Would This Be a Better Strategy?

Assume you’re playing 9/6 Jacks or Better and you’re still at the stage in your playing career where you need to regularly consult a strategy card. You’re dealt 2♠ 3♥ 4♣ 6♦ 9♠.

Experienced players know you throw all five cards away. But this is not an experienced player we’re talking about. This is a beginner — at least to this game. At least to the ranks of players who play using a computer-generated rule. The unsuited 2346, a 4-card inside straight with no high cards, is held in some games. Such a player might well ask: “Is this particular 4-card inside straight held in this game?”

The way the Dancer/Daily cards (as well as most others) indicate that specific combinations are not held is to totally leave them off the strategy. An alternative way would be to include this line in the strategy: “4-card inside straight with no high cards (NEVER HOLD).”

Why might this be better? Well, on some strategies there are 20 or more strategy rules listed. You might have to look through these rules a number of times to make sure you didn’t miss this particular rule somewhere. Especially if the notation on this card is unfamiliar with you. But, if it’s there and says “NEVER HOLD,” you’ll find it quickly and know how to play the hand.

Which strategy rules have the NEVER HOLD designation will vary by game, of course. In 9/6 Double Double Bonus, you’ll properly hold 4-card inside straights with no high cards, but you’ll NEVER HOLD 4-card inside straights with one high card. 

And, depending on the level of the strategy, it would be okay to have a DON’T HOLD AT THIS LEVEL notation of some sort. In Full Pay Deuces Wild, for example, in a strategy geared towards beginners, a suited KQ, KJ, and KT would have this designation. At a higher-level strategy, both more difficult and more powerful, there would be some sort of indication of what times you do hold these combinations and what times you don’t.

A version of this latter notation is in the strategies created by the Video Poker for Winners software. There the phrase used is “NOT RECOMMENDED.” It means that on average you’re better not holding such a combination but it is correct to hold it under the right circumstances. (The VPW strategy is an intermediate strategy, with a list of hands, in a section called “Show Report,” where the strategy will provide incorrect holds. It tells you how often these holds happen and how much the error is worth.)

When we first came out with this notation on VPW, it was upsetting to some players. I was asked more than 100 times some version of, “Why on earth would you write down a strategy rule and say it wasn’t recommended to use it?”

I got my answer down pat — it’s faster to find an instruction that says to not hold a combination than it is to look through a strategy multiple times to be sure that hand isn’t hidden somewhere. Some people accepted that and some said they still thought it was a bad idea.

I’ve learned that you can’t please everybody every time. 

Many of you create your own strategies. You start from some source — perhaps the Dancer/Daily strategies, perhaps VPW, perhaps the strategy from the Wizard of Odds — and then you make modifications to it because the way these other strategies are designed isn’t quite to your liking and if you use a different notation, it works better for you. I have no objection to that at all, and in fact think you should create the strategy that is most useful to you personally.

But if you do this, do you include the NEVER HOLD notation on some hands? And if so, which hands?

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