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Cheat Sheet: Jacks or Better Poker

Updated on May 21, 2015

I have always enjoyed playing video poker. I enjoy the game because there is much more to the game than just dumb luck. Luck is obviously still a factor, but there is also an aspect of the game that involves some skill when choosing which cards to keep or discard. Its simply math. There is a way to maximize your odds of winning.

This is accomplished by employing a mathematical strategy while playing. Statistics will actually tell you the cards that you should keep in order to maximize your chances of winning.This is done by using something called an expected value.

The concept behind this value is fairly simple. It is simply the odds of you being dealt a certain hand multiplied by the pay out of that hand. So the equation to find the expected value would look like: EV = (odds of getting cards) x (pay out for that hand)

Lets use a simple example to make this more tangible. Say you have a 3 in 5 chance of winning 10 points if you choose option A, and a 2 in 5 chance of winning 20 points if you choose option B. Expected Value will tell us the correct option to choose.

Expected Value of option A = (.6) x (10) = 6.00 points

Expected Value of option B = (.4) x (20) = 8.00 points

This means that even though the odds of you winning with option B are lower than option A, it is still better to chose option B!

Using Expected Value with Video Poker

Now lets use an example with 9/6 Jacks or Better Video Poker. Say you have an Ace of hearts, 3 of diamonds, 5 of hearts, 6 of clubs, and 9 of hearts. Which cards should we keep? 3 of the cards are the same suit so a flush is an option. There are a couple chances for a straight as well. We also have an Ace and in Jacks or Better you just need a pair of a high card to get your bet back. Lets look at the expected value for each option.

Expected Value of choosing the 3 same suited cards = 44.68%

Expected Value of the possible Straights = 15.36%, 25.62%

Expected Value of choosing the Ace = 46.56%

Expected Value of choosing None of the cards = 34.24%

This means that the best option would be to just select the Ace of hearts. Attempting to get a flush is a close second. Also notice that choosing to receive a whole new hand would be a better option than to go for any of the straights!

Utilizing the Strategy

But it would be impractical to try to calculate this value each and every time a hand is dealt, and I know I wouldn’t want to even if I could. So I decided to create a basic cheat sheet for Jacks or Better Video Poker.

Jacks or Better Cheat Sheet
3 of a Royal Flush
4 of a Flush
4 of a Straight
2 face cards (J thru A)
1 face card (J thru A)
None (All new cards)

By following this list of combinations I was able to chose the correct cards to hold almost every time. There are nuances that aren't full covered by the list, but it achieved maximal return for minimal effort.

The way the list works is quite simple. The card combinations are listed in order of their ranking. If you have 3 cards of a Royal Flush then you will always go for a Royal Flush. If you were dealt a Jack of hearts, King of clubs, an 8 of hearts, and a pair of 2’s, then you will keep the pair of 2’s and trade in the others. This may sound counter intuitive, especially since the game is called Jacks or Better, but I ensure you it is accurate.

Lets try another example. Say you are dealt the hand shown below. Which cards should you keep? Hint: Use the Cheat Sheet above

Next Steps

I will admit that this cheat sheet may get confusing at times. For example, notice that 3 face cards are not on the list. This means that most of the time keeping all 3 face cards is a worst option than just keeping 2 of them. The two cards that you should choose will depend on what those face cards are and also what the other cards in your hand are.

My cheat sheet’s advantage is its simplicity. It is short so its easy to memorize and following it will help you choose the right cards most of the time.

Practice is important when learning about expected value. An incredibly useful tool when learning is an app called VideoPoker

This app will allow you to play video poker while also giving you the expected value of the possible cards that you were dealt. This app is how I developed the cheat sheet above and also how I turned my video poker game around! Its amazing how poor the moves I was making truly were when I learned all about expected value! So by using the cheat sheet above along with the VideoPoker app, you will be well on your way to mastering Jacks or Better Video Poker!


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