How to Play Jacks or Better Video Poker
Video poker is based on the poker game of five-card draw, but it is unlike the card game, where there is a pot to strive for, and the best hand wins. In video poker, a player makes a wager, usually five coins, and is dealt five cards. They may hold any or all cards or discard as many as five cards and draw new ones. To win, the player must make a final hand of at least a pair of jacks. Payoffs are shown at the top of the video screen and following this introduction.
If you bet five coins and make a high pair (jacks or better), you’ll get five coins back. Not exactly a win, but it’s better than nothing. The hands listed are the same as in a standard poker game with a deck of 52 cards and no jokers. Two pair pays 2 for 1 and is designated by any two pairs, such as K-K-8-4-4. If you are dealt that hand, you would hold the K-K-4-4 and discard the 8, trying to improve to a full house.
Any hand with three of a kind pays 3 for 1, regardless of whether you start with that hand or draw cards to make the final combination. A straight is any five cards in sequence, such as A-2-3-4-5 or 7-8-9-10-J. They can be of any mixed suit, and the payoff is 4 for 1. A hand such as 3-4-5-6 is called an open-ended straight since you can make your hand by catching a card on either end with a 2 or a 7.
A gut-shot or close-ended straight draw is a starting hand like 5-6-7-9. To make the straight, you’ll need to catch an 8. A flush is any five final cards of the same suit, such as 3-6-8-9-Q of clubs. Making a flush pays 6 for 1. The next-best hand is a full house. You’ll be paid 9 for 1 when you get three of a kind and a pair, such as 2-2-7-7-7. If you make a hand like 2-7-7-7-7, you’ll have quads. You’ll get paid 25 for 1 when you make four of a kind.
The next biggest payout is for a straight flush. To win the 50 for 1 payoff, you’ll need to make a straight and a flush at the same time! That means your hand will have to be similar to 2-3-4-5-6 in a single suit. The biggest payout in video poker is for a royal flush, which is also the highest straight flush. You’ll only win the 4,000-coin payoff when you hold A-K-Q-J-10, all in a single suit.
It doesn’t matter what the order of the cards is on a video poker screen. You’ll be paid the same, even if they are mixed up. However, occasionally you’ll find a casino that offers a bonus for a sequential royal flush. The payoff for a sequential royal flush is usually 10,000 for 1. I’ve seen super jackpots or 10k on machines at the Palazzo in Las Vegas, the Atlantis in Reno, and in the past at online sites like Bovada and Jackpot City. You may have to search around, but the added payoff sounds fun.
What you can expect for payout hands on a Jacks or Better 9/6 video poker machine:
|Four of a Kind
|Three of a Kind
|Jacks or Better
This payoff table shows all the possible combinations of video poker. The table is based on 9/6 payout, meaning that you receive 9 coins back for each wagered on a full house and six coins back for each wagered on a flush. You’ll hit two pairs a huge amount of the time. And your payout for that hand will be nearly 26% of your total returned while playing. That helps reduce variance, as you will get a small winning amount back quite often, as compared to getting just even money on two pairs at other games.
This full-pay table is treasured by players. Because gaming jurisdictions usually only require an 80% payback on video and slot machines, it may be hard to find. So, note it in your gaming journal, a pack of smokes, or store it somewhere in the back of your mind so that you can return to the good life from time to time. Online, I’ve found this full-pay game at some Playtech sites
, as well as some that use Microgaming software
. In Las Vegas, it’s hard to find on the Strip, but there are games at other places in the city.
Station Casinos has this pay table at many of their casinos, including Palms, Red Rock, Boulder Station, Palace Station, Sunset Station, Texas Station, and Santa Fe Station. They are out there! Keep in mind that although the game has a great payback, your “luck” will have a lot to do with your results. That doesn’t mean varying from the best strategy; it means that when you are playing any gambling game, especially one that has a high payoff jackpot like video poker at 4,000 coins, it can be a long time between big hits.
If you look back at the payback table, you’ll see that the amount you receive over hours and hours of play is dictated greatly by the pair and two-pair hands. And while the royal flush is only about 2% of your total return, it will be your savior and catch you up for a lot of losses along the way. That’s what creates a variance, so you will still have times when you seem to be running bad because you can’t make any decent payoffs.
Gambling is a funny animal. I have friends who played video poker for a living when progressive jackpots
were more plentiful, and one year, a single player hit 55 royal flushes, while most of us hit only a couple dozen. Did he have a trick? You could call it good luck, which it was, but it all comes down to variance. Over the next few years of play, I’m sure his results came back closer to the norm. That’s gaming.
The Best Video Poker Advice
My first piece of advice is to always look for the best pay tables. When you play Jacks or Better, you’ll find plenty of machines, from IGT Game King to Bally Game Maker, and other suppliers. But what you’ll find most of the time is a payoff that is lower than 9/6. That wouldn’t keep me from playing, but I’d play more often with the best odds, wouldn’t you? Most of these odds are better than playing a game like roulette or Three Card Poker, so video poker isn’t bad. Just keep in mind that you’ll get a lot more hands at the slots and video poker than at a table game.
In fact, you can play quickly and get as many as 300 hands per hour at video poker. Because of this, the game can be as expensive to play per hour as games like roulette with a slower pace and a higher house edge.
9/5 Jacks or Better
In this game, the payoff for a flush is reduced from 6 to 5. The reduction results in a maximum payout to the player of 98.45%.
8/6 Jacks or Better
At 8/6 Jacks or Better, the payoff for a full house is reduced from 9 to 8. That takes the maximum payout to the player down to 98.39%.
8/5 Jacks or Better
This game reduces both the full house and the flush payoff. You’ll get 8 for a full house and just 5 for a flush. Your maximum payout then becomes 97.30%.
7/5 Jacks or Better
At 7/5 Jacks or Better, a full house pays 7 credits, and a flush pays 5 credits per coin wagered. The maximum payout to the player falls to 96.15%.
6/5 Jacks or Better
The 6/5 Jacks or Better payout is found in many casinos these days. It is even found at many online casinos where I think the payouts should be much higher. The maximum payout to players with this configuration is 95%.
Personally, I try to avoid both the 7/5 and 6/5 Jacks or Better games. I will play these games when they are attached to a progressive jackpot, which increases my percentage payback over the long term. The higher the jackpot, the better the payback. And the more likely I’ll vary my strategy to hit that royal flush. My second piece of advice is always to play the maximum number of coins it takes to hit either the 4,000-coin payoff for a royal flush or the maximum number of coins it takes to hit a progressive jackpot.
Now, you have to take that with a grain of salt. Some machines allow as many as 100 credits per hand. If you are playing a penny machine, perhaps that fits your budget. If you are on a 25-cent machine, that would be $25 per hand. Yikes. Play what you can afford, not what looks best! I only mention the maximum credits because if you are playing a progressive, it might take more than five. It’s your call.
Also, that royal flush payoff is only 2% of the overall payoff a machine makes, but you’ll need it to keep your payback percentage high. If you don’t, you can expect to take that 2% off the overall payback. That’s on you.
Optimal Jacks or Better Strategy
There is a very good, easy strategy you can use in video poker in the beginner’s guide to video poker. However, if you want to get serious and follow the optimal strategy, it is listed below. Regardless of which strategy you follow, keep in mind that even full-pay Jacks or Better video poker machines hold a lot higher percentage than the .5% the optimal strategy offers. Why is that?
The answer lies again in the murky world of variance and what gamblers believe about luck and skill. Well, that and the fact that most players don’t play anywhere near the best they can. Bad play is costly. That’s the bottom line. Play on hunches, and you can expect Jacks or Better video poker to return about 92% to you. Play less than maximum coins, and the house edge comes closer to 10%. It’s fun, but winning is much better!
Here are a few examples where players make mistakes. The first has to do with a low pair below Jacks and a straight draw.
A Low Pair and a Straight Draw
Suppose you are dealt 4-4-5-6-7. Your pair of threes won’t pay a dime if you don’t improve, and you’ve got an open-ended straight draw. What should you do? According to our optimal strategy, a non-paying low pair (twos through tens) has a higher overall return than an open-ended straight. How can that be, you might ask?
The answer lies in the fact that while the straight will pay 4 coins (20 total) when it hits, you’ll only draw the card you need eight times out of the remaining 47 unseen cards. On the other hand, if you dump the 5-6-7 and draw to your pair of fours, you’ll make two pairs quite often. And you’ll be able to make trips, a full house, and the occasional four of a kind. When all those possible hands are averaged out, the correct decision of keeping the small pair will pay you almost 25% more than drawing at the straight.
This example is shown below by comparing #16, the low pair, to #21, the straight draw.
A Low Pair and a Flush Draw
Now suppose you are dealt that same pair of fours with a four-card flush draw. Now, what’s the best strategy? To start with, a flush pays better than a straight, 6 coins to just 4. Plus, you’ll make a flush more often in the 47 tries outlined above. Instead of making your hand eight times, you’ll make it nine times.
With those improved odds and payoffs, you’ll want to keep the flush draw and toss those measly fours. Check the list below, and you’ll see the flush draw is listed higher, at #14, compared to the low pair at #16.
Guaranteed Payoff Versus a Big Draw
Sometimes the payoff is more dramatic than making a straight. Suppose you get a guaranteed winner in the form of a pair of jacks. However, your total hand is the jack of hearts with a ten, jack, queen, and king of spades. Now you’ve got a four-card draw at a royal flush. Should you toss the guaranteed payoff of the pair of jacks or toss the jack of hearts and go for the big payoff?
In this case, you’ll want to draw to the royal flush and the 4,000-coin payoff. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to make a straight flush if you catch a nine of spades, a flush if you catch any other flush, and a straight if you catch a different nine or a non-spade ace. You’ll also get paid if you pair your jack, king, or queen. With all those payoffs, it is always best to toss a high pair when you have a one-card draw at a royal flush.
If you have three cards to a royal flush with a high pair, you should go ahead and draw three to the pair. On the other hand, if you have a low pair and a royal flush draw, toss the little pair and draw to the big bucks. If these examples make sense to you, the optimal strategy shown below will too. You will always draw to the biggest hand possible from the highest listed hand on the list.
||4 of a kind
||4 cards to royal flush
||3 of a kind
||4 to straight flush open ended (queen high)
||4 to straight flush inside draw
||High pair (jacks, queens, kings, or aces)
||3 cards to royal flush
||4 cards to flush
||10 J Q K
||Low pair (two through tens)
||9 10 J Q
||8 9 10 J
||9 J Q suited
||9 10 J suited
||Open-ended straight draw (highest card a ten)
||8 J Q suited
||3 to straight flush – open ended (highest card a ten)
||9 Q K suited, 9 J K suited
||9 10 Q , 8 10 J , 8 9 J suited
||J Q suited
||J Q K A
||J K suited, Q K suited
||J A, Q A, K A suited
||4 to straight inside (three high cards)
||3 to straight flush – two gaps and one high card
||3 to straight flush – one gap and no high card
||10 J suited
||10 Q suited
||JA, QA, KA
||10 K suited
||One high card – jack, queen, king, or ace
||3 to straight flush two gaps and no high card
||Five low cards, no straight or flush draw – redraw all five cards
What the strategy above insists is that you see what you are dealt, find the highest part of it on the list, and play from there. In other words, if all you have is five unsuited, unconnected low cards, you discard them all and draw five new cards. The next-worst starting hand is three cards to a straight flush with two gaps (a double gut shot) and no high cards. That would be something like 2-4-6 of diamonds with an 8 and a 9. It’s not much better than a single high card and no straight or flush draw.
If all you have is two small cards and J-Q-K (#33 on the list), you discard the two small cards. But if you also have a small pair, you discard the J-Q-K since the small pair is a higher start (#16 on the list). This list might sound tough to memorize, but after playing a bit and consulting your list from time to time, it will become second nature, and you’ll do great.
The final note is that although you might not be able to find the perfect 9/6 machine, you can always enhance your return by joining the casino players club. Most large casinos in the US and Canada offer complimentary rooms, food, and beverages for players. In Las Vegas, most casinos comp at 1 point per $1 in action. 1,000 points equals $10. If you are playing 25-cent video poker, your comp total for an hour of play with 300 hands played will be about $3.75. If you find a good 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker machine with the standard 99.5% payback, you’ll get more than 100% payback with your comps. It doesn’t get much better than that!