by Steve Bourie

Video poker has been called “America’s National Game of Chance,” coined by the late Lenny Frome, considered to be the “Godfather” of video poker for his 1994 book Winning Strategies for Video Poker. Frome showed that with the proper strategy the game offered some of the best odds in the casino.

While technically still considered a “slot machine,” (the term “slot” originated from coins being inserted into a “slot”) in more recent years slots and video poker have split, each into their own separate categories. The primary difference between a slot machine and video poker is that while no strategy exists for slots, video poker is a game of skill (of course, “luck” plays a part as well, such as being dealt a “pat hand.”) Playing a hand of video poker correctly improves your odds (in the long run) over most slot machines. You can determine the payback percentage of video poker games, but not so with slots.

The basic game of video poker is played much the same way as any regular five card draw poker game with one huge exception: NO opponents and NO dealer to beat! You play the hand dealt in order to create the best final hand as possible and get paid according the pay table posted on the machines graphics.

video poker game

All video poker games have an element of skill!

So, how do you play? For the basic game, first, you make your initial wager, one to five coins (five is recommended for the increased pay on royal flushes) in the machine to make your bet. Five cards will appear on the video screen and your goal is to try to make the best poker hand possible from those cards. Since it is a draw game, you are given one opportunity to improve your hand. This is done by allowing you to discard up to all five cards from your original hand.

You would hold all five cards in any dealt straight or higher (with a few rare exceptions.) Select the cards you want to keep by using the hold buttons below your dealt cards or touching the cards on the screen, then press the deal button and the machine will replace all of the other cards with new cards. Based on the resulting final hand the machine will then pay you according to the pay schedule posted on the machine. Naturally, the better your hand, the higher the amount the machine will pay you back.

Royal Flush!

A $4,000 royal flush!

Players often ask questions regarding how video poker cards are dealt. Some answers are as follows:

1: How are the cards dealt? Is it a fair deal?

In Class III gaming machines as found in Nevada and other jurisdictions, gaming regulations require that all gaming devices must have random outcomes of game play results. Games of all types use a random number generator (RNG) software algorithm to determine game outcome. This ensures that all games are completely random, just as if the cards were dealt from a perfectly shuffled deck. (Note: There are other jurisdictions that are unregulated, like cruise ships and Indian gaming that may not operate randomly in the same way as Class III. Investigate prior to playing.)

9/6 jacks or better video poker

Smart video poker players know how to use the correct strategy!

2: When does the shuffling (RNG) actually stop?

When the start, deal or bet button is pushed, the randomly selected outcome through the RNG is determined. This result is determined solely by the RNG and is not dependent on any factors of game play, such as how many coins are bet, or on what happened in the last game played or on how many seconds you wait before deciding what cards to draw. There is no strategy to stopping the RNG in a favorable spot! For the majority of game manufacturers (such as IGT) the first five cards dealt are displayed and additional cards are taken from the top of the deck in the redraw as needed. And again, the RNG stops when the game is started so the deal is the same whether you play one coin or five.

While we’ve said that video poker can be one of the best casino games to play for the best overall payback, you must understand the pay tables. There are many, many variations of video poker games out there including Tens or Better, Jacks or Better, Two Pairs or Better, Joker Poker, Double Joker Poker, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Triple Double Bonus and several versions of Deuces Wild. And that list is not all inclusive! Even more confusing, not only are there different games, but each of those machines can have a different pay schedule for the same hand.

Fortunately, every video poker machine’s payback percentage can be mathematically calculated. Not only does this let you know which machines offer you the best return, but it also tells you the best playing decisions to make on that particular machine based on the odds of that combination occurring. The bad news, however, is that it’s fairly impossible to do on your own so you’ll have to either buy a book, software or strategy cards that list all of the percentages and strategies. Some video poker programs and materials can be bought at a discount at our store www.americancasinoguidebook.com/shop. See below for an example of how a video poker strategy program would warn you of a playing error. 

video poker strategy error

A video poker tutorial program can show you when you make a playing error!

The American Casino Guide book also shows you 16 different paytables for various games and the payback percentages. Take a look at the table below and you’ll see some different types of video poker games and their payback percentages (when played with maximum coin and perfect strategy).

jacks or better pay table variations

The payback percentage on a video poker game will change based on its pay table!

For beginners, the game referred to as “9/6 Jacks or Better” is a good starting point. The strategy is fairly easy to master and played perfectly yields a payback of 99.54%. Combined with slot club benefits, point multipliers and promotions, this game can reward you with over 100% payback. Jacks or Better means you win (or push) on a pair of Jacks, and of course, win more for higher hands. When you examine the pay table on the machine, the 9 refers to the one-coin pay for a flush and the 6 for a one coin pay for a flush. 9/6 used to be very common in Las Vegas casinos but is becoming harder to find. The most common now is 8/5. Here’s a comparison of their pay schedules (per coin, for five-coin play):

Hand9/68/5
Royal Flush800800
Straight Flush5050
4-of-a-Kind2525
Full House98
Flush65
Straight44
3-of-a-Kind33
Two Pair22
Jacks or Better11

The schedules are identical except for the better pay on the 9/6 machines for Flushes and Full Houses. The 8/5 machines return 97.3% with perfect play.

9/6 Jacks or Better video poker pay table

8/5 jacks or better video poker pay table

A 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker game will return about 2.2% more than an 8/5 Jacks pay table.

Obviously, the play here is to opt for 9/6 Jacks or Better (known as “full-pay” because it is the highest pay table available for that particular game) whenever it is available in the casino you are playing. 9/6 Jacks or Better can be found in almost every downtown Las Vegas casino, local casinos and some Strip casinos.

The better 9/6 pay tables are not as prevalent in many other large gaming destinations like in New Jersey and Mississippi casinos. A website called VPFree2 can help you locate machines within the various casinos in each jurisdiction: www.vpfree2.com

vpfree2

You can find the best paying video poker games anywhere in the U.S. by going to vpfree2.com

Games like Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Triple Double Bonus all offer higher pay for the highest highs (4 aces, 4 twos, threes or fours, or combinations of them) but they reduce the payback on the lower paying more common hands like a pair and 2 pair and 3 of a kind. While exciting to hit a high paying hand, these type of games are highly volatile and you can and will often see wide swings in your bankroll rather quickly.

video poker games

There are many variations of video poker games available to play and each requires its own strategy for optimal results!

Making things even more confusing, there are variations like Super Times Pay, Ultimate X, Frenzy Draw Poker and a whole host of others. Basically they offer features that occur randomly like multipliers on certain hands or lines but you pay extra for that feature. But again, these are highly volatile games, but admittedly can be fun to play for a change of pace. And there are games like Triple Play, 5 Play, 10 Play, all the way up to 100 lines of play. Spinpoker plays 9 lines on each dealt hand.

video poker game variations

Some video poker games can play up to 100 games at one time. Plus, others have various bonuses for certain hands.

For more information on game variants and paybacks, visit : https://www.vpfree2.com/video-poker/pay-tables 

Another popular and common machine you will come across is an 8/5 Jacks or Better progressive. These feature the same 8/5 pay table as above except for the royal flush which pays a jackpot amount that is displayed on a meter above the machine. The royal flush jackpot continues to build (all players on the linked game are contributing to the jackpot as they play) until someone hits the royal flush; then it will reset and start to build again. If the jackpot on a 25¢ machine is above $2,240 (for five coins) then it comes what the experts refer to as a “positive play,” and a good choice to play it. If it’s below $2,240 then the regular 9/6 machines are a better overall play.

It’s nearly impossible to memorize all the strategy variations for all games, so for the more serious long-term player, it’s probably best to limit yourself to learning one or two games first and mastering the strategies. If you play several different kinds of machines it becomes increasingly harder to remember the correct play to make and you will make mistakes.

Now that you’ve decided which machines to play, you’ll need some help with your playing strategy. The below link has two charts that will give you an excellent simple strategy for both 9/6 and 8/5 video poker machines. These charts were derived from computer calculations  and will give you a near-perfect strategy for playing your hands. They aren’t 100% perfect but they are close to it and will only be fractionally incorrect in some situations. The only difference between the two tables is shown in the poker hands that have been italicized in the 8/5 strategy tables.

(See the two video poker strategy charts, here – https://www.americancasinoguidebook.com/video-poker/free-video-poker-strategy-charts.html)  Please note that when you visit this page you can also print out these video poker strategy charts and bring them with you when you visit the casinos!

When looking at the 9/6 chart there are a few things to remember:

1) A low pair is relatively good. Of the 36 possible hands, a low pair is #16 which means there are 20 hands worse than a low pair. If you look at the 15 hands that are better than a low pair eight of them are pat hands that require no draw. Of the other seven hands, six of them are four card hands and the remaining hand is a three-card royal flush.

2) Don’t hold three cards trying to get a straight or flush. Nowhere on the chart do you see that you should hold three cards to try for a straight or flush. In some instances you should hold three cards to try for a straight flush, but never a straight or flush. (Note: In some of the bonus games, holding 3 to a flush is a proper play because they pay more, so you can see why learning proper strategies are needed for each game.)

3) While there are a few exceptions, as a general rule never hold 4 cards to draw to an inside straight, (except A, K, Q, J) unless it’s a straight flush. See the chart for exceptions.

4) Never hold a kicker in any Jacks or Better game. A kicker is an unpaired card held with a pair. Some people will hold a face card with a low pair, hoping to pair up on the high card. Don’t do it! It adds no value to your hand.

As noted above, these strategy tables shown here are only for Jacks or Better games only and are not valid for games played with wild cards such as Joker Poker, Deuces Wild, Double Joker or Bonus/Double Bonus type games, etc. Those games employ a completely different strategy and it would be wrong to use these strategies for those kinds of machines.

Here is some general information facts about video poker.

There are exactly 2,598,960 unique poker hands possible on a video poker machine (when played without a joker).

2598960 unique video poker hands

There are 2,598,960 possible five-card hand combinations on the initial deal in video poker.

On a 9/6 Jacks or Better machine a royal flush will occur about once every 40,000 hands; a straight flush about every 9,000 hands; four-of-a-kind about every 425 hands; a full house about every 87 hands; a flush about every 91 hands; a straight about every 89 hands; three-of-a-kind about every 14 hands; two pairs about every 8 hands; and a pair of Jacks or better about every 5 hands. The interesting thing to note here is that both a flush and a straight are harder to get than a full house, yet a full house always has a higher payback (because it is a higher ranking poker hand) than either of them. The majority of the time, about 55% to be exact, you will wind up with a losing hand on a 9/6 machine.

In the beginning of this article I mentioned playing less than 5 coins on a single line game was not a good idea. Here’s why. For a royal flush on a 9/6 Jacks machine with one coin played you receive 250 coins; for two coins you get 500; for three coins you get 750; for four coins you get 1,000 and for five (maximum) coins you get 4,000 coins. This translates into a bonus of 2,750 coins! A royal flush can be expected once every 40,400 hands on a 9/6 machine; once every 40,200 hands on an 8/5 machine; and once every 32,700 hands on an 8/5 progressive. The odds are high, but the added bonus makes it worthwhile.

$8,000 Royal Flush

An $8,000 royal flush!

If you can’t afford to play the maximum coins on a positive machine then move down to a lower denomination machine. And, if you absolutely insist on playing less than the maximum, be sure to play only one coin at a time. It doesn’t make any sense to play two, three or four coins, because you still won’t be eligible for the bonus on the royal flush. Understand that the royal flush plays a very big factor in the total return for any video poker game. You will generally lose money until you hit a royal flush. Sad, but true.

Also, earlier in this article, I mentioned players club benefits as a way to boost your total return percentage on any video poker game, and slots as well for that matter. Every major casino has a slot club and you should join before beginning any play. They are all free and work the same way as your grocery store cards or any loyalty shopping rewards programs.

The casino will track your play with your club card is left inserted in the machine while you play (basically tracking how much coin-in you have run through the machines) and issues rewards to you in the form of cash, free slot play, gifts, food, shows, drinks, rooms or other “freebies.” It will also get you future offers to return. Many players clubs will also give you cash back (or slot play) for your play and that amount should be added into the payback percentage on the kind of machine you’ll be playing.

20 times points casino promotion

Many casinos offer multi-point promotions for players club members!

Always check if there are any multiplier point days offered at the casino you are playing. They can be a tremendous boost to your game’s return percentage! But a precautionary word here is to not overplay your gambling budget just to “earn” a comp!

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