When Liam W. Daily and I began looking at publishing strategy cards and later Winner’s Guides for a number of video poker games, we devised a terminology for discussing the various forms of 3-card straight flush combinations. We decided to start from zero, add one for every high card in the combination, and subtract one for every inside (which is usually, but not always, a gap).
Although the idea was original to us, in the sense that we didn’t read or hear about it from anybody, we later found out that other strong players were using very similar terminology among their teams. These notations weren’t published or otherwise publicized, so we hadn’t heard about them.
At the time (mid-1990s), I was a strong intermediate video poker player. Daily was much less of a player, but an Oxford-educated Ph.D. economist. He was a brilliant theoretician who had devised new ways of looking at a number of problems — including for the International Monetary Fund! By the time we finished the Winner’s Guides many years later, we could both call ourselves experts. Our expertise came from doing the hard work on so many strategies.
I was teaching and publishing articles (in Strictly Slots and Casino Player, at the time, plus a weekly blog that has morphed, more or less, into what you are reading now) which gave me a sort of trial by fire. When I published something that wasn’t quite right, there were a number of players who would trumpet the evidence that I wasn’t as good as I claimed I was. In addition to developing a thick skin, I learned from this. When the criticism was justified (sometimes, not always, and sometimes inconclusively), I improved my knowledge base.
I started to be recognized as an expert when Shirley and I had our $500,000 half-hour at the MGM Grand in 2001. Just hitting two big royals in short order didn’t mean I was a better player or any smarter than I was the day before (when I was $500,000 less wealthy), but there were a number of players who concluded that if I could hit such big jackpots, I must know what I’m talking about.
Enough of the background. Here is a complete list of 3-card straight flush combinations, and our terminology for them, for all games without wild cards where you get your money back for a pair of jacks or better:
|SF3+0:||SF3 2h2i||KH9; QJ8|
|SF3 1h1i||QT9; JT8; J98|
|SF3 0h0i||345, 456, 567, 678, 789, 89T|
|SF3-1:||SF3 1h2i||KT9, QT8, Q98, JT7, J97, J87, A23, A24, A25, A34, A35, A45|
|SF3 0h1i||234, 235, 245, 346, 356, 457, 467, 568, 578, 679, 689, 78T, 79T|
|SF3-2:||SF3 0h2i||236, 246, 256, 347,
There are two combinations in the SF3+1 category — namely two high cards and one inside (QJ9) and one high card and no insides (JT9). These are the most valuable 3-card straight flush combinations in this type of game. While having three high cards and two insides would also qualify as SF3+1, such a combination is physically impossible. Having three high cards in a 3-card combination makes some sort of an RF3 combination, rather than an SF3 combination.
There are three combination types in the SF3+0 category — with more than one combination in each type. You can see the list above. For those unfamiliar with our KH9 notation, the H represents a high card lower in value than the first card listed. So KH9 represents both KQ9 and KJ9. These combinations have exactly the same value and can’t both co-exist in the same five cards (unless you had a 4-card straight flush draw) which is much higher on the strategy chart).
There are two combination types in the SF3-1 category. There are two unusual things here — both of which deal with insides. The combination 234 has an inside and is worth exactly the same as 235 and 245. Although 234 may look like it has no insides, the only straight flushes it can be part of are A2345 and 23456 – which are exactly the same two straight flushes which are possibilities for 235 and 245.
All six of the ace-low combinations listed have exactly the same value. Even though A23 has one gap and A45 has two gaps, the only straight flush either one may be part of is A2345. Sometimes players can understand that these combinations have equal value when they see a strategy listing something like SF3: A-low. But sometimes they need to be told explicitly,
It is my belief that understanding the previous two paragraphs, and applying the concepts to strategies, is a major difference between beginners and intermediate players.
The final SF3 category is SF3-2. These all have no high cards and two gaps. Sometimes they are the lowest valued category of cards worth holding. But in most games, you are better off holding them than throwing all of the cards away.
So far, we have just defined things. Next week I will show how these are used in strategies and show how they differ between games.