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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Hold pat straight flush, or go for the royal?

15 March 2017

Question: My wife was recently dealt a straight flush starting with the 9 through king. What would you do, and what is the proper play? Keep the straight flush or throw away the 9 and go for a royal flush?

Answer: What I would do is make the proper play, even though it's sometimes tempting to make a different play. On Not So Ugly Ducks {Deuces} (NSUD), for instance, there are many instances in which you give up a paying hand for a shot at a much better-paying hand. When dealt a deuce, a six of clubs, and the six, nine and ten of hearts, you give up the sure thing of three-of-a-kind and hold the deuce and double-inside straight flush instead. Toughest of all is being dealt a straight flush with three deuces and holding only the deuces, trading a sure 50 credits for a chance at five-of-a-kind, a wild royal or four deuces. At least the worst thing that could happen is getting 20 credits for a four-of-a-kind, which is what usually happens.

You didn't mention the pay table your wife was playing. Whether a 4-card royal is worth more than a pat straight flush depends on what pay table you're playing. On NSUD and many (if not all) Deuces Wild pay tables, the 4-card royal is worth more than the straight flush. That makes sense because straight flushes don't pay as much on a wild-card pay table as they do on pay tables with no wild cards, and you have four chances to improve the 4-card royal into a more valuable wild royal in addition to one chance for the natural royal.

Straight flushes are the second highest-paying hand on Jacks or Better pay tables, so you hold onto the straight flush. The same strategy should apply for Bonus, Double Bonus and Triple Bonus pay tables too.

I suggest that you get strategy cards for the video poker pay tables that you like to play. You may be playing a positive expectation or nearly break-even pay table, but if you don't have a mathematically derived strategy, you could be sacrificing up to five percentage points in long-term payback by playing your hunches instead of a proper strategy. Jurisdictions prohibit slots that pay back 100% or more because there's no skill involved in getting that payback. Getting the maximum payback possible from a video poker machine, on the other hand, requires following the strategy -- and some of the strategies are very difficult.

I've seen video poker players make some strange plays. On one machine I played, the player who played it before held two cards to a straight flush -- not a royal flush, just a regular straight flush. Holding those cards was not the right play for that pay table (NSUD).

Speaking of NSUD, I once overheard someone debating with his friend whether to hold a king of clubs or a jack of hearts. How about neither? You don't get paid for a pair on NSUD, high or otherwise -- in fact, there is no concept of high cards in NSUD -- so there's no reason to hold just one card unless it's a deuce. If holding either the king or the jack were the best options he could find for that hand, the proper play was to get five new cards.


Last week a reader asked how the Zeus slot machine handled adding more Zeus symbols to the bonus reels during the bonus round.

There are many Zeus variations on the slot floor. I found a Zeus 1000 a few days ago. The help screens say not only that different reels are used for the bonus round (Nevada regulations require that machines make it crystal clear when a machine does not use the base game reels during the bonus), but also that different reels are used based on how many Zeus symbols are added to the reels during the bonus. Zeus 1000 adds 100 Zeus symbols to the bonus reels every time lightning strikes during the prelude to the actual bonus round.


John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots