The game of video poker is, besides blackjack, the casino game with the best odds for the player. Some variations of the game even give the player a slight edge over the house. But if you're not familiar with the game, you might have some misconceptions.
The purpose of this post is to clear up some of those misconceptions and give you an idea of what a great game video poker is. It's my favorite casino game-I like it even better than blackjack. For the right kind of gambler, it's probably the best gambling activity there is.
Here are 15 facts about video poker you might not have already known.
From a purely physical standpoint, video poker games look a LOT like slot machines. But the resemblance is mostly on the surface.
On a slot machine game, you have symbols. When you get certain combinations of those symbols, you win money.
Video poker also has symbols, and the combinations of those symbols also result in winnings.
But there's a huge difference.
The symbols on most slot machines consist of fruit or other random nonsense. The symbols on a video poker machine consist of playing cards.
On a slot machine, you have no way to know what the probability of a particular symbol is. So even though you know which combinations trigger the jackpots, you have no way of knowing what the payback percentage for the game is.
But with a video poker game, you know exactly what the probability of getting any particular card is-it's 1 in 52.
That's because the math and the probability behind video poker mirrors the math and probability of a deck of cards.
When you play a video poker game, you'll see a list of hands in descending order on the pay table. This chart shows you how much a given hand pays off. For example, on most games, a royal flush pays off at 800 to 1.
But some hands that would be better in traditional poker aren't as strong in video poker.
Here's an example:
In some of the variations of Jacks or Better called "Bonus Poker", players get bonuses based on their 4 of a kind.
In traditional poker, the higher the rank of the cards that make up the 4 of a kind, the stronger the hand is.
But this isn't necessarily true in video poker. In some games, a 4 of a kind made up of 2s, 3s, or 4s has a higher payoff than a 4 of a kind made up of 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s, or 10s.
This is only one example of the differences between video poker hands and traditional poker hands. Another difference is that your kicker doesn't matter at all in video poker. A pair of jacks with a 5 kicker is just as good as a pair of jacks with an ace kicker-the payoff is the same.
You need 2 pieces of information in order to calculate the payback percentage for a gambling machine. You need to know the payoff for a given combination. And you need to know the probability of winding up with that combination.
Here's how that works:
On a 9/6 Jacks or Better game, the payoff for a pair of jacks or higher is 1 to 1. The probability of getting that hand is about 21.5%. You multiply 1 by 21.5%, and you get 21.5%.
The payoff for 2 pairs is 2 to 1. The probability of getting that hand is about 12.9%. You multiply 2 by 12.9%, and you get 25.8%.
You can continue with these calculations for every hand in the game.
When you finish, you add all those expected values up. The result is the expected payback percentage for the game.
In the case of 9/6 Jacks or Better, the payback percentage is 99.54%.
When you play a slot machine, you have no decisions of any consequence to make. You choose a denomination, place your bets, and hope for the best.
But in video poker games, you're dealt a hand. Then you decide which cards you're going to keep and which cards you're going to throw away.
In every given video poker situation, there is one correct way to play. That correct decision is the one that offers the highest expected value.
Here's an easy to understand example:
You're dealt a royal flush. The payoff for that hand is 800 to 1.
But you're not that bright, and you decide to discard all the cards except for the ace or the king.
Do you see why that play might be incorrect?
Most decisions in video poker are subtler than that, of course. But that doesn't mean your decisions matter less.
The correct strategy decisions vary based on which version you're playing and what the pay table looks like. For the most part, finding a strategy chart for a given video poker variation is as simple as doing a quick Google search.
Most gambling games in a casino offer the house an unassailable edge. This is true of most video poker games, too, but there are some exceptions. For the most part, your edge against the casino in a video poker game is going to be small, but I'd rather have a small edge over the house than play a game where the house has an edge over me.
The 2 most prominent examples of video poker games where you can get an edge are Deuces Wild and Bonus Bonus Poker. In both cases, your edge over the house is less than 0.3%. And that's only if you play with perfect strategy on every hand.
The trick is finding the versions of these games which have the appropriate pay tables. Not all Deuces Wild or Bonus Bonus Poker games are created equal. The ones with the right pay tables are usually harder to find.
Of course, you can also get a slight edge on a game where the house has an edge if you take full advantage of the players' club at the casino. Take 9/6 Jacks or Better, for example. The game has a house edge of 0.46%.
Most players' clubs pay back 0.3% or 0.4% in rebates. That's still not enough to get you an edge over the house, but you're close to breaking even.
But if you factor in free cocktails on top of the other rebates, you might be coming out a little bit ahead. And if you only play when the casino is offering double rewards, you really are playing with an edge.
If you know a lot about video poker already, this nugget won't be much of a surprise. But if you're new to the game, understanding Jacks or Better is the beginning of video poker wisdom.
Here's how Jacks or Better works:
You insert your money then press "bet max". (You always bet 5 coins-I'll explain why in my next bullet point). The machine deals you 5 virtual cards. You can keep as many or as few of these cards as you want. Then the machine deals you replacement cards.
You get paid off based on the value of your final hand, which is set by the pay table for the machine.
In Jacks or Better, the lowest paying hand is a pair of jacks or higher. (That's how it got the name.)
One interesting thing about the game is that the payoffs for the various hands are the same from game to game, with exceptions for 2 hands:
The payoffs are like this, from smallest to largest:
I should point out a couple of things here:
All other video poker games can be considered variations of this game, which is based loosely on 5 card draw.
I mentioned this briefly in my previous bullet point, but you should always play max coin. The reason for this is simple-you get a higher payoff for a royal flush if you do.
Most games offer a 250 to 1 payoff for a royal flush, unless you're playing for 5 coins per hand. In that case, the game offers an 800 to 1 payoff. This is more or less consistent from one video poker game to another, regardless of the variation.
The royal flush is considered the jackpot on every variation I've ever seen. It only shows up once in 40,000 hands or so, but the difference between an 800 to 1 payoff and a 250 to 1 payoff has a tremendous effect (at least 1%) on the game's overall payback percentage.
1% might not seem like that big a difference, but let's assume you're playing for $5 per hand. An average player sees 600 hands per hour, so that's $3000 per hour in action. That 1% will cost you, on average, $30 per hour. I know a lot of people who don't make that much money at work.
Deuces Wild is played just like Jacks or Better. You get 5 cards, you can keep between 0 and 5 of them, and the game deals you replacement cards for the ones you discarded.
But in this game, all the 2s count as wild cards, which has a significant effect on the strength of your final hand. Since a wild card serves as a replacement for other cards you might need to create a strong final hand, the frequency with which you see those higher strength hand increases dramatically.
In fact, you don't see payouts for a pair or even 2 pairs in Deuces Wild. The lowest ranked hand with a payoff is a 3 of a kind.
One thing that doesn't change, though, is the payoff for the royal flush. That's still 800 to 1.
But there's a catch.
That's only the payoff when you get a "natural" royal flush. In other words, if your royal flush has a wild card in it, you don't get the 800 to 1 payoff.
The deuces also have a major effect on your strategy decisions for this game. Knowing the correct strategy for Jacks or Better does NOT mean you know the correct way to play your hands in Deuces Wild.
This site has strategy advice for every game variation, including Deuces Wild. But I can share one piece of strategy advice that will help you out on many hands:
Never discard a deuce.
No matter what kind of hand you get in Deuces Wild, keeping your deuces is always the correct strategy.
Here's another quick tip that's easy to remember:
Never hold 2 pairs.
This might or might not be true for you, but it was for me. Some people prefer studying via some type of computer program, but I thought the text explanations in Bob Dancer's books made what I was supposed to do in every situation much clearer than just practicing on software.
Then again, the best approach is probably to do both. Start by studying one of his books, then move on to the video poker tutorial software of your choice.
I suggest starting with A Winner's Guide to Jacks or Better, because that's the most fundamental game. It's also the easiest game to find and the easiest strategy to understand. And if you can find the right pay table and play with the right strategy, it offers close to the best odds-a payback percentage of 99.54%.
Other titles in this series of books include:
I should also note that these books were co-written with Liam W. Daily. I don't get any commission or any other consideration by recommending Bob Dancer's books. They're just the best resource I know of for learning the correct strategy for these games.
The casinos on Boulder Highway in Las Vegas cater to video poker players and offer the best pay tables in the world. You'll often see gambling writers lament that full pay Deuces Wild games aren't available anywhere anymore. But that's not entirely true. You can find those games and others at many of the casinos on Boulder Highway in Las Vegas.
Some of the casinos you should visit for video poker purposes include:
All of these properties offer full pay Deuces Wild games. But they also offer excellent pay tables on other variations, including Jokers Wild, Jacks or Better, and Double Double Bonus.
These casinos understand that they're offering games which sometimes offer intelligent players an edge over the house. Their goal is to get people into the casino to begin with. Also, they understand that most people who think they have an edge over the casino really don't.
Jean Scott is also known as "the frugal gambler", which is also the title of her first book. She's written 2 more books, More Frugal Gambling and Frugal Video Poker. Her premise is that smart low rollers can combine casino promotions with the low payback percentages found on video poker games in order to get free vacations or maybe even make a tiny profit when dealing with the casino.
A similar book, Comp City, by Max Rubin, explains some of the same concepts for players with larger bankrolls. But he focuses on blackjack rather than video poker, so Jean Scott's approach is more interesting to someone like me-someone with a smaller bankroll.
You'll find as much information about how to master video poker as you will about how to take advantage of the promotions from the casinos. She's an engaging writer, too, using just enough anecdotes and examples to keep even the most jaded reader interested. (Some writers use too many anecdotes and examples, while others offer too much data and information. Jean Scott finds the right balance.)
The difference between Bonus Poker and Jacks or Better is just the bonus payout for the 4 of a kind. Other than that, the game plays the same as Jacks or Better. Of course, there are multiple versions of Bonus Poker, too-Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, and Bonus Poker Deluxe are all examples.
But of course, you can also find variations of Deuces Wild that offer bonus payouts for certain hands, too. Those games are usually called Bonus Deuces Wild or something like that.
Many times the payback percentages on these variations are significantly better than the payback percentages are on the games on which they're based. Other times, they're only comparable. The difficulty lies in learning the right strategies for the various games. The changes in the payouts for the 4 of a kind change the decisions that you're going to make.
Some people might think that if they understand how to play 5 card draw, video poker isn't going to be a problem. And indeed, some of the decisions you make in one game are the same as you'd make in the other game.
Here's an example:
You would never draw to an inside straight in 5 card draw. You should almost never draw to an inside straight in a video poker game, either.
On the other hand, an outside straight is often a hand worth drawing to, in either game.
The difference lies in the number of cards that can complete your hand. Here's an example of an inside straight:
In order to complete your straight, you'd discard the king and try to draw a 4. But there are only 4 of them in the deck, so the odds aren't good. (1 in 13)
But an outside straight is a whole different ball game. Here's an example:
Again, you're going to discard the king, but this time, you have 8 cards which can complete your hand-any ace or any 6.
Here's the thing about free video poker online, though. You can't win any money while you're playing.
What's the big deal about that, you ask?
Well, it kinda misses the whole point, doesn't it?
Yeah, you don't have to risk losing any money when you're playing free games, but you have no chance of winning any money, either.
The best of these free games offer ongoing strategy tips and advice about how to play your hands correctly. These games are sometimes called simulators or tutorials.
These can be effective tools for learning perfect strategy. You can find such games at VideoPoker.com.
If you want to just play recreationally, you can find free games on our site. In fact, even when you're not playing a game with a strategy trainer, you can learn the basics of how the controls work from a free game. This enables you to avoid losing money on simple mistakes based on errors using the controls.
It's actually a lot simpler than most versions of video poker, and if you play with the correct strategy, it's also one of the best games available. You start with 2 cards. Then you get to see 2 additional cards. You get to choose one of those additional 2 cards to keep. Then the machine deals you 2 more cards at random. You get paid off based on the strength of your final hand.
From a pure decision-making standpoint, Pick'em Poker is far simpler than even Jacks or Better. You only have 2 decisions to choose from in this game. In any other video poker game, you have 32 possible decisions, because you can keep or hold any combination of the 5 cards in front of you.
Pick'em Poker is a Bally game, but IGT also has a version called Pick a Pair Poker. You can also find different versions of this game available at various online casinos.
The payback percentage for Pick'em Poker, assuming the best possible pay table and that you play with the correct strategy, is 99.95%.
Almost all video poker variations are some of the best games in the casino-they're certainly better than slot machines. If you're a high roller, you might prefer blackjack, but the best odds for a low roller game in any casino can be found in the video poker section.
It doesn't take a lot of knowledge to get started playing, but if you want to maximize your chances of winning, you should spend some time learning the correct strategies.