The Art of Winning Video-Poker Tourneys

Play fast if you want to outrun the competition

videopokerLast week I wrote about the free video-poker tournaments on Saturday nights at Money Plays (4755 W. Flamingo Rd., just west of the Palms), and set a value of $13.33 for playing it. That number is derived by what’s known as an “equity assessment,” which takes into consideration how much money is given away and how many players are competing for it. In the case of the Money Plays tourney, $200 was split between 15 players. Hence, it’s fair to say that it’s worth $13.33 on average for you to play it. But that’s not the way it really works.

Just as with any game, you can outperform the “average” if you play better than your opponents. Naturally, being a better video-poker player is the key, right? Sometimes, but not this time. In timed tournaments, like the one at Money Plays, perfect play ranks behind two other considerations.

The most important element in a tourney in which everyone plays for a set amount of time is playing fast—very fast! In fact, many regular video-poker-tournament winners play significantly below the expert level, but they have fire in their fingers. Money Plays runs a timed tournament, with rounds of three minutes each, and whatever you can fire off in each session increases your score. Think about it: If you play 35 hands in that time, and I play 45, who’s the favorite to score higher?

So, faster is definitely better, but don’t just push buttons at random. Make reasonable plays. But don’t ponder over decisions, either. Many tournament experts advocate not even pausing briefly to consider tough choices.

The second key element is using available information. In video-poker tournaments, it’s important to gather as much data as you can, then adjust play accordingly. If you know that someone’s hit a royal flush, then you must also hit a royal to have a chance to win. At this point, you don’t keep any hand that doesn’t have royal flush potential—not even a dealt four-of-a-kind! When you play this way you’ll usually just fall further behind, but it’s the proper strategy.

They don’t announce the scores between rounds at Money Plays, but everyone’s watching and talking, so you’ll know if you’re in the running or not. Since prize money in most tournaments is top-heavy, going for the win is paramount. Unless you’re near the top (in which case you stay the course and continue to fire as fast as you can), your scores should go down each round as you take bigger and bigger chances to get to the lead. When I played, my rounds scored 240, 200 and 165. Perfect!

It’s not easy to play this way. But if you can, you’ll be a dangerous tournament player. Go get that money!


Anthony Curtis is the publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor and, a monthly newsletter and website dedicated to finding the best deals in town.