Video Poker Skills Every Player Should Master

Essential Video Poker Skills

As many players know, video poker involves a fair amount of luck.

Of course, video poker also features a great deal of skill - far more than most casino games.

Your decisions during the draw round, where you choose what cards to keep and discard, have a big impact on your long-term winnings.

How do you improve your video poker skills so that you win the most money possible?

Let's discuss this matter by covering all the different ways you can become a better player.


Use a Video Poker Strategy Chart

The best place to start with video poker is by studying a strategy chart. The reason why is because strategy charts give you a basic idea on what hands to keep based on the order.

Here's an example:

  • You're playing 8 / 5 Bonus Poker.
  • You're dealt Js, Jh, Th, 9h, 8h.
  • You have a guaranteed payout with the pair of jacks, and 4 cards to a straight flush.
  • The strategy chart suggests that you keep 4 cards to a straight flush.

This is an easy example because 4 cards to a straight flush offers much higher expected value (EV) than the 1:1 payout you get for a high pair.

But what about the tougher hands? Let's look at another example:

  • You're dealt Kd, Qc, Jc, 10c, 2h
  • You have 3 cards to a straight flush, and an unsuited K-Q combo.
  • The strategy chart ranks 3 cards to a straight flush one spot ahead of an unsuited K-Q.
Simple vs. Advanced Strategy Charts

When looking for strategy charts, you'll often find a division between simple and advanced strategy.

Simple strategy charts feature less hands to keep track of, and they get you close to optimal pay back. Advanced strategy cards have more hands to consider, but you can also achieve the top pay back this way.

If you're a casual player who's looking to improve your game, simple strategy charts are a good choice.

Example of a Simple Strategy Chart

You can see an example of a 9 / 6 Jacks or Better (JoB) strategy chart below.

This is the simplified version, which gets you to 99.46% - just 0.08% off of optimal pay back:

  • Royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind
  • 4 cards to a royal flush
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full house
  • 4 cards to a straight flush
  • Two pair
  • High pair (aces through jacks)
  • 3 cards to a royal flush
  • 4 cards to a flush
  • Low pair (anything below jacks)
  • 4 cards to an outside straight
  • 2 suited high cards
  • 3 cards to a straight flush
  • 2 unsuited high cards (if more than 2, choose the lowest 2)
  • Suited 10-K, 10-Q, or 10-J
  • One high card (ace or king)
  • Discard everything
Example of an Advanced Strategy Chart

The next logical step in progressing your video poker skills is to learn an advanced card.

You won't see much pay back difference between knowing simple and advanced strategy, but the latter is worth it for serious players.

Let's look at an example of how much money you'll make in the long run with advanced 9 / 6 JoB strategy:

  • 1Bet $10,000 with simple JoB strategy = $9,946 in winnings (10,000 x 0.9946)
  • 2Bet $10,000 with advanced JoB strategy = $9,954 in winnings (10,000 x 0.9954)

The $8 difference isn't much, but it becomes more significant when you bet $50k, $100k, or more.

Now, let's move to the 9 / 6 Jacks or Better strategy chart:

  • Royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind
  • 4 cards to a royal flush
  • Full house
  • Flush
  • 3 of a kind
  • Straight
  • 4 cards to a straight flush
  • Two pair
  • High pair (aces to jacks)
  • 3 cards to a royal flush
  • 4 cards to a flush
  • Unsuited K-Q-J-T
  • Low pair (10s to 2s)
  • 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 or 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 only
  • King only
  • Ace only
  • Discard everything
What if You Can't Find a Strategy Chart for the Game You Play?

9 / 6 Jacks or Better is a popular video poker variation, which is why it's easy to find strategy charts for this game.

But not every game is this popular, meaning you won't find charts for every variation.

But the good news is that you can use other strategy means - including the ones that we'll cover next - to practice your skills on these variants.

Video Poker Training Programs

Strategy charts are great for forming a video poker strategy foundation. But you can also run into the following problems with charts:

  • 1Playing with a strategy card can be boring.
  • 2Again, charts don't cover every video poker game.
  • 3Some players have trouble with looking at the chart, then relaying this information onto the screen.

If you have any of these problems, then video poker training programs make for a suitable alternative.

You play video poker like normal with these programs. But the key difference is that they point out strategy mistakes you make.

Let's view an example:

  • You're dealt: Kh, 9c, Ad, 4d, 7h
  • You keep the Ad, discarding everything else.
  • The program alerts you to the mistake, pointing out that keeping the Ad-Kh combo results in higher EV.

The key with video poker training programs is to keep practicing so that you learn how to correctly play more and more situations.

Over time, your thought process will become automatic when you see hands like this and others.

How to Use a Video Poker Trainer

  • 1Select the game you wish to play (i.e. Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, JoB, etc).
  • 2Select the game's payout structure. Examples include: 9 / 6 JoB, 9 / 5 JoB, 8 / 6 JoB, etc.
  • 3Select the game difficulty (if applicable).
  • 4Play the program like normal.
  • 5After the draw round, the program will reveal when you play a hand right or wrong.
  • 6If you make a strategy mistake, the program explains what you should've done otherwise.
Free Video Poker Trainers vs. Buying a Program

When choosing a video poker trainer, you have two options:

  • 1Using a free program online.
  • 2Buying a video poker program.

The best aspects of free video poker trainers is that they're easy to find, and they cost nothing to use. All you need to do is google "video poker trainer," and you'll immediately find different options.

But there's the big problem - free trainers limit you to the most-popular games. The free video poker trainer that we're using right now features the following variations:

  • Aces and Eights
  • All American
  • Bonus Poker
  • Double Bonus
  • Jacks or Better
  • Joker Poker

While it's nice that this program is free, it only cover six different variants.

If you want a larger variety of video poker games, then you'll need to pay for a program. Examples of advanced trainers include BVS Video Poker, VP Strategy Master, and WinPoker.

We ran an Amazon search on WinPoker, and here's what we found:

  • Price = $34.74 and up
  • Error alerts for strategy mistakes
  • Hard hand feature, which allows you to practice tough hands.
  • Change pay tables & create new games (23 preset games)
  • Error log mode, where you only practice hands you get wrong.
  • Play up to 10 lines / hands per turn.

This is far more than you get out of a free trainer. And the ability to input paytables is worth the price alone for a serious player.

But the obvious catch is that you have to pay $35 or more for WinPoker. If you're a casual player who doesn't want to get this involved in strategy, you're better off using a free program.

Also, if your game is already covered by a free trainer, then you'll have no use for all of these options.

Video Poker Calculator

What if you're in the middle of a video poker session and you're stumped by a specific hand?

If the game isn't covered by a strategy chart, then you can't find out how to play the hand this way. Using a video poker trainer would take forever because you'd need to play until you come upon this specific situation.

The best way to figure out how to play an individual situation is a video poker hand calculator.

What Is a Video Poker Calculator & How do You Use It?

A hand calculator lets you input the exact hand, game, and pay table to find out how to play a specific hand. Here's an example:

  • 1You enter 9 / 7 Double Bonus.
  • 2You choose: Ac, 9d, Jh, 7s, Kh
  • 3You click Process.
  • 4The calculator shows that you want to keep Kh and Jh - then discard Ac, 9d, 7s.
Pros & Cons of Using a Video Poker Calculator

As described above, the best thing about a video poker calculator is that it helps you solve individual situations.

Moreover, it's perfect when you don't have a strategy chart for a specific game and / or haven't practice the exact scenario you're dealing with.

The problem is that, like free trainers, calculators don't cover all of the different video poker variations. We looked up two free versions, and they only covered: All American, Bonus Poker, Double Bonus, Jacks or Better, and Joker Poker.

This is another situation where you need to purchase software if you want to cover a wider range of games.

But here's another problem: we spent 10 minutes searching a combination of Google and Amazon, and couldn't find a program to purchase.

Maybe some extensive calculatorsexist, but they're harder to find than a detailed video poker trainer.

Free Online Video Poker

Online casinos offer free video poker as a way to entice you to their sites. Even if you don't plan on making a deposit, it's worth taking advantage of free internet video poker.

What Are the Advantages of Free Video Poker?

The nice thing about free online video poker is that you can play as many hands as you want without paying anything. And if you're playing video poker for enjoyment, this is the perfect way to do it.

What's more is that you can play a wide variety of games because many online casinos offer 10 or more video poker variations.

One more benefit of free games includes practicing games without the training wheels, or rather training programs alerting you to each mistake.

This is great practice for real money video poker, where you don't have a helping hand.

What Are the Downsides to Free Video Poker?

Some players find it boring to grind out free hands because nothing is at risk.

Another downside is that beginning players won't learn anything from free video poker alone. You'll need to practice with a strategy chart if you want to improve at all.

Expanding on this disadvantage, free video poker is limited in what it can do for you. Unlike a strategy chart, trainer, or hand calculator, you'll never figure out how to play tough hands with free games alone.

Considering the downsides, you should only use free video poker as an improvement tool when your skills are strong enough.

Know How to Find the Best Video Poker Games

One video poker skill that often gets overlooked is finding the best-paying games. After all, what's the point of learning so much strategy if you're going to play a video poker game that offers less than 98% pay back?

Before we discuss how to find the top-paying video poker variants, let's cover some of the best ones:

  • Full-pay Deuces Wild - 100.76% pay back
  • Full-pay Joker Poker - 100.64%
  • 10 / 7 Double Bonus - 100.17%
  • 10 / 6 DoubleDouble Bonus - 100.07%
  • All Aces (online) - 99.92%
  • 9 / 6 Jacks or Better - 99.54%
  • 8 / 5 Bonus Poker - 99.17%

Here are some considerations to think about before you hunt for these particular games:

  • You can only find positive EV (+EV) variations like Deuces Wild, Joker Poker, and 10 / 7 Double Bonus in select land-based casinos.
  • High-paying online video poker games like All Aces aren't common, and they don't have widely available strategy. If you want to practice for these games, you need to buy a training program and input the pay table.
  • 8 / 5 Bonus Poker is at the low end of the spectrum here, but it's also the most commonly available variant in casinos.
How Do You Find the Best Video Poker Games in Land-based Casinos?

This topic breaks down into two areas:

  • 1Finding the best land-based video poker variants.
  • 2Finding the best online video poker games.

The best tool for finding good video poker machines in brick-and-mortar casinos is vpFREE2.com. This site offers search tools that allow you to look for the best video poker in major US cities and across Canada.

Here are few examples using Las Vegas casinos:

  • Aliante Casino = Full-pay Deuces Wild (100.76%), 10 / 7 Double Bonus (100.17%), and 10 / 6 Double Double Bonus (100.07%)
  • Arizona Charlie's Decatur = 10 / 7 Double Bonus
  • Boulder Station = Full-pay Deuces Wild, and Joker Poker (100.64%)
  • Cannery Casino & Hotel = 8 / 5 Bonus Poker (99.17%)
  • Cosmopolitan = 9 / 6 Jacks or Better (99.54%)

As you can see, this short list shows several Vegas casinos that offer +EV video poker. But the downside is that you won't find any +EV variations outside of Nevada.

How Do You Find the Best Video Poker Games in Online Casinos?

The best way to search for high pay back in online video poker is to google specific software providers.

To do this, you first need to know what software providers are available. Also note that not all online software companies make video poker games.

Here are examples of providers that offer video poker:

  • Bodog
  • Microgaming
  • Net Entertainment (NetEnt)
  • Realtime Gaming (RTG)

We ran a search for RTG's software and found that their top video poker variations are as follows:

  • 1Aces & Eights - 99.78% pay back
  • 2Double Jackpot - 99.63%
  • 3All American - 99.60%
  • 4Jacks or Better - 99.54%
  • 5Bonus Deuces Wild - 99.45%
  • 6Double Bonus - 99.37%
  • 7Double Double Jackpot - 99.36%

RTG features several video poker games with high pay back. But as mentioned before, you won't always find strategy for these high-paying variants and may need to purchase a training program.

Know How to Calculate Expected Value - Including Comps

The final step to developing your video poker skills is to calculate your EV, while including comps. Here's what you need to know to do this:

  • Pay back for the video poker game you play.
  • Your estimated margin of error.
  • The comp rate you're being offered.

Now that we know what to look for, let's plug some numbers in to create an example:

  • 1You play 10 / 7 Double Bonus, which offers 100.17% pay back.
  • 2Your estimated margin of error is 0.1%.
  • 3Your casino's comp rate is 0.2%.
  • 41.0017 - 0.001 = 1.0007 EV from playing.
  • 51.0007 + 0.002 = 1.0027 EV with playing & comps.

With your EV figured out, you can estimate how much money you'll make from each dollar wagered. Here's how to do this:

  • You bet $20,000 total throughout the week.
  • $20,000 x 1.0027 EV = $20,054
  • $20,054 - $20,000 = $54 theoretical profit

Our example includes a +EV video poker variation. But the vast majority of games are -EV.

This being said, you may find that you're theoretically losing money after running these calculations.

But if you enjoy playing video poker, then finding out that you're losing $50 to $100 over the long term isn't a big deal.

Conclusion

Becoming a great video poker player doesn't happen overnight. But once you develop these skills, you'll have more fun as you continually make correct plays and win extra money.

Even more exciting is the fact that you'll improve your odds of winning a royal flush payout!

Here's a recap of the most-important skills that we covered:

  • 1Learn a simple video poker strategy chart.
  • 2Learn an advanced video poker strategy chart.
  • 3Practice with a video poker training program.
  • 4Use a video poker hand calculator.
  • 5(Optional) Practice with free video poker.
  • 6Know how to find the best games.
  • 7Calculate your EV while including comps.

Even if you never go further than learning a simplified strategy chart, your odds of winning will greatly improve.

But if you continue progressing through this list, then you'll become an expert video poker player.

And this really pays off when you play +EV games in Nevada. Some players even become pros by playing full-pay Deuces Wild and taking advantage of double and triple point promotions.

Of course, the point of video poker is to have fun. This being said, learn whatever amount of strategy you feel comfortable with and go from there.

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