Video Poker Tournaments - How to Play and How to Win

Video Poker Tournaments

Most video poker players enjoy the thrills of chasing big payouts, using strategy, and trimming the house edge.

But what happens when you want a new video poker experience? One that goes beyond simply trying a new game or paytable?

Enter video poker tournaments, where you compete against fellow players for prize money.

This presents a fresh take on one of the most-popular casino games. And if you play your cards right, it also gives you a chance to win long-term profits.

What does it take to win in tourneys, and how do you get started?

Let's answer these questions by discussing how video poker tournaments work, strategy, and the pros & coins of these events. We'll also cover video poker contests and challenges because they're similar to tourneys.

How do Video Poker Tournaments Work?

Video Poker Tournament Buy-ins

Video poker tourneys see you pay a buy-in fee to enter.

If you lose, then you're only out a buy-in. This differs from standard video poker, where there's no limit on how much you can lose during a session.

A video poker tournament buy-in can break down into one of three categories:

  • 1Buy-in with no fee - 100% of the buy-ins go into the prize pool, and the host (casino) takes nothing.
  • 2Buy-in with fee - The host takes a small cut of each buy-in. In many cases, the fee is 10%.
  • 3Freeroll - You pay nothing, but the prize pools usually aren't very large.

Casinos hold freerolls and no-fee tournaments as promotions meant to entice customers. These events are definitely worth playing in when you're trying to build a bankroll.

Prize Pool

Tournaments with fees aren't as attractive. But casinos make these events more enticing by adding guaranteed prize pool money.

Here's an example:

  • $5,000 guaranteed prize pool.
  • Entry fee is $100 + $10 fee.

If the total prize pool doesn't reach $5k, then you gain additional value through what's called an overlay. Assuming the prize pool exceeds $5k, then everybody gets to play for larger prizes.

As with most casino tournaments, video poker tourneys only see a small percentage of players cash - usually in the 10-20% range.

Let's look at a sample prize pool based on our $5k guaranteed event:

  • 50 players enter, matching the $5,000 guarantee.
  • Top 5 players cash.
  • 1st = $2,500
  • 2nd = $1,500
  • 3rd = $500
  • 4th = $300
  • 5th = $200

The prizes at the top are definitely exciting. But the catch is that only 10% of the field will earn money.

Tournament Formats

Video poker tournaments have three types of formats:

  • 1Timed - The tournament runs for a specific amount of time. When the time limit is reached, the player with the highest score (bankroll) wins.
  • 2Hand / Credit Limit - The tourney runs for a set number of hands or credits. When the hand / credit limit is reached, the player with the highest score wins.
  • 3Credit & Time Limit - The tournament runs for a set amount of time. But players can also bust out of the tourney if they run out of credits before the time limit.

The first two formats are the most common. And here are examples of how the first two work:

  • Timed Tournament

    A tourney lasts for 30 minutes, and you play as fast as possible to earn the most credits. When 30 minutes are up, the top players on the leaderboard standings receive prizes.

  • Hand Limit Tournament

    A tournament lasts for 100 hands, and you play until reaching this set number. Your score is then compared to others to see if you qualify for a prize.

Your tournament preference will all depend upon your individual tastes. But note that your strategy will change based on the format.

Timed tourneys require you to play fast because you need as many chances to win as possible. Hand / credit limits allow you to take your time with each hand.

Bankroll & Winnings are Separate

Video poker games are programmed to keep your bankroll and winnings separate during a tournament.

This prevents you from being penalized for losses. Furthermore, it allows you to concentrate on playing the tourney and trying to rack up a higher score.

For Sports BetsBet Sizes

Some tournaments feature an automatic 5-coin bet since this is the only way to achieve optimal pay back. Other events let players choose how many coins to bet on each hand from 1-5.

If given the choice, you still need to bet 5 coins per hand because this is the only way to win the optimal royal flush payout (4,000 coins).

Playing Video Poker Tournaments in Land Based Casinos

Many brick-and-mortar video poker tourneys are by invitation only. Here's the typical process for how this happens:

  • 1You play video poker at a certain casino.
  • 2They notice that your weekly / monthly play qualifies you for a free tournament entry.
  • 3You're sent a tourney invitation through email or snail mail.
  • 4In many cases, you don't need to pay a buy-in because these events are for VIPs.

This isn't to say that you won't find buy-in tournaments at land-based casinos too. But the above process is how many land-based video poker tourneys operate.

Playing Online Video Poker Tournaments

Here's how you play in online video poker tourneys:

  • 1You visit the games / tournaments section of the casino.
  • 2Assuming your account is funded, register for the tournament& pay the buy-in.
  • 3Be ready for the start time.

It's not hard to play in online tournaments. The key is that you choose an online casino that actually offers video poker tourneys.

You also need to choose a banking method you can use and make a deposit before playing.

Video Poker Tournament Strategy

It pays to prepare before you start playing video poker tournaments. Here are some important preparations that you should make in order to ensure success:

  • Know the game that you'll be playing in the tourney.
  • Know the rules of the tournament.
  • Spend hours practicing so you can make the correct plays.
  • Continue increasing your practice speed so that you can keep up in timed events.

The rules are very important with regard to strategy.

If you're playing in a hand / credit limit tournament, then you take your time and execute perfect strategy. When you're playing in a timed tourney, you need to play as quickly as possible because more hands give you a greater opportunity to win.

With this distinction covered, let's discuss other important elements in tourney play.

Luck is a Big Factor - But Skill Still Plays a Role

Video poker tournaments can feel like a crapshoot because you need big hands to win. In larger tourneys, the winner normally scores a royal flush during the event.

Considering that your odds of getting a royal flush are about 1 in 40,000, your chances of winning a tournament aren't good. Despite this fact, skill still improves your chances.

And the greatest skill to have is the ability to use correct strategy on the fly. When you can quickly figure out what hands to keep and discard, then you'll make the right plays and get more hands in during timed tournaments.

3 Different Tournament Strategies

Below you can see the main strategies that video poker players use in tournaments:

  • Play as fast as you can (timed events), while putting minimal focus on strategy.
  • Favor cards that can earn you a royal flush and bonus payouts (if applicable).
  • Focus on strategy first, then worry about speed and big hands.

While no tournament strategy is perfect, combining the first two strategies will produce solid results over the long run.

Why Play for Royal Flushes

As mentioned before, a tournament winner normally gets a royal flush payout. And if you focus on cards that can land you a royal flush, your odds of getting one improve from roughly 40,000:1 to 23,000:1.

Let's do the math on how often you'd get a royal flush at this rate:

  • A good tournament player completes about 500 hands every 20 minutes.
  • At this rate, it'd theoretically take you 46 tourneys to land a royal flush (23,000 / 500).

This sounds like a raw deal, but you'll also have top-5 finishes even when you don't get a royal flush. This helps return some money to your bankroll while you wait for wins / royals.

Of course, you can gain additional value by playing more hands than the average opponent. When you combine speed with the royal strategy, then your expected value (EV) from each tournament buy-in increases.

How to Play for Royal Flushes

Now that we've decided that playing for royal flushes is a good tournament plan, the next logical step becomes knowing how to execute this strategy.

Here are some simple pointers that'll help you:

  • Discard anything that won't help make a royal flush.
  • his includes any made hand (i.e. 3-of-a-kind, 4-of-a-kind) that doesn't include royal cards.
  • An easy tip to remember is to discard anything under 10.
  • Keep suited high cards together.

This sounds like an easy plan, but putting it into practice is tough when you're used to standard video poker strategy.

A simple way to practice royal-only is to buy a video poker trainer that lets you customize strategy. You then set the strategy to royal-only, and the program will alert you to any mistakes. With time, playing for royal flushes will seem natural in a tournament setting.

Examples of the Royal- Only Strategy

Again, the best way to practice the royal-only strategy is to use an advanced video poker trainer. But if you don't have this yet, then it's helpful to look at some examples.

Video Poker Example #1
  • You're dealt As, 9h, 9c, Qs, Qd
  • Despite having a two pair, you would only keep As and Qs because they give you royal flush potential.
Video Poker Example #2
  • You're dealt Ks, 6d, 3c, 9d, 4h
  • You only keep Ks because no other card in this hand can help you land a royal flush.
Video Poker Example #3
  • You're dealt 4s, 5h, 6d, 7c, 8h
  • Despite having a straight, you discard everything.
Is the Royal Only Strategy the Only Way to Go?

Playing for royal flushes feels like an extreme strategy used by a jackpot-obsessed neophyte. But what's the point of playing well and finishing just outside the cut-off point?

Here's a hypothetical example to illustrate our point:

  • The winner earns 4,400 credits.
  • The last-qualifying payout - 5th place in our example - earns 2,350 credits.
  • The 6th-place finisher uses standard strategy and finishes with 2,000 credits.
  • You use the royal-only strategy and finish with 500 credits.

Although you finished way behind the player who used correct strategy, you both leave the tournament empty-handed. But in your case, you at least had a chance to win.

Assuming you had hit a royal flush, then you would've finished with 4,500 credits and won the top prize.

Don't forget that you'll also form wins after the draw when you don't get a royal flush. And when you form enough of these wins, you can sometimes finish in a paying position without a royal.

Differences between Standard Play & Video Poker Tournaments

Here are the key differences between standard video poker play and tournaments, based on what we've reviewed so far.

  • 1Buy-in vs. Bankroll - You enter tournaments by paying a fixed buy-in fee. In contrast, standard video poker requires that you supply every single bet.
  • 2Prize Pool vs. Uncapped Winnings - Tournaments feature a prize pool that's finalized after all buy-ins have been collected. Regular video poker doesn't place any limit on how much players can win during a session.
  • 3Different Formats vs. Uniform Format - While you can change games in standard play, the format never changes. Contrast this to tourneys, where you can play tournaments based on a time limit, hands / credit limit, and a mix of time & credit limits.
  • 4Fixed Bets vs. Changing Bets - Many tournaments set a fixed bet of 5 coins. Standard play, on the other hand, lets you bet between 1 and 5 coins per hand.
  • 5Different Strategies vs. One Correct Strategy- You can use one or more strategies to win in video poker tourneys. But you want to stick to the correct strategy for whatever game you're playing in the standard version.

Pros and Cons of Video Poker Tournaments

Below you can see the best and worst aspects of playing video poker tourneys.

  • You Only Risk Your Buy-in - If a tournament buy-in is $50, this is all you have to risk. Some tourneys don't even cost anything to enter. Contrast this to standard play, where you can lose hundreds of dollars during a bad session.
  • You can Win Long-term Profits - Due to the fact that you're playing against other players, rather than the house, you can win long-term profits in a video poker tourney. While it's also possible to win by finding +EV video poker machines, odds are that you won't find a machine which offers you an advantage.
  • Top Prizes are Big - A tournament's top payouts are big when compared to the buy-in. A $1,000 prize pool often pays $500 to the top finisher.
  • Tournaments are a Break from the Norm - Tourneys are perfect when you're tired of playing standard video poker all the time. Many players appreciate the buy-in and prize pool format. You can also enjoy different types of tournaments, such as timed, hand-based and hand / credit-based.
  • You can Play Freerolls- Want to play for tournament cash without paying a dime? Land-based and online video poker freerolls give you the perfect opportunity to build a bankroll and win other cool prizes.
  • You Won't Win Very Often- With only 10-20% of tournament fields cashing, you can't expect to win much money in video poker.
  • Losing Over and Over is Discouraging- Given that only a small portion of players cash, you may find it depressing to keep walking away empty-handed.
  • Video Poker Tournaments Aren't Widespread - Unlike Texas hold'em tournaments, video poker events don't draw huge crowds. And this is why you won't find a lot of tourneys in this niche.
  • You Need a Different Strategy- While you can use standard strategy in video poker, you'll likely need a royal flush to win. And this requires learning royal-only strategy to excel.
  • You Don't Get Comps for Your Play - In contrast to standard video poker, you won't rack up comps for all of the minutes spent in tournaments.
  • Playing Fast Takes the Joy Away - As covered before, you want to play fast in video poker tourneys to improve your chances of scoring a royal. Unfortunately, doing this time and time again can take the fun out of the equation.>

Video Poker Contests

What is a Video Poker Contest?

Some websites and online casinos offer video poker contests, which are essentially tournaments with a specific set of rules.

You'll find little separation between tourneys and contests. But here are some key traits of a contest:

  • Contests include daily, weekly, or monthly events.
  • Many contests are freerolls that are held as promotions.
  • Formats are normally hand / credit limits or time limits.
  • Best single session wins the challenge.
  • A daily contest normally allows players to enter one time to record their highest score. At the end of the day, a prize pool is awarded.
  • A weekly contest allows players to enter 1 or more times per day to try for the highest score. At the end of the week, prizes are distributed.
  • A monthly contest lets players enter 1 or more times per day. At the end of the month, prizes are paid out.

The biggest distinction between a video poker contest and tourney is that contests can last far longer and allow players multiple chances.

Video Poker Contest Strategy

Considering that contests are much like tournaments, you don't need to change your strategy a great deal. This is especially the case if you're already using the royal-only strategy.

Chasing royal flushes is imperative in longer contests because players get multiple entries. Seeing as how this increases the odds that the winning score will be really high, you should go after royal flushes.

Another thing is to make sure that you use all of your available chances. Some long challenges allow 3-5 entries per day, and you need these extra opportunities to try and improve your high score.

Other than this, you can consult our tournament strategy section for advice on how to win in contests.

Video Poker Challenges

What are Video Poker Challenges?

Challenges are video poker events where the hosts invites one or more players to compete. Rather than a tournament or contest, challenges don't involve prize pools and are held for fun.

Here are other aspects that define a video poker challenge:

  • Your online challenge record (wins-losses) is tracked.
  • You can issue one-on-one or group challenges.
  • The host sets the rules, including the game, time limit, and / or hand limit.
  • You can earn achievements in challenges.

Challenges are a fun way for buddies and acquaintances to compete against each other in friendly events. The achievements and win-loss records make challenges feel like a form of social gaming.

Video Poker Challenge Strategy

If you're well-versed in contest and tournament strategy, then you'll be comfortable with video poker challenges too.

The main thing you need to know is what rules the host sets, then adjust your strategy accordingly.

Assuming you're the host, this is easy because you can create settings that cater to your knowledge and abilities. But when you're not the host, you need to adapt to whatever rules are present.

In a hand / credit-based tournament, you should concentrate on playing the best strategy possible.

In timed tourneys, you need to make the best-possible decisions on the fly. You won't always be perfect when in a hurry, but speed is of the essence.


If you like playing video poker, then odds are that you'll also enjoy tournaments. These give you another way to enjoy one of the most-entertaining games in the casino.

The biggest thing involves knowing where to find video poker tourneys.

The best place to start looking is online casinos because they offer both buy-in and freeroll events. You can also play tournaments at land-based casinos, and you may even receive invites as a slots club member.

Once you find video poker tournaments, you'll eventually want to improve your odds of winning. And a good way to do this in time-based events is to chase royal flushes and play as quickly as possible.

It's important to understand that tournaments have lots of variance and top-heavy prize pools. This means that your odds of winning money aren't great.

But if you stick with video poker tourneys and continue improving your strategy, then you'll have a much-better chance of earning a big prize.

Copyright © 2019 All Right Reserved.