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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Decisions, decisions

23 December 2002

Dear Mark,
I was dealt the following hand at Jacks or Better video poker. A 5 of hearts, a 10 of hearts, a queen of hearts, a king of clubs, and an ace of diamonds. It seems I had plenty of choices I could have made, but I was not sure which cards to keep and which to discard. What would have been the correct way to play this hand? Phillis G.

You are right, Phillis — a very interesting hand that could have been played in at least four ways. You could keep four cards, three of them high, and draw to an inside straight; hold three high cards, possibly catching a pair (Q, K, A); hold three cards for a flush (5, 10, Q of hearts); or keep the two-suited high cards (10, Q of hearts) and go for a royal.

And here, Phillis, is the pre-draw ranking of your four choices. The hand with the most potential is the 4-card, inside straight. Next in expected value is the two-suited high cards (10, Q of hearts). Of equal worth, any time you are holding three unsuited high cards (Q, K and A), is not to hold all three, but instead, discard the ace and just keep the queen and king. Keeping the ace is an error most video poker players make. As to building on a three-card flush, that one is so gol'darn obvious: it's worthless. If you had no high cards but the queen of hearts, the queen is the only keeper.

Dear Mark, At a poker table, I placed my cards down and turned to order a drink from the cocktail waitress. The dealer took my cards, killing a flush that would have probably won. What gives? Cliff R.

(The epistle Cliff penned was over 1,000 words long-including some four-letter compliments of the dealer that are inappropriate for this column-describing what can be summed up in the 34 words above.)

You didn't mention, Cliff, which poker game you were playing, but in Omaha or Hold'em, where some of your cards are handheld, it is your responsibility, NOT the dealer's, to be in total control of them. Unprotected cards left out in the open is a traditional sign that you are folding. You cannot blame the dealer for scooping them up as you're ordering your fifth Jack Daniels.

I have witnessed another one you might watch for. A fellow player who is folding may happen to touch your cards as he's tossing in his, which disqualifies your hand and your interest in the pot. Commingling cards, my friend, have been known to bring out a six-shooter.

Next time, Cliff, place a chip on top of your "pocket cards" in order to protect that flush that possibly, not "probably," could have won.

Dear Mark,
True or false: The joker is always wild in pai gow poker? Jason C.

The correct answer, Jason, is false. In pai gow poker, the joker acts as a special card, yet not as a wild card in every scenario. The joker's only uses are as an ace, or as a wild card to complete a straight, a flush, a straight flush or a royal flush.

Gambling quote of the week: "There is almost as murky a scholarly dispute over the origin of blackjack as there is over poker and gin rummy." John Scarne, New Complete Guide To Gambling

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.