide and was editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter. You can read his latest articles on blackjack, video poker, and his personal playing experiences at https://www.888casino.com/blog/writers/henry-tamburin/.