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Tips for playing video poker tournaments
When you play video poker, it’s you against the casino. You use the best playing strategy in games that will give you the highest expected return. Your goal each session is to end up with more credits (i.e., money) than you started with.
Video poker tournaments are diﬀerent. For starters, it’s not you against the casino but rather you against your fellow tournament players. What’s critical is not how much you win per round but rather ending up with more credits than your opponents have, even if it’s less credits than you started with. (Get it?) Tournament play, therefore, requires a diﬀerent strategy.
There are diﬀerent rules and formats for video poker tournaments. What follows is a summary of the two most popular formats, and then tips that will improve your chances of ﬁnishing in the money.
First, here are some generalities about tournament play. Each tournament contestant pays an entry fee, which is the same for all tournament players. All the players will be given a speciﬁc amount of credits at the start of their round. Usually, you will see the starting credits on the bottom of your screen and there will be another counter that will record the amount of credits that you are winning on each round (i.e., unlike a regular video poker machine where credits played are deducted from your credit meter, in tournaments the counter for the winning credits will only increase). Casinos can install any video poker game they want on their tournament machines (ditto for the pay table, although usually the pay tables are liberal). Some tournament machines are programmed to always play the maximum ﬁve coins per hand (which you would want to do anyway so be sure you are always playing max coins per hand).
There are generally two types of formats for video poker tournaments: those based on a speciﬁc time limit (also known as speed tournaments), and those based on a speciﬁc number of hands played.
TIMED (OR SPEED) TOURNAMENTS
In this tournament format, you have a speciﬁc amount of time (via a timer on the machine) to play as many hands as you can. (Timed tournaments can vary, some last 5 minutes, some 10 minutes, and others 20 minutes.) Your goal is to play as many hands as you can in the time allotted, which is why these tournaments are also known as Speed Tournaments. You want to play your hands quickly because completing even a few more hands than your opponents will give you a leg up on them.
We recommend mastering three techniques before playing in a timed tournament. First, you need to practice using two hands (not only one hand) to press down on the draw/deal and hold buttons. By doing this, you will be able to play more hands than the majority of your opponents, who use only one ﬁnger to mash the buttons (or worse, the touch screen). Practice using two hands when you play video poker in a casino; yes, at ﬁrst it may seem awkward but after a little practice you will be able to quickly use two hands to complete a hand rapidly. Remember: the goal is speed.
The second thing you need to master is to make your playing decision on every hand quickly. By using a software trainer on your home computer, you can practice quickly scanning the ﬁve cards in your hand and making a fast decision on which cards to hold. In the beginning, you’ll make a few mistakes when you try to play rapidly, but your goal is to play as many hands as you can in a speciﬁc period. (Remember: s-p-e-e-d!)
Lastly, and probably the most important strategy tip, is to use what is called the “go-for-the-royal” strategy. The reason we’re proposing this strategy is that in most of the video poker tournaments we’ve seen, the players who ﬁnish in the money are the ones that have hit a royal ﬂush (or four aces and a kicker if the game is Double Double Bonus). This means you should take an “all-or-nothing” approach when you play in a timed tournament, and on every hand, you rapidly hold the cards that could give you a royal ﬂush and the big payout, rather than holding the cards that would give you a smaller payoﬀ.
Let’s give you some examples of the “go-for-the-royal” approach. If you are dealt 6-6-6-6-Q, you would hold only the Q and discard the four 6s. (Of course, you would never make this hold when you play video poker in a casino but your goal in tournament play is to go for the royal ﬂush.) Likewise, with 10♥ Q♥ K♥ K♠ 5◆, you would hold the three-card royal rather than the high pair.
Bottom line: with a go-for-the-royal strategy, you only hold cards in your hands that could give you a royal ﬂush on the draw. If you have none, then you discard all ﬁve cards and draw new ones. (This “royal strategy” will improve your odds of hitting a royal ﬂush from one in every 40,000 hands to one in every 23,000 hands.)
We realize that playing for the royal ﬂush is an extreme strategy, and when you use this “all or nothing” approach, most of the time you will end up with nothing. However, look at it this way: having a low score of, say, 300 credits is no diﬀerent from having a score of, say, 3,000 credits if you need a bigger score to wind up in the money.
TOTAL HAND FORMAT
In this format, you get to play a speciﬁc number of hands; therefore, speed is not important, playing accuracy is. (Some tournaments will also have a time limit so be sure you ﬁnish playing all your hands within the period.) In these tournaments, it’s important you know beforehand what game is being used in the tournaments, the pay table, and then you should master the game’s playing strategy. Practice at home on your computer with a software trainer that will keep track of your playing accuracy.
You can use video poker training software to develop a go-for-the-royal playing strategy. Find out from the tournament director what the game will be on their tournament machines. Then call up that program on your software, set the royal ﬂush to 4,000 coins and all other pays to zero. The strategy that the software will generate will be for the go-for-a-royal strategy.
If the tournament consists of several rounds of play and each player’s points are accumulated, schedule your play for a later round then try to ﬁnd out what the top scores were (ask the tournament staﬀ or other players). By knowing what score you need to hit, you can adjust your playing strategy. (This is an important strategy tip!)
Make sure you read the tournament rules beforehand, and you know how many players move on to subsequent rounds, and what the prize structure is. (For example, if most of the prize money goes to the ﬁrst-place prize winner, a go-for-royal-strategy is even more important.)
Luck plays a large role in your outcome in each tournament because so few hands are played. However, if you continue to play in video poker tournaments using the above strategies, you have a better chance of ﬁnishing in the money in one of them.