Video Poker Tournaments – How to Play and How to Win
Video poker tournaments give gamblers the chance to apply their video poker
skills for the chance to win big money. It’s a way for astute players to test
their mettle against others who are playing under the same set of circumstances.
If you know some of the right strategies and the way they work, you can make
some serious money by playing video poker tournaments.
Many people like video poker for the fact that it’s a solitary experience.
You don’t need to worry about other patrons or employees at a casino. And if
you’re playing online at a top
legitimate gambling website, you can really concentrate on your play without
But many people might like the challenge of proving that their video poker
strategy is the best. If that’s the case, video poker tournaments are the
ultimate way to prove that. If you play really well, get a little lucky, and
don’t make many mistakes, you have a chance of coming out at or near the top of
the tournament leaderboard.
Video poker tournaments can be found both in casinos and online. The
specifications for each tournament are different. Some require a payment to play
while others are free. The rules for how the video poker tournament will be
administered also tend to be specific to the event in question.
But the basic gist of video poker tournaments is that you will be competing
for a prize pool instead of trying to win money on a hand-by-hand basis. The
players who perform the best in the tournament will be awarded money or prizes,
while those who come up short will come away empty-handed.
If you are a savvy video poker player, tournaments are a way to prove it. But
you should be aware that playing in a video poker tournament can sometimes
require you to utilize different strategies than you might if you were playing
by yourself. You should also try to determine the level of the competition so
that you are not in over your head against expert performers.
In the following article, we’ll talk about how to play video poker if you’re
new to the game, and then we’ll compare that basic format to tournament play.
We’ll also talk about how tournaments work in terms of signing up and winning
prizes. On top of that, we’ll look at how strategies for tournaments can
sometimes differ from basic play, and we’ll talk about the benefits and
drawbacks of playing in video poker tournaments.
The Basics of Video Poker
Before you even start considering playing in video poker tournaments, you
have to have a firm basis on how video poker works. People love playing video
poker because it combines the best of slot machines and table games.
Like a slot machine, you can play without any pressure from outside forces,
simply locking into a machine at the casino or settling in for a session on a
gambling website. Video poker also resembles table games because it contains an
element of strategy. When you top all that off with how easy video poker is to
play, you can see why this is such a popular game for gamblers to play.
Here are the basics of how a hand of video poker works:
For those of you who are familiar with our video poker tutorials on this site,
you might notice that we are skipping the part about
inserting money into a machine and creating a bankroll. That’s because these
steps are not necessary in video poker tournaments, as we’ll explain in a bit.
When playing in a tournament, your bankroll will already be established for you
at some predetermined level.
As for betting in video poker tournaments, this is another step that might be
eliminated for you. That’s because many tournaments only allow you the maximum
wager, which is usually five credits, for each hand that you play. You won’t
have a choice about how much to wager, in which case you won’t need to worry
about this particular step.
If you are given the choice, you should still only consider betting the
maximum amount of five coins. The reason for this is that the payoff for the
royal flush generally offers much better odds for five coins played than it does
for one through four coins. Since video poker tournament play usually requires
that you come out at the end with a high number of credits, the need to max out
on a potential royal flush hand becomes even greater than it normally would be
in regular video poker play.
Video poker is essentially a simulation of Five Card Draw poker, a game that
can be played informally at home or for real money. Just as in that game, you
will receive five cards on the deal. These cards will form the basis of your
hand, but you will have a chance to improve on them.
The cards are dealt from a simulated 52-card deck which contains all the
cards that you would find in a deck of cards that you likely have somewhere at
home in a drawer. If the game you’re playing has a joker, that would make it 53
cards. Your chances of receiving a specific card are 1 in 52 (or 53 with a
joker) on the deal.
The deal is determined by a random number generator working inside the
software of the machine. Imagine that the simulated deck is being shuffled
non-stop right up until the moment that you hit the “deal” button on the
machine. At that moment, you receive the top five cards.
Ideally, the cards will make up a winning hand, as determined by the
particular pay table for the video poker variation that you’re playing. More
likely than not, you might only have certain combinations of cards that might
make up a winning hand on the draw, which is the next step. Or you might have a
winning combination on the deal, but it could be one that isn’t that lucrative
and can therefore still be improved.
The following is a list of winning hands in video poker. They are ranked in
order of most commonly achieved, which usually pay the least, to most rarely
achieved, which usually pay the most:
A pair of jacks or better
Three of a kind
Straight (five cards of consecutive rank, like 2-3-4-5-6 or
Flush (five cards of the same suit)
Full house (three of a kind of one rank and a pair of another
Four of a kind
Straight flush (five cards of consecutive rank and the same
Royal flush (ten-jack-queen-king-ace of the same suit)
Once you receive your deal, you are faced with the main decision that comes
into play in video poker. You have one opportunity to draw new cards to see if
you can make a better hand than the one you are dealt. To do this, you have to
discard the card or cards (if any) that you think are inessential.
Let’s take a look at how this might work. Imagine that you receive the
There are three possible combinations which show some promise in this hand,
although none of them make up a winning hand as is. There is a pair of sevens,
and there is also four hearts, just one shy of a flush. And the ten, jack, and
king give you three cards to a potential royal flush.
At this point, you have to figure out which cards, when held, give you the
best probability of making the most lucrative winning hand. Remember that there
are 47 cards left in the deck and that you have a one in 47 chance of drawing
each of those cards. You also need to resemble that the random number generator
ensures that nothing that has happened in previous hands will have any bearing
on what you might possibly draw in this hand.
In case you’re wondering, your best mathematical play, in terms of normal
video poker, would be to keep the high cards and throw out the two sevens. But,
as we’ll talk about when we get to the strategy section, the right play in a
normal video poker session might not necessarily be the best in a video poker
Nonetheless, once you make the decision, you will hit the “hold” buttons that
are below the cards that you want to keep. Then you will push the “draw” button
to get your new cards. At that point, the hand is over, and any winnings will be
added to your total.
That is the basic process for playing video poker in a nutshell. Now, we’ll
talk about how that process is translated to video poker tournaments.
Signing up for Video Poker Tournaments
You’ll be dealing with three different methods of getting involved in a video
poker tournament at an online casino or on a gambling site:
Straight Buy-In: In this case, you would pay a
predetermined amount to get involved in the tournament.
Buy-In with Fee: The fee is often a small
percentage of the buy-in. This fee is usually a way to reward the house that
is holding the tournament, whether that refers to a casino or a gambling
Free: This is a tournament that is open to
anyone who wishes to enter with no up-front payment.
When considering which video poker tournaments you’d like to enter, keep in
mind that the different types generally have their positives and negatives
attached to them. For the straight buy-in or buy-in with fee options, you are
putting money at risk. But you can generally be assured of a pretty hefty payoff
should you get in the money, more than you could probably expect from a single
session of video poker using the buy-in amount as your bankroll.
Free video poker tournaments are tempting because, well, you guessed it,
they’re free. But the prize totals for these tournaments are generally capped at
a lower level than paid tournaments. That means that you’ll have to decide if
they’re worth your time.
There are also some video poker tournaments which might advertise a buy-in
fee but still award spots for free to certain players. This kind of entry would
be a reward to a player who spends a lot of money at the casino as a kind of
bonus. Such a high-roller perk is a reason why you should always sign up for a
club card when planning to play often at a particular casino.
Video Poker Tournament Prizes
The way that most video poker tournament prize structures work is that there
is a designated amount for each placing. These amounts are based on a percentage
of the pool that has been gathered.
For example, imagine 100 people have entered a video poker tournament at a
$100 straight buy-in. That puts $10,000 in the pool. The prize money might be
broken down as such:
1st Place: $5,000 (50% of pool)
2nd Place: $2,500 (25% of pool)
3rd Place: $1,250 (12.5% of pool)
4th Place: $750 (7.5% of pool)
5th Place: $500 (5% of pool)
Other tournaments might break the prizes down differently, perhaps adding
more places that will get into the money. You might even come upon a kind of
winner-take-all type of tournament. Again, each casino and website will
determine these specifics.
There might even be occasions where the pool is based on how many people
enter. Some video poker tournaments will set the prizes beforehand regardless of
the entries, but others will add to the pool if the number of entrants exceeds
You should always be aware of these facts before entering a video poker
tournament. After all, you shouldn’t enter anywhere you don’t feel confident
that the prize structure is worthy of what you are putting into it.
It also might make sense to find out what kind of players are involved. If
you’re new to video poker, you likely wouldn’t have much chance at winning a
tournament full of sharks. The best advice is to find out as much information as
you can possibly glean before entering a video poker tournament online or at a
Structure of Video Poker Tournaments
Not every video poker tournament is the same, but they can basically be
broken down to two main types: timed tournaments and ones that give each player
a set amount of hands to play. You need to know the difference between the two
because your strategy for competing can be different based on which type of
tournament you enter.
As you might be able to figure out from the name, a timed video poker
tournament is one in which all of the players are given the same amount of time
to play. At the completion of the time limit, the players with the most credits
earned will be the ones that are awarded prizes.
These timed tournaments can be constructed in several different ways. The
machines might be set up in terms of positive and negative credits. For example,
you start at zero and then either add to those credits or lose them as you go
Other video poker tournaments might be timed but allow you to start with a
certain number of credits or coins. If you run out of those credits before the
time is complete, you will be finished and won’t have a chance of winning.
In other cases, one of the main components of a timed video poker tournament
is speed. That is, the players that can play video poker the fastest will
usually have a distinct advantage in a tournament. This is a different concept
than if you were playing video poker on your own and trying to amass winnings
When you are playing video poker and trying to win money on your own, you
have to be conscious of the payback percentage. This is the mathematical amount
that you can expect to return from your bankroll, based on the probabilities of
making winning hands and the pay tables. When you play video poker for a long
time on a certain machine, you will eventually come very near to the quoted
But when you are playing in a timed tournament, those percentages won’t apply
as much because the sample size is too small. Luck will play a greater factor.
And the chance for you to walk into a big winning hand increases the more hands
In a video poker tournament, you really don’t have to worry about losing a
lot in a short period of time by playing fast. Your fee, whatever it might have
been, will have already paid and you can’t lose anything more than that. As for
timed tournaments, your goal is to try to pump up your winnings as quickly as
possible, instead of grinding out winnings over a small period of time.
It’s simple math that the more hands you play, the more chances you’ll give
yourself for the kind of high-paying hands, like a four of a kind, straight
flush, and even a royal flush, that will set your winnings apart from the pack.
That’s what it takes to get in the money in a timed tournament. And that’s why
you have to learn to assess hands and pick your holds and discards as quickly as
possible, which we’ll explain how to do in the strategy section below.
With this type of video poker tournament, the amount of hands that each
player will play is set in stone at the beginning of the event. Once the hands
have all been played, each player will be judged against each other based on the
number of credits they have amassed. The highest number of credits will get the
In this case, you don’t have to worry about going as fast as possible. That
said, many of these tournaments might institute a time limit as well just to
keep people from taking too long with their decisions. Time limits set on
hands-based tournaments are usually reasonable enough that an experienced player
playing at a normal pace will have no problems with finishing the set amount of
hands in time.
Without having to worry about speeding through your play, a hand-based
tournament will allow you to take your time and make the right decisions without
the added pressure. It will just come down to which player, or players, have the
most skill and enjoy the best luck on that day.
How do you acquire that skill? Read on as we talk about how to learn video
Advantages of Video Poker Tournaments
The possibility of making more money in a quick single sitting than you
could if you were playing a long session
A chance to test out your ability against other video poker players
An opportunity to try out your own singular strategies that would be
ill-advised if playing a normal game
Disadvantages of Video Poker Tournaments
It’s difficult to come away with any winnings when only the top few out
of many players are paid
No set strategy might make the game a bit more stressful than normal
Luck can come into play much more than in regular video poker play,
which bothers people who prefer to use their skill
Learning Video Poker Strategy
Many people who know a little bit about Five Card Draw poker
might be under the assumption that they already know how to play video poker at
a top level. They then might make the leap into thinking that they are ready to
compete in video poker tournaments.
Such assumptions might end up in disappointment. The mechanics of video poker
are indeed similar to what you would experience playing five-card draw. But
playing against another person at home and playing against a machine with set
winning amounts are two vastly different things.
You have to know the probabilities of making every single winning hand based
on the deal that you receive. And you have to measure those probabilities
against the possible reward of making those hands. That’s where the pay table
comes into play.
Pay tables are what really sets video poker apart from five-card draw. These
tables, which show how you will win for each hand based on the amount that is
being bet, are located in every machine, so there is no guesswork involved. They
are a vital piece of information for players who are either having a normal
video poker session or are competing in video poker tournaments.
Your strategy should be based on the pay table. And pay tables differ from
game to game. Let’s take a look at what we mean by that.
The following is a pay table for the video poker game known as Jacks or
Better. Jacks or Better is the most common form of video poker game, found in
most casinos or gambling websites in one form or another. This pay table is
based on the 9/6 Jacks or Better variation, which is the highest-paying form of
the game that can be found in a casino, with a payback percentage of 99.54%.
Four of a kind
Three of a kind
Jacks or better
Now, let’s compare that to a different version of video poker. This is a pay
table for a version of the game known as 9/6 Double Double Bonus. The payback
percentage on this game is 98.98%.
Four aces w/ any 2,3,4
Four 2s, 3s, 4s w/ any A,2,3,4
Four 2s, 3s, 4s
Four 5s through Ks
Three of a kind
Pair of jacks +
As you can see, the two are different in many ways. First of all, the Double Double Bonus game includes “kickers” in their pay tables. A kicker is the card
that is essentially the odd card out in a four of a kind hand. For example:
In that hand, the three of clubs is the kicker. Kickers add an interesting
twist to the strategy in Double Double Bonus.
In addition, you can see that the Double Double Bonus game really jacks up
the payments for a four of a kind hand. It even pushes a four of a kind, in most
cases, beyond the payout for a straight flush. That’s an interesting notion to
consider because a straight flush is a more difficult hand to come by when
playing video poker.
On the other hand, the Jacks or Better game pays off a two pair hand at 2 to
1. Meanwhile, the Double Double Bonus game only returns a payout of even money
for a two pair.
That makes a difference because two pair is a hand that will show up many
times during the course of gameplay. In fact, the higher payout on the two pair
is the reason that Jacks or Better can claim a higher payback percentage than
the Double Double Bonus games, despite the latter game’s better chances for a
As you can see from these examples, the pay tables bring into focus why a
player not accustomed to video poker can’t possibly expect to compete at the
same level at video poker tournaments as experienced video poker enthusiasts.
You have to acquire the proper skills, or you will get left behind by players
who know what they’re doing. Only an extreme stroke of good luck, such as being
dealt a royal flush, would give you a chance.
So how is it that you can acquire such strategy? Well, first of all, it’s a
good idea to play video poker on your own before committing to a tournament. It
will help you to get the rhythm of play down pat and to learn the intricacies of
the different pay tables.
Even better in that regard is the notion of free play. There are many free
versions of video poker floating around online or as smartphone and tablet apps.
Many don’t even require a sign-up of any kind.
Using free play is an excellent way for you to get a feel for the game.
Unfortunately, free play by itself is no way for you to learn the right moves.
And by “right,” we mean the holds and discards for every conceivable hand that
will bring you the best-expected value on the draw as determined by
probabilities and payoffs.
Luckily, there are two excellent methods for you to use that will help you in
this regard. In both cases, you’ll still have to use some practice and/or study.
But the end result will be something close to perfect play. Perfect play
means that you are making the mathematically correct decision for each and every
hand that you play and thereby maximizing your expected takeout from whatever
machine you’re playing.
The two best methods are:
Video Poker Training Software
The best software for budding video poker training software is one that is
thorough and comprehensive in its offerings. Unfortunately, that usually means
that you’ll have to spend a few bucks to get the best, usually by ordering a
disc that you can then download on your computer. It may cost you a little to
start, but you’ll make it up down the road by playing expert video poker, both
on your own and in video poker tournaments.
Video poker trainers work by allowing you to play simulated hands of video
poker. You can usually play whatever the popular brands of video poker are at
the time, including the ones we listed above. If you have found a pay table or
style of play that isn’t covered, solid training software will allow you to make
the adjustments and customize the pay tables.
As you play hands, the software will alert you when one of your holds or
discards is not the optimum mathematical play. It will also show you the correct
play. Most trainers will keep track of how many right plays versus wrong plays
you make in terms of a percentage so that you can track your progress.
Video poker training software will also usually let you play certain hands
that might be difficult choices in terms of what to hold or discard. And it will
also allow you to play hands on which you’ve made mistakes before. That will
help you to correct your errors.
By practicing often with this software, you can start to improve, and the
right plays for each hand will become second nature. Eventually, you’ll come to
a point where you can quickly spot the right play the moment that you see your
deal. At that point, you’ll be ready for any video poker tournaments that you
Strategy cards can be found online for just about every form of video poker
you might encounter. For example, the Jacks or Better and Double Double Bonus
games that we spotlighted above each have strategy charts that are specific to
them. Consider strategy cards to be the cheat sheets of the video poker world.
The people who have compiled the strategy cards, which are also called
strategy charts by some, have already done all the mathematical work in terms of
assessing what the proper holds and discards are for every possible hand. To
make this clear, they rank all of the possible combinations that you might get
on a deal from most beneficial to least beneficial. All you have to do is look
at your deal, find the combination that you have that is highest-ranked, and
then discard the inessential cards.
Let’s take a look at our earlier example. If you recall, the deal went like
As we talked about above, there were three obvious possibilities: the pair of
sevens, the four to a flush, and the three to a royal flush. If you looked at a
strategy chart for Jacks or Better video poker, you would see these combinations
on the chart:
Three cards from ten through ace of the same suit
Four cards of the same suit
Pair of 2s through 10s
That spells it all out for you. The best hold that you can possibly make from
that hand are the three high cards of the same suit, which means that you should
discard the two sevens.
The reason for that is mainly that the royal flush holds such a high
potential payoff that it should be sought if at all possible. But the great
thing about the strategy card is that you don’t need to know why the rankings
are what they are. You just have to take heed of it.
The main problem with strategy charts, especially as it applies to video
poker tournaments, is that you can’t really consult them during play. For one,
they probably would be banned from a tournament for giving you a competitive
Even if you could find a tournament where you could use one, like in an
online game, you would likely take up too much time consulting it on every
single hand to hope to get in the money. You would quickly run out of time
without playing a lot of hands.
But there is a way that you can use strategy cards in your video poker
tournament. You can memorize them. In that way, you can just carry the
information along with you into the tournament.
This is by no means an easy task. There are a lot of possible combinations of
hands to go through and memorize. And that number rises as you get into more
complicated games like bonus or wild card games.
For that reason, your best bet, if you want to get up and running in a video
poker tournament as quickly as possible, is to memorize just the tough hands.
There are some obvious holds and discards that you don’t have to concern
yourself with learning because you’ll be able to spot them a mile away.
Concentrate instead on the hands that might trip you up.
Once you have all that memorized, you can play that particular variation of
video poker with no worries about making mistakes. And you should be able to
play with great speed as well. That is the perfect combination for video poker
Specific Strategies for Video Poker Tournaments
Here is where it gets a little bit trickier for video poker tournament
hopefuls. The strategies that you learn from using strategy cards and video
poker training software aren’t necessarily the right ones to use when playing in
a tournament. In fact, there might not be such a thing as a right or wrong
strategy for a tournament.
When you learn video poker strategies from software or strategy cards, you
are essentially learning perfect play. And perfect play will give you the best
chance of maxing out your winnings over a long period of time. In other words,
you can hope to play to the quoted payback percentages for whatever brand of
video poker you might be playing.
That should be your goal if you are planning to play video poker on the basis
of you against the machine. Your goal here is to grind out your winnings and to
play long enough that you have an increased probability of some of the big
jackpot hands that can come your way. Video poker, in that respect, should be
thought of as a long haul.
But, as we’ve told you before, video poker tournaments are anything but a
long haul. They are a relatively short sprint. Whether you are playing in a
timed tournament or one with a set number of hands, you only have a short time
to play the game.
The other thing that you have to focus on is that you will only win money in
a video poker tournament with an exceptional performance. If you are playing by
yourself and manage to come out on top by fifty bucks or so after an hour’s
play, that can be considered a successful session.
Yet in a video poker tournament, that probably wouldn’t be near enough to get
you in the money. And those who don’t get in the money don’t walk away with any
consolation prize. It’s essentially an all-or-nothing deal, which means that you
will be losing your pay-in without the big numbers.
As a result, you have to consider tailoring your strategy to tournaments and
occasionally going away from the mathematically “correct” play on occasion. Here
are some things to think about when you go to set up your video poker tournament
The Number of Participants: The more people that
are involved, the harder that it will be for you to get in the money. If you
sense that there might be an abnormally large number of players involved,
you should consider going for more of a reckless, go-for-broke style of
The Payout Structure: If the payout structure of
the video poker tournament in question is top-heavy, which means that most
of the money in the prize pool is reserved for the finishers at the very top
of the leaderboard, that should play into your strategy. You’ll want to
shoot for the moon, so to speak, and go for the bigger hands.
The Time or Hand Limit: This is a pretty simple
concept. The more hands or time that you get during your tournament, the
more you can afford to be somewhat conservative because the larger sample
size will reward the better mathematical plays. But if you’re dealing with
limited time or hands, you simply can’t afford to be too conservative.
Knowing all that, here are some tips that you should be able to use when
playing video poker tournaments:
One of the most common methods of strategic adjustment by gamblers in video
poker tournaments is to go for the royal flush at all costs. As you can see from
the pay tables above, the payout for the royal flush dwarfs all other winning
hands. And that means that it has to be a target in tournament play.
When you are playing basic video poker and trying to win or lose against the
machine, the royal flush is something that is usually playing about in the back
of your mind. It’s almost like a theoretical concept, one that is out there that
you might not ever achieve. You can go for it if the right cards fall into your
lap, but you don’t ever expect it to happen.
When playing in a video poker tournament, you almost have to force it to
happen. And you do that by going for it, almost at any cost. That might mean
throwing away a flush or a straight if there are enough high cards involved.
Playing that kind of video poker in the long term is a sure way to lose your
shirt. But you always have to remember, when competing in video poker
tournaments, that you’ve already paid your stake and can’t lose anymore while
playing. But you can win it back if you earn a lot of credits quick and get in
the money, which might happen if you can nab a royal flush or two.
Knowing Your Game:
It’s crucial to know exactly what type of video poker you’ll be playing when
signing up for a tournament. As we stated above, the mechanics of play for most
video poker variations are the same. But the way that you should play the hands
can depend upon what the pay table suggests.
Don’t go into a tournament thinking you can handle it just because you’re an
excellent video poker player. Make sure that you’re an expert in the specific
game that is being played at the contest. For example, you might know everything
there is to know about
Jacks or Better video poker, but that won’t do you any good if the game at
the tournament is based on Deuces Wild.
In short, don’t take it for granted that you are going to be able to handle
any kind of video poker tournament under the sun. Go in prepared and with an
exact strategy on the version of the game that you’ll be playing. That will give
you a fighting chance to get in the money.
Selling out for Big Hands:
We already talked about the benefits of playing for the royal flush, but
there are two other hands that stand above the rest when it comes to basic video
poker. They are the straight flush and the four of a kind hands.
You can see from the above pay tables how much more you get from these hands
when compared to the ones closest to them on the table. This is especially true
with the bonus games, where the four of a kind hands really get a boost. Those
are the kinds of payouts that will put you ahead of your competition in a video
poker tournament, especially if they are trying to make their way with smaller
As a result, a strategy where you really sell out for these hands is a viable
one in a video poker tournament. That means occasionally making a play that
might be frowned upon when playing a normal session. What do we mean by that?
Well, consider a Jacks or Better deal where you receive four cards to a flush
while also getting a low pair. The normal play is to keep the four of the same
suit and go for the flush. But in tournament play, you might be better off
keeping the pair and giving yourself an outside shot at a four of a kind, and a
25 to 1 payoff (compared to the 6 to 1 for the flush).
You might get even crazier than that. Take a look at that Double Double Bonus
video poker pay table above. Now, imagine that you get the following hand:
That’s a full house, a wonderful hand in normal circumstances. But think
about it in these terms: By dropping one of the threes, you would be just one
card away from a four of a kind with a three kicker. To pursue this hand, you
would be giving up a sure thing 9 to 1 payment for a 1 in 47 chance at a 400 to
Again, that is not the kind of thing you would do when playing at a machine
by yourself, but it’s something you might consider when playing in a tournament
when only the very best scores will get you paid.
Video poker tournaments are an exciting variation on a thrilling casino game.
You can get a real rush from going up against other players all trying for a
hefty prize. But to be a big winner, you have to know the ways that video poker
tournaments differentiate from your normal video poker play.
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