Overview of Video Poker

Video PokerVideo poker appeared in its current form in the 1970s, and it’s been delighting advantage players ever since. That’s because, when played perfectly and with the right paytable, it can actually erase the house edge and give the customer a strong chance at turning a consistent profit. But despite this major selling point, it often goes overlooked by players who are lured in by the flashing lights and graphical superiority of slot machines.

The credit for the creation of the game goes to Si Redd, a gaming distributor who realized the potential for a casino option based on poker. When Bally executives showed little interest in his project, he went out on his own and founded the company known as Sircoma (which later became International Gaming Technology). Within a decade, his machines could be found in every major casino in Las Vegas, and Bally executives are still kicking themselves for letting this potential cash cow get away.

Video Poker Rules

While it might not be as easy as pushing a button on a slot machine, video poker remains one of the simplest casino games to learn. It’s similar to five-card draw poker, and the game begins as soon as the player decides on the size of their wager.
Video Poker Machine
After the money issue has been taken care of, the game deals five virtual cards to the player across the screen. It’s then up to the player to decide how many of the cards to keep and how many to discard. The most common method for keeping one or more cards involves pressing (or clicking) up to five corresponding buttons.

If the player chooses to keep their initial hand, the game is immediately over. If one or more cards are discarded, then the player receives new cards to replace them. The game is then concluded, with the final strength of the customer’s hand determining the overall payout.

Types of Video Poker

There are numerous versions of video poker on the market, and new games are being released all the time. The following, however, remain the most popular options and are the ones most likely to be found at online and land-based casinos.

Jacks or Better

The most common version of the game, it takes its name from the fact that the player needs a pair of Jacks or better in order to receive a payout. The game (with the right pay table) offers an expected return of 99.54% to players who employ optimal strategy.

Bonus Poker

This machine offers bonus payouts for various four-of-a-kind hands. The full-pay version of the game is 8/5, and the expected return is 99.17%. Along with Jacks or Better, this is one of the most popular versions of video poker.

Deuces Wild

The deuce cards can substitute for any other card in this video poker variation. If you can find a full-pay version and use basic strategy to guide your gaming session, you can expect to enjoy an advantage over the house of 100.71%.

Joker Poker

In order to receive any money, you’ll need to build a hand with a pair of Kings or better. You’ll receive help from the Joker, as it serves as a wild card in the game. If you can learn basic strategy and apply it, you should expect an average return of 100.64%.

Double Bonus Poker

As with most VP games, the player needs a pair of Jacks or better in order to get paid. The largest payout, however, comes from a four-of-a-kind hand. The full-pay version of the game is 10/7, and the expected return for players using strategy is 100.17%.

Double Double Bonus Poker

Much like the previous entry, although the full-pay version of this game is 10/6. The expected average return is 100.07% for anyone using basic strategy.

General Video Poker Advice

No matter which version of video poker you play, the following tips should serve you well. Don’t expect them to work miracles, however, as the key to long-term success at the game still revolves around playing basic strategy.

Fortunately, video poker isn’t a hard game to learn, and the strategies aren’t nearly as involved as something like card counting. With just a few hours of memorization and practice, you should be ready to take on any casino and their despicable house edge.

Know the Paytables

All video poker machines, virtual or otherwise, have a paytable that lists the various cash prize available for specific hands. In order to find the most profitable game, I suggest taking a long look at these tables before spending your money.

Understand the Numbers

Video poker games are divided into “full pay” and “short pay” machines. The former pays the maximum amount for a full house and flush, while the latter awards a lesser prize. In most cases, a 9/6 machine is full pay, with a full house awarding 9x the wager and a flush paying out 6x. An 8/5 machine, however, pays less and results in the player losing money at a rate that’s almost 6 times faster. If you have the luxury of choosing between these two options, the proper decision should be a no-brainer.

Learn the Games

While the objective of all video poker games is the same, there is a wide array of machines available to players. Knowing the different types can mean the difference between making a profit and just breaking even.


In later sections, I’ll provide a couple of examples of strategy for video poker. These charts are simple to use, only requiring you to play the highest hand listed on the chart. These strategy charts are available for all variations of VP, and you should never begin a gaming session without one. If you do, don’t be surprised when the expected return drops considerably.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Most online casino software can be played for free prior to trying your luck at the real-money machines. Take advantage of this opportunity every chance you get, as it’s an excellent way to learn the various VP games and practice your strategy.

Memorize Poker Hand Rankings

Your success or failure at video poker has everything to do with poker hands, as these are used to determine whether or not you receive a payout. If you don’t know the rank of the hands, it’s impossible to consistently apply strategy and make the best decisions possible.

Quality over Quantity

One of the best tips I can give video poker players is to take their time and focus on making the proper decisions during gameplay. Slots players often work in the opposite direction, pressing the button as much as possible to yield the maximum number of spins per spin. But slots are a game of pure chance, while video poker demands proper strategy in order to achieve long-term success.

Wager the Maximum Amount

While lesser bets can still lead to respectable wins, most VP machines offer bonus money when the player risks the maximum allowable amount. If you’re the type of player who likes to look at the big picture, applying this strategy can allow you to come out ahead over the long haul.

Set Limits on Time

Players who stare at a video screen for too long can wind up becoming disoriented and bleary-eyed. Before you begin a session, it’s a smart idea to set a time limit for how long you’re going to play. This assures that your mind is going to stay relatively fresh, thus allowing you to make the proper moves for each hand. If you don’t like to limit yourself in such a fashion, then at least try to take a break each hour to stand up, stretch, and look at something other than the computer terminal.

Set Limits on Money

Proper bankroll management is important for any casino game. Otherwise, you run the risk of an unpleasant gaming session and possible financial disaster. Prior to entering the casino, assess your bankroll and determine how much you’re willing to lose during the upcoming session. If you’re unfortunate enough to meet that quota, then stop play immediately. While nobody likes to end on a losing note, it’s more desirable than dipping into funds that are earmarked for basic needs like food and shelter.

Strategy for 8/5 Bonus Poker

This type of video poker can be found in almost all casinos, so having a strategy sheet for it should have you well-prepared for your next gaming session, whether you’re playing online or at a brick-and-mortar establishment. If executed properly, this strategy should yield a return of 99.17%.

Once your five-card hand has been dealt, examine it to determine all the various combinations that can be created. Then go with the highest available option on the following chart:

Available Option
Straight flush, four-of-a-kind, or a royal flush.
Four cards towards completing a royal flush.
Straight, flush, or a full house.
Four cards toward a straight flush.
Two pair.
A pair of Jacks or higher (also known as a high pair).
Three cards towards a royal flush.
Four cards towards the completion of a flush.
A 10, Jack, Queen, and King unsuited.
A pair of 10s or less (also known as a low pair).
Four cards towards the completion of an outside straight.
Three cards that have the potential to create a straight flush. One or more high cards (Jack or better) must be included, and it must also be an open-ended draw with a maximum of one gap.
An unsuited Jack, Queen, King, and Ace.
Two high cards which are suited.
Three cards that have the potential to create a straight flush. This combination must have no gaps and be an open-ended draw.
Four cards that have the potential to create an inside straight. This combination must also contain three high cards (Jacks or better).
A Jack, Queen, and King which are unsuited.
A Jack and Queen which are unsuited.
Three cards working towards the completion of a straight flush. There must be only one high card, as well as two gaps in the draw.
A King and Queen unsuited, or a King and Jack unsuited.
A Jack and 10 suited.
An Ace and King, Ace and Queen, or Ace and Jack unsuited.
A single Ace.
Three cards with the potential to make a straight flush. The open-ended draw must have one high card and no gaps in the open-ended draw.
A suited King and 10 or Queen and 10.
A single King, Queen, or Jack.
Three cards that have the potential to make a straight flush. There must be no high cards and two gaps in the draw.
If none of the above options are available, the best strategy is to discard everything and try your chances with five new cards.

9/6 Jacks or Better Simplified Strategy

In order to give you a couple of options, I’ve also included this basic strategy chart for 9/6 Jacks or Better. While this simplified method of play adds 0.08% to the house edge over optimal strategy, it’s much easier for the beginning player to memorize and understand. The difference also happens to be negligible, still leaving you with an expected return of 99.46%.

As with the 8/5 Bonus Poker strategy, you begin by looking at your five-card hand. Next, find the highest hand on the chart that’s present within your hand.

Available Option
Full house
Four cards to a royal flush
Flush, straight, or three-of-a-kind
Four cards to a straight flush
Two pair
High pair
Three cards to a royal flush
Four cards to a flush
Low pair
Four cards to an outside straight
Two high cards which are suited
Three cards to a straight flush
Two high cards that are unsuited (pick the lowest two in the case of three or more)
One of the following suited pairs: King and 10, Queen and 10, or Jack and 10
A single high card
*If none of the above is available, discard all five cards and cross your fingers

While most casino patrons flock to the slots, veteran gamers know that video poker machines are some of the best bets for advantage players. If you can find the right pay table and apply perfect strategy, then you can actually gain an advantage over the house. And as anyone who’s gambled often can tell you, that’s not something to be taken lightly.