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John Robison

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. Hear John on "The Good Times Radio Gaming Show," broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoons. You can listen to archives of the show online anytime.

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Pick 'Em Poker Strategy

1 Nov 2001

By John Robison

Pick 'Em Poker is a unique video poker game. It's partly a stud game and partly a draw game. It's part stud because you're dealt two cards that you must keep. And it's part draw because you have a choice of two stacks of cards with which to complete your hand.

Pick 'Em Poker is unique for another reason too. New video poker machines rarely pay back more than 99%. In fact, most new video poker variations are designed to wean players away from the high payback machines and onto lower-paying machines. But Pick 'Em Poker, with a long-term payback of 99.95%, is one of the highest-paying video poker machines around.

The paytable on Pick 'Em Poker is as follows: royal flush 1000, straight flush 200, four of a kind 100, full house 18, flush 15, straight 11, three of a kind 5, two pair 3, nines or better 2. Pick 'Em Poker pays a bonus for full coin play on three hands. A royal flush pays 6000 coins when you play full coin, a straight flush 1199, and four of a kind 600.

Pick 'Em Poker is easier to play than other types of video poker machines because you have only two options from which to choose -- left stack and right stack. It's also easier to play because you're always dealing with groups of three cards and you don't have to pick out two, three or four-card combinations from a hand of five cards.

When you press the deal button, the machine displays two cards on the left side of the screen. Good or bad, you're stuck with these two cards. They're the two cards you must have in your hand.

On the right side of the screen are two stacks of three cards with only the top card turned face up. You choose which stack you want to complete your hand based on the top card. Be careful when you go to press the button corresponding to the stack you want. Once you've pressed a button to choose a stack, there's no way to undo that selection.

On Pick 'Em Poker, just like on other video poker machines, the only way to get the highest payback possible is to always hold the combination of cards that has the highest expected value. Choose the stack whose top card gives you the higher expected value when added to your two mandatory cards.

The accompanying table lists the possible 3-card hands you can have in order of decreasing expected value. I used the following abbreviations to describe the hands: RF royal flush, SF straight flush, S straight, F flush, O outside, I inside, D double inside, 0H 0 high cards, 1H 1 high card, 2H 2 high cards, and 3H 3 high cards. The notation SF-D-1H, for example, stands for a double-inside straight flush with 1 high card, and the notation F-1H stands for a flush with 1 high card.

The expected values of almost all kinds of straight flushes fall in between a royal flush without an ace and a flush with three high cards. Only double-inside straight flushes with one or no high cards do not. The entry for SF - all others includes all outside, all inside, and double-inside straight flushes with two or three high cards. The other two straight flush combinations have their own entries lower in the table.

Let's try a few examples. You're dealt the 7 and 8 of diamonds and your options are the 9 of hearts and the jack of diamonds. Choosing the 9 gives you an outside straight with one high card (S-O-1H) and holding the jack gives you a double-inside straight flush with one high card (SF-D-1H). The straight flush is higher in the table, so choose the stack with the jack.

One more. You're dealt the 8 and 9 of diamonds and your options are the 10 of hearts and the jack of diamonds. Choosing the 10 gives you an outside straight with two high cards (S-O-2H) and choosing the jack gives you an inside straight flush with two high cards (SF-I-2H). There's no specific entry for this type of straight flush, so it's included in SF - all others, which is higher than the outside straight. Choose the stack topped by the jack.

Pick 'Em Poker Strategy
RF - no aceTJQ, JQK
High Pair9s or better
RF - with aceTJA
SF - all others
SF-D-1HA23, A25, 78J
Low Pair8s or lower
SF-D-0H236, 478
S-I-2H79T, 89J
3H9TA, 9JA, 9QA, 9KA
S-D-2H69T, 8JQ
S-I-1H679, 689, 78T
S-O-0H345, 456, 567, 678
S-D-1HA23, A45, 78J
S-I-0H234, 235, 578
S-D-0H236, 478

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at

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