Video Poker Strategy Guide

Video Poker Strategy Guide
If you love the game of poker or just want to try something different, then video poker might become your new favorite game. Online and land-based casinos offer a wide variety of poker slots that recreate single-player poker with payouts as high as 4000 credits.

Games can be played for as little as a penny a credit, and payoffs for a royal flush are often linked to multiple games for huge jackpots. Linked games along casino bars allow you to play the games, have a drink, watch sports on big-screen TVs, and win big.

And you don’t have to be an expert at poker. Video games are easy to play, somewhat addicting, and surprisingly easy. The best part is that by learning some strategy, you can actually change your financial destiny by saving or discarding cards. That’s better than what slot machines can offer.

If you are a beginner, don’t worry. I’ll go through how the games work, what poker hands are, and the best way to play your cards. It’s easy.

Poker Cards
About Video Poker

Unlike regular slot machines where you need only press a button to see your credits and the reels spin away, you’ll make a poker decision each hand. Don’t worry; the strategy is easy, and we’ll get to that soon.

First, you should know that slot machines and videos have a motherboard and game chips. They are computers that use a random number generator for each hand to simulate real games. For the most part, they work quite well.

If you’ve never heard of an RNG, it chooses a number at random, and that number corresponds to a specific set of cards dealt from a standard deck of 52 cards (53, if you are playing Joker Poker).  It does this by using computational algorithms to produce long sequences of random results using a seed value or key.

And what does that mean to you as the player? It means that in today’s newer machines, the computer will choose a series of five cards that appear on the video screen after you press the “play” button. The machine doesn’t know what the five cards will be; it’s just five random numbers that correspond to playing cards and suits.

You choose to keep all of your cards or discard any number of them and have them replaced by other randomly-chosen cards. The trick to video poker is correctly drawing cards based on each possible outcome and the payout for each possible final hand.

If that’s confusing, let me explain a little bit more. The object of poker is to make the best five-card hand possible. In video poker, the minimum hand for payouts is usually a pair of jacks. In the section below, I’ll cover how those hands work.

Poker Cards
Poker Hands

Video poker is based on five-card draw. It’s not the popular game of Texas Hold’em you might have played. There are no community cards, and you aren’t playing against other players. That means you aren’t playing for a “pot.” You are instead playing to make the best hand. All payoffs are tied to your final hand.

If you don’t make at least a pair of jacks, which will happen about 55% of the time, you lose your wager. This includes hands with no pair, no straight, and no flush. It also includes hands with a single pair of cards (such as 7 of spades and 7 of clubs) that are a lower denomination than jacks.

  • If you do get at least a single pair of jacks, queens, kings, or aces, you’ll get your wager back. You aren’t technically a winner, but you don’t lose your bet.
  • When you make a final hand of two pair such as 2-2-K-7-7, you’ll be paid 2 credits for each credit wagered.
  • The next-best poker hand is three of a kind, such as 8-8-8-3-5. Three of a kind pays 3 credits for each credit wagered.
  • A straight is any five cards in sequence, such as 3-4-5-6-7. In poker, an ace can be used for a high straight, such as A-K-Q-J-T, or a low straight of 5-4-3-2-A. All straights pay the same 4 credits for each credit wagered.
  • The next-best hand is a flush, which is five cards of the same suit, such as 2-5-8-9-Q, all of which are hearts. A flush pays 6 credits for each credit wagered.
  • A full house is three of a kind such as 4-4-4 and a pair – let’s say K-K. Your payoff for a full house is 9 credits for each credit wagered.
  • Four of a kind pays 25 credits for something like J-6-6-6-6.
  • A straight flush is a combination of a straight and a flush. All cards must be sequential and of the same suit, such as 4-5-6-7-8 in spades. A straight flush pays 50 credits for each credit wagered.

The highest hand in poker, a royal flush, is also the highest straight flush. There are only four possible royal flushes, each consisting of the cards A-K-Q-J-T, all in the same suit. A royal flush pays 250 credits for each credit wagered. However, if you play five credits, the payout is 800-1, or 4000 credits for your wager of 5 credits.

Poker Cards
How to Play Video Poker

Playing video poker is almost as easy as playing a slot machine. You put your cash in the bill validator, choose your game type and denomination, and check the reader boards above the video screen to make sure you are on the game you want.

The best Jacks or Better pay table is shown below:

Jacks or Better

Hand 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight flush 50 100 150 200 250
4 of a kind 25 50 75 100 125
Full house 9 18 27 36 45
Flush 6 12 18 24 30
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
3 of a kind 3 6 9 12 15
2 pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or better 1 2 3 4 5

As you can see, the higher your final hand, the more credits you’ll win. But there are things you can do to improve your odds of winning. The first decision is how many credits to wager. Keep in mind that the largest payoff, the one for a royal flush, is 250 credits per credit wagered. However, if you bet five credits, you get 800 per credit wagered and 4000 total for 5 coins.

It’s tough to hit a royal – about 43,000 to 1 against – but if you are playing, don’t you want to get the best payoff? Again, it’s up to you. Play one credit, and your bankroll won’t get hit too hard on bad days. Play five credits, and you’ll see more fluctuation, but you’ll also find that the overall payback will be much better.

So how do you play? It’s easy. Just find a comfortable seat in front of a machine and put your coins in the slot or run a bill into the validator. The screen will show you your total credits for the denomination you have chosen. If it’s a multi-game machine, put your finger on the screen where the Jacks or Better logo is. That will take you to the best game to start playing, and the top of the screen will show your payoffs, similar to the one shown above on this page.

The buttons across the ledge allow you to hold cards. Next to the Cash Out button is one that says Bet One. You can press that button up to five times to reach maximum credits. Or you can press the Max Bet button to the right of the ledge. Be careful with this one since some machines allow wagers up to 100 credits.

To guard against accidentally wagering too many credits, press the Bet One button and see if it goes above 5 credits. If not, you are safe to press Max Bet. And once you have selected a bet size, when you press the Deal button, you will be dealt your first five cards at the same wager each time.

If the machine is multi-denomination, that means you can choose how much each credit is worth – usually 5 cents, 25 cents, or $1, although other denominations are sometimes available. If your machine has multiple games to choose from, you’ll have to press the button on the screen that says More Games to change the denomination.

After you have pressed the bet button to wager, press the Deal button to get your first five cards. They will appear on the screen, and now you get to start making drawing decisions. The pay table above, referred to as a 9/6 table (which stands for 9 coins on a full house and 6 coins on a flush), allows the player to enjoy the game with only about a .5% house edge. That house edge is only if you play the correct strategy. If you make mistakes or play less than five coins/credits per hand, the house edge goes up considerably.

As for your starting hands, if you get five cards all below a jack with only two suited and none that can make a flush, well, you just need to toss them all, because that’s the worst hand to start with. The best to start with is that royal flush we talked about, and if you are dealt a pat royal, the machine will lock out your choices, and you won’t be able to accidentally bust up a winner. That’s cool.

On the other hand, that pat hand only happens about once every 650,000 tries. Enjoy it if it happens. But what about other starting hands? We’ll look at those next.

Poker Cards
Video Poker Strategy

You’ll have to make decisions every hand. Make good ones, and you will win more. Make bad ones, and your video poker experience can get expensive. For a standard game of Jacks or Better, follow the rules below, and you’ll be on your way to success.

I’ll go through each possible starting hand and guide you to the best payoffs, but keep in mind that the “jackpot” on a video poker machine is a royal flush. When possible, you’ll keep cards that can make a royal, or choose the next-best option to get a payoff. When presented with a hand like K-clubs, Q-clubs, T-clubs, Q-spades, and 4-hearts, what would you guess is the best play?

Well, it would be fun to keep the K, Q, and ten of clubs and go for the royal, and that’s how some people play. If you want more royals, go for it; I understand. If you miss and don’t make a royal, you’ll occasionally make a flush, a straight, or a high pair that pays something.

However, if you want the best odds, you should keep the high pair of queens because it’s a guaranteed winner every time. The odds of getting the jack and ten of clubs to make a royal are .00923, or about once in 923 tries. Trust me, that’s, like, forever in video poker land. All decisions for video poker strategy are based on the overall best payoffs according to the mathematical probabilities presented for each starting hand.

That’s a fancy way of saying you should follow the strategy because it pays the most, simple as that. Don’t go with hunches, and don’t vary from your strategy and save an ace while throwing away a small pair because it could make a royal. It could, but it probably won’t in your lifetime of play.

So, here’s another example. You press the Deal button, and the machine gives you a new hand. This time, you get the worst starting hand: one that has only two of a single suit, no straight draw, and all cards are below a jack. Yuck, this is as bad as it gets. As I mentioned before, you need to toss all your cards and draw new ones. You do this by pressing the Draw button without using the Hold option on any cards, or by pressing the screen. Newer video poker machines in land-based locations all have touch screens.

After pressing Draw, you get five new cards. Most of the time, you’ll miss, but if you catch something like a high pair, you’ll get a payoff. Either way, your decisions for that hand are over. So, press Deal, and let’s move on to the next hand. The second-worst starting hand has just one high card. It’s still a dog, but at least you get to keep the single jack, king, queen, or ace and discard the other four cards. Press the Hold button under the card you are keeping, and cross your fingers. You’ll need some luck to survive.

You keep the high cards of jacks or better because that’s where the payoffs start. If you make a high pair or better, the machine will automatically add your payoff to your existing credits and await your next play. And what’s your play each hand? Keep the good cards and trade up to improve.

For instance, if you have no pairs and no four-straight or four-flush, but you get two suited face cards, you can keep them (that would be king, queen, jack, or ace). If you get A-T, discard the ten and save the ace. With these high suited cards, you can make a high pair or better, a straight, or even a flush.

  • Two unsuited high cards with no pair, straight, or flush draw is another hand that shows up often. Keep them, and discard the garbage.
  • Should you get three high cards, keep only the two lowest (J-Q, Q-J, K-Q) and discard the higher card to improve your chances of making a straight.
  • Here are the rest of the cards in ascending order that you will want to keep, assuming no big pair. The way to play them is to run through the list and play the highest possible option (closest to a royal flush).
  • Three suited cards that can make a straight flush. Keep those, and toss the junk.
  • Any four cards to make an outside straight. You’ll get hands like 4-5-6-7 quite often. Drawing a single card to an outside straight will pay off 8 times in every 47, or about once every six tries.
  • You’ll also get a small pair (twos through tens) quite often. Hold them and hope for trips or four of a kind. What you’ll usually get is three random cards. If you catch another pair, you get paid 10 coins. Not too shabby.
  • When you get four cards of the same suit with no pair, toss the offending off-suit and prepare to make a flush. Assuming there is no straight flush draw and you have a pair, keep the pair, and discard the four-straight.
  • Any three cards to make a royal flush is great. Keep them, and discard the rest, unless you have a higher starting hand listed below.
  • A pair of jacks or better is a guaranteed payoff. That’s a great start, so discard the junk.
  • Any two pairs can easily make a full house. Discard the rag, and keep the two pairs.
  • Four cards to make a straight flush is fun and profitable. You can make a straight, a flush, or even the elusive straight flush. Sometimes you won’t make a payable hand. Call for cocktails.
  • Three of a kind pays off well. Toss any other non-pair and draw two cards. You’ll often make a full house or even four of a kind.
  • A five-card straight should always be saved. Hold all cards.
  • A five-card flush should also be saved. Hold all cards.
  • A full house should be saved.
  • Four cards to a royal flush has lots of possible payoffs. You’ll hit a royal once in 47 draws for the big payoff. You’ll also hit a non-royal flush eight times out of 47, and several straights. As a consolation prize, you’ll hit several paying pairs.
  • Four of a kind can’t be improved, so enjoy.
  • A straight flush pays 250 coins/credits. Just hold all your cards.
  • A royal flush dealt pat only happens once in about 630,000 hands, but I’ve been lucky enough to see it happen on my video machine!

Poker Cards
Pay Tables

Although the payoffs listed earlier are for Jacks or Better, variations of video poker like Double Bonus and Deuces Wild have different pay tables. Each casino has the option of offering higher or lower payoffs for straights, flushes, and full houses.

The payoffs are adjusted to produce varying casino win rates. The 9/6 pay table shown above has a terrific payback for players, with 9 credits per coin wagered (45 credits for 5 wagered) for a full house and 6 credits per coin wagered (30 credits for 5 wagered) for flushes.

If you find a Jacks or Better game with a 7/5 payoff table (35 credits for a full house and 25 for a flush), the house edge is closer to 96%. On the other hand, you may find a 10/7 payoff game. To compensate for the higher full house payoff, two-pair pays only 1 to 1. That reduces the overall casino edge to close to 98%. Another example of this is the Double Double Bonus video game.

Double Double Bonus

Hand 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight flush 50 100 150 200 250
4 aces with any A,2,3,4 400 800 1200 1600 2000
4 aces 160 320 480 640 800
4 2,3,4 with any A,2,3,4 160 320 480 640 800
4 2s, 3s,4s 80 160 240 320 400
4 5s through Ks 50 100 150 200 250
Full house 7 14 21 28 35
Flush 5 10 15 20 25
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
3 of a kind 3 6 9 12 15
2 pair 1 2 3 4 5
Jacks or better 1 2 3 4 5

This video poker game is very popular. As you can see, Jacks or better and 2 pair pay the same. The flush and full house payoffs are also reduced to allow for the maximum payoffs when you get four of a kind, especially 4 aces with a small card.

Unfortunately, these changes reduce the overall payoffs to about 95.5%, so the house edge climbs to 4.5%.

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Online Video Poker Versus Land-Based Casinos

Land-based casinos compete with other casinos found nearby, so slot and video poker payoffs are usually similar. If you are playing in Downtown Las Vegas where the casinos are side by side and right across the street from each other, there are lots of game choices, but are the payoffs significantly different?

Not usually. The games at the D aren’t much different than those at the Nugget or across the street at the Fremont casino. However, you may find slightly better payoff tables on the higher-denomination video poker games. Quarter and dollar slots are often better than nickel slots.

In a gambling town like Vegas, you’ll often find better payoffs at some of the outlying casinos which are considered “locals” properties where a lot of effort is made to accommodate players who play regularly all year long.

You’ll also find a good selection of games when playing online. Look for Jacks or Better, American Poker, Double Double Bonus, Joker Poker, and Deuces Wild. You’ll also find the denomination you want. It’s easy to change most online video poker games from a nickel to a dime or quarter or even drop your play to a penny. To do this, just click on the coin slot or denomination and see if it changes to what you are looking for.

That’s one of the good things about online play. A bad thing about playing online is that the payoff percentages are more dependent on the software used than the casino. The software can also give you a very real experience on most providers, but you’ll have to check for yourself to see what you like.

Your internet provider and computer graphics card will also have an impact on your graphics. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the Flash version of most casino sites. That means I can connect and play very quickly without a drive to a local casino.

If you like Triple Play, you won’t find the exact item that IGT offers to live casinos. However, there are several varieties of multi-line games to choose from.

Be careful with both multi-line games and multi-credit games. Although you will win more for a royal flush if you are playing more than five credits per spin, your variance will be much higher. That means your bankroll is likely to take a hit before you catch four aces or a royal flush. You may want to stick to the smallest wager that gets you 4,000 credits for a royal when you start playing.

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A Few Final Notes

You will probably find a wide variety of different video poker games, and each will have a slightly different strategy. So consider reading specific strategies for other video poker games. Some machines like Double Double and Aces and Faces offer larger payoffs for poker hands like four aces or four deuces. They too have different strategies to try and save your bankroll while you wait for a big payoff.

While you are getting your feet wet, stay away from multiple-hand games like Triple Play or multi-play-level games where you bet 18 credits per spin. That takes a larger bankroll, and any mistakes you make will get multiplied by however many hands you are playing!

You should also know that once you become proficient at video poker, you’ll notice that hands are flying by at tremendous speed. You might even play more than 300 hands per hour. That works great when you are getting comp points, but again, it’s tough on your bankroll.

So, take your time, follow the easy strategy listed here, and enjoy yourself. When you are ready to learn other forms of video poker – some that have almost no house edge when played perfectly – check out the links below to other great games.