Jacks or Better Video Poker

jacks-or-better-vp

The most basic video poker game currently availabe is Jacks or Better. In fact, almost all other video poker games are based on this game.

This page includes the basics for how to play Jacks or Better, the pay tables, and the right strategies to use when playing. Use this guide to Jacks or Better video poker to improve your skills as a video poker player.


Jacks or Better Basics and How It Differs from Slot Machine Games

We'll assume for purposes of simplicity that you're unfamiliar with video poker in general. Jacks or Better (and all other VP games) are gambling machines which base their rules on five card draw poker.

But instead of playing against a bunch of buddies at the kitchen table, you're playing against a machine with a pay table. You don't have to beat any other hands to win, either-you just need a hand of a certain strength or higher. The better your hand, the more you win.

A JoB game resembles a slot machine without the spinning reels. Instead, you're faced with a video screen displaying 5 playing cards.

It's hard to overstate how important this difference is. Slot machines use computer programs called random number generators to determine their results. Video poker games like Jacks or Better do, too.

But there's a big difference.

Slot machines feature arbitrary symbols with arbitrary probabilities for coming up. A cherry might show up on a pay line once every ten spins, or it might show up once every twenty spins. It's impossible for you as a player to ascertain that probability.

In Jacks or Better, though, the random number generator is programmed to use the same probabilities you'd see with a deck of cards. The odds of getting a specific card is 1/52. The odds of getting a card of a specific suit is 1/4. The odds of getting a card of a specific rank is 1/13.

Both slot machine games and Jacks or Better game feature pay tables which indicate how much a certain combination pays out.

For Example

On a slot machine, getting three cherries on a pay line might pay 100 for 1.

But since you don't know the probability of getting any of the symbols, it's impossible to determine the payback percentage for the machine. We know that the average slot machine in Las Vegas has a payback percentage of something like 92% or 93%, but it can vary wildly from casino to casino and from machine to machine.

With Jacks or Better, though, the payouts are based on poker hand rankings. We know the probability of getting a specific hand, so we can calculate the payback percentage for the game if we play it with correct strategy.

Which brings us to the second big difference between Jacks or Better and slot machines:

Jacks or Better is a game of decisions that matter to your outcome. Slot machines are entirely random.

You get dealt a 5-card virtual hand in the first round of any Jacks or Better game. You have the option of keeping or discarding each of those cards. You get a replacement for any card you choose to discard.

Making the mathematically optimal decision on every hand is the challenge of Jacks or Better video poker. You want to maximize the expected return for each hand. Some of the correct decisions aren't immediately obvious-although having some experience as a poker player helps with "card sense".

When you play poker versus other players, the hand rankings determine which player wins. A royal flush beats a straight flush, a straight flush beats 4 of a kind, 4 of a kind beats a full house, a full house beats a flush, a flush beats a straight, a straight beats 3 of a kind, 3 of a kind beats 2 pair, and 2 pair beats a pair.

In traditional poker, the ranking of the cards matters. A pair of aces beats a pair of kings, for example. This is only partially true in Jacks or Better.

If you have a pair of jacks or higher, you get a payoff. A pair of tens or lower doesn't pay off at all.

A Jacks or Better Pay Table Example

This is a reasonably common Jacks or Better pay table:

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

The first thing you'll notice is that you can play between 1 and 5 coins on each round.

*You should ALWAYS play for 5 coins.

The payoff for the royal flush skyrockets when you play for 5 coins, and this makes a big difference to your bottom line over time. You'll only see a royal flush once in every 40,000 hands, which is probably once every 67 hours or so.

But when you do, it makes up for a lot of your losses.

If you think you can't afford to play for 5 coins, you should switch to a lower denomination machine. If you can't afford the dollar game, where a 5 coin bet is $5, switch to the quarter machine. A 5-coin bet on it is $1.25.

We also need to point out the payoffs for the full house (9 for 1) and for the flush (6 for 1).

Not all Jacks or Better games have the same payouts for hands.

But most of the time, the hands they adjust the payoffs on are the full house and the flush.

VP experts refer to a Jacks or Better game like the above as a "full pay" or "9/6" game.

If you can find a machine with this pay table and play with perfect strategy, you can achieve a payback percentage of 99.54%.

This makes JoB video poker one of the best games in the casino, from a payoff perspective.

You'll find 8/6, 8/5, and 7/5 Jacks or Better games a lot more often. The numbers refer to the payoffs for the full house and the flush, respectively.

For Example

An 8/5 Jacks or Better pays off at 8 for 1 for a full house and 5 for 1 for a flush. The payback percentage on that game-if you play with optimal strategy-is about 97.3%.

A 7/5 game has a payback percentage of 96.1%.

If you compare any of those numbers with the average slot machine, you'll notice that Jacks or Better video poker is always the better game.

But it's hard to overstate the effect of a change from 9/6 to 8/5 on the pay table.

The difference between 99.54% and 97.3% doesn't seem like much until you compare it to your expected loss rate per hour.

If you play at an average speed (600 hands per hour), you'll be putting $3000 per hour into action on a dollar Jacks or Better game.

The house edge (the amount the casino expects to win on every hand on average over time) is 0.46% on the 9/6 game. (It's just 99.54% subtracted from 100%.)

If you lose 0.46% of $3000 every hour, your expected loss is $13.80.

That's not a crazy amount of money to pay for an hour's worth of entertainment.

But if you lose 2.7% of $3000 per hour (which is the house edge for the 8/5 game), you're looking at an average hourly loss of $81.

These small percentage points add up over time.

An average gambler might spend 4 days in Vegas and spend 4 hours a day playing video poker. At these loss rates, we're looking at an average loss per trip of $220.80 versus $1296.

On the other hand, if you're playing slot machines, you're looking at lose 8% or so per hour, or $240 per hour. Over 4 days, that's a massive average loss of $3840.

Why Jacks or Better Video Poker Is SO Important

Jacks or Better is the basis for all other video poker variations. Most video poker variations are just Jacks or Better with a dramatic change to the pay table or Jacks or Better with the addition of wild cards. Of course, when you add wild cards, the pay table is adjusted based on the new likelihood of getting stronger hands.

Jacks or Better Video Poker Strategy

You probably remember that we mentioned the importance of playing the game correctly, right?

Below we offer some guidelines for playing the game correctly.

The first thing to understand is that if you have a pat hand made up of a 4 of a kind, straight flush, or royal flush, you won't discard anything. You'll collect your winnings and move on to the next hand.

The next thing to understand is that if you have 4 cards to a royal flush, you will always draw one card to try to hit that royal. The only exception is if you have a pat straight flush.

Here's an example:

You have the 9TJQK of spades. That's a straight flush. You could discard the 9 of spades and hope to get the ace of spades, giving you the jackpot. But the correct move is to collect your sure thing.

Here's why:

The probability of filling the royal flush is about 2%. That pays off at 800 for 1, for an expected value of 16 units.

But you also have a 100% chance of getting a 50 for 1 payoff. That's an expected value of 50 units

You always go with the option that offers the better expected value.

The next set of pat hands consists of 3 of a kind, straight, flush, or full house. If you're dealt any of these hands, you'll hang on to them unless you also can draw to a royal flush.

Of course, if you have 3 of a kind or a full house, it's impossible to have a 4-card draw to a royal flush.

But suppose you have a straight, and 4 of those cards are of the same suit. You should break the straight to draw to the royal flush, but not to just any straight flush. The payoff for the straight flush isn't high enough to make up for the long odds of getting dealt the straight flush.

The next best hand after all these is a 4-card straight flush draw. It's worth going for if none of the other hands we've mentioned are an option.

Two pair, is, of course, a hand you should hold. You'll obviously discard the singleton to try to upgrade to a full house. But even if you miss, you're getting a payout.

If you have a high pair, you'll hold onto it and discard the other three cards to try to upgrade to 3 of a kind or something even better. Even if you miss, you're still getting a payout.

That's it for the decisions between pat hands and drawing hands that might be better than a pat hand. Notice that a lot of times, you'll break the high pair to go for a straight flush or a royal flush.

The hands you hold, if you have nothing better, are in the following order:

  • Any open straight draw (4 cards)
  • Any 2 high cards of the same suit (You're hoping for a high pair, flush, straight flush, or royal)
  • Any 3 cards to a straight flush.
  • Any 2 high cards that are NOT of the same suit.
  • J 10, Q 10, or K 10, of the same suit.
  • One high card.
  • Start all over.

That's not a perfect strategy, but it's a lot closer to optimal than most beginners will do. If you go through the preceding information carefully, you'll realize that Jacks or Better strategy has a lot to do with comparing one option over another.

Jacks or Better Pay Tables

Below I've listed some other common pay tables for Jacks or Better along with the payback percentage for each:

8/6 Jacks or Better - 98.4%
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 8 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
8/5 Jacks or Better - 97.3%
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 8 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
7/5 Jacks or Better - 96.14%
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 7 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
6/5 Jacks or Better - 95%
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 6 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

Conclusion

Understanding Jacks or Better video poker is THE critical first step in learning how to play video poker. It's the most basic game, and most other games are just variations of one kind or another. If you can find the right pay tables (9/6) and play with close to optimal strategy, you can play one of the lowest house edge games in the casino.

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