A Step by Step Guide to Playing Video Poker for the First Time

by Michael Stevens
on August 18, 2016

It may surprise you how long video poker has been featured in mainstream casinos. The first consoles appeared in the 1970s, albeit in a very primitive form compared to what they have become today. Video poker has since become as common as slots and gaming tables in casinos around the world.

Many casino gamers make video poker a popular alternative to regular poker, which some find a bit too intimidating. With the privacy and control offered by slot machines, video poker machines (and online virtual machines) still allow the player to make the necessary strategic decisions found in poker, without the pressures typical to the table game.

And video poker provides variety in game play options that far eclipse those available in the traditional, casino game versions.

Video poker may, at first appearance, seem like a slight variation on slot machines. It combines the anonymity, ease of play, variety in themes accompanied by the bells and flashing lights while also offering opportunities for progressive jackpots.

However, the poker element – the choice of cards you play – combined with the information provided in a game’s corresponding pay table, provides a player with levels of sophistication in play unavailable to slot play.

While you certainly have the option to play video poker at its most basic level, there is no ceiling on how far you can take your analysis and strategies for optimizing your chances for winning.

The following guide is aimed at walking the beginner through their first-time experience playing video poker.

1. Learn the Rules of Video Poker

The first step before delving into video poker, if you have not done so already, is familiarizing yourself with poker hands and their relative value.

Since video poker is derived from five-card draw the hands and values in five-card apply to most video poker games.

However, there are exceptions. For example, video poker games that utilize wild cards allow for Five of a Kind. We’ll revisit some of the variations in poker video later.

Next, if you have never been up close to a casino video poker machine or a slot machine before, it may help you realize what to expect by finding some YouTube videos demonstrating a video poker machine in action.

If you like loud bells and flashing lights, you will find the experience exciting and fun. Otherwise….

The rules to video poker are simple. You begin play by placing a wager, represented by the coin(s) you insert into the machine.

Dealing randomly from a 52-card deck, the machine will deal you five cards. Note that a 52-card deck implies the absence of jokers. When jokers are used the size of the deck expands accordingly.

You then may decide which cards to keep and which to discard. Note: resumption of play does not require you to discard. You may keep all original cards dealt if you choose.

There are no other restrictions on game play – such as time limits. Part of the allure of video poker for many enthusiasts is the complete control of play and flow.

If you do decide to discard, play resumes with the game replacing your discarded cards with cards drawn randomly from the deck.

The game then evaluates the resulting hand, and pays out according to the combined value of your hand and the amount wagered on the corresponding pay table.

2. Beat the House Edge – Introducing Pay Tables

Pay tables provide the video poker player with something unique to casino play – a means by which to manipulate a game in order to beat the house edge. It is for this reason that video poker has gained a reputation for being a “beatable” game.

A pay table simply lists the payout values associated with specific hands. The pay table is presented prominently on the machine providing you with quick and easy access for your decision-making during game play.

The table contains approximately six columns. The left-most column contains a list of hands. For example, in Jacks or Better, the pay table will contain rows of winning hands – from Royal Flush at the top down through to a Pair of Jacks at the bottom. The rest of the columns typically are assigned to the size of wager – that is, the number of coins inserted by the player to start play.

Presented thus, the player can look at the hand and read across the corresponding row to the size of payout associated with the hand matching the number of coins wagered.

Using this information, you can tell at a glance how the value of a hand increases or decreases according to the amount wagered. For example, depending on the game, a 3-of a Kind at five coins wagered may be worth as much as a 4-of a Kind at one coin wagered.

Hand 1 credit 2 credits 3 credits 4 credits 5 credits

As you do your own research into pay tables you will find resources that provide additional data, like payout percentages and probability. Note that casinos typically do not provide this information on their pay tables.

Pay tables are nice because they allow you to see, before you place a wager, the amounts a particular video poker game pays out. This enables you to evaluate which game or strategy you think is potentially more worthwhile playing.

Part of the advantage of strategizing your hand according to the pay table information is increasing your chances at scoring bonuses, prizes and complimentary plays.

When these features start adding up they generate more play time for you, increasing your chances of hitting some significant payouts. For this and other reasons a more advanced approach will include learning and analysing pay tables.

There are various sources online that offer insights and tutorials for helping you understand how to use pay tables to your advantage. One of these resources is the de facto expert on video poker – Bob Dancer.

3. Explore the Varieties of Video Poker

As stated, video poker machines come in a wide variety of games.  However, before we look at some of them below, let’s cover some basics.

Firstly, video poker comes in two basic subsets, called full play and short play. Full play games provide the highest payout percentages. Alternatively, short or low play games reduce their pay tables thus increasing the house edge. Such games tend to offer more promotions to attract players.

Some versions of full play video poker are limited to territory. For example, full play Deuces Wild is available solely in Nevada.

Next, the title of a video poker game may contain a series of numbers. Some common examples include “9/6 Jacks or Better” and “8/5 Jacks or Better”. The “9/6” and “8/5” refer to the payout rates aligned with particular hands.

In Jacks or Better these numbers refer to payout rates for holding a Full House (9 times the bet) or a Flush (6 times the bet).

From this you may quickly deduce the significance of the title “8/5 Jacks or Better”. The “8/5” indicates that the payout rates for either the Full House or the Flush are reduced. When these rates are reduced the house edge is increased.

As noted, when video poker games advertise reduced rates of payouts they may be offering alternatives to players to attract game play. Depending on your priorities, the reduced or low play games may actually be more attractive.

Next, we introduce some basic play types typically offered by casino video poker.

Jacks or Better, Tens or Better

The lowest winning hand in video poker, as it is in five-card draw, is a Pair of Jacks. Some games alter this to a Pair of Tens. These games are referred to as Jacks or Better and Tens or Better.

Wild cards

These can include games like Deuces Wild and Joker’s Wild.

Wild cards act as substitutes for any other non-wild cards in the deck and therefore are used to increase the value of the hand in which they are held. These games tend to be more lucrative due to the ability of the wild card to transform a hand.

As the names suggest, in Deuces Wild, all twos are wild, while in Joker’s Wild, jokers are wild.

Modified pay schedule

These games will add a kicker to enhance the value of a payout for a particular hand. They also will provide bonuses for particular hands. For example, Double Poker offers enhanced payouts for Four of a Kind.

Modified pay schedule games tend to have titles that include words like “bonus”, “double” and “triple”.

Multi-play

In multi-play video poker, you start with a base hand, with each additional hand drawing from a different set of cards.

Multi-play games are offered in a range of versions, including “Triple Play”, “Five Play”, “Ten Play”, “Fifty Play” and “One Hundred Play”.

4. Practice These Tips

Video poker offers you the choice of coin value you can play. Similar to slot machines, the higher the coin value – or wager – you play, the higher the value of subsequent winnings from that hand. If you are comfortable with playing the high value coins, you may have more success with scoring a bonus for the highest hand with a five-coin wager.

There are some myths attached to video poker. Some examples are that a Royal Flush is programmed to be almost impossible to achieve, or that a machine will “give signs” a Royal Flush is about to be dealt by becoming “tight” or “loose” – casino terms meaning, respectively, stingily or generously dealing winning cards.

In fact, because video poker games are programmed to deal randomly from the deck, you have the same chance of holding a particular hand as you would in any regulated table poker game.

This never changes, no matter what previous hands have, or have not, been dealt.

Of course, this is not the same as saying that you have equal chance of holding a Royal Flush as you do a Pair of Jacks, due to the differences in the complexities of the cards required to complete the sequence.

In Jacks or Better, never discard a high card (Jack, Queen, King, Ace). When high cards are doubled, they return the original wager.

Do not confuse video poker with Pull Tab video poker. You will recognize the latter, even if you have never played it before, by the method the player uses to determine the outcome of the wager, from which it is named: The player pulls a paper tab attached to the machine to discover the outcome of the play.

Pull tab games do not offer random odds, and all outcomes are predestined. Typically, they are mostly found in the United States in reservation casinos, that do not allow actual video poker.

Some online casinos offer to match a player’s deposit with free money. This does depend on meeting a lengthy play requirement. At Wizard of Odds, you can find a calculator designed to help you discover how to meet that requirement via online video poker play.

Note that you also have the option of using a slots club card when playing. Using a club card helps you collect bonuses for usage which add up to comps and free money.

When using a slots club card, every few minutes make sure you check the card’s connection with the machine to make sure it is connected and collecting points on your behalf.

Conclusion

As always, fun in the casino (including online casinos) begins with a winning strategy for managing one’s time and money. You can find some useful tips in my guide to playing Blackjack for the first time.

Online video poker is slowly finding traction in the United States. Currently there are three states that offer online video poker – Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. As per US federal gaming regulations, only US residents physically present in those states may play online video poker legally.

Video poker offers the beginning player with an easy, minimal learning curve for getting started. However, if you find yourself enjoying the experience, video poker strategies are virtually limitless and allow for some sophisticated gambling with high reward potentials.

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