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GameMasters Secret's Page

The GameMaster's Secrets
Understanding Penalty Cards - Part 1


Few of the published strategy cards for video poker address the impact of 'penalty' cards on your play, and the reality is that most of the time it doesn't make any difference. But, if you're playing high-stakes VP, like dollar machines with five coins in at a time or, as I did recently, $5 dollar machines with 5 coins bet per hand, these penalty plays can make some difference in your income.

First, let me define what a penalty card is. If you are playing a 9/6 Jacks or Better game and are dealt a hand of 9d Qs Js Kd Ah, most strategies say to hold the four high cards. If the 9d was a 3d, most strategy cards would still say to hold the four high cards, but now they are wrong - not by much, but wrong nonetheless. That's because the 9 is a penalty card; a 'straight' penalty card since by discarding it, you're cutting down on the number of potential straights should you decide to hold only the Jack and Queen. With me on this? Once that 9 is gone, it can't help to make a straight with the J,Q so we opt instead to hold the J,Q,K,A. Here are the numbers:

hand 1

Hold 4 high cards: 2.9787
Hold J,Q only: 2.9673

Now, as I mentioned, if the 9 was a 3, the numbers would look like this:

hand 2

Hold 4 high cards:
2.9787 (No change here.)
Hold J, Q only : 3.0019

See how the Jack-Queen gained in value? That's because the card we were tossing (the 3d) has no impact on the hand. But, what if the 3 was a spade? It will have an impact, because it's a 'flush' penalty card. Here are the numbers on the same hand, but we've made the 3 a spade:

hand 3

Hold 4 high cards: 2.9787 (Again, no change.)
Hold J,Q only: 2.9186

See how much value the J-Q has lost? Of course that's because a flush is worth so much more than a straight at 9/6 Jacks, so most of the time the 'important' penalty cards will be flush penalties. What if the 3 was a diamond as in Example #2? Now, it's neither a straight penalty card nor a flush penalty card. Here are the numbers:

hand 2

Hold 4 high cards: 2.9787 (Of course!)
Hold J,Q only: 3.0019

Now don't freak out here; only a few situations are close enough for a penalty card to have an effect, so there's not a whole lot to learn. And, even if you don't learn then, you'll still do okay, but remember that in the examples above, the difference to be gained is equal to the difference between 3.0019 and 2.9787 = .0232 for 5 coins in. If those coins are dollars, this amounts to 1.2 cents, but if they are $5 coins, this costs you 11.6 cents. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, eleven cents is no big deal, especially when you're playing at $25 a pop. But, the real question here is how often will you get this hand? I don't know, but at a rate of 700-800 hands an hour, I'll bet I get this fairly often (once, twice an hour?) and the casino doesn't need my $$$. I go for every (legal) edge I can get and this is one of them.

Next time I'll give you a chart of penalty card plays for the 9/6 Jacks or Better game. Stay tuned.

 

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