Ace Invaders is a good example of how video poker machine designers create
new and unique VP games. This game from Leading Edge Design is obviously
inspired by the arcade class, Space Invaders, where alien spaceships drop from
the sky as you try to shoot them.
Ace Invaders is a 3-play video poker game, and the defining feature of the
game is that the aces drop from the top hand if they improve your bottom hand.
This page covers the basics of how to play Ace Invaders, the pay tables and
payback percentage for the game, and what strategy to use to get the best odds
The Basics of Ace Invaders Video Poker
Ace Invaders is a video poker game, so some understanding of how video poker
in general works is the starting point for learning this game.
You can think of video poker as a combination of slot machines, draw poker,
and solitaire. The games resemble slot machines physically, but they couldn’t be
Both slots and video poker involve getting random symbols from a computer
program. Certain combinations result in certain payouts, as outlined in the pay
table for the game.
On a slot machine, though, the symbols are arbitrary and related to the theme
of the game. Traditionally, fruit symbols and bars are used.
But on a video poker game, the symbols are always based on the 52 cards in a
standard deck of playing cards.
The pay table for a slot machine is also arbitrary, but the pay table for a
video poker game is based on the standard ranking of hands in poker. The better
your hand, the bigger the payout.
And unlike traditional poker, in video poker games like Ace Invaders, you’re
just competing against the computer.
The implication of the math behind video poker as opposed to the math behind
slots is hard to overstate. When you’re playing a slot machine, you have no way
of knowing how high the house edge is. You know the payoffs for the various
combinations of symbols, but you don’t know the probability of getting one of
In fact, slots are the only game in the casino where the odds are opaque
rather than transparent.
Since the random number generator uses the same odds as a deck of playing
cards, you can calculate the probability of getting various combinations.
If you combine the probability of winning with the payout for winning, you
get the payback percentage for the game.
To play, you insert money into the Ace Invaders machine. Based on the
denomination of the machine (usually 25 cents, a dollar, or $5), that money is
converted into credits.
Insert $100 into a quarter machine, and you’re awarded with 400 credits.
You then choose how many coins you want to bet on each hand. Almost all video
poker games have the following options:
You should always bet 5 coins per hand in video poker. The payoff for the top
hand in the game (the royal flush) increases dramatically when you bet 5 coins.
A royal flush pays off at 800 for 1 if you bet 5 coins, but it only pays off at
250 for 1 if you bet less than that.
After you place your bet, you press the deal button, and the game deals you a
5-card hand. You then get to decide which cards to keep and which cards to
discard. You can discard and replace any of or all the cards.
When you’ve finished making your choices, you press the deal button again.
The game deals your replacement cards. You get paid off on the final poker hand
ranking based on the game’s pay table.
Even though the deals and draws are random, skill and strategy count. Your
decisions about which cards to keep and which cards to throw away affect the
Here’s an absurd, but illustrative, example:
You’re dealt a royal flush. All you need to do to collect your 4000-coin
jackpot is hold all 5 cards. If you discard anything, you’re guaranteed a
Jacks or Better is the most basic video poker game. It earned that name
because the lowest-paying hand is a pair of jacks. Almost all other VP games are
variations of Jacks or Better with different pay tables and/or the addition of
The strategy/skill aspect is only one of the advantages video poker offers
over slot machines. The other advantage is the higher payback percentage. Even
the worst video poker games offer payback percentages of 95% or higher. Most
slot machines have a maximum payback percentage of 95%–they go down from there.
We’ll cover pay tables and payback percentages in more detail in the section
How the Actual Gameplay of Ace Invaders Differs from Other Video Poker Games
The game’s algorithm uses 3 non-standard 53-card decks. The additional card
is a 5th ace.
It’s a 3-line game, so each line uses a separate deck and requires a separate
bet. If you’re betting 5 coins per line (and you should be), your total wager is
15 coins per deal.
The bottom line is a draw poker game, just like Jacks or Better. You’re dealt
a hand and have the option of keeping or discarding any of the cards on that
The 2 lines above that are stud poker games. In stud poker, you’re not
allowed to discard and replace cards.
You decide which cards on the bottom line you’re going to hold. After you
draw your replacement cards, the game deals the top 2 hands.
If you have an ace in the top line, it will duplicate itself and drop to the
middle line, but only if doing so would improve your payoff on the middle line.
After that, any ace on the middle line that would improve your payoff on the
bottom line does the same thing.
Ace Invaders always chooses the best paying option for you. You’re not
expected to figure out which combinations have the best payoffs.
Ace Invaders Pay Tables and Payback Percentages
Here’s an example pay table for Ace Invaders video poker:
800 for 1
500 for 1
50 for 1
50 for 1
Any other 4 of a kind
25 for 1
10 for 1
6 for 1
4 for 1
3 of a kind
3 for 1
2 for 1
A pair of jacks or higher
1 for 1
The pay table above assumes you’re wagering 5 coins per hand. It resembles
the pay table for a jacks or better game, but you’ll notice several differences:
A Jacks or Better game
doesn’t have a 5 aces possibility.
Ace Invaders offers a
higher payoff for a 4 of a kind if it’s made up of aces.
Like jacks or better, the video poker game designers adjust the payback
percentage for this game by lowering the payoffs on 2 hands:
The full house
On a full-pay Jacks or Better game, the payoff for these 2 hands are 9 for 1
and 6 for 1, respectively. That’s called a 9/6 Jacks or Better game, and the
payback percentage for that game is 99.54% when played with optimal strategy.
Here’s an explanation of payback percentage:
It’s an average mathematical expected return on a game’s average bet.
If a game has a 99.54% payback percentage, you can expect to win $99.54
every time you bet $100. The implication of that is clear, too – you’ll lose 46
cents every time you bet $100.
That 0.46% is the house edge, which is usually used to describe the odds on
table games rather than machine games.
The thing to understand about the payback percentage and the house edge is
that both numbers are long-term expectations. In the short run, of course you
won’t win $99.54 every time you wager $100.
But when you play thousands of hands, the actual results should start to
resemble the predicted results. Since the casino is playing in the long run
immediately, fielding bets for 100s or 1000s of players at a time, they’re
confident they’ll be long-term winners.
In the short run, some players walk away as winners. This is called variance,
and the casinos rely on this to keep customers gambling.
Calculating the payback percentage for Ace Invaders is more complicated than
for other video poker games because of the 3 different hands being played with
different rules for each hand.
Normally, you would just multiply the probability of getting each hand by the
amount it pays off to figure the expected return for that possibility.
The pay table above is generous indeed. The payback percentage for the bottom
line is 99.92%, making this one of the best bets in the casino. A house edge of
0.08% is absurdly low, in fact.
Other pay tables are available for Ace Invaders, though. We’ll refer to these
pay tables according to their payoffs for the full house and the flush.
We’ve listed the payback percentages for those variations below:
9/6 Ace Invaders 98.86%
8/6 Ace Invaders 97.71%
8/5 Ace Invaders 96.55%
7/5 Ace Invaders 95.4%
6/5 Ace Invaders 94.25%
But those numbers don’t account for the payoffs on the other 2 hands. We use
Michael Shackleford’s site for analysis of payback percentages, and he looks
at the cumulative payback percentage for these variations there.
10/6 Ace Invaders 100.29%
9/6 Ace Invaders 99.56%
8/6 Ace Invaders 98.84%
8/5 Ace Invaders 98.34%
7/5 Ace Invaders 97.61%
6/5 Ace Invaders 96.89%
We always recommend sticking with VP games which offer at least a 99% return.
Even if you can find a game with a 98.84% payback percentage, Ace Invaders is
probably worth playing.
Of course, achieving the theoretical payback percentage means making the
right decisions about which cards to hold and which cards to discard. We cover
that in the next section.
Ace Invaders Strategy Advice
The premise behind any video poker strategy is that you need to make the
decision with the highest expected return on every hand. In VP games, the
expected return for a decision is based on the probable outcomes and the payoffs
for those outcomes.
It’s not enough to know that a royal flush pays off at 800 for 1 and a high
pair pays off at 1 for 1. You need to know the probability of making each hand
based on what’s in your hand when you make the decision.
Let’s suppose you have the jack, queen, king, and ace of diamonds. You also
have the jack of hearts.
You have a pat hand – a pair of jacks. If you hang on those jacks, you have a
100% probability of getting at least even money. You also have varying
probabilities of improving to other hands, like 3 of a kind, a full house, or 4
of a kind.
But you also have a 4-card draw to a royal flush. If you discard the jack of
hearts, you have a roughly 2% chance of making that royal flush. The probability
is 1 divided by 47.
Would you rather have a 2% chance of winning 800 credits, or a 100% chance of
winning 1 credit.
The correct decision, mathematically, is to go for the 800 credits. 2% of 800
is 16, which is a higher expected value.
A video poker strategy chart lists the cards you should hold in varying
situations in descending order of preference. You start at the top of the chart
and stop when you get to the hand that most closely resembles your hand. Those
are the cards you keep.
Since the top 2 hands of Ace Invaders are basically stud games, you don’t
have any strategy decisions to make with them. You just play the bottom row of
cards as best you can. Following the strategy for regular Jacks or Better is
close to optimal, although you need to play aces more aggressively.
Here’s an example of a basic strategy table for Jacks or Better:
Hold any of the following pat hands: 5
aces, royal flush, 4 of a kind, or a straight flush. If you’re dealt any of
these, you hold all your cards, discarding nothing.
4 cards to a royal flush. If you have
4 of a kind, you won’t have a 4 of a kind, so there’s no decision between the 2.
But if you have a straight or a flush that might improve to a royal flush, you
should go for it. For example, if you have the ace, king, queen, and jack of
diamonds along with the 10 of hearts, you would discard the 10 of hearts. Yes,
you’re giving up a pat hand, but the big payoff for the royal flush makes it
Hold any of the following pat hands: 3
of a kind, straight, flush, or a full house.
Hold 4 cards to a straight flush. This
isn’t as exciting as a draw to a royal flush, but it’s still a stronger EV move
than drawing to a single pair.
Hold either of the following pat
hands: a high pair or 2 pairs. The only time you’ll discard a high pair is if
you’re drawing to a straight flush or a royal flush.
3 cards to a royal flush. This is a
real longshot, but it’s the right move.
4 cards to a flush. This is less of a
longshot, but the payoff isn’t nearly as impressive.
Low pair. You hold a low pair hoping
to hit 3 or 4 of a kind, or of hitting a full house.
4 cards to an outside straight draw.
In this case, we’re talking about an outside straight draw. An example is 4567.
You can fill the straight with a 3 or an 8, which are both on the “outside” of
Any 2 suited high cards. Another real longshot, but you have
lots of possibilities. The most likely is that you’ll hit a high pair, but you
might also hit a royal flush, a straight flush, a flush, or a straight. You
might also hit 3 of a kind or 4 of a kind.
Any 3 cards to a straight flush.
Any 2 high cards that aren’t suited. You’re trying for that
Any high card. You have a better chance of getting a big pair
if you already have a big card.
This is based on a simplified basic strategy table from Michael Shackleford’s
site. He estimates that it only costs 0.08% in payback percentage to use this
strategy instead of the expert strategy, which is much more complicated.
Our assumption is that this strategy will get you close to the optimal
payback percentage on Ace Invaders, too.
Find Ace Invaders Video Poker Online or Off, for Free or for Real Money
The manufacturer’s site has a free demo version of the game you can play if you have Shockwave
installed on your computer.
We don’t know of any online casinos offering Ace Invaders video poker for
Ace Invaders is an unusual video poker game that combines an arcade game
theme (Space Invaders) with a slot machine feature (cascading symbols). It also
combines draw poker, solitaire, and stud poker. It’s worth playing just for
Ace Invaders isn’t the best game for low rollers, as you need to bet 15 coins
every time you play. Even on a quarter machine, that’s $3.75 per hand. If you
played a standard single-play game, you’d only have to risk $1.25 per hand. That
doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but multiply it by 600 hands per hour,
and you’re looking at the difference between $750/hour in action and $2250/hour
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