Good Luck Charms at

Jacks or Better Basic Strategy

Dear Mark,
Playing Jacks-or-better and using correct Jacks or Better basic strategy, what do I do in the following situations?

  1. A pair (tens or lower) and a face card.
  2. A pair (tens or lower) no face card.
  3. A pair of face cards with another face card.
  4. If I have flush (four cards), do I draw one and try to fill it every time, or, do I act differently if I have face cards or a pair?
  5. Finally, I think I read that you're supposed to always bet the max on progressive machines, is that right?

Bill S.

Four of your five questions, Bill, have straightforward answers. So let's gitty up on the four and pirouette on the toughie.

  • A pair (tens or lower) and a face card: Keep the low pair.
  • A pair (tens or lower) no face card: Again, keep the low pair.
  • A pair of face cards and another face card: Keep the pair, discard the other face card.

Slippery question d.) can be a bit tricky. If you have a 4-card flush, and a low pair, toss the low pair overboard. If you have a high pair, it's worth keeping. If you have three cards to a royal, keep those and drop the other two. (Note: I always tend to keep three cards to a royal flush over a high pair, though many experts believe a high pair is more powerful than a 3-card royal. Either way, the power rating [expected value] difference between the two hands is minuscule.)

Two even more powerful hands than a 3-card royal or a high pair are a) a 4-card inside straight flush or b) an open-ended 4-card straight flush. Play those accordingly, with a respectful nod at your favorite saint.

As to your final question, Bill, always bet the maximum number of coins on a progressive machine, to get the bonus for royal flushes. The same holds true for non-progressive machines. Typically, with one coin inserted you get 250 coins back for a royal flush, then 500 returned with two coins inserted, 750 back for three coins, 1000 coins for four coins in, and a well-earned jump to 4,000 coins returned for that fifth coin inserted. That escalated return is your bonus for playing the maximum in coins.

Dear Mark,
Playing Jacks or better, which basic strategy do you recommend; holding two non-suited face cards and drawing three or picking one and drawing four? Lee C.

Two high cards is a slightly better hand -- (not a 10 unless suited with another high card) -- than a single high card hand. So, Lee, keep two high cards instead of one.

Dear Mark,
In video poker, what is more powerful, an ace or a Jack? Dean M.

Some players do not realize this, Dean, but the ace is not the most important card in the deck, the Jack is. Holding the Jack over the ace gives you more opportunities of making more lucrative hands than you'd get with an ace; one example would be the open-ended straight.