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Best of John Grochowski
Flushes and gambling25 August 2013
So far, so good, but it also lists suited 2-3-4 and Ace-2-3 in a different category, and says that suited King-Queen (in a different suit, of course) is the better play than holding that particular three-card straight flush. Why? There are still no gaps.
ANSWER: Sometimes video poker strategy is all about splitting hairs, and there’s a hair to be split here. When you start with suited 2-3-4, there are only two possible draws that will compete a straight flush -- the ace and 5 or the 5 and 6 of that suit. With ace-2-3, you get a little value out of the possibility of pairing up the ace, but here’s only one draw that will complete the straight flush. You need a 4 and 5 in your suit, and no other draws will do.
All other three-card straight flushes with no gaps leave more possibilities. Start with 3-4-5, and you can complete your straight flush with ace-2, 2-6 or 6-7.
Moreover, it’s not only straight flushes, but mixed-suit straights that are limited by already being ace-low or deuce-low before the draw. Whenever you hold three cards, there are 1,081 possible two-card draws. With a suited 3-4-5, those draws include three straight flushes and 45 straights. With 2-3-4, it’s two straight flushes and 30 straights, and with ace-2-3 it’s one straight flush and 15 straights.
Per five coins wagered, holding 3-4-5 will bring an average return of 3.02 coins, topping the 2.83 for holding suited king-queen. With suited 2-3-4, it’s still 2.83 on king-queen, but the straight flush draw drops to a 2.54-coin average. And with ace-2-3, suited king-queen drops to 2.77 -- the effect of discarding the ace -- but that’s still better than the 2.56 if you go for the straight flush.
QUESTION: I usually play blackjack, basic strategy, but I was at a casino for a bachelor party and a couple of my friends wanted to play Caribbean Stud poker. One of them said he’d had a straight flush once and won over $8,000. He was going to teach us to play.
He never even looked at his cards, he just bet every time. I asked if there shouldn’t be some strategy, and he said, “Meh. We’re here to gamble, right?”
What do you think?
ANSWER: I think I’d have let your friend play his way while I played mine. The “we’re here to gamble” line has never made much sense to me. You’re a blackjack player. Would you ever say, “We’re here to gamble,” then double down on every hand, split every pair or hit whenever intuition told you to? Of course not. You play basic strategy and try to narrow the house edge as much as you can.
Betting every hand in Caribbean Stud means action on A LOT of weak cards. The house edge soars to 16.6 percent of the ante, or 5.5 percent of total action. There are a number of variations on Caribbean strategy, all of which start with always betting when you have a pair or better, and betting with ace-king when one of your other three cards matches the dealer’s up card. That leaves a house edge of 5.26 percent of the ante, or 2.6 percent of total action.
With a few fine points, you can narrow that a tiny bit to 5.22 percent of the ante and 2.55 percent of the ante. There are a couple of more ace-king hands to play: Make the bet with if the dealer’s up card matches your ace or king, but you also have a queen or jack in your hand. And stay even if the dealer doesn’t match any of your cards if your fourth highest card is higher than the dealer’s up card.
The gamble is always there. You can’t control what cards are coming next. But you still want to reduce the house edge as much as possible.
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Best of John Grochowski