If you're new to video poker, you're probably still new to gambling. Tips for beginner video poker players (like tips for beginner gamblers) include strategy tips and some basic guides to the concept of casino gambling. That's because it's important to strip away a lot of bad information that people have about gambling in general and video poker in particular.
Below, you'll find seven video poker strategy tips that are designed for newcomers to the game:
Beginners to video poker have an advantage over people trying to learn other games in the casino - video poker is the only game on the floor where the house tells you the theoretical payback. You have to learn to read paytables to be successful at video poker. We say you have to learn to read them in order to even enjoy the game. Why? Video poker can be a deceptively-voracious game, consuming credits with the lust of a slot machine.
Luckily, there's a cure. A video poker paytable is a chart listing the amount of credits paid out for different hand values. This paytable is also your ticket to beating the house, or, at least, losing to the house a little bit less.
All video poker paytables will look something like this:
|1 coin||2 coins||3 coins||4 coins||5 coins|
|Jacks or Better||1||2||3||4||5|
This is a paytable for a game of Jacks or Better. Notice that the payouts increase the more coins you play - betting max produces a result five times larger than betting a single coin, across the board. Also notice the huge jump between the payout for a full house and the payout for a 4-of-a-kind. Read the paytable a few times, and learn its patterns. It shouldn't take long.
An experienced video poker player can look at this chart and tell you if the game is worth your time or not. How? They look at the payouts at the one coin bet level, and take note that a full house pays 9 and a flush pays 6. That, and the name of the game, tells them everything they need to know. That's because experienced video poker players know that 9/6 Jacks or Better games have a theoretical return of 99.54%. That gives the casino an edge of just 0.46%, assuming you play perfect strategy. This is a good number, and you'd be right to stop and give this game a few rounds of play.
-called "full-pay" video poker games, meaning games that pay either at or in excess of 100 percent with proper play, don't really exist anymore. This is especially true outside the state of Nevada, though even in Vegas you'll be hard-pressed to locate a full-pay video poker game. Gone are the days when a gambler with a good eye could find his way to a machine that offered him a slight positive return over time. Instead of hunting down full-pay tables, you're better off looking for the best possible set of odds, and playing that game.
How is it possible that you can look at a simple chart and know whether or not the game is weighted too much in the casino's favor? Any casino video poker section includes both "good" and "bad" games. That means some games give the casino a bigger edge than others.
Game designers (and in some cases, casinos that host the games) can alter the overall return of a video poker game by making slight changes to the payouts. Most of the time, all a designer does is change the payout for full house, flush, and four-of-a-kind. This common method of altering a game's odds gives us our way in to reading a video poker machine's paytable - if the casino hosts and game designers most often change three or four payouts, all we have to do is look at those payouts to determine if we should play that game or keep looking.
A game's full house/flush payouts are the best indicator of a machine's theoretical payback percentage, which makes them your key to exploiting the casino's best games. Playing the games that give you the best returns means longer play and (potentially) more cash and comps from the house.
Let's look at an example. If Bob plays the game described above for an hour at $5 per hand and 360 hands per hour, he should expect to lose $8.28 out of a totally outlay of $1,800. $8.28 an hour is good, cheap entertainment, much less expensive than a date or even a meal at a fast food restaurant.
Let's say Bob switches to a different game. He unwittingly chooses a version of Jacks or Better with a different pay table, one with a payback percentage of 95.5%. He feels like he's playing the same game, because he pretty much is. Except now he's facing average losses of $81 an hour on the same outlay. What's going on? Math (and the payout settings of the game he chose) turned his cheap night out into an electric bill payment.
The Internet is stuffed to the brim with articles that purport to teach you everything you need to know about gambling math in 1,000 words. We don't subscribe to the theory that you can wrap your head around something so important by reading an article that takes up the same amount of space as a Radiohead album.
Learning about gambling math is important for video poker newcomers because so much of the game's strategy is built around statistics. If any of the math in the first tip confused you, this tip is aimed especially at you. We've seen it time and again - people who are bad at math and don't want to spend any time studying it turn out to be bad gamblers.
Rather than send you to a poorly-written and potentially uninformed online guide to gambling math, we suggest that you do a little reading in your spare time. Below are three books on the subject that any serious student of video poker should read:
Scarne's book doesn't focus on video poker or gambling math, though it talks about both at length. If you want a more general guide to gambling, this is where you should start. Includes notes on game history and rules, hits gambling math a bit hard in the middle, and diverges a bit too often to talk about gambling cheats. Still, as an inexpensive reference book for gamblers, it's tough to beat.
Bob Dancer wrote a lot of good books about gambling, though we like this book for our beginner video poker players, since it focuses mainly on techniques for finding games with high returns. Dancer also teaches a few game strategies he's developed using computer software.
Broken up into four sections, Grochowski's book is somewhere between a philosophy text and a traditional gambling guide. That's because Grochowski roughly follows the Socratic Method, presenting most of the information in his book in a question and answer format. We think of this book as like a Cliff's Notes for video poker, though it also includes plenty of no-nonsense charts and strategy tips.
As with other gambling games, over the years video poker enthusiasts and math nerds have created strategy sheets that give players the right play for any game situation. This is called basic strategy. This information has been encoded over the years in charts. You can use these charts while you play in the casino. In fact, most casinos sell video poker strategy charts in their gift shops.
Before you get intimidated by the idea of reading a strategy chart, know that video poker strategy charts are incredibly easy to read and use while playing. Here's how it works - you start to play, and when you find yourself with a poker hand that you're not sure how to play, you check the chart for all of the combinations you can make with your dealt cards. Find the hand that's highest on the list, and try to form that hand.
For example, let's say you're playing Jacks or Better, and you're dealt four to an outside straight with no high cards. According to the standard strategy chart, you should push for a low pair and accept that lower pay rather than gamble for a less-likely outside straight. All this is written in plain language on the chart. It's probably the easiest set of strategy tips of any game on the casino floor.
One mistake we see beginners to any gambling game make over and over is that they lash themselves to a game and play it for hours. This is poor form.
Breaks prevent us from getting bored. Our brains weren't built for extended focus. Our brains are programmed to remain vigilant and notice small differences that might indicate danger. When you're sitting in front of a machine for three or four hours playing the same game over and over again, it's no wonder you get bored and make mistakes.
Breaks help us retain knowledge and form new connections. The human brain has two basic modes - focused mode and diffuse mode. When we're playing video poker, we're in focused mode. When we're relaxing, having daydreams, unwinding, and resting, we're in diffuse mode. Let's face it - our brains solve problems when we least expect it. When we're resting. When you're new to video poker, taking breaks will help you analyze your results and implement game strategy more effectively.
Breaks help us re-evaluate our goals - and give us time to do it. New video poker players need to evaluate their spending, their play, and their choice to be in the casino at all, and they need to do it more often than veteran players. When you focus on video poker continuously, it's easier to lose that focus, believe it or not. Stopping, taking a deep breath, and starting over forces us to think about our greater goal than our short-term objective of winning at poker.
You should always join a casino's reward card program, before you start playing any games. These club cards reward you for gambling, plain and simple. You can cash these rewards in for things like free food, tournament entries, merchandise, or even cash prizes.
Signing up for a club card is simple - you find the loyalty desk at the casino, give them your name, address, phone number, and email. They'll give you a plastic club card that you stick into the machine you're playing to earn reward points. The exchange rate will be a bit different depending on what casino you choose, but you earn points based on how many dollars you bet.
The reason we recommend that everyone join the club - these giveaways and freebies cut into the casino's edge. Every dollar you earn, every free steak you eat, every night of a comp'd room, and is a hit on the casino's profit. And obviously, the more you play, the greater your reward. But even low-rollers and those playing for just an hour or two should join the club so that the casino can track your play and offer you comps.
So far we've learned that the best way to play video poker is to combine game strategy with knowledge of how the game works, and to pick the best-possible game in terms of odds, while enjoying the occasional comp from the casino. Now we're going to talk about betting max - wagering the maximum number of coins on every hand.
Earlier, when we were talking about the video poker paytable at the beginning of the article, we pointed out that there's a huge jump in the value of the royal flush payoff between four coins and five coins wagered. In our example paytable, a player who lands a royal flush with a four-coin bet wins 1,000 credits. That's a great payout, but it's nothing compared to the 4,000 credit payout for a royal at a max bet of five coins. That's a 3,000 coin jump in exchange for that fifth coin, after a steady increase of 250 per coin for the first four. We call that a windfall.
Are we suggesting that the only reason to bet max is because of the payout for a royal flush? That might seem strange, considering that royals are so rare. But think back on our discussion of video poker math - even though a royal happens only very rarely, the effect of the reduced payout is big when you're talking about theoretical return percentages.
With perfect strategic play, our example Jacks or Better game gives the house an edge of 0.46% at the maximum bet of five coins. But if you look at the payouts for a single coin bet, you'll see how much of a difference in odds you get by removing that huge royal flush payout. When the royal flush is worth just 250 credits per coin, the house edge grows to about 1%. Changing the royal flush payout is the difference between losing $8 an hour (at 0.46%) and losing almost $20 an hour (at 1%). By betting fewer than the maximum number of coins, you're affect the casino's edge, not improving your own chances.
In video poker, the casino makes its money on coins one through four. By activating the fifth coin, the player has his best shot at gaining an edge against the casino, though all too often these days the games are designed to avoid that proposition entirely.
It's not just 9/6 Jacks or Better that works this way, either - in a Jacks or Better game where a full house pays 8 and a flush pays 5, the casino's edge on coins one through four is 3.96% - once the player activates the fifth coin, the casino's edge slides to 2.7%. Let's say you choose this 8/5 Jacks or Better game, and you pay 350 hands an hour at $5 a hand. By always betting the max, your average hourly losses drop from $71.28 to $48.60.
Video poker would be such an easy game if you could skip the first four coins altogether and just play the fifth coin right from the start. The next time you visit a casino, suggest that to the manager. Let us know just how loud he laughs, and how long it takes before he's lying on the floor.
It's important for newcomers to remember this simple fact - video poker is a form of entertainment. Everything bad about gambling stems from a misunderstanding of that fact. You shouldn't walk into a casino in order to turn a profit, unless you're a professional gambler. As a newcomer to video poker, we guarantee you're not skilled enough to make it as a professional gambler.
Here's a secret - if you keep in mind that video poker is meant to be fun, you'll actually become a better video poker player. You'll remember to take breaks. You'll remember to slow down and appreciate the moment. You'll have time to find a game with decent odds, since you won't be rushing to plunk your money into any old machine you can find. Basically, you'll be a better casino citizen, all because you're remembering the purpose of video poker play.
If you keep your video poker play "fun," then you're increasing the entertainment value of your losses. That $8 an hour you blew on 9/6 Jacks or Better is a trifle compared to the amount of fun you and your buddies had sipping comp'd watery cocktails and people-watching. Trust us - keep the game fun and remember to enjoy yourself, and you've already got a leg up on the house.
Video poker is a fun way to spend an hour or two. It also gives you a slight chance of putting a little extra money in your pocket. However, no amount of reading strategy tips will turn video poker from a losing proposition into a sure thing. Casinos don't make money hosting beatable games. Video poker games are designed to produce a win for the house over the long-run. But that doesn't mean you can't occasionally win a little money in the short-term. It also doesn't mean you can't have fun while you play.
Follow the seven tips above, and you'll increase the entertainment value of the money you spend playing video poker.