How To Play Online Video Poker With Proper Strategy

By in Video Poker on
7 Minute Read
Mobile Video Poker Screen Smartphone

Online video poker demands that people who want to win the most money possible from the game take a serious look at strategy. You might not realize all that goes into making the right decisions during game play. But without those right decisions in place, you could end up short-changing yourself and damaging your gambling investment.

For the past few weeks now, we’ve been going over the basics of real money video poker online. Online video poker represents one of the best gambling investments that you can make and you can do it easily from the comfort of your own home.

What Makes Online Video Poker Unique?

If you’re new to online video poker, you might make the mistake of thinking that it’s sort of the same thing as slot machines. After all, slot machines and video poker machines are found together in casinos, and both can be played solo.

But the similarities don’t go much further than that. Slot machines have little to no strategic element involved in their game play. When you play at a slot machine, either at a casino or online, you are basically just spinning the reels and hoping that things turn out for the best.

Online video poker, on the other hand, gives you some control over game play. During each hand, you’ll have the choice of what cards to hold and what cards to discard. The discarded cards are replaced by others from the deck as you try to make the best five-card poker hand possible to win some payback.

It seems like it’s just a single choice, but it goes a little deeper than that. You have to realize that there are many different combinations of holds and discards available in that deal. And then you also have to take into account all of the different combinations that you might receive on the deal.

You might also think that it doesn’t matter what cards you decide to play in your online video poker game because of the luck involved. It is true that the luck of the draw does indeed determine wins and losses much of the time when you’re playing video poker.

But that luck will even out over time, especially if you plan on playing online video poker with regularity and end up playing thousands and thousands of hands. Once that luck does even out, the percentages and probabilities take over. And that’s when you’ll notice how having proper strategy helps you.

One of the great advantages that online video poker possesses over other casino games is that it generally offers excellent payback percentage. In other words, if you think of your gambling in terms of an investment, it’s a pretty good one. Play the game right and choose the right game and you could conceivably hope to make a profit in the long run.

But making wrong decisions while playing video poker will undercut those hopes. Every incorrect choice that you make about what to hold and discard will lower that payback percentage a little bit. That’s why you need to find a way to learn the right plays each and every time you hit that “deal” button to begin a session of online video poker.

In the following article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to develop proper online video poker strategy. We’ll explain how strategy fits into betting, what it means to make the right choice on a given hand, and how different pay tables will affect the strategy that you have. Finally, we’ll show you the methods that you can use to ensure that you develop airtight online video poker strategy.

It Starts With the Wager

You might not realize it, but your online video poker strategy begins when you decide how much to bet. The vast majority of online video poker games will give you the choice of betting between one and five credits.

In monetary terms, each credit will equal the value of one unit of the denomination you’re playing. For example, one credit at a 25-cent denomination game equals 25 cents, two credits equals 50 cents, and so on.

You can change your wager every single hand if you choose to do so. And many people do that because they are trying to guess or time when they think winning hands are coming.

The theory in that case would be that, if you haven’t won a hand in a while, you would bet more on a particular hand to try to time when the winning hand comes. And, vice versa, you would bet less if you’ve maybe won a few hands in a row and think you’re bound for a loss.

This betting strategy, however, is completely erroneous. Simply put, your chances of winning or losing a particular hand of video poker on any given online game never change. A random number generator within the software ensures that every single deal and draw is random and independent from the one before.

Therefore, any attempt to guess what’s going to happen next will likely lead you to making a poor bet (and possibly a poor decision on holds and discards, as we’ll explain in a bit.) Think of every single hand as if it’s the first one you’re about to play and you’ll avoid this mistake.

The Correct Bet for Online Video Poker:

In actuality, the correct wager for any hand of normal online video poker is five coins, also known as the Max Bet. The reason for this is based on the payback for the royal flush hand. For those who aren’t aware, the royal flush, which consists of a ten, jack, queen, king and ace of the same suit, is the rarest winning hand in online video poker and also pays the most.

When you are betting between one and four coins and manage a royal flush playing online video poker, the payback usually stands at somewhere around 250 credits for every one that you bet. But when you bet five coins, that payback for the royal flush jumps to 800 to 1 for most pay tables.

In other words, if you bet four credits and hit the royal flush, you’d win 1,000. If you bet five credits and hit the hand, you’d win 4,000 credits.

It’s understandable for those on a betting budget to want to keep their monetary commitment in check by betting less. But you are hurting your overall payback if you don’t make the Max Bet every time, especially if you plan to play online video poker regularly. The more hands you play, the more likely it is that a royal flush occurs for you at some point.

For that reason, the best strategy for online video poker is to make the maximum wager every single hand. If you find that’s too expensive for you, it’s better to find a lower denomination instead of lowering your wager. That would keep the highest payback percentage in play while easing things up on your budget a bit.

What Does It Mean to Make the “Right” Play?

You might think that the right play in online video poker is whichever one causes you to win. But if you were able to know every time what that was going to be, you’d be able to beat the game every time and make a mint.

The reason that you can’t do that is that it is impossible to know what cards you might get on the draw. You can only guess based on what’s left in the deck.

That’s why it is difficult to decide what to hold and discard. All that you can do is estimate the best that you can based on the probability of making certain video poker hands. And you’re also considering what each winning hand pays back, as that should factor into your decision as well.

What shouldn’t factor in your decision is any kind of hunch based on pervious hands. Don’t think, for example, that you’re bound to get an ace on the draw because you haven’t seen one in many hands. Or don’t give up on a flush draw with hearts simply because it seems that there have been a lot of hearts showing up in previous hands.

As we told you about in the betting section above, this kind of thinking will lead you astray. Your chances of receiving certain cards never change, regardless of anything that has come before.

So how do you decide what to hold and what to discard from a given hand of online video poker? There are five cards in every deal. And there are 32 different combinations which you can choose in terms of holds and discards.

For Example:

One combination would be to hold the first card in the line and then discard the other four. Another choice would be to hold the first two cards and discard the other three. Or you can hold all five, discard all five, et cetera, et cetera.

Only one of these combinations brings about the highest expected value from that particular deal. How is that determined?

Well, imagine that you were playing a video poker game where you received the same exact deal every single hand. You play this game over and over and play each of the 32 different combinations the exact same number of times.

After a long time of doing this, one particular combination would have returned more money per wager than any other. That is the combination of holds and discards that you should be playing for that deal. And you should play it each and every time that deal comes up.

Does this mean that particular play will always lead to a win? No. And it doesn’t mean that the other 31 possibilities couldn’t lead to wins now and then.

For example, take a look at the following deal:

  • Ace of clubs
  • Ace of diamonds
  • Seven of clubs
  • Eight of hearts
  • Nine of diamonds

On just about any pay table you could imagine, the right play here is to hold onto the pair of aces. It is already a winning combination, and you could easily improve it by discarding the other three cards. But let’s say that you made that decision and the draw turned out this way:

  • Ace of clubs
  • Ace of diamonds
  • Ten of hearts
  • Jack of clubs
  • Four of spades

You’ll notice that the first two cards to come to you on the draw were the ten of hearts and jack of clubs. Remember that in the original deal, you already had a seven, eight and nine. If you had held those cards, you would have made a straight, which would have paid off higher than the simple pair of aces.

In that case, the correct mathematical play led to the wrong result. But you couldn’t have known it would turn out that way. You made the right play by holding onto the aces, but luck went against you.

If, however, you played that particular deal an infinite number of times, holding the pair of aces would earn you the most money. That’s why it is the correct play, regardless of what might happen in the short term.

On most deals, it will be pretty obvious what the correct play should be, as long as you have a basic understanding of poker hands. But there will be occasions as you play where you might two or three possibilities about what to hold and discard which seem pretty even.

That’s when you might need some help. Later on in this article, we’ll show you how you can get that help with some useful online video poker resources.

Adjusting Your Video Poker Strategy to the Pay Table

Before you play any kind of online video poker, you should always be paying close attention to the pay table. The pay table is the most important piece of information you can possibly have. And the most crucial reason is that it should dictate your strategy.

When we told you above about making decisions for holds and discards, we mentioned that you should be considering how much each winning hand pays. It makes more sense to go for a particular winning hand, even if the odds aren’t great of making it, if it pays off higher than normal.

As you get used to the world of online video poker, you’ll notice that there are many different kinds of pay tables. The most common of these is called Jacks or Better.

Jacks or Better is known for paying off hands based strictly on the chances of you have of achieving those hands. The harder the hand is to achieve, the more it pays.

Bonus pay tables are also prevalent in the video poker world. These pay tables are known for putting a premium on four of a kind hands. Because this is the case, Bonus pay tables allow players many more opportunities at quick, massive payoffs than Jacks or Better.

There are also wild cards games such as Deuces Wild or Joker Poker. The inclusion of wild cards, which can be turned into any other card in the deck which improves your online video poker hand the most, allows for rare hands to be hit with more regularity.

The bottom line, however, is to adjust your strategy with each pay table. Let’s take a look at an example of how a single deal might be played differently in two different video poker pay tables, Jacks or Better and Double Bonus. Let’s take a look at the two pay tables first:

Jacks or Better

Coins/Hands 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 Pairs 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5

Double Bonus Poker

Coins/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 (aces) 160 320 480 640 800
4 of a Kind (2s, 3s or 4s) 80 160 240 320 400
4 of a Kind (any other) 50 100 150 200 250
Full House 9 18 27 36 45
Flush 7 14 21 28 35
Straight 5 10 15 20 25
3 of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
2 Pairs 1 2 3 4 5
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5

Now let’s take a look at the following deal:

  • Ace of spades
  • Ace of hearts
  • Five of clubs
  • Five of diamonds
  • Nine of clubs

How would you play that hand? Well, for those who know poker hands pretty well, the instinct is probably to hold on to the two pair and discard the nine of clubs. Doing so would ensure the two pair and give you the chance at a full house with another ace or five.

As it turns out, such a play is the mathematically correct one on a Jacks or Better pay table. Jacks or Better strategy pretty much mimics the strategy that you would use in Five-Card Draw, so it’s understandable that poker instincts would be correct here.

But take a close look at the hand again and how it plays on the Double Bonus poker pay table. On that table, two pair pays off at only even money, compared to 2 to 1 on the Jacks or Better pay table. Right off the bat, having the two pair is less valuable in the Double Bonus online video poker game.

In fact, the pair of aces that you have alone is as valuable as the two pair on the Double Bonus pay table. There is no difference in payoffs for the Full House between the two pay tables, so there isn’t any extra incentive to go for it either way.

But note that four of a kind aces pays 160 to 1 on the Double Bonus pay table, compared to just 25 to 1 on the Jacks or Better pay table. The premium placed on that hand makes it important for you to consider going for it when you can.

If, while playing the Double Bonus game, you were to hold onto the pair of aces, you’d have the same payback assured to you as if you kept the two pair. And you would give yourself a chance at drawing two more aces to get the high-paying four of a kind, which wouldn’t be possible if you kept the two pair. As a result of all that, the best play for the Double Bonus table is to keep the two aces and drop everything else.

This deal is one that should be played differently depending on the pay table. And there are many other deals in video poker that are similar in that the particular pay table might affect how they’re played. That’s why you should go into your round of online video poker understanding the pay table first and foremost.

How to Develop Online Video Poker Strategy

One of the most common mistakes that people make when they decide that they are going to attempt online video poker on a regular basis is that they think they can learn the right video poker strategy on their own. It’s true that simple common sense and savvy will get you a long way with video poker.

But you will inevitably run up against deals that can be played several different ways. And the difference in the expected value might be slim between the possibilities. So slim, in fact, that even a seasoned video poker player might make one of the lesser plays and damage their potential payback.

The problem is that the math involved in determining not only the probabilities of making winning hands but also considering the potential paybacks is extremely involved. In fact, if you were to try and do all the math on the spot, it would slow your game down to a halt. And even if you took your time, you might make a mistake anyway.

After all, consider all of the different possibilities in terms of the starting hands that you can get. Now consider the fact that you’ll need to know the correct strategy for a specific pay table, whatever that might be. As simple as game play for online video poker might be, the strategy can actually be quite daunting.

But the good news is that you don’t have to handle all of this on your own. There are reliable resources waiting for you. And the great thing is that these resources have done all the online video poker math for you, and you just have to reap the rewards.

Before you take a look at these resources, first decide which pay table, or pay tables, you’re going to play. Try to limit it to just a few so that you don’t have to learn different information unnecessarily.

Once you’ve done that, we suggest one of the following methods of online video poker instruction:

Video Poker Training Software

There are several different ways you can attain this software. You might be able to find apps on your phone or even websites that offer the service. Or you can actually end up with a disc that you download onto your computer.

If you’re going to stick with a simple game like Jacks or Better, you’re probably all right with the free stuff. However, if you want to play one of the more involved pay tables, you might need something more thorough than that. That’s when you should perhaps choose software that you might have to pay for.

Once you have the software and the pay table factored into it, you can play hands as if you were playing for real money. As you play and are faced with decisions about what to hold and discard, the software will nudge you in the right direction when you aren’t sure. In this way, you’ll eventually learn all the correct plays.

Strategy Charts

A strategy chart can be found online for most of the major pay tables available for online video poker. It’s just a matter of typing the name of the game into an internet search engine. Try to find charts that come from reputable sites.

What you’ll see when you look at a strategy chart is a list of different card combinations. And these card combinations will be ranked in terms of their expected value. When it comes to choosing between two possibilities for holds and discards, look for the one that is ranked higher.

For example, you might see a Jacks or Better pay table with the following listings:

  • Four cards of same suit
  • Pair of low cards

Now imagine that you get the following deal:

  • Four of clubs
  • Four of hearts
  • Six of hearts
  • Nine of hearts
  • Ace of hearts

In this hand, you have both four of a same suit and a pair of low cards. The chart has the four of the same suit rated higher. As a result, you know then to hold the four hearts and drop the four of clubs.
Video Poker Strategy Chart
The best way to use a strategy chart is to memorize it. While you could technically have it by your side as you play online video poker, it would slow you down if you were to keep constantly consulting it. And part of the key to earning video poker profits is to play as quickly as possible so that loyalty rewards programs from top gambling websites kick in sooner.

Conclusion

We hope that these tips can help you learn how to play online video poker with solid strategy as soon as possible. It’s a process that might not happen overnight. But if you take your time and do the work, your bankroll will benefit from it.

Jim Beviglia

Jim Beviglia joined Gamblingsites.org as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for GamblingSites.org and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog. For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h ...

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