The first video poker machines were introduced to casinos in the seventies and were an instantly popular game. Since then with the rise of online gambling sites, their popularity has increased even more and now anyone on the planet with an internet connection can have fun and the chance of winning real money on a video poker machine.
For those who are brand new to the game and haven’t experienced, it’s allure you may ask why is it so popular?
It’s a good question! Firstly it offers some of the best odds in the casino but also it offers enough strategy to make the game challenging but not too complex or confusing.
Video poker is often compared to slots and though it bears some resemblance to that game, slot games are totally down to luck but video poker players can influence the outcome of the game.
Video poker begins with a certain amount of randomness, the initial 5 cards that are dealt are done so randomly and the player has no input at this point. But with those 5 cards the player now has control with what to do with them and if using optimal strategy to decide which ones to keep or return can narrow the odds in their favour.
In this article, we are going to share with you all the video poker strategies and tips you need to know to become a maestro at the game.
Before we even discuss strategies you need to know the basic rules. If you are up to scratch with how to play then you can jump to the next section but for those who want a recap.
Video poker is simple to play and there are a number of different variants but they are all based on five-card draw poker. Using a 52 card deck, you will place a 1 to 5 coin wager and press the deal button. You will be dealt with five random cards. You are now given a choice of which cards to hold or discard. Once you have decided on the cards you are keeping you will press the draw button and the cards that you discarded are replaced by new random cards.
If your poker hand qualifies you will win. How much you win will depend on the paytable of the video machine you are playing at and on your poker hand. If you don’t check the paytable or play with any strategy when the first five cards are dealt knowing which ones to keep and discard you might as well just play slots. Randomly guessing the outcome will end up in large losses over a number of hands.
Video Poker Winning Hands
From high to low these are the hands that will pay out winnings in the standard Jacks or Better game.
Royal Flush – 5 cards consisting of 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace, all from the same suit.
Straight Flush – A straight run of 5 cards for the same suit. Example: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 of Clubs.
Four of a Kind – 4 cards of the same value. for instance four Queens.
Full House – Basically a three of a kind and a pair making up 5 cards.
Flush – Any 5 cards from the same suit in any order. Example: 2, 7, 4, 4, Jack of Diamonds
Straight – 5 cards from mixed suits in a consecutive run. Example: 6 Clubs, 7 Clubs, 8 Diamonds, 9 Spades, 10 Hearts.
Three of a Kind – 3 cards of the same value. Example: 4 Hearts, 4 Spades and 4 of Diamonds.
Two Pair – Any two pairs. Example: 4 Hearts, 4 Diamonds and 6 Hearts, 6 Clubs.
Jacks or Better – The lowest qualifying win, you need at least two Jacks. The better refers to the higher face cards so two Queens, two Kings or two Aces.
What Not to Do When Playing Video Poker
Let’s start off by discussing what you shouldn’t do when playing video poker! These tips though obvious might limit your losses at the casino next time you play video poker.
Don’t play video poker if you are unsure of how the game is played and make sure you learn some basic strategy. You can play video poker free games at most online casinos to hone your skill and print off strategy charts to use when playing. The house edge is always going to be in the casino’s favour but if you put in a little work in mastering the game you will come away from the video poker machine a winner more often.
Don’t forget to check out the paytable before you start playing a video poker game.
If you are tired or have drunk too much alcohol your judgement is going to be poor so you are best to avoid any casino games if you find yourself in this situation. You’ll need to have your wits about you to win video poker games.
Don’t ignore bankroll management, video poker is a rollercoaster of a game and you’ll need to manage the volatility by managing your winnings and losses. Set yourself a limit on how long you are going to play for and how much you can safely afford to you.
Everyone wants to hit a Royal Flush but the odds are slim so instead of obsessing over that slim chance of winning it enjoy the smaller payouts more often.
Beginners Should Start With Jacks or Better
The best video poker game to play for beginners is Jacks or Better and as it is available at any online and land-based casino you will want to play the full pay game. Full pay or 9/6 Jacks or better as it is commonly known as pays nine times the wager for a full house and six times for a flush.
9/6 Jacks or Better Pay Table
Jacks or better is a much simpler game to play than other video poker games and is much less volatile. Having just the 9 outcomes as you will see on the paytable example above means that there are fewer strategy decisions needed to make for each hand played.
Look For A Deuces Wild Full-Pay Game
This is a video poker variant where the deuce which is any two can stand in for any other card. The lowest qualifying hand for Deuces Wild is a three of a kind. If you can find a machine that pays 5 coins for a four of a kind and 9 coins for hitting a straight flush then you will have an 0.76% advantage. The hardest part will be finding a machine that has this pay table.
Study the Pay Tables
Something that new video poker players might not realize is how different pay tables can affect the house edge. So one important thing to do before you start playing is to inspect the pay table. For instance, as we mentioned earlier if you find a Jacks or Better video poker game with a 9/6 paytable the payback percentage is 99.54%. But if you were playing Jacks or Better with a 9 /5 pay table the payback percentage would drop to 98.45%. With 9/5 Jacks or Better you get 9 coins paid out for a full house and 5 coins for a flush. While this might not seem a big deal that 1.09% drop will likely impact your winnings.
Betting Maximum Coins
When you play video poker you can wager between one and five coins for each hand. If you want to maximize your winnings when playing video poker then you should bet the maximum 5 coins per hand. The reason for this is that if you bet five coins the payout for a Royal Flush leaps excessively.
This is the returns you will receive depending on the coins you bet;
If you wager 1 coin and hit a Royal Flush the payout is 250 coins.
If you wager 2 coins and hit a Royal Flush the payout is 500 coins
If you wager 3 coins and hit a Royal Flush the payout is 750 coins
If you wager 4 coins and hit a Royal Flush the payout is 1,000 coins
Now, wait for it…..
If you wager 5 coins on a Royal Flush the payout increases to 4,000 coins!
For this reason, you’ll understand why you’ll keep hearing the same story from any video poker book, expert or article you read, they will recommend that you bet the maximum 5 coins for the best possible return.
Obviously we would all prefer that 4,000 coin payout and while we would pass up a Royal Flush win that paid back 250 we would be kicking ourselves that we hadn’t played max coins.
But we also understand that not all players can afford to wager max coins every game and if you are a video poker player on a budget it probably isn’t going to be all that big of a deal.
The chances of you scoring a Royal Flush averages out at around once in 40,000 hands, this is the average and you could be lucky and achieve it more often or even go for much longer without seeing it. As the other qualifying hands payout at a proportional rate when going from 1 to 5 coins you can still win plenty of wagers betting less than 5 coins. With around 97% of video poker payouts being payback on other qualifying hands there is plenty of cash being shared around.
For video poker players that can afford the five-coin max bet, we would suggest you stick with that amount. For those on a budget then betting 4 coins or less is still perfectly viable but you’ll have to realize that a Royal Flush win won’t pay optimal returns.
Play Video Poker Slow and Steady
As you aren’t playing against other players you can take as long as you like playing a hand on a video poker machine either online or at a land-based casino. No one is going to berate you for playing slow, you can spend as long as you like deciding on what cards to hold or discard. You can leave the video poker machine at any time and come back and play later. The idea is to play fewer hands per hour and your bankroll will last longer. By slowing your game you also won’t make rushed mistakes where you don’t play with optimal strategy.
Claim your Video Poker Bonuses
With all the online casinos vying for your business it’s very easy to find the best sites offering great welcome offers that match your deposit and offer free spins. Some even offer no deposit bonuses where you can win real money without staking any of your own before deciding if you want to stick with that casino. Just be aware there’s no such thing as free cash so you can expect wagering requirements in place that require you to bet a percentage of your own money before you can withdraw your no deposit bonus winnings. Even if you have already signed up to an online casino there will be regular promotions and loyalty bonuses available to make the most of.
If you frequent land-based casinos you can sign up to the slots club when at the casino or through their website. By doing this you will receive a certain percentage back in comps from all your betting. You’ll find talk about the good and bad comps out there on online forums.
Video Poker Strategy
So far we have introduced some great actionable tips for you to incorporate into your video poker games in the future. You know to look at pay tables, play maximum coins if you want to get the best winnings from a Royal Flush. We’ve discussed the things not to do that could impact your game negatively and why Jacks or Better is the best game, to begin with.
Now we are going to look at optimal strategy and the different ways you can improve your game with strategy charts, video poker trainers and lots of hard work. Video poker strategy is based on practical mathematical theory so if you want to win more often and are serious about your game then you need to study it.
So let’s start off looking at some random video poker hands from the initial five cards that have been dealt
With this hand you can see three Club cards have been dealt, two more Clubs would make a full house. With the Jack and Ace of Clubs we have two cards out of a possible five for the elusive Royal Club, chances are slim but would you go for it? It makes sense to hold the Ace and Jack aiming for at least a Jacks or Better but would you attempt to also go for the Royal Flush or Full House?
Here is an interesting hand: we have four Diamonds in play needing just one more for the flush, so do we hold them all and hope for a fifth? We also have a pair of two’s should we hold them and hope for a two pair on the draw? Of course, we also have the two high cards the King and Queen, holding on to them could give us a chance of Jacks or Better when we draw.
What would you do with this hand? It’s a bit of a dud hand, there is no high card that will make Jacks or better and the closest we have to a qualifying hand is three cards for a straight. Would you discard and hope for a better 5 cards?
Lastly, this makes an interesting 5 card deal. What would you do go for the low Ace, 3, 4, 5 and pray for a 2 to make a straight or would you go for the more likely option of a Jacks or Better and hold the Queen and Ace?
So you can see from these four random hands that while with some hands it is obvious what to play many times it is not so straightforward. the majority of video poker players will base their play on instinct or a gut feeling. Those players who are basing their gameplay on intuition over hundreds of games per hour rather than probability are likely to be losing out considerably.
Video poker games are designed to make a profit for the casino, there is no getting away from that. If they didn’t make money they wouldn’t be around. The casinos base their payables on mathematical probability so the only way you stand a chance of winning, in the long run, is to use the same math to beat them. Playing on intuition might work for a while, there is certainly some luck in the game but eventually, the casinos will gain the upper hand. By using proven mathematical strategies you can optimise your video poker game for the best results.
With most video poker hands the cards you are dealt will make it obvious what you should hold or discard. For instance, if you were dealt Queen of Clubs, Queen of Hearts, 4 Hearts, 6 Spades and 9 of Diamonds it is obvious you would just hold the two Queens with an outcome of at least a Jacks or Better. But there are times when the hand isn’t so obvious and more strategy will come into play.
Some Basic Strategies for Beginners
If you are a recreational player and just want some basic strategies to learn to put the odds a little more in your favour then these next options should help.
If your hand consists of 4 cards that could make a straight or flush, then hold them, discard the kicker and draw another card.
When you hold 3 cards to a Royal Flush, hold all 3 and draw 2 new cards.
If you hold 3 cards to a straight flush, you’ll hold them and draw another 2 cards.
If you have no matching cards in your hand then hold any Jack or better [ Jack, Queen, King or Ace]
If you have a dud hand where there are no face cards to hold then discard all 5 and try again.
Strategies for Low and High Pairs
Low pairs are numbers 2 to 10 while a high pair will consist of Jacks to Aces. So an example of a low pair is 3 of Diamonds and 3 of Hearts and a high pair King of Spades and King of Diamonds.
When to hold low pairs
As low pairs aren’t qualifying hands in Jacks or Better we need to be strategic on when to hold them.
When you have been dealt four to a straight and your hand contains a pair then hold that pair and draw three new cards. Example: 5, 5, 6, 7, 8 you would discard 6, 7, and 8.
In the case that you have been dealt three cards to a straight flush and your hand includes a low pair then hold it and discard the rest.
If you are dealt 2 cards to a royal flush, it’s not worth pursuing so hold the low pair.
Discarding low pairs
Now 3 to a royal flush is a better proposition, in this case, you would discard the pair and hold the rest. Example: 7,7, Jack, Queen, Ace those sevens should be let go of.
When your hand is four to a flush it is suggested to break the pair. Example: 5 of Clubs and 5 of Spades and the other 3 cards are Clubs then discard the Space card.
Times to hold high pairs
When you hold 4 to a flush, you still want to hold the high pair [Jacks or Better] and discard the remaining three.
The same goes for 4 to a straight keep the Jacks or Better discard the rest.
Three to a royal flush or straight flush but holding a high pair, keep your sensible hat on and take the Jacks or Better.
The only time when you would not hold the high pair would be if you held four to a royal flush.
These strategies are solid basic strategies for the new player but let’s dive deeper into some more options to improve your video poker game.
Video Poker Strategy Charts
Before we look at strategy charts it should also be understood that we are all individuals and we might favour different strategies when it comes to video poker. Some players might be less risk-averse and prefer to go after the higher payouts, if they had the chance of going for a Royal Flush or holding a high pair they might risk the low-profit bet for the outside chance of winning a large amount. Other players might prefer just to win as many hands as they can, taking the winnings on Jacks or Better rather than taking a chance at winning a higher payout.
If you play video poker often then you will know that the higher paying hands are far and few between and in most sessions, you’ll get a few high pairs and from time to time two pairs and even three of a kind. Usually, all these small wins give you the opportunity to play a few more hands and hopefully win one of the higher payouts.
Taking this into account the optimal video poker strategy is designed with the intention of aiding the player to stand the best chance possible to win after the primary hand has been dealt. This will allow the player to play the most hands in one session and give them a greater chance of scoring that high payout.
Did you know that in a 52 card deck there are over 2.5 million possible 5 card hand combinations?
Luckily for us, some clever people have done all the calculations and converted them into useful strategy charts.
Strategy charts rank video poker hands by how important they are to help you decide what cards to keep when you are playing a tough hand. Each game will have its own strategy card but they are arranged the same. The qualifying hand that gives the highest average return will be at the top of the chart. This is usually Royal Flush and as you descend down the chart it will list the lower-paying and partial hands in order of diminishing return ending with 5 cards to discard.
Understanding what an outside and inside straight is
Before you move on to the actual strategy chart and how to read it you should understand the difference between an outside straight and an inside straight. An open straight flush is basically open-ended and runs sequentially with no gaps.
An example of an open straight would be 6, 7, 6 9, it is open-ended as it runs in sequence and has no gaps. A straight could be achieved with a 5 or a 10 or a 4, 5 or a 10 and a Jack.
An inside straight doesn’t run sequentially with a missing gap ‘inside’ the run of numbers.
For the inside straight you might have 3, 4, 5, 7 so the missing 6 would be required to achieve a straight. Another example would be Ace, 2, 3, 4 it runs in sequence but can only be made a straight flush with a 5.
So without further ado let’s take a look at the strategy card, remember that different games require different cards. As the most popular video poker game is 9/6 Jacks or Better this is the one we will use.
9/6 Jacks or Better Optimal Strategy Card
- Dealt a Royal Flush
- Dealt a Straight Flush
- Dealt a Four of a Kind
- Four to a Royal Flush
- Dealt a Full House
- Dealt a Flush
- Three of a Kind
- Dealt a Straight
- Four to a Straight Flush
- Two Pair
- High Pair
- Three to a Royal Flush
- Four to a Flush
- Ten, Jack, Queen, King Unsuited
- Low Pair [ Pair of 2-10s]
- Four to an Outside Straight
- Three to a Straight Flush
- Suited Queen and Jack
- Four to an Inside Straight [with four high cards]
- King and Queen or King and Jack [Suited]
- Ace and King, Ace and Queen or Ace and Jack [Suited]
- Four to an Inside Straight [with three high cards]
- Three to a Straight Flush
- Jack, Queen, King [Unsuited]
- Jack and Queen [Unsuited]
- Ten and Jack [Suited]
- Two High Cards Unsuited King is the Highest.
- Ten and Queen [Suited]
- Two High Cards Unsuited Ace is the Highest
- Only a Jack
- Ten, King [Suited]
- Queen Only
- King Only
- Ace Only
- Three to a Straight Flush [ Inside Straight 2 Gaps, No Hi Cards]
- Dud Hand Discard Them All
The strategy chart is simple to use, you begin at the top line ‘1. Dealt a Royal Flush’ and check to see if that is the hand you have been dealt and then work your way down the list and compare your hand to see if it matches any on the list. If you get to ’36. ‘Dud Hand Discard Them All’ that is what you should do.
So for an example, if we were dealt this video poker hand;
We would scroll down the list until our hand matches one of the optimal strategies to play as we have a Jack and King of Spades we play ‘King and Queen or King and Jack [Suited]’ which is 20th on the list.
So as you can see video poker strategy charts aren’t that difficult to use and as you are in control of the speed you play on the machine you can take your time and decide on the best strategy before pushing the draw button.
In the next section, we are going to look at how to practice your skills without having to consult a strategy chart each hand. While you will have to put in the hours to do this it means not having to check the chart each hand.
Video Poker Practice
So now you understand all about video poker strategy and how to read the charts you are probably excited to put them to use. You now have your strategy chart to consult each time you play a hand. When you play your first hand with the chart it will be exciting to find the optimal cards to hold and know that you are playing the best you can. By the time you have stopped to consult the chart a dozen times, you’ll be noticing how slow the gameplay has become and that also that the game has become a bit dull.
This is why you need to practice and practice some more! Once you have the strategy in your head the game will not only flow and be fun you’ll have your best chance of winning. Of course, you can still keep your strategy chart on hand for those difficult hands where the decision on what to hold is unclear.
Memorise The Video Poker Chart - Step by Step
Memorizing the video poker chart isn’t as difficult as it might seem.
If we take it there are 37 options on the chart to memorise. If you look at the first eight options, seven of them you will have been dealt obvious qualifying hands and you really wouldn’t need to check the chart, the only anomaly is ‘Four to a Royal Flush’ so that needs to be memorised. So it shouldn’t take long to get them learned which leaves you with just 29 to study. if you split them up into sections where you memorise 7 or 8 at a time it shouldn’t take long to master. It’s not like learning a new language, it’s just 37 lines!
Video Poker Trainers
Playing free video poker games at an online casino is one option to practice your skills, you can work at memorising the chart and test yourself using free games without risking any real money.
An even better way of advancing your video poker skills is to use a video poker trainer. They play just like your usual video poker game however they also tell you when you have made the right or wrong decision with your strategy.
If you make a habit of playing the trainers regularly and you see the correct and incorrect decisions you are making each hand you will eventually start playing optimal video poker strategy naturally.
There are free and paid options at your disposal. The free versions usually have the most popular games and pay tables available to practice with. But if you want a more customisable option with more payable and game options you might need to opt for the paid version. There are downloadable Apps, versions for Mac and PC and online trainers available to use.
Using Physical Playing Cards
Using a standard shuffled deck of 52 playing cards is a good option. As this way of learning is more tactile it tends to stay in the head better than when using virtual trainers and is a little less dull than just memorizing the charts. But the best option is to practice by using all three styles of learning. All you need to do is deal 5 cards face up and decide which ones you would hold or not and then consult your video poker strategy guide to see if you were correct. Rinse and repeat!
If you have read to the end then congratulations you now know a ton about video poker strategy! All you need to do now is to put it into practice. If you want to get good at something you need a strategy to follow and then to put in the hours to practice it this applies to sports, hobbies and video poker. You now have the knowledge and if you apply it you will be winning at video poker more than you have ever done before.