Learn Video Poker for Beginners (Including How to Play)
Video poker has long been popular among casino players because it gives you a realistic chance to beat the house.
Of course, if you're just starting to learn video poker, then you need to learn both the basics and strategy before conquering the game.
That said, let's discuss several important concepts that beginners must know, along with how you can become a winning player.
Video Poker for Beginners - How to Play, Available Games & More
If you're completely new to video poker, don't worry because thousands of players start out with the game every day. And you'll find that the playing process is really simple.
Here are the steps for playing video poker:
- 1Choose how many coins to bet from 1-5.
- 2Click Deal.
- 3Choose what cards to hold; the remainder will be discarded.
- 4Click Draw.
- 5If your hand qualifies for a payout, you'll be paid according to the paytable.
As you can see, playing video poker is easy. And once you nail down the video poker basics, the next step is executing proper strategy.
When you first begin to learn video poker, you may be shocked at how many different games are available. In fact, there are well over 100 variations, with each game featuring multiple paytables.
This is overwhelming for new players, which is why you should stick to the following games in the beginning:
Of these, Jacks or Better is the best introduction to video poker because it has a simpler paytable than other games. Furthermore, most video poker variants are based on Jacks or Better, which makes it easier to learn other games in the future.
The other three variations on this list have more-complex paytables than Jacks or Better. But they're still on the lighter side regarding how many extra payouts they include.
As a beginner, you want a paytable with as few payouts as possible for two reasons:
- 1It cuts down on the number of payouts you have to understand.
- 2It makes strategy easier because you'll have fewer choices to make.
When you learn Jacks or Better and the other games in the list above, you'll have less trouble transitioning to other video poker variants.
You don't need to worry about tournaments when you're just starting to learn video poker for beginners. After all, you should learn the fundamentals first before you worry about the more-advanced games.
But once you become an experienced player, video poker tournaments, are definitely fun to play. Here's how some of the different tourneys work:
- Video Poker Tournaments
These events can be set up in one of two ways: hand limits or time limits. A hand limit sees the tournament last a specific amount of hands (i.e. 250), while a time limit sees the tournament last for a certain number of minutes (i.e. 20 minutes). In either case, the winner is determined by who has the most credits (points) at the end.
You can invite other players to a video poker challenge, where you face off one-on-one or against a group. You, or whoever issues the challenge, determines the hand or time limit. Oftentimes, challenges have fun achievements that you can unlock too.
A video poker contest works like a tournament, where the top point earners share in a prize pool. But the difference is that the top score is based on who has the best score in a single session. Video poker contests cap the number of sessions you can play in a single day (i.e. 5).
Video poker and slots often compare because they're the two most-popular forms of machine-based gaming.
When it comes to video poker versus slot machines, the key distinction is that video poker features intricate strategy that influences the long-term outcome.
Compare this to slots, where you spin the reels over and over while hoping that luck goes your way.
But slots also have an advantage in that they offer fun themes, bonuses, and more features than video poker games. This is an alluring prospect for players who are looking to be entertained, rather than use stimulating strategy.
The same comparison can be made between video poker and some of the new electronic pull tab games that are being released.
As you may know, pull tab games are like a hybrid between the lottery and slots, where you insert money into a slot-like machine, then receive tickets. But modern pull tab games are more colorful and include some of the same entertainment features as slots.
In the end, whether you choose video poker or slots & electronic pull tabs depends upon what you value the most: using strategy to influence the results, or being amused with bonuses and special features.
It's easier to understand video poker when you know some of the terms associated with the game. You can consult this video poker glossary for the full range of terms, but here are the most important ones:
- Aces and Eights
Game where four aces or 8s earns you a bonus payout.
How many coins you have in the machine. Also refers to how many coins you bet.
Average number of hands that must be played before you get a certain winning hand.
- Deuces Wild
Game where 2s are wild.
Cards that you elect not to keep during the draw round.
When you draw for replacements cards after deciding what cards to hold.
The cards you keep during the draw round.
Often refers to a royal flush payout, although it can also indicate a progressive jackpot.
- Jacks or Better
Game where payouts start at a pair of jacks or better.
- Random Number
Program that determines random video poker results through number combinations.
- Royal Flush
Top hand in video poker, featuring 10, jack, queen, king, and ace of the same suit.
- Strategy Chart
Shows what hands to keep in order of importance.
- Triple Play
Game that lets you play three hands per turn.
- Video Poker Trainer
Software that alerts you when you've made a strategy mistake.
How to Learn Video Poker Strategy
Once you've moved past the introduction to video poker and feel comfortable with the game, the next step involves learning strategy. The closer you are to using optimal strategy, the better your chances are of beating casinos.
What's nice is that you have several options when you're trying to learn video poker, including the methods covered below.
The easiest way to sharpen your video poker skills is by grabbing a strategy chart for the specific game you're playing.
These charts rank what hands to keep in terms of importance. Here's an example:
- 1You're playing Jacks or Better and you have four cards to a flush.
- 2You also have a low pair (10s or lower).
- 3You keep the four cards to a flush because this hand is ranked higher on the strategy chart.
If you're totally new to video poker strategy, this is a great way to improve because you merely need to compare hands on the chart.
The only catch is that you won't find strategy charts available for more-obscure video poker variations. In these cases, you'll want to look for training software (discussed later).
If you want to rapidly go from the video poker for beginners stage to playing like a pro, then you need to consult the experts. And the good news is that there are more than enough gurus to learn from.
Below, you'll find a few of our favorite video poker experts and what they bring to the table:
As the author of the most-catchy video poker book ever, Million Dollar Video Poker, Bob Dancer has shot to the top of the authority rankings. The book is based on how Dancer's made $1 million within a six-month period playing video poker. But he has more-sustainable advice too, especially when it comes to taking advantage of promotions and finding the best games.
Creator of theFrugal Video Poker program, Jean Scott is an excellent resource to consult for the best bankroll management strategies. Frugal Video Poker lets you create customizable strategy for 54 different games, and figure out what size of bankroll you need.
John Grochowski has been around the gaming world for a long time, dispending knowledge on both slots and video poker. He's published hundreds of articles and several books, making him one of the best to learn from.
Once you've learned enough video poker strategy, the next step is to put your knowledge into practice. And one of the easiest ways to do this is through free video poker.
The obvious advantage to playing for free is that you can make mistakes without hurting your bankroll. This is perfect for when you're trying to recognize strategy patterns and develop a rhythm.
Another perk to free video poker is that you don't have to look far to find it.
Every online casino lets you play for free as long as you have an account. Some casinos don't even require that you create an account - you just choose the desired game and play it through your PC or mobile device.
Many of these programs are rudimentary and only feature a handful of popular games like Jacks or Better. But these sites are worth mentioning in case you're looking to play for fun without visiting an online casino.
While free video poker is nice, the problem is that it doesn't identify any of the mistakes you make. This is where training software becomes useful because it alerts you to mistakes so you can avoid them in the future.
Basically, video poker training is like an unseen virtual teacher who offers you a free education on the game. Rather than watching video poker tutorials and / or pouring over strategy charts, you can just play and find out what you're doing right and wrong.
Here's an example:
- 1You're playing 9 / 6 Jacks or Better and are dealt As, Qs, Kh, Ad, 2s.
- 2You choose to keep the As, Kh, Ad.
- 3The video poker trainer alerts you to the mistake, pointing out that you should only keep Asand Ad in this situation.
The idea behind using trainers is to train yourself to make the correct decisions in every situation. Once you see enough situations and learn how to play them, using the right strategy will eventually become automatic.
You can either use free video poker trainers, which are found across the internet, or you can purchase a program.
Ideally, the free trainers will cover your desired video poker game. But the problem is that most free programs only cover popular variants like All American, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus, Jacks or Better, and Joker Poker.
If you're trying to beat positive expectation games - i.e. full-pay Deuces Wild, 10 / 7 Double Bonus, and 10 / 6 Double Double Bonus - then you'll need to buy a program, which is discussed next.
As just mentioned, purchasing a training program is ideal when free programs don't cover your desired variation.
Buying trainers is especially wise if you're an advantage player looking to win long-term profits through a positive expectation game.
One example is WinPoker, which offers the following features:
- Hard Hand feature, where the program only deals difficult hands.
- Alerts you when mistakes are made.
- Choose from 23 different games.
- Error Log Mode, where you continually practice hands you got wrong.
- Play up to 10 hands per turn.
Obviously these features are great when you're trying to become a skilled video poker player. But the catch is that you'll pay $30 or more for video poker trainers.
Checking Amazon.com, the cheapest price for WinPoker is currently $34.74. If you're just learning strategy for fun, then dumping $35 into a trainer isn't an appealing idea.
But the upside is that this one-time cost can save you lots of money in the long run. Here are some theoretical examples:
You play 10 / 7 Double Bonus, which has 100.17% payback with perfect strategy. - You make some mistakes while playing and the payback drops to 99.0%. - You bet $5,000 total, which leaves you with a theoretical loss of $50.
You play 10 / 7 Double Bonus. - You rarely make mistakes and achieve payback of 100.1%. - You bet $5,000 total, which leaves you with a theoretical profit of $5.
Thanks to practicing with the video poker trainer, you've now swung a $50 loss into a $5 profit - a difference of $55.
And while this is just a made-up example, it shows how training programs can quickly pay for themselves.
Given how in depth video poker strategy is, new players can make a lot of mistakes in the beginning. But it's important to know the most common video poker mistakes because these cost you lots of money when repeated.
That said, here are common errors you want to avoid:
- Mistake #1:
Playing Low-paying Games - The video poker world is filled with different games and paytables. But you should never play a video poker variant until you've check how much it pays back.
- Mistake #2:
Not Making Max Bets (5 Coins)- If you want to achieve top payback in any video poker game, you need to bet the 5-coin maximum on each hand. The reason why is because you can only win the top royal flush payout (4,000 coins) on a max bet.
- Mistake #3:
Not Studying Strategy-We've preached how video poker strategy will help you achieve the top payback. And there's no way that you can play perfectly if you don't study strategy.
- Mistake #4:
Using the Wrong Strategy on a Game- Every video poker game features slightly different strategy from the next due to paytable differences. That said, you need the correct strategy for each game to succeed.
- Mistake #5:
Playing Too Long without Breaks- Even skilled players make mistakes when they play too long without taking a breather. You should take a 5-10 minute break for every hour you've been playing video poker
- Mistake #6:
Underestimating Bankroll Needs- Given the top-heavy payouts in video poker, this game has a lot of variance. And you need a large bankroll to survive the downswings until you hit big payouts.
- Mistake #7:
Not Signing up for the Slots Club - If you want to get video poker rewards in brick-and-mortar casinos, then you need to sign up for the slots club. You can do so online or in the casino.
You can learn all of the strategy in the world, but you're guaranteed to lose when playing the wrong video poker games.
This is why it's important to know the highest-paying video poker variations along with where you can find them.
Let's first look at the top-paying games:
- Full-pay Deuces Wild - 100.76% payback
- Full-pay Joker Poker - 100.64% payback
- 10 / 7 Double Bonus - 100.17% payback
- 10 / 6 Double Double Bonus - 100.07% payback
- All Aces (online) - 99.92% payback
- 9 / 6 Jacks or Better - 99.54% payback
This list doesn't cover every obscure video poker variation that offers high payback. But these games do represent your most-realistic chance for beating video poker in land-based and online casinos.
Now, let's look at methods for finding these top-paying versions:
- Visit vpFREE2 (Land-based Casinos)
The best way to find top video poker variants in brick-and-mortar casino is to search vpFREE2. This site lets you search casinos in different areas of Canada and the United States to find the best games. Las Vegas is the only place we've found with games offering over 100% payback. But you can still find solid games in other parts of the US and Canada.
- Look at Paytables in Casinos (Land-based and Online Casinos)
If you're already at a casino, you can look at paytables to ensure that you're paying the best-possible version (a.k.a. full pay) of a video poker game. But this isn't the most-efficient method because it requires already being at the casino and visiting different games / machines.
- Search for Reviews of Software Providers (Online Casinos)
A good method for finding high-paying online video poker games is to search by individual software providers. Many reviews discuss what kind of video poker payback each software provider offers. We found that All Aces (listed above) offers 99.92% payback by looking at a review of Microgaming's software. Once you know payback for an individual provider, you can look up what casinos they serve.
Video poker strategy isn't easy like baccarat or craps, where you can learn a few different bets and play perfectly. Instead, you need to know how to play a lot of different scenarios / hands.
But part of the fun is the process when you learn video poker. If you enjoy skill-based gaming, then you'll appreciate the journey it takes to becoming a successful player.
Once you get the basics of video poker down (i.e. playing, understanding paytables), we recommend that you progress through the channels of learning strategy in the following order:
- 1Get the correct strategy chart for the game you're playing.
- 2Consult experts.
- 3Use a video poker trainer and practice with free online games.
- 4Purchase training software.
- 5Search casinos for the best video poker variations.
This might seem like a lot of work, but the game is a breeze once you learn the strategy. From then on, it's all about playing your best video poker and hopefully earning profits!