Video Poker Strategy

Video Poker Guide

Online video poker is one of the most popular casino games. It has many features that account for its popularity. Physical poker players appreciate video poker as a means of practicing their strategy without social pressure, while everyone appreciates that low house edge. While there are several variants of video poker, we recommend that you focus on one until you have mastered it. In fact, many poker players play only one.

Did you know that you have a better chance of winning with video poker than you do with slots (if you play your cards right)? Video poker is not considered a game of luck, but a game of skill.

With this strategy guide, we'll be focusing on Jacks or Better, the most popular video poker game. It has a low house edge and some great ways to win, so we think you'll enjoy learning Jacks or Better online video poker. 

How to Play Video Poker

The steps to playing video poker are relatively simple:

  • Bet 1-5 coins
  • Receive cards and decide what you'd like to do to build the strongest hand
  • Discard between 0-5 cards and receive new cards. You can only discard once in video poker.
  • Face the music

Beginner Strategy for Video Poker

The most important aspects of winning in video poker start before you're sitting at the table (or open your app). Poker experts all agree that the most important aspects of winning in video poker are 1) concentration and knowing 2) the odds and 3) the rules. If these two components are in place, you are poised to play your game without errors to attain the least possible house edge. 

The Importance of Focus in Video Poker

Focus or concentration is key to winning video poker (or any casino game, for that matter). While playing for fun is great, when you're placing larger bets you want to be sure you're playing your best game. Making sure that you're setting up an environment without distraction is essential to that. This doesn't mean you need to seal yourself off in a white room. Some people focus better in busy environments (like casinos), whereas others do need a quiet place with few visual distractions.

The important thing is to set the scene where you'll work best.

Knowing Your Odds 

Many people play video poker in part because of its low house edge. The RTP is generally around 99.5%, or even better. This information is readily available on any game you're playing. Be sure you're not starting off behind!

Video Poker Rules That Win

There are probably hundreds of poker variants available online. And while variety may be the spice of life, bland wins in poker. Well, not that there's anything bland about poker. But the experts again agree that it is 1) best to concentrate on a single variant and 2) dangerous for your bankroll to hop around too much. The reason is simple: you need to be an expert on your game. You need to know:

  1. Which hands are strongest. 
  2. Which of these hands are most likely to be attained given your dealt cards. 
  3. Whether and, if so, what to discard in order to get the best hand.

What are the best hands in video poker?

Poker variants follow the same sequence of winning hands as long as you're playing a high game. For example, 3 of a Kind and 2 pair can swap places in their worth depending on the game you're playing. In a high game like Texas Holdem, 3 or a Kind wins; in a low game like Razz, 2 pair win. 

Be sure to study the chart relevant to your game. If you're playing on a phone, you'll probably want to print out your list or keep it on another screen. It is crucial that you are working toward your best statistically probable hand.

You should also search for a full pay, 9/6 game, which means you get nine coins for a full house and six coins for a flush.

Which hand can you actually get?

Many hands would be great to have, but not likely. In the meantime, players constantly throw away strong hands in search of what they think will be better. So what is the best hand you can get?

Hint: chances are that it's not a Royal Flush. The bane of many poker players is getting so fixated on the Royal Flush that you miss other strong hands (and then don't draw the Royal Flush anyway).

When should you stick and when should you discard in video poker?

It is important to keep in mind that you are trying to build the best hand you can. And here you need to be aware of any tendency to fixate those pairs or a small straight you want to see longer or 2 cards in a suit, but not see other possibilities in view of what's likely. You need to be asking yourself "what else" and "what if" questions" with every hand, with only a few exceptions.

We'll give you a list of how you can best play some common scenarios below. 

Before You Begin

Before you sit at the table (or screen), you need to be sure you're clear on some simple, but crucial, details. These can determine your likelihood of winning.

What is the Payback Percentage?

Here we’re interested in two things: what is your expected return from this game? And second, which hands are going to win the most (so you can play toward those hands). Finding the payback percentage can involve some hunting.

One of the highest returns is Jacks or better. As the name implies, you’ll need a pair or jacks or a stronger hand to win. So your likelihood of winning is quite low, but if you do, payout is big.

Your winnings can be different based on whether you're playing a 9/6 game. While 8/5 games are also common, you may also see 6/5s, like the one below (6/5 payments are in parentheses).  

Most fullpay 9/6 (and a 6/5) payouts:

  • Royal flush - 800
  • Straight flush - 50
  • 4 of a kind - 25
  • Full house - 9 (6)
  • Flush - 6 (5)
  • Straight - 4
  • 3 of a kind - 3
  • 2 Pair - 2
  • Jacks or Better - 1

RTP 99.54% (95%)

As you can see from the RTP above, it pays to find a fullpay 9/6 in case you have a Full house or Flush (why get only 6 times your win instead of 9?). Be sure to check the numbers from top to bottom on the game you're playing, but it shouldn't be difficult to find a fullpay 9/6. 

Strategies for winning video poker

These are some pointed tips specifically for winning Jacks or Better, but they're applicable to many poker variations. 

  • Play to win that game. So certain “rules” that you have in your head may not be winners at all, at least not today.

Know your winning hands!

  • You need to know the order of the winning hands. Keep a chart, printed on a piece of paper or visible on the screen, of the optimum strategies for your games.
  • While we’d like to say that a little knowledge is helpful, but without knowing your chart you’re going to miss out on smaller wins. Not knowing your chart costs you money. Are you discarding your 4 card Inside Straight Flush going for 2 pair of 10s, only to find out that the Flush wins over 2 pair? It is number 16 out of 40 winning hands, meaning it beats 24 others.
  • Example: What if I have a measly pair of 6s, but 3 unsuited high cards? Well, what are you expecting to happen to those 3? Are you gonna throw away your pair with the hope of pairing one of those high cards? Or are you content with your 3 unsuited high cards? That and a nickel will get you….nothing. Hold that low pair!

Don't get greedy

  • Stick, do not budge, do not fidget if you are dealt a Full House, Three of a Kind, Four of a Kind or Two Pair.
  • Same goes for a Flush or a Straight, unless you’re 1 away from a Royal Flush…
  • If you’re one card away from a Royal Flush, discard that non-Royal card (and cross your fingers).
  • If you’re holding onto a Flush, High Pair, Straight, or even Three of a Kind, those are all going to beat the 3 cards that lead to a Royal Flush.

Something is better than nothing

  • For weaker hands, however, holding onto that pair will work better. For example, if you have 3 4 5 (unsuited) 6 6, you’ll obviously do better holding onto your pair.

Conclusion

As you see, there are many possibilities in any hand. Finding the winning hand, and the statistically achievable strongest hand, takes some thought. This takes you toward the error-free playing that takes you to the top of the RTP in video poker.

Playing smart pays off. Follow the guidelines above to improve your playing!


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