Playing Video Poker Professionally

Professional video poker refers to the practice of trying to make a living
playing video poker instead of just doing it for fun. Those who play
professionally, sometimes known as advantage players, will use a variety of
methods to try to make a living at the game. These days, it’s becoming
increasingly more difficult to eke out enough to make ends meet by becoming a
professional video poker player.

Video Poker

Video poker
is one of the most popular games for discerning gamblers. They understand that
there is an advantage to playing the game that combines the best elements of
both slot machines and table games. As a result, it’s not unusual for a person
to prefer only video poker when it comes to gambling either at a casino or on a
top legitimate gambling website.

There are those people who dream of pushing that to the next level. After
all, if video poker is a game whereby you can possibly expect a positive income
in the short term, why couldn’t it be turned into a full-time vocation? Indeed,
a few decades ago, it wasn’t too difficult to find those players who did find a
way to make a living playing professional video poker.

Even then, however, it was difficult to become an actual pro playing video
poker. Sadly for those who would like to pursue it, professional video poker has
become more and more difficult to manage. Casinos and online gambling sites are
wise to many of the techniques used and have cracked down on them or removed the
structures that allowed them to happen.

As a result, professional video poker may not be the glamorous way of life
that many people think it to be. But there are still ways to grind your way to a
profit over a long period of time doing nothing but playing video poker. If you
can be persistent and disciplined, you might even be able to use advantage-style
play as either a strong complement to your full-time job or, perhaps, as your
only job.

In the following article, we’ll explain what it means to be a professional
video poker player. We will also study the skills you need to acquire to become
a pro in video poker, either in a casino or online (or using both avenues). And
we’ll talk honestly about just how difficult it is to make a living through what
most people consider to be nothing more than a friendly diversion.

How Professional Video Poker Compares to Other Professional Poker Games

When you think about professional poker players, you might first think about
those folks who are on television playing Texas hold’em tournaments for high
stakes. As that particular poker game took off in popularity a few decades ago,
many people suddenly found an avenue to make serious money playing what was
previously thought of as a home game or something played in dingy back rooms.
Professional poker became a real job.

Cards and Chips

If you play video poker at all regularly, you understand the differences
immediately between video poker and that kind of poker. With video poker, you
are not playing against other players. Instead, you are trying to play against
the house, which would be the casino or the website hosting the game.

That means that you are up against the dreaded “house edge,” which is the
built-in bias in the games that makes sure that the casino makes money. On top
of that, although there are video poker tournaments, the stakes are much too low
for you to expect to make a living from them alone. In addition, you would have
to travel nonstop to find all these tournaments, which are usually governed more
by luck than skill anyway.

So, how could there be any possibility of anyone playing professional video
poker? Well, first of all, the house edge on most video poker games is minimal.
In fact, there are some video poker variations which, if you play the game with
utmost skill, can actually be beaten, meaning that you would have the edge over
the house.

Although those games are rare, there are a lot of video poker games where the
house edge is less than 1%. By combining that small house edge with the
possibility of gaining rewards from casinos from frequent play, the player could
have a reasonable expectation of a positive outcome. If they could parlay that
advantage over a long period of time, a video poker player could conceivably
make enough money from it to carve out enough to live.

Video poker is unlike hold’em or other table game versions of poker in that
you have to grind out earnings. A hold’em player can conceivably make enough
from a single tournament win to cover their entire year’s earnings. They can
also expect ancillary money from endorsements to help pay the bills.

By contrast, video poker on the professional level is far less glamorous. It
also requires a greater time commitment and serious discipline.

You have to not only learn how to play, but you must also research the
machines and promotions that will help you earn money. Even then, you are not
guaranteed positive results, as video poker is prone to swings of momentum.

Still, video poker offers you the advantage of knowing exactly how much you
can expect from each machine that you play, at least on an average. That is
because the probabilities of making winning hands never change. The pay tables
which are included with every machine allow you to know how much each winning
hand pays.

So, in that way, there is less guesswork in professional video poker than in
the table game versions. The variables that you have to deal with are restricted
to the different policies of casinos and the bonuses you might be able to
extract from them to help your bottom line.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. First, you have to learn how to
play video poker at a level that allows you to get the maximum out of every
variation that you play. And that means understanding the pay tables and payback

Pay Tables and Payback Percentages for Professional Play

Video poker is an easy game to learn at the most basic level so that you can
play it recreationally. It’s basically a computerized simulation of five-card
draw poker. You get a five-card deal, have one chance to improve it on the draw,
and hope you can make the best possible winning hand.

But the pay tables are what set the game apart and what professional players
know how to exploit. The pay tables show you how much you can expect to receive
from each winning hand. They also combine with the probabilities to yield
something known as the payback percentage.

The payback percentage is basically the figure that separates one variation
of video poker from another. If the machine has a payback percentage of 99% or
better, it’s a competitive one and one that could conceivably be used for
professional play. If it’s over 100%, it means that you can actually expect to
make a profit playing the game with perfect play (more on that below).

Here is what we mean by pay tables and payback percentages. The following is
the pay table for what’s known as the full-pay version of the game called

Jacks or Better
, a common video poker variation. By full-pay, we mean the
game with the highest payback percentage attached to it.

9/6 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
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 pairs 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or better 1 2 3 4 5

That pay table might not mean that much to an amateur player, but a
professional player will be able to tell by the amounts that are included for
each winning hand that the machine in question contains a payback percentage of
99.54%. On average, $10,000 played through that machine would return the player

That obviously is a $46 loss. You wouldn’t think that would make the game
suitable for a professional video poker player. But you have to consider that
there are other ways to make money from bonuses and casino perks that can easily
make up that difference and allow you to, in a way, turn a profit.

What’s more interesting is that there are actually video poker games that
will return you more than 100%. Here is a brief rundown of those games that
return over that 100% threshold in their full-pay versions:

Game Payback Percentage
Loose Deuces 100.97
Downtown Deuces 100.92
Deuces Wild 100.76
Joker Poker 100.64
Double Bonus 100.17
Super Bonus Deuces Wild 100.13
Double Double Bonus 100.07

If you can find those machines, which, as we will explain to you, is not
easy, you can legitimately hope to make a profit based on the game alone. When
you add in any extras that you might get, you can start to imagine how you can
get ahead as a professional

Learning Video Poker Skills

The only way that you can hope to make a living playing professional video
poker is if you can play the game without making any mistakes. You might think
that just because you have a handle on Five-Card Draw and understand how to make
winning hands, that you can do this; but it’s much harder than you would think.

Let’s look at an example hand. Say that you received the following five cards
on the deal:

Five of Clubs, Five of Hearts, Jack of Hearts, Queen of Hearts, King of Hearts

In that hand, you have the seeds of many possible winning hands. There is a
pair, four cards to a flush, and three cards to a royal flush. How do you decide
which cards to hold?

Well, to do it properly, you’d have to compute the chances of making each of
those possible winning hands based on the cards remaining in the deck. You would
then have to measure those possibilities against the possible payouts for each
of those winning hands. That is a lot of math to do on the spot.

The right play is to keep the jack, queen, and king of hearts. What makes it
the right play? It’s the play that is expected to earn you the most money if you
were to play that hand many, many times.

Here’s a secret: Even professional video poker players don’t know how to do
all of that calculating. But they have gained the knowledge about how to make
these decisions from experts and computer programs that have already done the
mathematical work for them. And they can make these decisions in a split second,
which is also crucial in amassing your profits.

How do you acquire these skills? Here are the two ways that you can do it.

Video Poker Training Software

This software approximates what it would be like to play video poker in a
casino or online at a gambling website. You play out the hands just as you would
as if you were playing for real. In fact, you can even simulate having a
bankroll so that you can see how much ahead or behind you will be playing the
game over time.

The software will improve your play by alerting you when you’re making a
mistake. For example, imagine if you were playing that hand that we showed you
above and decided to keep the two fives. If you did, the software would show you
the mistake and demonstrate to you what the proper play should be.

It’s important to realize that the free video poker software that you might
find for your phone or tablet might not be good enough if you want to progress
to the professional level. That’s because those free versions usually offer a
limited supply of pay tables from which to play. You might be able to find free
software that is attuned to Jacks or Better, for example, since it’s the most
commonly-found video poker variation.

But it might not give you access to the games that offer over 100% payback
percentage that we showed you above. That means that you might have to pay for a
software version. It might cost you a little, but it’s the best way to get the
comprehensive teaching that you’ll need to be an advantage player.

Before even considering trying to play at a professional level, you must know
exactly which plays are the right ones for every possible situation thrown at
you by the video poker variation you’re playing. With video poker software, you
can work out every possible combination of cards over and over. After practicing
with this software for a good stretch, you might be able to attain perfect play.

Strategy Cards

A strategy card, sometimes referred to as a strategy chart, can be found for
most major variations of video poker. And, like video poker trainers, it allows
a player to partake of the information without having to figure everything out
mathematically on their own.

Basically, a strategy card allows you to compare your hand to a ranked list
of card combinations that you might receive on the deal. Once you see the
highest-ranked combination that matches what you have, you know what is
essential to your hand. You can simply discard the cards that aren’t essential.

Again, going back to our previous example, you might receive that deal and
consult a strategy card. And you will come upon these three entries on the list:

  • Three cards to a royal flush
  • Four cards to a flush
  • Pair of 10s or lower

Since the “three cards to a royal flush” is on top of the list and you have
those three cards, you know what you can discard. If you don’t see any matches
on the entirety of the list, you know that the right play is to discard all five
cards that you’ve been dealt.

With strategy cards, you really have to memorize them to get the most effect.
Conceivably, you could bring them with you to consult, but that would draw
instant scrutiny from the casino. Not only that, you need to play fast to be a
professional video poker player, and looking at a card with every deal would
prevent you from doing that.

Especially with bonus games and wild card games, you are talking about many
different combinations that you would have to memorize. That can take a lot of
time. But it will pay off if you can make the right decisions every single hand
in your quest to be an advantage player.

Playing Fast

Knowing what decisions should be made about what to hold and what to discard
while playing video poker will help make you a professional. But you also have
to be able to make those calls in a hurry. Almost instantly, you have to be able
to hit the buttons and be ready for the next hand.

This is especially true when you’re playing those games which eliminate the
house edge. Think about it: If you’re making about just a couple of pennies per
hand or so on average, you’ll need to play as many hands as possible to push the
profits as high as possible.

As a result, speed is one of the skills that you absolutely have to possess
if you are going to become a professional. There really can’t be any thinking to
slow you down. You’ll have to automatically process the deal and spit out the
right play in a matter of seconds.

Casino Bonuses

When planning to be a professional video poker player, you can’t simply
concentrate on learning skills for gameplay. You also have to learn how to
exploit the bonuses offered by casinos. This is as crucial to becoming a pro as
learning how to play the game fast and smart.

Every casino is different in terms of the rate at which they offer their

Most will offer a point system for those players who sign up for a club
card. They will then offer points based on how much a player puts through a

These points can then come back to a player in a number of ways. The player
might get free play from it, which, obviously, will be a boost to their bottom
line. But those points can come back to a player in a variety of ways.

For example, casinos sometimes offer monthly promotions that go to players
who are considered high rollers. Or they might offer something called
bounce-back, which means that the player will get free play the next time they
come in based on what they played in their last session. The casino can come up
with many ways to offer these kinds of bonuses.

In many cases, these bonuses can make the difference between profit and no
profit. Especially if you can’t find a machine with a positive payback
percentage, you will need to get these bonuses.

Occasionally, the casino will offer non-monetary bonuses that can help a
player recoup some of their potential losses. For example, you might receive the
following from the casino:

  • Food: The casino might offer you free dinners,
    or at least coupons for discounts, at one of their dining establishments.
  • Lodging: This can especially come into play if
    you find yourself travelling to a casino out of the area in search of the
    best machines. Getting to stay at a hotel-casino for free can help to cut
    some of the costs.
  • Event Tickets: You might not think of this as
    being attached to your bottom line, but getting tickets to top-of-the-line
    events can be a perk that might make a rough stretch playing video poker

Bonuses in Online Video Poker

Over the past decade or so, the popularity of video poker that is played
online has risen dramatically. An entire industry has grown up around the
concept of online casinos and sportsbooks. These establishments can offer most of the same betting
opportunities that you can find at brick-and-mortar establishments, yet they can
bring it all to you in the comfort of your own home.

Video poker is a perfect fit for online play. The screen on a tablet or
smartphone or even a personal computer can be made to resemble exactly what you
would see on the screen of a video poker machine. And the gameplay can be
rendered with the same type of software that is found in video poker machines
and allows for random results with each deal of the simulated cards.

The people who operate online casinos are eager for the business of gamblers
using the web. As a result, they will often offer aggressive promotions to try
to draw these gamblers into the fold. If you’re trying to become a video poker
professional and want to get some of your action online, you’ll need to take
advantage of these offers.

Initial Deposit Bonuses

The most common offer that you will see online from gambling websites is one
that adds some percentage of your initial deposit as free play. For example, you
might see an offer that will add 50% to a deposit that you make. If you were to
make an initial deposit of $1,000 for video poker play, you would get an extra
$500 in your account for video poker.

In this way, you can immediately get a nice boost and improve your bottom
line, mitigating your losses and perhaps adding to your winnings with the extra
play. Most of these offers are one-time only, but there’s no rule that says you
can’t sign up for multiple sites to take advantage of the deposit bonus up for
grabs at each one.

After a while, you might exhaust the possibilities of one-time bonuses for
signing on to play video poker. But sites will come looking for you if you
haven’t played with them for a while. And they will try to entice you with
something that is known as a reload bonus.

Reload Bonus

Reload bonuses work the same way as initial deposit bonuses. They’ll likely
include a minimum deposit and a maximum amount for the bonus that you can earn.
The good news is that some online establishments will allow you to use the
reload bonus multiple times, as opposed to the initial deposit bonus which is
allowed just once.

If you can find a site that allows you to reload and gives a nice bonus each
time, you can start to make up for any house edge that the video poker games
might have. And you will need to do this with online video poker since they
generally do not offer the types of games that have a payback percentage of over

Keep in Mind

Most of these bonus offers require a rollover before you
can collect your winnings. A rollover is usually expressed as a multiplier, and
it refers to how much action you have to put through the site before you are
allowed to withdraw the funds associated with the bonus. It’s essentially a way
for the website to keep you from taking the money and running.

The rollover is always applied to the amount of the deposit plus the amount
of the bonus. Suppose, as we said above, that you found a site that gave you a
50% bonus on an initial deposit of $1,000. Therefore, the rollover multiplier
would be applied to $1,500, which is the initial deposit of $1,000 added to the
bonus of $500.

Now, let’s say that the rollover requirement is 20x. 20 times $1,500 is
$30,000. That is the amount of action that you would have to play at that online
casino before you could withdraw any winnings that came from the deposit or the

That might seem like a lot, but remember that the action also takes into
account the bets that are made with any winnings. For example, you might hit a
$1,000 winning hand along the way, and that total, once you put it back in the
site in video poker bets, would count toward the total even though it didn’t
require you to put in extra money.

Still, you would ideally like to find the sites that offer bonuses with the
lowest rollover requirements attached to them. That would ensure that you can
collect your earnings and move on the next bonus in a timely fashion. And that
would boost your overall bottom line.

Difficulties in Becoming a Professional Video Poker Player

Based on what you’ve read above, you might think that it’s simple to become a
professional video poker player. After all, there are machines where you can
expect to make money by learning perfect play. There are bonuses by which you
can then add to your winnings on top of that.

About two decades ago, professional video poker was indeed a realistic
profession. That was the time where people first started to explore the
mathematical aspects of the game and thereby learned the right and wrong play
for every possible hand that they received. On top of that, casinos weren’t yet
accustomed to some of the methods used by players to both seek out the best
machines and earn the top bonuses.

Needless to say, casinos have caught up and are getting wiser all the time.
It’s their job to protect their assets, and they simply can’t allow a whole slew
of people to take money from them by simply memorizing some holds and discards.
As a result, the opportunities for professional video poker players to thrive
have dwindled.

Before embarking upon the possibility of turning pro at video poker, you need
to realize the drawbacks to this potential way of life. Here are some of the
things that you need to consider.

Scarcity of Good Machines

We told you above about the machines that pay out payback percentages of
higher than 100 percent. These are the machines that are the ultimate
destination for video poker players. Alas, they are becoming harder and harder
to locate.

Professional video poker players know about the site known as
vpFREE2. This is a site which keeps up to
date with every video poker machine in the country. It gives you the locations
of the machines, and how many of each are at a particular site.

This is a crucial tool for those who wish to become pros, but it doesn’t have
very good news these days for those who want to find advantageous machines. At
the last check, all of the machines with pay tables yielding over 100% payback
percentage are located in Nevada.

This can be a distressing fact to those who are located elsewhere hoping to
become professional video poker players. The gambling laws in the United States
have allowed for casinos to show up in just about every state. Yet the gamblers
who are playing video poker in those states won’t be able to find the most
lucrative video poker machines without travelling to Nevada.

For many budding video poker professionals, that might be a journey that they
are willing to make. After all, Nevada, especially Las Vegas, is where most of
the gambling action takes place. But others who wish to stay near their home
base won’t be able to do much better than 99% machines, which means that they
will always be fighting against the house edge.

Denomination Limitations

Most video poker machines give you the opportunity to choose a denomination.
The denomination, which can run anywhere from a penny up to something more
extravagant like a dollar or several dollars, represents a single unit of
betting on the machine. Other machines have the denomination set beforehand.

So, let’s say that you are in Nevada and wish to play one of those
high-paying video poker games we mentioned above. When you locate them, you’ll
be disappointed to find that the games are limited to the quarter, or 25-cent,
denomination. And that severely limits your chances of making big profits.

Think about it: If you have a game that gives you a positive expectation, you
would be better-served betting a lot to really take advantage of it. If you
could find a 5-dollar denomination Loose Deuces game, you could really churn out
serious profits.

But a quarter machine will limit your chances. Even playing at a rapid speed,
on average you will likely be able to crank out winnings per hour that barely
meet the status of minimum wage. And that’s not a very glamorous notion.

Again, casinos have become wise to what it takes for video poker players to
earn big winnings. Limiting the denomination will make players think twice about
taking on the positive expectation machines. Their other option is to go with
negative-expectation machines which are open to higher denominations, which puts
the edge right back to the house.

Bonus Restrictions

Once again, this is an area where the casinos have smartened up and realized
how they were getting burned in the past by video poker players. Many of the
machines that bring in 100% or higher payback percentage are severely restricted
by casinos in terms of the points that you earn while playing them. And that
means fewer bonuses for you.

You can see the conundrum that these policies present. On the one hand, you
have to be located in Nevada to play these most beneficial games. But their
appeal is limited by the small bonuses and denominations associated with them.

Or you can try to grind your way through the negative-expectation games in
the hopes of staying close to even long enough to earn excellent free play and
bonuses. But your profit margin would remain razor-thin.

Big Hand Bias

You might notice on the pay table above how much the royal flush pays in
comparison to the other winning hands. In normal play, big hands, as rare as
they are, account for a couple percentage points in terms of payback. That means
that you need to hit them at an average rate for you to return something close
to the usual percentage.

Royal Flush

When you’re talking about a royal flush (ten through ace of the same suit),
it comes up on an average of once every 40,000 hands or so. But you have to
remember that just because you haven’t hit it in 39,999 hands, it doesn’t mean
that you’ll get it that next hand you play. Video poker machines don’t work that
way, as every deal and draw are fresh and random with no connection to what has
come before on that machine.

As a result, if you struggle for a while to get some of the rare, high-paying
hands, your chances of making the quoted percentage will dwindle. You might be
on the lucky side and hit more than average, in which case you’ll be ahead of
the game. But if you don’t, you’ll need to have a significant bankroll in place
to survive.

Bankroll management is one of the areas that many budding professional video
poker players don’t realize is important. You can’t just go into a casino with a
couple hundred dollars in an effort to become a pro. You need a significant
amount in reserve to keep you afloat in order to sustain the rough patches that
will inevitably come your way.

Lifestyle Concerns

You might be able to tell from reading all of this that professional video
poker is not the exciting, thrill-a-minute experience that table-game poker can
be on the professional level. It’s a grind, one that might not be for everyone.
And there is no guarantee that you will be successful enough to make the living
you desire.

Certainly, it would take an exceptional advantage player to make a salary
playing the game that would be on the high side of average. Because of the way
that casinos have put in their built-in restrictions to video poker players
winning big through gameplay and bonuses, it takes a great deal of skill,
diligence, and patience to even make an average salary playing the game.

Those who do often have to spend a serious amount of time either playing in a
casino or online. They also must spend a lot of time researching different
machines and bonuses that might be available to them at different locations. The
time demands for becoming a professional video poker player are tough for the
average person to handle without becoming disenchanted with it.

On top of that, it’s hard to imagine someone sustaining personal
relationships with family and friends due to these time constraints. It takes a
certain kind of person to want to embark on what has become an increasingly
difficult career path. As a result, you shouldn’t enter into this decision
without really thinking about everything that comes with it.


Professional video poker is a career that can be achieved with an extreme
amount of effort and skill. But the dedication that it takes, compared to the
somewhat meager financial rewards that it normally brings, might not be worth
it. It’s best to use the lessons applied here to play the game on a recreational
or hobbyist level unless you’re really aware of everything that goes into being
a pro.