How to Get Started With Jacks or Better Video Poker

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Jacks or Better Video Poker

I’ve mentioned in other posts on the importance of starting with Jacks or Better video poker.

That’s because it’s the standard, plain-Jane, vanilla video poker game.

Most of this discussion of Jacks or Better video poker has to do with the differences in paytables.

An Example of a Jacks or Better Video Poker Paytable

Here’s what one common Jacks or Better video poker paytable might look like:

Hand 1 coin 2 coins 3 coins 4 coins 5 coins
Royal flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight flush 50 100 150 200 250
4 of a kind 25 50 75 100 125
Full house 9 18 27 36 45
Flush 6 12 18 24 30
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
3 of a kind 3 6 9 12 15
2 pair 2 4 6 8 10
Pair of jacks+ 1 2 3 4 5

Nothing is more important in a video poker game than the paytable, and the best starting point for understanding video poker is the Jacks or Better pay table above. The paytable is what tells us the expected return for the game. If you know the probabilities of making the hands – which you can calculate, since you know the odds related to a deck of 52 cards – you can determine the potential payback percentage for the machine (assuming perfect play).

Of course, you won’t find a paytable like the one printed with the words 99.5% payback percentage, but that’s what this paytable offers if you play perfectly. You also don’t have to calculate this with a calculator, paper, and pencil, either.

Plenty of websites provide information about which paytables offer which expected returns.

Some Observations Related to this Jacks or Better Paytable

Notice that, with a single exception, the payoffs are all the same relative to the number of coins you’ve wagered. The only exception is the payoff for 5 coins on the royal flush, and what a doozy of a difference that is.

If you bet 1, 2, 3, or 4 coins, you get 250 for 1 on a royal flush.

But if you bet 5 coins, you get 800 for 1 with a royal flush.

That’s why I put the payoff for that hand in bold and italics above.

It’s that important.

Also, this kind of bonus for the top hand is typical of all video poker machines I’ve seen.

Full Pay Jacks or Better

The paytable above is a 9/6 Jacks or Better paytable, which is also often referred to as a “full pay” Jacks or Better game.

The first thing to understand is that “full pay” doesn’t mean that the game has a 100% payback percentage. It means that this is the (usually) best paytable for the game. And the payback percentage is 99.5% with perfect play.

Most Jacks or Better games in most casinos have a different paytable for this, and that difference isn’t in favor of the player, either.

How do you know which paytable you’re facing in Jacks or Better?

Look at the payouts for the full house and the flush. You’ll notice that a full house pays off at 9 for 1, and a flush pays off at 6 for 1.

That’s the first step in becoming a video poker expert, by the way – recognizing what a 9/6 Jacks or Better game is.

Almost all other Jacks or Better paytable you’ll find can be referred to as “short pay” machines. One of the most common examples of a short pay Jacks or Better game is an 8/5 game.

If you figured out that a full house pays off at 8 for 1, and a flush pays off at 5 for 1, then you already understand video poker better than 80% of the people in the casino.

The payback percentage for an 8/5 game, by the way, is only 97.3%.

This seems like a small difference, but it’s bigger than you think.

The Difference in How Much It Costs to Play Different Pay Tables

An average video poker player might play 500 hands per hour. (I’ve seen some sites use an estimate of 600 hands per hour, but 500 seems more likely to me – I’ve seen both.)

If you’re playing a quarter machine and betting 5 coins per hand, you’re putting $1.25 into action on each hand.

Over 500 hands in an hour, you’re putting 500 X $1.25 into action, or $625.

On a full pay machine, you’ll win back 99.5% of that, or $621.88.

Your hourly expected loss is just $3.12.

On that 8/5 machine, though, you’re only going to win back 97.3% of that, or $608.13.

That’s an hourly expected loss of $16.87, which is a big difference.

And, if you don’t already understand this, keep in mind that these are just long-term estimates. In the short run, you can win big or lose big. In any given hour, your results will be entirely unpredictable.

But if you play real money video poker games with a lower house edge and a higher payback percentage, you’ll be more likely to win in the short term.

And you’ll lose less in the long run.

Payouts for 2 Pairs

The payout for 2 pair is also something to look at. Some machines only pay even money for 2 pairs instead of 2 for 1. That’s a ripoff, but, it’s also something you’ll see occasionally on different varieties of video poker.

For Example:

An even money payout on a 2 pair on Double Double Bonus Poker is no big deal, because the machine makes up for it on other hands.

Payouts Used to Identify the Machines Are Based on Single Coin Payouts

If you want to distinguish one video poker machine from another, you’ll always use the single-coin payouts to do so.

Jacks or Better is the easiest game to identify, because 95% of the time, the only hands where the payouts vary are the 2 I already mentioned – the full house and the flush.

On other games, like Deuces Wild, for example, multiple hands adjust their payouts. Without some help, it’s hard to tell which Deuces Wild paytables are better than the others. I’ll cover that in my upcoming post on Deuces Wild, though.

In fact, most websites and authors won’t publish the entire 6 rows for a paytable. They’ll usually just post something like this – which is the paytable normalized for 1 coin, even though the jackpot payoff is based on the 5-coin wager:

  • Royal flush – 800
  • Straight flush – 50
  • 4 of a kind – 25
  • Full house – 9
  • Flush – 6
  • Straight – 4
  • 3 of a kind – 3
  • 2 pairs – 2
  • Pair of jacks or better – 1

Some Jacks or Better Paytables Are Even Worse

I’ve already contrasted the payback percentage of the full pay Jacks or Better game with the payback percentage for 8/5.

But would you believe there are even worse paytables available?

Another couple of common paytables are 7/5 and 6/5 paytables.

The payback percentage for these are 96.15% and 95%, respectively.

And while those payback percentages are still better than the payback percentage for an average slot machine, they’re a far cry from what you should willingly accept.

Here’s a comparison of your hourly loss expectations from one quarter machine to another:

  • 9/6 – $3.12
  • 8/5 – $16.87
  • 7/5 – $24.06
  • 6/5 – $31.25

What a difference a few pennies on a paytable can make to your bottom line.

Comparing and contrasting these Jacks or Better paytables is easy. You have 2 hands to pay attention to, and you should choose the machines with the higher payouts for those hands.

But with a lot of other video poker variations, 4 or 5 different hands might go up or down. Understanding which of those variations is more important can be tricky.

This is one of the reasons I suggest learning Jacks or Better first. It’s just so much easier to distinguish between one machine and another.

In my next post, I’ll write about the correct strategies for playing Jacks or Better and how to learn it.

After that, I’ll have a post about Deuces Wild and how that game can even have a payback percentage of more than 100%.


Jacks or Better is the perfect video poker game for beginners. The most important thing to understand about Jacks or Better is the paytable. If you can find full pay Jacks or Better games, then those are the games you should play.

Also, in terms of gameplay, Jacks or Better is the basis for almost all other video poker games. You could consider every video poker game ever made to be a variation of Jacks or Better.

So why would you start anywhere else?

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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