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Learn the details of playing video poker, including how it works, your chances of winning, and strategies to maximize your winnings.
Some people may lump video poker into the same category as slot machines. This is a mistake. Unlike slot machine players whose odds are generally static, skilled video poker players can dramatically increase their chances of winning.
In fact, video poker gives you the best odds to win of any gaming machine in the casino. You can even eliminate the casino’s edge entirely (depending on the type of machine you choose to play), making it more likely for you to win than lose.
You might ask, “Why would the casinos offer video poker if gamblers fare so well? Wouldn’t they lose money?” Read on to find the answers to these types of questions. We’ll also dive into why video poker is one of the most lucrative games you can play and strategies that can help you maximize your chances of winning. Armed with these better strategy tools, you’ll be amped to try your hand at video poker.
What’s So Great About Video Poker?
In gambling, the house always (or almost always) has the edge. In the long run, the house generally wins and you lose. The house’s edge is measured by the expected return percentage to the player (% RTP).
For example, the average RTP for slots is around 90% to 97%, which gives the house a 5% to 10% advantage. This means that, on average, you lose 5 cents to 10 cents out of every dollar you gamble when playing slots.
For video poker players (who know what they’re doing) or for those learning how to play video poker, RTP can be above 99%, creating a less than 1% house edge. Even better, there’s some machines that allow adept players to tilt the edge in their own favor. Wouldn’t it be great if you could walk into a casino and know that you had a better chance of winning money than losing it?
Not for the house. If the casinos didn’t make money from video poker machines, they would scrap them. Lucky for them, the majority of gamblers who play video poker do so without employing any sort of strategy. For untrained video poker players, the average RTP plummets to 95%, roughly the same as many slot machines.
Strategies for Different Types of Video Poker
There are several different types of video poker machines you can play. The big difference is each of them will have its own rules and will require its own optimal strategy. A video poker machine’s RTP can also change depending on the style of poker it features.
At their core, most video poker machines play some sort of five-card draw. In five-card draw poker, players are dealt five cards. Depending on their hand, they can discard any number of their cards to be dealt new ones.
There are many types of five-card draw variations that video poker machines use. We’ll go over strategies for two of the most popular below: jacks or better and deuces wild. Some other styles you might come across are.
- Double bonus: Jacks or better with a bonus payout for four aces
- Double double bonus: Jacks or better with bonus payouts for multiple four-of-a-kind poker hands
- Joker poker: Jacks or better with jokers added to the deck
- 10s or better: 10s are the lowest pairs that pay out instead of jacks
- All American: Jacks or better with higher payouts for flushes and straights but lower payouts for full houses and two pairs
Jacks or Better
The very first video poker machines were jacks or better machines. To this day, this style of machine is still one of the most popular. Jacks or better means that a player has to have a pair of jacks or a more valuable hand to get any payout. Single pairs of cards lower than a jack (2 through 10) mean nothing. Here’s a list of the winning hands for jacks or better machines:
- Two or three of a kind: Remember that if you have two of a kind, you must have face cards to win a payout.
- Two pairs: If you have two pairs, they can be number cards or face cards.
- Full house: This hand consists of one pair and one three-of-a-kind. These can be any cards.
- Flush: Every card in a hand is in the same suit. If all of your cards are hearts, for instance, you have a flush.
- Straight: All the cards in a hand come one after the other. If your cards are 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, for example, you have a straight. An outside straight means that you need one card at the beginning or end to make a straight, and an inside straight means you need a card in the middle to complete a straight.
- Straight flush: All the cards in a hand are the same suit and in sequential order.
- Royal flush: This is the jackpot hand when it comes to video poker. This means that you have the highest straight possible all in the same suit.
To get these winning hands, there are certain actions you can take depending on the cards you’re initially dealt. Knowing which cards to keep and which to discard will help you maximize your chance of getting paid out. Always follow items at the top of this list first.
- If you have a full house or better, keep all of your cards.
- If you have four cards to a royal flush, keep all four cards and discard the other. You may feel like the odds aren’t high that you’ll get the one card you need, but you should always play for the royal flush to maximize your winnings.
- Keep all of your cards if you have a straight or flush.
- If you have three of a kind, keep them and request two cards.
- If you have four cards to a straight flush, keep the four cards and discard one.
- Keep two pairs and discard the remaining card.
- Keep a high pair and discard three cards.
- If you have three cards to a royal flush, keep them and discard two.
- If you have four cards to a flush, keep them and discard one.
- Keep a low pair also. Even though it doesn’t pay out, you have an increased chance of getting another pair or three of a kind.
- If you have four cards to a straight, go for the straight and only discard one.
- Keep two cards in the same suit if they are likely to improve your chance of getting a royal flush.
- If you have three cards toward a straight, discard the other two.
- If you’ve got nothing else, keep two high cards of different suits. If you have three, pick the lowest two.
- Keep a 10 and a face card if they have the same suit and discard three.
- Keep a high card and discard everything else.
- Request all new cards.
It's important to note that you should never give up a winning hand in hopes of getting a higher one. You may be tempted to give up a pair for a chance at a straight, but the odds are against you. These rules give you the best chance of winning at video poker, but you must do them consistently. They won’t do you any good if you deviate from them from time to time.
As the name indicates, deuces wild machines feature five-card draw games where the two cards are wild. Wild cards give you more chances to hit big hands.
Here’s a list of the winning hands for a deuces wild machine:
- Three of a kind (In deuces wild, you don’t get paid out for either one or two pairs.)
- Full house
- Four of a kind
- Straight flush
- Five of a kind (Even though there are only four of each card, this is possible because deuces are wild.)
- Deuces royal flush (A royal flush but one or more of the cards is a deuce)
- Four deuces (Five of a kind of the remaining card)
- Natural royal flush (A royal flush without using a deuce)
You’ll notice that a hand with one pair or even two pairs doesn’t pay out in deuces wild poker. Here are strategies for deciding which cards to keep in this type of poker that will increase your probability of success:
- If you have four cards to a royal flush, keep them and discard the remaining one.
- Keep four of a kind and discard the remaining card.
- Keep three of a kind and discard the remaining two cards.
- If you have four cards toward a straight flush, keep them and discard one.
- Keep three cards toward a royal flush and discard two.
- Keep one pair and discard three cards. Even though you won’t get paid out for a pair, you have an increased chance of getting three of a kind.
- Keep four cards toward a flush and discard one.
- Keep four cards toward a straight and discard one.
- Keep three cards toward a straight flush and discard two.
- Keep two cards to a royal flush and discard three.
- If your hand has nothing, discard all cards.
Adding wilds can make these games very exciting, but the added chance of winning means that these machines won’t have payouts that are quite as good as those for games like jacks or better.
Universal Strategies for Video Poker
There are some strategies that will help you win regardless of which video poker game you’re playing. These suggestions will help you take full advantage of all your options when playing the game.
Find Full-Pay Machines
You should always play machines that offer the maximum payout. You can figure out whether a machine is full pay by taking a look at the pay table on its screen. Depending on which style of video poker you play, a full-pay table might look a bit different.
For example, jacks or better full-pay tables are also known as 9/6 machines because they pay out at a rate of 9 to 1 for a full house and 6 to 1 for a flush. On the other hand, a full-pay table for a deuces wild game will pay at a rate of 3 to 1 for a full house and 2 to 1 for a flush.
One thing that most full-pay video poker machines have in common is that they will pay an inordinate rate if you hit the royal flush with the highest bet. In this case, they’ll usually pay at a rate of 800 to 1.
Always Make the Max Bet Possible
Imagine you’re in the middle of a long video poker session on a jacks or better machine. You’ve been making the max bet of five coins but your bankroll is dwindling and you decide to lower your bet to three coins. Like magic, you hit the royal flush almost immediately. You win 750 coins. If you had made the max bet, you could have won 4,000!
Even though video poker has a high RTP, you’ll still experience lean times when it seems like you’ve played a crazy amount of hands without hitting a jackpot. To make sure you can weather the storm, you’ll need an adequate bankroll. How big your bankroll needs to be will vary in relation to how often you play.
Do Your Research
To play the best video poker games, you’ll first have to know where to find them. If you plan on playing video poker online, look for reviews about the particular website you’ll be gambling on and see if you can find a list of their best pay tables. Look out for anything suspicious in the customer reviews. It’s rare but not unheard of for some online gambling games to underhandedly rig the system to lower your odds of winning. You only want to play on the most reputable sites with the highest payouts.
While playing video poker (or any casino game) can be a great time, you always want to make sure you bet what you can afford to lose. That’s why it’s important to carefully measure each gambling session and bankroll. If you have a plan for how long you’ll play and the amount of money you’ll spend, you’ll be less likely to get out of control.
Video poker can give you some of the best chances of winning out of any game, but gambling is always risky. If you plan on playing for four hours, get up and leave after four hours. If you’re ahead, that’s great. Those are your winnings. If your session bankroll is $500 and you lose it, resist the urge to go to the ATM. By using a measured approach to video poker, you’ll make sure your gaming sessions are awesome and, most importantly, safe.
Play Better Video Poker With GamblersPick
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