Since its arrival in the 1970’s and its wide spread over the following decade, video poker has gained great popularity among casino players who did not feel confident enough to sit against others at the poker table. Video poker also appealed to slot fans and casual casino players because it was a fast-paced, automated game, while offering better odds than traditional slot machines. And since then, punters have come up with ways to improve their winning chances – strategies that are strictly based on the particular pay table and variation of video poker.
Some casino players assume that video poker is a game of chance and can be played just like slots, without consideration for any rules or odds. In fact, you can play the game without any knowledge and still collect some winnings, but your success would be nothing more than the result of pure luck. The truth is that video poker, however different it may look, is still poker, which means that it follows basically the same rules and principles. Most of all, it means that playing with the right strategy may reduce the house advantage and increase the player’s chance for winning. For this reason, video poker is preferred by many players who wish to have a certain level of control over the game and its outcome.
The strategy in a video poker game incorporates the betting but most of all, the decision which cards to hold and which cards to replace after the first draw. There are many variations of video poker, so a single strategy would not apply to them all. Still, they all derive from the 5-card draw poker, which is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and typically has two betting intervals. The most basic version of video poker is called Jacks or Better, or simply Draw Poker. In some versions there is an additional card, the Joker, in particular, which serves as a wild card and can replace any other card of the deck. In this case, the strategy for the game would be quite different from the one required for the traditional Jacks or Better, for instance. There are also multi-hand games where you bet on multiple hands simultaneously and the strategy becomes even more important as larger amounts of money are at risk.
In gambling, winning can never be guaranteed. Still, a proper video poker strategy that is employed without mistakes greatly reduces the risk of losing. On the contrary, in certain versions of the game, it ensures returns of over 100%.
Benefits of Using Strategy when Playing Video Poker
Video poker has become a favorite game for many casino players – it eliminates the need to play against a dealer or interact with other players. Compared to blackjack, for instance, it also allows lower stakes, which makes it accessible for many casino enthusiasts. But it comes with many additional advantages over other games. For instance, the only decision players make in roulette or slots is whether to bet and how much to bet. In video poker, the player makes decisions for each hand and these decisions have an effect on the outcome of the game. This is certainly interesting and challenging for many players, while the game is considered far more superior to slots where you simply wait for symbols to appear on the reels.
But using a strategy has other benefits, as well. As we already mentioned, the right strategy reduces the risk of losing and increases the player’s advantage, or the expected return of the game. The expected return (Return to Player, RTP) is expressed as a percentage and refers to the amount of money the game will pay back to players as winnings. Most video poker games online pay back between 97% and 99.5% on average, which is more generous than slots where the expected return is rarely made public, but tends to be around 90%-95%. Of course, this percentage refers to the long-term return of each game and players should not expect to get back exactly $98 if they placed bets worth $100 on a game with RTP of 98%. But a video game version with 99.5% return is certainly better than a game with an average return of only 96%.
Additional Benefits of Using Strategy when Playing Video PokerMany online casinos post the payback percentages of the video poker games they offer. But in order to achieve such return, players need to follow the optimal strategy for the game. Usually, making minor mistakes results in 0.5%-2% deviation from the posted percentages. While this may seem insignificant, it may lead to larger losses in the long term. Following a good strategy without mistakes, on the other hand, guarantees that in the long run, the player will achieve the posted return percentage. Knowing the strategy for a particular video poker variation means basic understanding the odds of getting any particular card or hand. For instance, the odds of being dealt a Ten of hearts or any other particular card in Jacks or Better is exactly 52 to 1, while getting any particular suit is 4 to 1.
Calculating the probabilities and the odds of getting each hand together with the payouts allows you to know the exact payback percentage. But probabilities and luck may be very different than what many people imagine. For example, you can get a Royal Flush once in 40,000 to 45,000 plays in most video poker variations. However, you may play 60,000 games and still see no sign of a Royal Flush. But if you are “lucky”, you may hit 5 Royal Flushes in 40,000 games. For many players, understanding the odds is actually one of the most entertaining aspects of playing video poker. The mathematics is actually much simpler than it looks.
The best thing about using a strategy is that in some video poker games, the player can actually gain an edge over the casino. In full-pay Deuces Wild, for instance, you can get an edge of 0.76%, which means that even if you lose several games, over a longer period of time, you will eventually beat the casino. However, you can do that only if you make the mathematically correct decisions. For this, you will need the right strategy.
An easily noticeable similarity between slots and video poker games is that they both have pay tables where all winning combinations are ranked together with their corresponding payouts. While all combinations of symbols in slots are completely random, the hands you can get in video poker have determined odds, which can be easily calculated. Each hand in a video poker game is paid out based on how strong it is. In most cases card combinations are ranked just like in table poker but there are some exceptions where lower ranking hands pay more than higher hands.
The pay table of a video poker game contains all this information and players can immediately see how much they can win for a Full House or a Royal Flush. Each payout is based not just on the ranking of the hand but also on the number of coins wagered. Typically, players can bet from 1 to 5 coins each round and the size of their bet determines the amount of money they can win for each hand.
Hands Payouts Additional TipsOne interesting feature shared by most video poker variations is the payout for Royal Flush which is 250 to 1 for bets between 1 and 4 coins. The Royal Flush is the strongest hand and consists of a same-suited Ace, a King, a Queen, a Jack, and a Ten. For a 5-coin bet, the payout for this hand jumps to 800 times the size of your bet. For this reason, most players always bet 5 coins when playing video poker, while choosing a lower denomination if they are on a budget.
The second strongest hand in the pay table of most video poker games is Straight Flush which is a combination of 5 consecutive same-suited cards. It pays out 50 times the size of the bet and is followed by Four of a Kind, four cards of the same value, paying off 25 to 1. Next in the pay table is Full House – Three of a Kind and a Pair, which pays 9 to 1 in full-pay games. This hand is followed by Flush, a combination of five suited hands in no particular order, where the payout is 6 to 1. There are many variations where the Full House and the Flush pay off less, for instance 8 to 1 and 5 to 1, respectively. Players should look for games where they will get the highest payouts for these combinations. Often, such games are referred to as full-pay or 9/6 games and they are less common in both land-based and online casinos.
The next best hand in video poker is Straight, 5 consecutive cards of any suit. It pays out 4 to 1, which means that for a $2 bet, you will win $8. It is followed by Three of a Kind, or three cards of the same value, which pays off 3 times the size of the bet. The next combination in the pay table is Two Pair, or two pairs – e.g. two 3s and two 8s. It pays off 2 to 1. And the lowest ranking hand is Jacks or Better which is a Pair of Jacks or higher cards and comes with an even payout. This means that the payout matches the size of the bet. In some video poker variations, the lowest hand is actually a Pair of Tens and the payout there is also even.
The payouts for each hand are slightly different in each video poker variation, but they are extremely important because they directly influence the expected return of the game. For example, a 9/6 Jacks or Better game would have a 99.54% return if it is played with a perfect strategy. And usually, any change in the pay table would require a modification in the strategy – you will need to play your hands differently in the full-pay Deuces Wild and in the “Not-So-Ugly” variation of the game, which is, in fact, more often found across casinos.
There are several basic principles in video poker strategy that every player should try to follow. The first one is to never break up winning combinations such as Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, Full House, and Two Pair. It is important to discard the two cards that do not form a winning combination when you hold a Three of a Kind. But not all winning hands should be kept at all times – for example, you can break up a Straight or a Flush, if you hold four cards to a Royal Flush.
Also, in case you have one high card and a Jacks or Better hand or even a low pair such as two Fives, you should discard the high card and keep the pair. This is one of the most common mistakes novices do when playing video poker and one of the easiest principles to remember.
Jacks or Better Strategy
In the chart below, you can see the optimal strategy for the standard Jacks or Better game, explained in a simple, easy to understand manner. The first column shows the cards in the initially dealt hand and the second one explains what actions should be taken. The third column includes all the exceptions to each situation. Once you understand and learn these basic principles, you can move to more complex games with different rules and payouts.
|Royal Flush||The player should keep all cards and avoid the Double Down option if it is available|
|Straight Flush||The best strategy is to keep the winning hand instead of going for a Royal Flush|
|Four of a Kind||Once again, the player should keep the cards|
|Full House||The player should keep the Full House instead of trying to get Four of a Kind|
|Flush||The the player should keep the hand.||If the cards can form a Royal Flush, the player may discard one and go for the higher hand|
|Straight||The player should go for the higher hands if possible and discard one card|
|Three of a Kind||The player should keep the three cards and will have a chance to get Four of a Kind or Full House|
|Two Pair||The player should always keep the Two Pair and hope for a Full House|
|High Pair (Jacks or Better)||The player should keep the high pair and replace all other cards, but there are some exceptions||1. If the player holds four to a Royal Flush, they should break up the Jacks or Better and go for the higher hand 2. Four cards to a Straight Flush are also stronger than a high pair – discard one card and go for the stronger combination|
|Four to a Flush||In most cases, the player should discard the unsuited card and hope to get a Flush||If three of the cards can form a Royal Flush, the player should replace the two cards that are not part of this hand|
|Low Pair||The low pair should be held in most cases, so that a Three of Kind, a Full House, or Four of a Kind can be formed||If the player holds three cards to a Royal Flush and a low pair, the pair should be discarded in favor of the higher cards|
|Open-Ended Straight||When the player has four cards to Outside/ Open-Ended Straight, the cards should be kept with one exception||If three cards can form a Royal Flush, the player should abstain from keeping the four to Straight|
|Inside Straight||There is no point in keeping cards to an Inside Straight, with one exception.||If the player holds three or four high cards to a Straight, they should keep them.|
|High Cards||Unsuited high cards should not be kept. If the player has three consecutive cards to Royal Flush, he or she should discard all other cards.||If the hand consists of two to Royal Flush, they should be kept unless Ten and Ace, Ten and King and Ten and Queen and Ten.|
|No Pairs/ No High Cards||If the hand has three cards to a Straight Flush, they should be kept. If there are three cards to a Straight or a Flush, they should be discarded.|
Deuces Wild Strategy
Deuces Wild is a popular video poker variation where all the Twos or Deuces are wild cards, which means they can substitute for any other card from the deck. Forming winning hands here is much easier and for this reason, the lowest paying hand is Three of a Kind, which pays out evenly. There are three newly added hands – Four Deuces with a 200:1 payout, Royal Flush with Deuces, where the payout is 20:1 or 25:1, and Five of a Kind, which pays out either 15 to 1 or 12 to 1. The payouts for all other hands, except for the Royal Flush, are lower than in Jacks or Better. Still, the full-pay version of Deuces Wild has an RTP of 100.76%, while the lower-pay variation, or Not-So-Ugly Deuces Wild returns 99.73%. Understandably, the strategy for playing Deuces Wild is different than Jacks or Better.
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What is the difference between the simple Jacks or Better strategy and the optimal strategy for the game?
Usually, it is best to use the optimal Jacks or Better strategy when you want to achieve the highest possible RTP and you are expecting fruitful results most of the time. That being said, it is possible that players may use a simple strategy for this video poker game, which will slightly affect the RTP of a full-pay Jacks or Better. If you have come across a 9/6 Jacks or Better and you use an optimal strategy, the expected return will be 99.54%. Meanwhile, if you switch to a simple strategy for the same video poker variation, the expected return will be slightly reduced to 99.52%. While the difference does not seem so big, it is recommended to always maximize your potential return by using an optimal strategy.
Can I use the same strategy on different video poker variations?
It is essential to know that different video poker variations require the use of different strategies to achieve the optimal average return of the specific video poker game. You can take for example Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild, which are two very different variations of video poker. Drawing to an inside straight when playing Jacks or Better is considered a wrong move according to the optimal strategy for Jacks or Better. However, the optimal move when playing Deuces Wild is exactly drawing to an inside straight. That is why it is important to use the correct strategy for each type of video poker. Additionally, it is best to use the right strategic play on a full-pay version or at least a variant that offers a paytable that comes as close as possible to the full-pay version.