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Pick' Em Poker Strategy

28 June 2001

By John Robison

At the request of my good friend VP Warrior from the Atlantic City Insider newsletter, here is a strategy for playing Pick 'Em Poker.

It's been a long time since I've found a new video poker game with an average payback close to or better than 9/6 Jacks or Better, but I've found one. The game is called Pick'em Poker. In Pick'em Poker, the machine deals two cards to you face up. These are the first two cards in your hand. The machine also deals two stacks of three cards each and turns over the top card of each stack. You get to choose one of those two stacks to complete your hand.

The payoffs per coin played are as follows: 1000 for a Royal Flush, 200 for a Straight Flush, 100 for Four-of-a-kind, 18 for a Full House, 15 for a Flush, 11 for a Straight, 5 for Three-of-a-kind, 3 for Two Pair, and 2 for a Pair of 9s or higher. There are bonuses on some hands if you play 5 coins. With 5 coins bet, a Royal will get you 6000, a Straight Flush 1199, and Four-of-a-kind 600. The game pays back a fantastic 99.9% playing 5 coins and a still player-friendly 98.9% playing less than 5 coins. These long-term paybacks make Pick'em Poker one of the highest paying video poker games around.

Playing Pick'em Poker is easier than playing other video poker games. You only have one decision to make: which stack do you want to complete your hand. Just like in regular video poker, you want to maximize the expected value of your hand.

The following chart shows the hands listed in order of decreasing expected value. I use the following abbreviations: RF royal flush, SF straight flush, F flush, and S straight, O outside, I inside, D double inside, and H high card. Also keep in mind that a high card in this game is a 9 or higher. There are actually 38 possible types of hands you can have with 3 cards. Most of the straight flushes bunch together, so I've simplified the chart somewhat with no loss of payback. I have also included some examples of the different hands in case you're not that familiar with outside, inside, and double inside straights.

To use the chart, classify the 2 hands you could have and pick the hand which is higher in the chart. Work from the bottom of the chart up. Let's try a few examples. The first 2 cards on each line are the cards you're stuck with and you can choose 1 of the following 2 cards.

1.Th JhKhTs
2.Th JhAhTs
3.9c TdKs7h
4.9h AhJh7h
5.2c 3dAh4s
6.Ah 2c3d4s

In the first example, you have a choice of going for the 3-card Royal or the sure-paying high pair. A 3-card Royal without an Ace is higher in the chart than the High Pair, so you choose the King. In the second example, your choices are the same High Pair and a 3-card Royal with Ace. The High Pair is worth more than the 3-card Royal wth Ace, so you choose the Ten. (A 3-card Royal with Ace is worth less than a 3-card Royal without an Ace because the Ace limits the number of straights the 3-card hand could lead to.)

In the third example, your choices are a double inside straight with 3 high cards or an inside straight with 2 high cards. Inside straights are easier to complete than double inside straights, but you have more chances to get a paying pair with more high cards. Does the value of the 3 high cards overcome the disadvantage of the double inside straight? According to the chart, the double inside straight with 3 high cards is worth more than the inside straight with 2 high cards, so you choose the King.

In the fourth example, you'll have a 3-card flush no matter which card you choose. Maximize the number of high cards you hold and choose the Jack.

In the fifth example, you have a choice of 2 straights: A23 or 234. The A23 is actually a double inside straight. There's only one way to make it: A2345. The 234 looks like an outside straight, but it's really an inside straight. It only leads to 2 straights, A2345 and 23456, while an outside straight leads to 3. According to the chart, the double inside straight with 1 high card is worth more than an inside straight with 0 high cards, so you choose the Ace.

The sixth example is the fifth example slightly rearranged. Now your choices are A23 or A24. In this case, it doesn't matter which card you choose. There's only one possible straight either 3-card hand could lead to, A2345, so both choices are classified as a double inside straight with 1 high card.

Pick'em Poker has a high long-term payback rarely found in video poker games. Video poker pros should consider it because of the high payback. New video poker players should consider it not only because of the high payback, but also because it is easier to learn to play perfectly because you have to classify only three cards at a time instead of five.

Pick 'Em Poker Strategy
RF - no Ace (TJQ, JQK)
High Pair
RF - with Ace (TJA)
SF – all others
F 3H
SF – D – 1H (A23, A25, 78J)
S – O – 3H (9TJ, TJQ)
F – 2H
Low Pair
SF – D – 0H (236,478)
S – I – 3H (9TQ, JQK)
S – O – 2H (89T)
F – 1H
S – D – 3H (9TK, TJA, JQA, QKA)
S – I – 2H (79T,89J)
S – O – 1H (789)
F – 0H
3H (9TA,9JA,9QA,9KA)
S – D – 2H (69T,8JQ)
S – I – 1H (679,689,78T)
S – O – 0H (345,456,567,678)
S – D – 1H (A23,A45,78J)
S – I – 0H (234,235,578)
S – D – 0H (236,478)

Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at

For more information about slots and video poker, we recommend:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots by John Robison
Break the One-Armed Bandits! by Frank Scoblete
Victory at Video Poker and Video Craps, Keno and Blackjack! by Frank Scoblete
Slot Conquest Audio Cassette Tape (60 minutes) with Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Slots & Video Poker! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
The Slot Machine Answer Book by John Grochowski
Pick' Em Poker Strategy is republished from
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