How to Choose the Right Video Poker Game

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Choosing the Right Video Poker Game

Understanding video poker isn’t that hard. If it were, the game wouldn’t be so popular. It’s a truism that casino games are only popular when they’re easy enough to understand that the general public is willing to play. This means games like video poker are designed so that you can learn how to play in a few minutes.

In this post, I’ll cover some of the basics of how to play video poker along with some of the distinctions and subtleties you should know about if you want to get good at it. Learn how to choose the right video poker game and start winning at it here.

The Basics of Video Poker Games

You bet between one and five coins, and the computer deals you a random hand made up of five playing cards. It’s all virtual, but the probabilities are the same as what you’d see with a real deck of cards.

You choose which cards you want to keep, press a button, and the computer replaces the rest of those cards with new cards. Again, this is done randomly using the same probabilities you’d see with a freshly shuffled deck of cards.

If your hand is a winner — as defined by the pay table — you get paid based on the strength of the hand. This is, again, determined by the game’s pay table. That ends the game.

It’s almost funny to call a hand of real money video poker an entire game, but it is, even if a fast video poker player can finish a hand in less than six seconds on average.

You repeat this process until you run out of money or decide it’s time to quit.

But not all video poker games are the same, and even among specific variations, the games can differ based on their pay tables.

This post explains the differences so that you can make decisions about which are the right video poker games for you to play.

More About Video Poker Games and Variations

If you want to win at video poker games, the first step is to choose the right game. You have dozens of video game variations to choose from, but most of them aren’t worth playing. Among the games that are worth playing, not all the pay tables are good enough to warrant your action.

I think most video poker players should focus on the following games:

  • Jacks or Better
  • Deuces Wild
  • Double Bonus
  • Joker Poker
  • Pick’em Poker

You should pay close attention to the pay tables for the games you choose, too. Even a chance from nine coins to eight coins for a specific hand can lower the game’s expected return by 1% or more. These changes in payouts can also affect what the correct strategy for playing each hand is, too.

1% doesn’t seem like much, but let’s look at what that costs you (on average) in an hour on a video poker game:

If you’re playing a $1 machine, you’re betting $5 per hand. If you’re playing 500 hands per hour, which is relatively slowly, you’re putting $2500 per hour into action.

1% of $2,500 is $25, which is a lot of extra money to lose per hour just because you chose a video poker game with a somewhat inferior pay table to another.

And sometimes these games will be right next to each other and be otherwise identical except for the pay table, which is posted on the machine.

If you’re a serious video poker player, you might play 40 hours a week. $25 per hour multiplied by 40 hours a week is $1,000/week in extra losses just based on game selection.

Jacks or Better Video Poker Games

Jacks or Better is the most basic video poker game and the original. Everyone interested in video poker should start by learning how to play Jacks or Better. You have no wild cards, and any hand consisting of a pair of jacks or higher results in a payout.

For the most part, the best Jacks or Better games are those that pay 9 for 1 odds on a full house and 6 for 1 odds on a flush.

Video poker players in the know call this a 9/6 Jacks or Better game, or 9/6 JoB. They also call this a “full pay” Jacks or Better game.

Playing Cards

If you’re playing this game perfectly, the expected return is 99.54%. If you put $100,000 into action on this game, for example, you would mathematically expect to get $99,543.90 back in winnings. Your net loss would be $456.10.

If you’re an advantage player, you wouldn’t play even this best possible version of Jacks or Better unless you were getting enough of a rebate from the slots club or some other kind of casino promotion to make your mathematical expectation over 100%.

In other words, you’d want a situation where putting $100,000 in the machine returned at least $100,000.

Deuces Wild Video Poker Games

Deuces Wild is often the second video poker game most players learn. All the twos in the game are wild cards, which means that they replace whatever card you need to make the best possible hand on the pay table. The presence of four wild cards, of course, results in a wildly different strategy for the game.

A full-pay Deuces Wild video poker game pays 15 for 1 for a five of a kind. It also pays 5 for 1 for a four of a kind. If you can play with perfect strategy, you’ll see a 100.76% return on this game over time. Bet $100,000 on Deuces Wild, and you’ll see $100,760 in payouts, or a profit of $760.

Full-pay Deuces Wild is practically extinct now, but another version is popular with video poker lovers — “Not So Ugly” Deuces Wild.

I should note that the casinos don’t label different pay tables with things like “Full Pay” or “Not So Ugly.” Those are expressions that video poker gamblers in the know use to describe specific pay tables.

Not so ugly Deuces Wild pays off at 16 for 1 for a five of a kind and 10 for 1 for a straight flush. The expected return for not so ugly Deuces Wild is 99.73% if you play perfectly.

You’ll often see this version of Deuces Wild called “NSUD” on video poker websites.

Double Bonus Poker Games

Double Bonus is a variation of Bonus Poker, and both games are similar to Jacks or Better. You don’t have any wild cards in Bonus Poker or Double Bonus Poker. The big difference is that you get paid a lot more for a four of a kind in these games. Full houses, flushes, and straights usually have slightly better payouts, too.

The game makes up for this by only paying even money on two pair, which normally pays off at 2 for 1 odds in Jacks or Better. The best versions of Double Bonus Poker pay 10 for 1 for a full house and 7 for 1 for a flush.

This game is called 10/7 Double Bonus by savvy video poker players, and the expected return is 100.17%.

The only drawback to Double Bonus Poker is that the optimal strategy for the game is harder to learn than the strategy for Jacks or Better or Deuces Wild.

Joker Poker Games

You’ll also see Joker Poker called Jokers Wild, and the game is a sort of cross between Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild. The big difference, obviously, is that there’s only one wild card—the joker. You can find a wide variation of Joker Poker games across the country.

One version of Joker Poker pays even money for a pair of kings or a pair of aces, and this version is often called “kings or better” Joker Poker. The best pay table for kings or better Joker Poker pays 20 for 1 for a four of a kind and 7 for 1 for a full house.

Gambling Money

You’ll sometimes see some variation in the payout for a royal flush, too. 4,000 for 1 is the more common payout, and the payback percentage for that version is 100.65%. At one time, you could find such games that paid off at 4,700 for 1 for a royal flush, and that version had a payout percentage of 101%.

Another more common version of Joker Poker only offers a payout for two pair or better. Obviously, this game has a different strategy.

Pick’em Poker Games

Pick’em Poker might be the most unusual variation of video poker on this list, as it only offers you two choices to make on every hand instead of 32 choices.

Pick’em Poker uses a deck of 52 cards, but you start out with two cards instead of five. Then, you get two more cards. From that second set of cards, you choose which card to keep; the first two cards are kept by default.

Then, the game deals two more hands, and you get paid off on the hand ranking of your final five-card hand.

Pick’em Poker players almost like a video poker version of five-card stud instead of five-card draw.

A full pay version of Pick’em Poker has a payback percentage of 99.95%, which is great considering that the strategy for playing is much easier than with other video poker variations.


That’s most of what you need to know regarding which video poker games to choose, but keep in mind that the next step in the process is to analyze what kind of perks the players club offers you at the casino. You’ll earn comps in the form of cash rebates, meals, rooms, and shows via your membership.

Find out what rates you earn these comps and add that to the expected return for the game to get the best deals on video poker games.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. ...

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