Do Your Decisions in Video Poker Really Matter?

Video poker is a fun and addictive game that just happens to also offer some of the best odds in the casino, if you pick the right machine. Because of the games' prevalence and popularity, some people have suspicions about the way the game works.

Yes, your decisions in video poker do matter, which is one of the main reasons why some players are so devoted to them. They are considered games of skill, unlike slot machines or other games where player skill has no impact on the outcome.

How to Play Video Poker

For those who've never played the game, here's the basic rundown of video poker:

When the game is sitting idle, its random number generator is putting together hundreds of numerical combinations every second. Games developed by IGT, for example, have 16,000,000,000,000,000,000 (16 quintillion) possible outcomes, and one of these is selected the moment you press the deal button.

A deck is randomly selected and shuffled, and the first five cards are presented to the player. The customer has no control over events to this point, but that's about to change in the next phase.

The player is then called upon to decide which of the five cards will remain in their hand. This is where the player's decision really matters, as the game is effectively over once they make their choice.

While some prefer to "eyeball" their cards and just go with whatever looks to be the safest play, more professional video poker players often employ basic strategy. What is basic strategy?

It's a predetermined set of moves based on the type of video poker being played and the combination of cards currently being displayed. It might not guarantee a win, but it does reduce the house edge and provide better overall odds for the player.

The above paragraph proves my point, as the house edge couldn't be lowered by basic strategy unless your video poker decisions really matter. That's the most compelling reason to give this game a try, and it still amazes me that most casino patrons would prefer to risk their money on a random spin of a slot machine's virtual reels.

The Exception to the Rule – Class II Video Poker

Yes, your decisions in video poker do matter – unless you're sitting in front of a Class II machine.

I like to read about people's gambling experiences online. Coupled with the fact that I write about gambling for a living, it's no surprise that I hear lots of gambling tales.

I recently received an email from Chris Markham, a resident of Oklahoma and a frequent player at the tribal casinos dotting the state. He was curious about a video poker machine that he'd been playing on, which behaved really oddly.

The game appeared to be a Jacks or Better game with a decent 9-6 paytable. However, after completing what turned out to be a losing hand, Chris was surprised when an animated dragon appeared on the screen, breathed fire, and turned his nothing hand into a straight flush. While he was perfectly happy to cash in his winnings, he was also curious as to why this game seemed to function differently than most video poker machines.

After pressing him for more details about the game, it soon became clear what was going on: Chris was playing on a Class II video poker machine. These games are different than the Class III machines you're used to, as the decisions made by the player don't matter at all.

As we discussed earlier in this post, Class III video poker machines utilize a random number generator to determine which cards are dealt, but they also allow the player to employ strategy when it comes to improving their hand. Class II games, meanwhile, are used in casinos where Class III options are either restricted or limited in number.

These games are technically considered bingo, as the results are determined by a series of numbers drawn randomly by a central server and then applied across the casino to everyone sitting at a Class II machine (regardless of whether they're slots, video poker, or something else).

If the drawing determines that you're supposed to be the winner, you'll receive a payout regardless of what hand you put together.

In the case discussed above, the player's losing hand was explained away by the appearance of the dragon. This doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it, but the very existence of Class II games has always seemed bizarre to me.

Slot machines are the most common type of game offered in this manner, and their random nature makes it impossible for a customer to distinguish between Class II and Class III versions.

If you want to be certain about the type of machine you're playing on, however, give the game a thorough examination. If you see a bingo logo on the glass, then it's a Class II game. Otherwise, you're playing Class III like most of the civilized world.

A Final Word

Video poker continues to grow in popularity for a number of reasons. The most obvious is the possibility of a player actually eliminating the house edge or gaining a mathematical advantage of their own. There are also those who prefer the simple, solitary nature of the game, as it often lacks the crowds and dazzling graphics associated with slot machines.

By employing a solid strategy and keeping a clear head, players have a much better chance of breaking even or turning a profit. And considering the number of losers who walk away from casinos every day, this latter reason is more than enough to warrant repeated play.