Video Poker for Winners - How to be a Winning VP Player

Video Poker for Winners

Everybody who gambles wants to be a winner, but the cold reality of this industry ensures that the vast majority will fail in their quest.

Choosing to play a skill based game like video poker is a great start toward avoiding that fate, as the game provides players with some of the most favorable odds on the casino floor.

Even so, almost all video poker setups are designed to ensure the house holds an edge - so you'll be facing an uphill climb if you hope to win consistently.

Climbers have always managed to reach the summit, however, and video poker success is no exception. Between veteran professionals who grind out seven figure incomes on the old Game King machines, to serious players who simply enjoy beating the casino at its own game - the video poker landscape is littered with steady winners.

They might make it look easy, but we're here to tell you that's far from the truth.

Sustained success at video poker requires a certain level of study, hard work, and commitment - just like any other human endeavor. We've put in a few decades' worth of work in this game, and as we get older, we'd like to offer up our basic roadmap to learning this beautiful game of ours.

Below you'll find four steps that, when put together by an intelligent and industrious player, will improve your video poker game. We're not going to guarantee a profit or anything foolish like that, because we know just how difficult video poker can be for beginners to master.

But we will guarantee that you'll finish this page knowing a fair shot more about the game, and beating it, than you did before.

Study (and Master) Basic Strategy

You'll never excel at video poker until you learn basic strategy... end of story, full stop.

Sure, you may have experienced a winning session or two in the past without the benefit of basic strategy knowledge - video poker is still gambling after all.

But the one element that separates skill based gambling games from the random chaos of pure chance is strategy. By applying personal decision making to the game play, video poker players exert influence over the final results.

Luck still reigns supreme in the short term, don't get us wrong there. You can make the correct play three times in a row, and wind up dropping all three hands to the house. Once again, that's just how gambling games go.

But when you expand that sample to 300 hands, or 3,000 hands, the impact of proper strategy crystallizes into clear view. Players who apply the rules of basic strategy invariably win more hands - while deriving more profit from those wins - than those who adhere to instinct alone.

Blackjack players have known the power of applying perfect strategy since the 1960s, when a group of young mathematicians "solved" the game by finding the optimal decision for any possible scenario. Throw any two hole cards versus any dealer up card at a blackjack sharp who knows their basic, and they'll instantly make the most profitable play available to them.

When the wizards of the gambling world discovered video poker a few decades back, the same analytical muscle was soon applied to the 52 card deck. Given the partial information provided by five dealt cards, and the probabilities inherent to drawing from the 47 cards left over, the math majors discovered that one play always provides the best possible odds.

That play may hit or miss on any given hand, but over the course of the infinite long run that all gamblers must consider, the optimal play provides the highest expected return available at the moment.

For Example

One conundrum that is commonly encountered by Jacks or Better rookies involves a five card starting hand like Ac 8c 7c 2c 2d.

With these five cards onscreen, you hold two distinct hands: a four card flush in clubs (Ac 8c 7c 2c) and one pair of deuces (2c 2d).

Ask any dozen video poker players how to approach this spot, and you're likely to receive a 6 6 split in opinions.

Many players play this one safe and hold the made pair, believing three cards to come will help them improve more than a single card draw to the flush.

And yet, still others claim that drawing to the higher paying flush, while riskier, provides a better value over the long run.

Thankfully, we can use the invaluable Video Poker Trainer Calculator tool on videopokertrainer.org to see exactly where each play stands from a probability perspective. This calculator lets you plug in exact five card starting hands - for several video poker variants in addition to Jacks or Better - before spitting back the expected return for every possible play.

We invite you to try things out for yourself, and when you do, the calculator will reveal that holding the four card flush draw offers an expected value of 6.064 coins. That's a bit better than the 4.118 coins you'd expect to earn by holding the pair of deuces - making the flush draw the optimal play in this particularly tricky scenario.

Identifying the proper play in borderline situations is what basic strategy is all about, and without it, you'll be flying blind in an uphill battle against probability.

Basic strategy charts are available for every video poker variant under the sun, but you can review the proper plays* for Jacks or Better in the table below:

Please Note*

To use these rules, first scan your five card hand and determine which hands and / or draws you currently hold. From there, find the hand/draw which sits highest on the list and select that play.

JACKS OR BETTER BASIC STRATEGY CHART
Rank Pre Draw Hands Optimal Decision
1 Four of a kind, straight flush, royal flush Hold pat hand
2 Four cards to a royal flush Draw one card
3 Three of a kind, straight, flush, full house Hold pat hand
4 Four cards to a straight flush Draw one card
5 Two pair Draw one card
6 One high pair (jacks or better) Draw three cards
7 Three cards to a royal flush Draw two cards
8 Four cards to a flush Draw one card
9 One low pair (tens or lower) Draw three cards
10 Four cards to open ended straight Draw one card
11 Two suited high cards (jack or higher) Draw three cards
12 Three cards to a straight flush Draw two cards
13 Two unsuited high cards (With three unsuited high cards, hold lowest two) Draw three cards
14 Suited J 10, Q 10, or K 10 Draw three cards
15 One high card Draw four cards
16 Five unconnected low cards Draw five cards

Now that you know the lay of the land when it comes to basic strategy, head to the Video Poker Trainer homepage (www.videopokertrainer.org) and challenge yourself to put study into practice.

The site's trainer tool provides a free to play version of several popular variants - Jacks or Better, Aces and Eights, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, All American Poker, and Joker Poker - so you can try basic strategy out for yourself.

Try the "Random Mode" first to test your skills against a truly random deployment of five card hands.

After you've made your decision, the trainer will let you know if the play was correct or not. To conclude each hand, the trainer tells you what the correct play really was, while comparing the expected return rates both plays.

Once you're capable of knocking out extended strings of consecutive correct plays, up the ante by moving to Random Mode.

This steps things up by dealing out pre programmed "puzzle" hands, or common borderline decisions like the pair versus flush draw example we used above. When you're breezing through these tough spots with ease, you'll be fully prepared to bring your bankroll to the real casino for some video poker action - as your basic strategy apprenticeship will be complete.

Shoot for the Best Odds by Always Max Betting

One of the most oft delivered items of advice given from one video poker player to another is about as simple as it gets: always bet the maximum.

But as simple as that guidance sounds, many players refuse to abide by the max betting rule, sticking with one, two, three, or four coins at their preferred stakes rather than five.

In the ultimate form of gambling irony, by attempting to protect themselves from larger losses, these risk averse players are actually sacrificing significant amounts of equity back to the house.

The most common reason offered by players who follow the max betting maxim, but don't quite understand how it works, is that betting more gives you a chance to win more. Upon hearing this justification, video poker fans who understand proportionality usually scoff, because the payouts for various poker hands increase incrementally across the board.

Therefore, it's all relative, right?

That would be the case, but as anybody who has ever killed time sitting at a video poker machine can tell you, the incremental payout pattern ends when you hit the game's top hand.

We've just spat some long words your way, so let's take a look at a visual to hammer home the importance of max betting.

Below you'll find the standard 9 / 6 "full pay" table (more on this in the next section) used on Jacks or Better machines:

JACKS OR BETTER (FULL PAY)
Full Pay 9 / 6 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four 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
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5
Return % 98.37% 98.37% 98.37% 98.37% 99.54%

This pay table should look familiar to anyone who has sat themselves down at a Game King machine, as the same numbers can be seen shining brightly in yellow outlined boxes from every machine not in use.

The left most column lists the poker hand ladder players are hoping to climb, moving from one pair of Jacks or Better at the bottom to the royal flush at the top. From left to right across the rows, you'll find the basic array of coin denominations from 1 through 5.

Within the table itself are the actual payouts for making each hand at a given coin denomination. One coin (per coin bet) for making one pair, two coins for two pair, three for three of a kind, and so on up the ladder until you reach the 250 coin payout for a royal flush.

As you move from left to right, going from one coin bets to four coin bets, you'll notice that the payouts always increase according to the same pattern. Payouts for one pair move from 1 > 2 > 3 > 4, for example, while the pays for a straight flush run from 50 > 100 > 150 > 200.

But when we move up to the royal flush, that 250 > 500 > 750 > 1,000 pattern comes to an abrupt end. By betting the maximum of five coins per hand, you'll turn what should be a payout of 1,250 - according to the established pattern anyway - into a jackpot pay worth 4,000 coins.

Instinct alone should tell you that playing for this jacked up jackpot pay is incentive alone to follow the max betting rule - but the math backs it up too.

Check out that bottom row displaying the expected return* rate for each pay scheme.

Expected Return*

Expected return is the established metric used to judge a video poker game, or pay table, in terms of the long term odds offered to the player. If you happen to be more familiar with the term house edge, simply subtract the expected return figure from 100 to arrive at the house edge.

For the first four columns, or when betting 1 4 coins, the expected return for 9 / 6 full pay Jacks or Better stands at 98.37 percent (good for a 1.63 percent house edge).

But when you're max betting at five coins per hand, the expected return climbs to 99.54 percent (while the house edge drops to just 0.46 percent).

Clearly then, you'll enjoy far better odds on your money over the long run by betting the max.

And that's max betting bonus isn't limited to Jacks or Better only, as almost every video poker variant under the sun relies on the same pay structure to incentivize max betting.

Telling players to bet above their heads should never be the goal of a gambling resource, and we take that quite seriously, so please don't take the max betting rule too far. If you've been playing the $1 machines for $2 or $3 per hand, but don't quite feel comfortable bumping the bet up to $5, simply move down to the quarter machines.

You can max bet at the quarter stakes for $1.25 and enjoy the improved expected return, while still keeping your betting amount at nearly the same level. And with a little hard work, that increased equity of 1.17 percent expected return should have you building bankroll for $5 bets in no time.

Shop for the Best Games You Can Find

Spend any amount of time talking to video poker enthusiasts, and the phrase that seems to pop up more often than most is "full pay."

For the video poker grinder, full pay machines are highly sought prizes, and savvy players spend nearly as much time scouring the floor for them as they do playing hands.

But what exactly are full pay machines, and why are they so important?

For any given video poker variant, you'll encounter several slightly different versions of the basic pay table. As the name suggests, a full pay machine is one which uses the best possible pay table.

In this case, "best" isn't always defined by the highest dollar amounts, but the combined expected return offered by a particular payout arrangement.

To help beginners get a better grasp of this concept, let's take another look at the full pay version of Jacks or Better - the game most players start out with:

JACKS OR BETTER (FULL PAY)
Full Pay 9 / 6 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four 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
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 5
Return % 98.37% 98.37% 98.37% 98.37% 99.54%

We covered the payouts in the previous section, so this time just focus on the bottom row of the table, where the expected return rate offered to players using various coin denominations can be found.

You know by now that the max bet tier always offers a higher expected return than 1 4 coin wagers, as that 99.54 percent mark is among the best you'll find on the casino floor.

It's so good, in fact, that the casinos have conspired with video poker machine designers to bring it down to size.

By slightly adjusting the payout amounts found on a full pay table - downgrading a flush from a 6 coin pay to 5 coins for example - casinos discovered a way to severely swing expected return rates back in their favor.

Even when all other pay amounts are left intact, that new "9/5" pay table offers a drastically lower expected return of 98.44 percent. That's still reasonable, all things considered, but it's also a full 1.10 percent lower than the full pay alternative.

As you'll come to learn over the course of your video poker journey, shaving a full percentage point or more off one's expected return is a recipe for bankroll disaster.

The worst part of all this is how close the inferior pay tables look when compared to the 9 / 6 full pay standard. For recreational players just passing by, a 9/5 machine looks identical in every way to the 9 / 6 version, despite the fact that it offers significantly reduced odds. Other twists to the payouts for a full house have also been worked in, further muddying the waters for video poker players looking for the best games.

We've compiled the grid below to highlight several commonly found downgraded pay tables for Jacks or Better, and you can use the #/# heading atop each column to see the respective payouts* for a full house and a flush.

*All payout figures assume player is max betting.

JACKS OR BETTER (ALTERNATIVES)
Pay Table 9/5 8/6 8/5 7/5 6/5
Royal Flush 800 800 800 800 800
Straight Flush 50 50 50 50 50
Four of a Kind 25 25 25 25 25
Full House 9 8 8 7 6
Flush 5 6 5 5 5
Straight 4 4 4 4 4
Three of a Kind 3 3 3 3 3
Two Pair 2 2 2 2 2
Jacks or Better 1 1 1 1 1
Return % 98.44% 98.39% 97.29% 96.14% 94.99%

Moving from left to right across the table, we can see that the expected return rate drops precipitously from 99.54 percent on a 9 / 6 full pay game. An 8 / 6 pay table, which pays 8 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush, offers a 98.39 percent expected return - down 1.15 percent.

By the time you reach the absurdly awful 6 / 5 table, the once promising game of Jacks or Better becomes a money pit on par with double zero "American" roulette. The wheel spinning game of chance offers a 94.74 percent expected return, which is only slightly lower than the 94.99 percent mark found on 6 / 5 machines.

DOUBLE BONUS (FULL PAY)
Full Pay 10 / 7 / 5 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four Aces 160 320 480 640 800
Four 2s, 3s, or 4s 80 160 240 320 400
Four 5s thruFour Ks 50 100 150 200 250
Full House 10 20 30 40 50
Flush 7 14 21 28 35
Straight 5 10 15 20 25
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 1 2 3 4 5
Jacks or Better 1 2 3 4 6
Return % 99.10% 99.10% 99.10% 99.10% 100.17%
DOUBLE BONUS (ALTERNATIVES)
Other Double Bonus Pay Tables 9/7/5 9/6/5 9/7/4 9/6/4 9/5/4
Royal Flush 800 800 800 800 800
Straight Flush 50 50 50 50 50
Four Aces 160 160 160 160 160
Four 2 4 80 80 80 80 80
Four 5 K 50 50 50 50 50
Full House 9 9 9 9 9
Flush 7 6 7 6 5
Straight 5 5 4 4 4
Three of a Kind 3 3 3 3 3
Two Pair 99.10% 97.80% 97.74% 96.37% 95.27%
BONUS POKER (COMMON PAY TABLES)
Other Bonus Poker Pay Tables 8 / 5 / 4 (Full Pay) 30 / 30 / 30 7/5/4 6/5/4 10/8/5
Royal Flush 800 800 800 800 800
Straight Flush 50 50 50 50 50
Four Aces 80 30 80 80 80
Four 2 4 40 30 40 40 40
Four 5 K 25 30 25 25 25
Full House 8 8 7 6 10
Flush 5 5 5 5 8
Straight 4 4 4 4 5
Three of a Kind 3 3 3 3 3
Two Pair 99.17% 98.48% 98.01% 96.87% 94.18%
DEUCES WILD (FULL PAY)
Full Pay 15 / 9 / 5 / 3 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Natural Royal Flush 300 600 900 1200 4000
Four Deuces 200 400 600 800 1000
Wild Royal Flush 25 50 75 100 125
Five of Kind 15 30 45 60 75
Straight Flush 9 18 27 36 45
Four of a Kind 5 10 15 20 25
Full House 3 6 9 12 15
Flush 2 4 6 8 10
Straight 2 4 6 8 10
Three of a Kind 99.67% 99.67% 99.67% 99.67% 100.76%
DEUCES WILD (ALTERNATIVES)
Pay Table 15 / 11 / 4 / 4 16 / 9 / 4 / 4 20 / 12 15 / 9 / 4 / 4 20 / 15 / 9 / 4 / 4
Natural Royal Flush 800 800 800 800 800
Four Deuces 200 200 200 200 200
Wild Royal Flush 25 25 20 25 20
Five of Kind 15 16 12 15 15
Straight Flush 11 9 9 9 9
Four of a Kind 4 4 5 4 4
Full House 4 4 3 4 4
Flush 3 3 2 3 3
Straight 2 2 2 2 2
Three of a Kind 1 1 1 1 1
Return % 99.96% 99.67% 98.94% 98.92% 97.97%
ACES & EIGHTS (FULL PAY)
Full Pay 25 / 8 / 5 1 Coin 2 Coins 3 Coins 4 Coins 5 Coins
Royal Flush 250 500 750 1000 4000
Straight Flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four Aces or Eights 80 160 240 320 400
Four Sevens 50 100 150 200 250
Four Other 25 50 75 100 125
Full House 8 16 24 32 40
Flush 5 10 15 20 25
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
Three of a Kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two Pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or Better 98.54% 98.54% 98.54% 98.54% 99.78%
ACES & EIGHTS (ALTERNATIVES)
Pay Table 70 / 70 25 / 7 / 5 20 / 7 / 5 25 / 6 / 5 20 / 6 / 5
Royal Flush 800 800 800 800 800
Straight Flush 70 50 50 50 50
Four Aces or Eights 70 80 80 80 80
Four Sevens 50 50 50 50 50
All Other Four of a Kinds 20 25 20 25 20
Full House 8 7 7 6 6
Flush 5 5 5 5 5
Straight 4 4 4 4 4
Three of a Kind 3 3 3 3 3
Two Pair 2 2 2 2 2
Jacks or Better 98.72% 98.63% 97.72% 97.48% 96.57%

Clearly, as the data above reveals, sharp players stand to benefit immensely when they consciously seek out full pay machines.

Unfortunately, the casino landscape is in a constant state of flux, and operators are increasingly unwilling to spread these advantageous full pay machines. This is especially true for games like Deuces Wild, which can offer a positive expectation bet at the full pay level, as casinos aren't in the business of playing on a level field.

We've got you covered though, thanks to the diligent work put in by the folks over at vpFREE2. This invaluable video poker resource includes several useful tools of the trade, but by far the most effective from a bottom line standpoint is the site's Search function.

By inputting detailed search parameters - your preferred video poker variant, coin denomination, and regional location - the vpFREE2 search tool instantly calls up a full listing of all machines in your area.

That's how we know Las Vegas is home to exactly 70 of the coveted 9 / 6 full pay Jacks or Better machines ranging from quarter to dollar stakes.

The search results even include custom reports generated by actual players.

Say you're visiting The Strip - a virtual desert for full pay machines - you'll learn exactly how to find the nearest full pay games. Those happen to be located at the Gold Coast casino, and by following the advice of a fellow video poker fan, you'll know exactly where to go:

"Island Bar (on all machines except 3 Super Star Poker machines)."

You can also take advantage of vpFREE2's casino specific search function, which lays out a list of every video poker machine housed within your casino of choice. This tool is the best way to map out your trip ahead of time, as you'll know exactly where to find the highest paying games in any venue in town.

And these searches aren't limited to Las Vegas or Nevada only, so feel free to scan through the West, East, and Gulf Coast listings, along with the entirety of North America.

You'll find many video poker sources that simply say "find the full pay games," without actually steering you in the right direction. We really want our readers to take their game to the next level, which is why we've linked you up with vpFREE2 and its world class video poker database.

Never again will you wonder where the full pay games have been hidden away, and settling for inferior pay tables will become a thing of the past.

Scoop Up Comps and Free Play

We can't stress this enough, but as an aspiring video poker player, you should be signing up for every Players Club program you can find.

As soon as you enter a new casino for the first time, make the Players Club registration desk your first destination. Signing up for a Players Card, or whatever promotion your casino has in place, is the only way to ensure that your video poker sessions will be tracked.

Player tracking is pivotal

Consider the gold standard for Players Club promotions in the industry: Total Rewards by Caesars Entertainment and M Life Rewards by MGM Resorts.

These programs link dozens of casinos across their respective nationwide and/global networks, so members can move freely from one venue to another while keeping their rewards balances intact. So called "comp" points are awarded based on frequency and regularity of casino play, and they can be redeemed for a whole host of goodies - including as cash within the casino's retail shops, as credit for free play on the machines, or even toward lodging expenses and on site attractions.

Under the Total Rewards and M Life Rewards programs - which collectively cover most of The Strip and dozens of casinos across the country - video poker players earn 1 comp point for every $10 wagered.

Score a 100 comp points and you'll be credited with $1 in redeemable cash, not to mention the additional offers that come with being a regularly tracked video poker player. Most veterans of the game can parlay their various Players Club memberships into free trips, nights out on the town, buffet dinners, and lucrative free play offers.

Free play is always a nice treat, as the casino simply ships you a voucher or loads your Players Card with credit, allowing you to put in the first few dozen spins without spending a single cent. Any wins you generate over that time are yours to keep of course, and even if you don't finish in the black, free play sessions are the perfect place to practice.

Over the duration of your video poker career, comps and free play can work as a perpetual source of rebates, offsetting impact of a losing session by cutting expenses across the trip. These rebates can easily reach into the tens of thousands, especially considering the high cost of room and board at a Las Vegas megaresort casino property.

When the venue is essentially paying your way there, feeding you well, and sending you to the latest shows, playing video poker becomes even more pleasure than it already was.

Conclusion

Winning at video poker is best viewed like a building plan, and that's fitting as you'll be attempting to build an ever bigger bankroll over time.

First and foremost, the foundation of this plan must be studying basic strategy. Until you know how to play your cards correctly with consistency, your game will suffer severe leaks that can reoccur hundreds of times per session.

Next, arm yourself with the most effective tools by deploying the maximum bet every time out. Max bets hold the key to a video poker machine's highest possible payout, and in turn, the best expected return you can find.

From there, you must erect a solid framework for your overall expected return by seeking out the best games and pay tables. Limiting your action to the most favorable odds is the oldest trick in the gambler's book, so follow that legacy by becoming a bona fide bargain hunter.

Finally, take a page from Benjamin Franklin's book and save every penny you can by taking full advantage of comps and free play. After all, that's just another coin earned, and for video poker players looking to increase their profit margins, every coin counts.

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