Video Poker Basics and How to Play Different VP Games

Video Poker Basics

Most people play video poker for one of three reasons:

  • 1It's the popular machine based alternative to slot machines.
  • 2Video poker features stimulating strategy.
  • 3Certain video poker games give you a strong chance to beat the casino.

These are all excellent reasons to play video poker. But where do you begin once you've chosen to play?

This guide will discuss everything you need to get started with video poker and trim the house edge.

And while we won't cover advanced strategy concepts, we'll discuss how to take the next step towards becoming a profitable player.

That said, let's begin with how to play video poker, then progress into other important topics for new players.

How to Play Video Poker

The first thing you should know with regard to playing video poker is what the buttons and onscreen displays mean.

Below you can see an explanation of each button and display, along with steps for playing the game:

Buttons

  • Bet One

    You use this button to increase your bet size, and you can wager anywhere from 1-5 coins per hand. We recommend 5 coins because this qualifies you for the top royal flush payout & optimal payback.

  • Deal / Draw

    You push this to deal your initial 5-card hand. You also choose this when you've decided what cards to keep and discard.

  • Hold

    All five cards have a hold button underneath them. During the draw round, you click Hold under any card that you wish to keep.

  • Max Bet

    This automatically bets all 5 coins. If you accidentally push Max Bet, click Bet One to return to one coin and start over.

Displays

  • Coin

    Shows what coin size you're currently using. This is only relevant in online casinos because land-based casinos feature a set $0.25 coin denomination.

  • Credits

    Shows how many total credits you have in your bankroll.

  • Bet

    Shows how much you're betting in the current hand.

  • Paytable

    Displays how much each winning hand pays.

  • Win

    Shows how much you've won (if anything) after a hand is finished.

Steps to Play Video Poker

  • 1Choose how many coins you want to bet on the hand; again, we recommend 5 coins.
  • 2Choose Deal / Draw to receive your hand.
  • 3Choose Hold for any card(s) you wish to keep; all others will be discarded.
  • 4Choose Deal / Draw to finalize your hand.
  • 5Payouts (if any) are made according to the paytable.
  • 6When a hand is finished, you can either click Deal / Draw to play another hand with the same bet, or change your wager.

Understanding Different Video Poker Games

One of the most confusing things for new video poker players is knowing which game to choose in the beginning. After all, there are dozens of video poker games available, and each one has different paytables.

Below you can see a few of the different video poker games:

  • Aces and Eights
  • Aces and Faces
  • All American
  • Bonus Poker
  • Deuces Wild
  • Double Bonus
  • Double Double Bonus
  • Jacks or Better
  • Joker Poker
  • Loose Deuces
  • Super Aces
  • Tens or Better

This list isn't meant to confuse beginners, but rather offer a sample of how many different games you can choose from.

Where do you begin?

Let's check out a few different points that you should understand when looking for video poker games.

Payback

The first thing that most players look at is a game's payback, or rather how much money it pays out over the long term. Here's an example:

  • 1.9 / 6 Jacks or Better pays back 99.54%.
  • 2.You bet $1,000.
  • 3.The game theoretically pays back $995.40 (1,000 x 0.9954).
  • 4.You've only lost $4.60.

The closer you get to 100% payback, the better.

In rare cases, you can even find video poker variations that offer over 100% payback.

Paytable

As mentioned before, each video poker game offers different paytables. The differences occur with regard to how much the game will offer for specific payouts.

Here's an example using Jacks or Better (JoB):

  • 9 / 6 JoB = 99.54% payback
  • 9 / 5 JoB = 98.45% payback
  • 8 / 6 JoB = 98.39% payback
  • 8 / 5 JoB = 97.30% payback

The numbers in front refer to how much Jacks or Better pays for a full house and flush - all other payouts remain the same.

The optimal situation is to find a JoB game that offers 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush. Anything below this offers significantly lower payback.

Here's a quick comparison between complete 9 / 6 and 9 / 5 JoB paytables:

9 / 6 Jacks or Better Paytable
Hand 1 coin bet 2 coins 3 coins 4 coins 5 coins
Royal flush 250 500 750 1,000 4,000
Straight flush 50 100 300 400 500
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
9 / 5 Jacks or Better Paytable
Hand 1 coin bet 2 coins 3 coins 4 coins 5 coins
Royal flush 250 500 750 1,000 4,000
Straight flush 50 100 300 400 500
4 of a kind 25 50 75 100 125
Full house 9 18 27 36 45
Flush 5 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

We used JoB because it's the simplest example of paytable differences. But note that other games like Deuces Wild, Double Double Bonus, and Joker Poker have 3 or more payout differences as you move between paytables.

We also want to stress one more time that you need to bet all five coins if you want optimal payback.

As you can see in the two paytables above, the royal flush payout jumps from 1,000 coins to 4,000 coins when you win on a max bet.

Simplicity & Strategy Difficulty

Another factor to consider is a video poker game's difficulty with regard to payouts and strategy.

Again, Jacks or Better carries the banner here because it has limited payouts and fairly easy strategy.

Fewer payouts mean that you don't have to worry about keeping track of numerous winning hands. In turn, this leads to simpler strategy because you have less decisions to make when keeping cards and discarding.

Contrast this to a game like Double Double Bonus, which has five different bonus payouts.

This not only makes for a more-confusing paytable, but you'll need to understand how to play more situations with regard to strategy.

What Video Poker Games Should You Play?

Ideally, you want to play video poker variations that offer over 100% payback. Of course, this is easier said than done because most casinos don't offer such games.

We've never found an online casino that offers over 100% payback for a game. And Las Vegas is the only place we know of that has positive expectation (+EV) at brick-and-mortar casinos.

This means that you want to accomplish two main goals when looking for a video poker game:

  • Find a game that's available to you. Obviously you can't just take a taxi to a Vegas casino when you live in New York.
  • Find the best-available game in terms of payback.

Keeping these points in mind, here's a short list of good video poker games. This list weights both the payback and availability of each variant.

1 - 9 / 6 Jacks or Better - 99.54% Payback

Availability score = 9 Payback score = 9

We start here because Jacks or Better (JoB) offers high payback, and is widely available in both online and land-based casinos.

Aside from these factors, we recommend JoB because it's the simplest game for beginners to understand and beat.

2 - All Aces (Online) - 99.92% Payback

Availability score = 8 Payback score = 9.5

Developed by Microgaming, All Aces is the top-paying video poker variation found online. This game offers a big payout for getting four aces, along with other bonuses for four 2-4's and four 5-K's.

The one catch is that All Aces is only available at Microgaming casinos. And if you're from an unregulated online gaming country like the United States, you can't play at Microgaming sites.

3 - Aces and Eights (Online) - 99.78% Payback

Availability score = 7.5 Payback score = 9

Created by Realtime Gaming (RTG), Aces and Eights is another online game that offers tremendous payback. This variant is characterized by offering bonus payouts for four aces or 8s.

The one problem with RTG's Aces and Eights - as well as Microgaming's All Aces - is that their strategy is less common than other games on this list.

4 - 8 / 5 Bonus Poker - 99.17% Payback

Availability score = 10 Payback score = 4

This is the top-paying version of Bonus Poker, offering 8 coins for a full house and 5 for a flush.

As you can see, 8 / 5 Bonus Poker's payback isn't anything to get excited about. But it's normally available in land-based and online casinos, making it tops in the availability category.

5 - Full Pay Deuces Wild - 100.76% Payback

Availability Score = 2 Payback score = 10

While some obscure video poker variations offer higher payback, full-pay Deuces Wild is the gold standard with regard to beating video poker.

This game delivers 100.76% payback with perfect strategy, which can offer you a decent living with enough volume and double / triple point promotions.

The catch is that you're only going to find full-pay Deuces Wild in downtown and North Las Vegas casinos. Even then, you need to show up at the right times to find an open machine.

6 - 10 / 7 Double Bonus - 100.17% Payback

Availability Score = 2 Payback score = 9.5

If you can't find Deuces Wild in a Vegas casino, 10 / 7 Double Bonus is your next-best best. It's characterized by offering 10 coins for a full house, and 7 coins for a flush.

7 - 9 / 6 Double Double Bonus - 100.07% Payback

Availability Score = 2 Payback score = 9.5

9 / 6 Double Double Bonus is another +EV video poker game found in downtown and North Las Vegas. The only catch is that you don't stand to make nearly as much as with Deuces Wild.

Even with perfect strategy, you'll only earn $0.70 per $1,000 wagered. Nevertheless, it's always fun to win in casinos when you get the chance.

Basic Video Poker Strategy

We just discussed several video poker variations that offer really high payback. Of course, you have to use excellent strategy for the high payback to mean anything.

And it all begins with the basics, which are best learned through a simplified Jacks or Better strategy chart.

The reason why we suggest a simplified chart is because it allows you to ease your way into strategy. Furthermore, the following card will get you to 99.46% payback, which is only 0.08% off optimal payback for JoB.

When reading this chart, you start at the top and scan down until you find your hand:

Simple Jacks or Better Strategy = 99.46% Payback

  • Royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind
  • 4 cards to a royal flush
  • Full house, flush, straight, 3 of a kind
  • 4 cards to a straight flush
  • 2 pair High pair (J's to A's)
  • 3 cards to a royal flush
  • 4 cards to a flush Low pair (10s or lower)
  • 4 cards to an outside straight
  • 2 unsuited high cards
  • Suited K-10, Q-10, or J-10
  • One high card
  • Discard everything else
What To Do After Learning Basic Video Poker Strategy

Once you get the strategy basics down, here are some other steps you can take to improve your game:

  • 1Learn an advanced strategy chart (listed in next section).
  • 2Read books & articles from video poker experts.
  • 3Play free video poker at online casinos and websites.
  • 4Use a video poker training program, which alerts you when mistakes are made.
  • 5Find the best video poker games.

You can find more on each of these strategy methods throughout our site. But this list will point you in the right direction with regard to improving even more.

Advanced Jacks or Better Strategy Chart = 99.54% Payback

Again, we suggest that you learn video poker strategy with a simplified chart. But chances are that you'll eventually want to know how to achieve top payback.

You can find an advanced Jacks or Better strategy chart below. When browsing this, notice all of the extra situations you need to document while playing:

  • Royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind
  • 4 cards to a royal flush
  • Full house, flush, straight, 3 of a kind
  • 4 cards to a straight flush
  • Two pair High pair (J's to A's)
  • 3 cards to a royal flush
  • 4 cards to a flush
  • Unsuited K-Q-J-T
  • Low pair
  • 4 cards to an outside straight w / 0-2 high cards
  • 3 cards to a straight flush
  • Suited Q-J
  • 4 cards to an inside straight w / 4 high cards
  • Suited K-Q, K-J
  • Suited A-K, A-Q, or A-J
  • 4 cards to an inside straight w / 3 high cards
  • 3 cards to a straight flush
  • Unsuited K-Q-J
  • Unsuited Q-J
  • Suited J-T
  • 2 unsuited high cards w / king high card
  • Suited Q-T
  • 2 unsuited high cards w / ace high card
  • Jack only
  • Suited K-T
  • Queen, king, or ace only
  • 3 cards to a straight flush
  • Discard everything else

Video Poker Bankroll Management

Most video poker beginners don't realize how much money they need to survive the variance in video poker.

As a general rule of thumb, it's best to have as much money as you can muster. But there are bankroll tools that help you get a more-accurate estimation of how much you need to avoid going bust (a.k.a. risk of ruin).

We purchased a bankroll calculator to figure out our risk of ruin with 9 / 6 Jacks or Better. Here's a look at our results:

9 / 6 Jacks or Better
Payback: 99.5439%
Bankroll (1 unit = 5-coin bet) Risk of Ruin
1 ($1.25) 99.94%
50 ($62.50) 96.88%
100 ($125) 93.85%
500 ($625) 72.81%
1000 ($1,250) 53.01%
2000 ($2,500) 28.10%
3000 ($3,750) 14.90%
4000 ($5,000) 7.90%
5000 ($6,250) 4.19%
7500 ($9,375) 0.86%
10,000 ($12,500) 0.18%

Even with a bankroll of $12,500, you aren't guaranteed to avoid ruin. But as the 0.175% figure indicates, your chances of losing everything are really low at this rate.

Ideally, you'll play a +EV game like Deuces Wild or Double Bonus, where your risk of ruin is even lower, and you can make profits.

But Jacks or Better isn't a terrible game to play, provided you have the funds.

As for calculating other games, the best way to do this is by buying a calculator. But with prices being upwards of $50, you can also find places that teach how to do the math yourself.

Or you can just stick with 9 / 6 JoB and use our model above.

Getting Video Poker Comps

One of the keys to making more money with video poker involves getting comps. And how you get comps depends upon if you're playing in a land-based or online casino.

Below you can see the process for earning freebies through both types of casinos.

Online Casinos

This is easy: sign up at an internet casino and make a deposit.

Once you complete these simple steps, the software will automatically track your real money video poker play and issue comps accordingly.

The most common reward includes trading comp points for cash. But some casinos also have merchandise sections where you can purchase items with points.

Land Based Casinos

Getting comps at a brick-and-mortar casino is more involved because you have to physically sign up for the slots club - not just make a deposit like at internet casinos.

Here are a few options for how you can join the slots club:

  • 1Sign up through a casino's website.
  • 2Call and ask if you can join, or where you sign up.
  • 3Visit a casino in person and ask to sign up.

Once you're a member of the slots club, you'll earn comps on both your video poker and slot machine play. Typical rewards include: cashback, free drinks, hotel stays, and meals.

Do note that the better rewards like a hotel room and meals require significant video poker play.

Going further, don't overextend your play just to get these benefits because it's a -EV situation. Instead, have fun playing video poker and let the comps come to you naturally.

Conclusion

The good thing about video poker is that it's an easy game to play.All you need to do is learn a few simple buttons and steps, and then you're ready to begin playing.

But the hard part of video poker is in choosing the right games and executing strategy.

The best game to start with is 9 / 6 Jacks or Better, and here are four main reasons why:

  • 1It's available at many land-based and online casinos.
  • 2JoB has a simple paytable.
  • 3The strategy is easier than most games.
  • 49 / 6 JoB offers 99.54% payback

We reiterate that the best way to learn strategy is through a simplified JoB chart. After all, this has far fewer hands to remember, and it gets you to near-optimal JoB payback.

Once you get the hang of basic strategy, you can move on to an advanced strategy chart, and some of the other training methods that we discussed.

It's also important to perform bankroll calculations and pick up comps. Understanding bankroll requirements keeps you from going bust, while comps give you a better opportunity to beat the house.

Now that we've covered the basics of video poker, feel free to browse the rest of our site for more-advanced advice.

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