Monday, August 26, 2013

Rare strategy quirk in a Deuces Wild practice session

Practice may not make perfect in video poker, but it can spring some surprises on you.

I got a surprise of my own recently as I was practicing my strategy on Not So Ugly Deuces Wild. It's a game

I hadn't played in some time, but I was planning a day at a casino that offered it. With expert play, NSUD pays 99.7 percent with expert play. That figured to be the best game I'd find on that trip, so I figured I'd better put in a little practice time on the WinPoker software I use.

Here's the hand I was dealt: Queen of clubs, 9 of diamonds, 8 of diamonds, 4 of spades, 3 of hearts.

High pairs don't pay off in Deuces Wild --- the pay table starts at three of a kind --- so I wasn't going to hold the low Queen. Straights in Deuces Wild pay only 2-for-1, so you need four cards before you start thinking about possible straight draws. The best straight possibilities here were only two-card sequences.

Flushes pay 3-for-1 in NSUD, better than the 2-for-1 in full-pay Deuces Wild, so we do look for flushes often. Still, there were only two cards of the same suit in this hand.

Straight flushes pay 10-for-1, another step up from full-pay Deuces, which pays 9-for-1. But two cards to a straight flush? Not likely.

My conclusion: Toss the entire hand. Take a chance on five fresh cards.

The software's conclusion: A pop-up box, warning me I was making a mistake.
I changed my play to holding the 8-9 of diamonds, the only feasible play I could see here. At least it would give me starts on possible flushes, straights, and a long shot at a straight flush.

That, the computer accepted. It played out the draw, and then I clicked on the "analyze any hand" option to check out the numbers.

Sure enough, the calculations told me that holding the 8-9 of diamonds would bring an average return of 1.6075 coins per five wagered, while tossing the entire hand would bring only 1.6074 coins. I was wrong by one ten-thousandths of a percent.

Not a make-or-break hand obviously, and if you're playing in a casino and decide to toss the entire hand, well, I won't quibble. In order for holding the suited 8-9 to be the correct play, all the circumstances had to be in place.

To start with, the NSUD pay table had to be in place. In full-pay Deuces Wild, which pays less on flushes and straight flushes than the Not So Ugly variety, the best play is to discard all five cards. Even in Illinois Deuces, which matches NSUD in paying 3-for-1 on flushes but retains the full-pay return of 9-for-1 on straight flushes, the expert play is to toss the lot. The same hand in Illinois Deuces returns an average of 1.6012 coins with a five-coin discard, but only 1.5828 when holding the suited 8-9.

Beyond that, the situation regarding other possible straights and flushes had to be the same. Remember the hand: Queen of clubs, 8-9 of diamonds, 4 of spades, 3 of hearts
If holding the two consecutive diamonds with a straight flush possibility meant tossing a third diamond, the percentages would shift. If the 3 of hearts was a diamond instead, the best play would be to throw away the entire hand. Three diamonds with no straight flush possibility wouldn't yield enough to hold them, and throwing away a third diamond would diminish flush possibilities enough that holding the 8-9 would no longer be worthwhile.

Same deal with straight possibilities. The only possible straight involving three cards in the original hand is 8-9-Queen. There are two gaps on the inside, so the only combinations that can complete the straight are 10-Jack, 10-2, Jack-2 or two wild deuces.

What if the Queen of clubs was a Jack instead? Then there would be only one gap, and the combinations that would result in a straight would increase to 7-10, 10-Queen, 7-2, Queen-2, or 2-2. Throwing away the Jack would decrease the chances of building 8-9 into a straight that here too, the best play would change to discarding all five cards.

It seems by random chance in practicing with the WinPoker software, I ran into the right hand on the right pay table to learn a little something. If I'm playing with the Not So Ugly Deuces Wild pay table, and if I'm dealt a hand with 8-9 suited, no other cards of the same suit, and no straight possibilities with less than two gaps, I'll be holding the 8-9.

That's a rare situation, and who knows when I'll run into it again. But it's a play I'll never forget, and one I'd never have noticed had I not taken the time for a little practice.

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