Understanding Video Poker Volatility

Video poker volatility stands as one of the most important concepts for players to understand. It essentially measures how high or low you can expect your bankroll to go on its way to its eventual payback. It’s important for gamblers to understand video poker volatility so they can properly manage their bankroll to prepare for it.

VolatilityVideo poker captivates millions of people because of all the benefits it provides to gamblers. If you look closely, you can see that there are a lot of factors working in your favor as you play the game.

For example, video poker gives you access to the pay tables that show how much you’ll be paid for each winning hand. And the fact that it’s based on playing card probability allows you to estimate how often those winning hands might arrive.

With all of that information at your disposal, you can tell a lot of things about the video poker game you’re playing. For example, you can figure out the proper strategy to use for each variation. And you can figure out how much a specific game might pay back to you on average.

Many people will settle for that information when they get ready to play video poker. But you’re selling yourself short if you don’t also take a close look at the volatility level for each game you play. Video poker volatility is a crucial concept you need to understand if you plan on playing at a high level.

Video poker volatility essentially tells you what to expect while you’re playing a game. If the volatility level is high, you can hope for dizzying highs, but also disappointing lows. If your video poker volatility level is low, you’ll be looking at a steadier experience. You might have to grind out winnings slowly, but you don’t have to worry about your bankroll dropping too fast.

You might have to adjust your bankroll depending on the video poker volatility. If you’re playing a game with a low volatility level, you might be able to get away with a low bankroll and still play the game for a long period of time. But high volatility games might require you to pump up your bankroll a bit.

If you play a game with high volatility and haven’t prepared your bankroll, you might find yourself losing it all. That can ultimately ruin your chances to maximize your winnings. For that reason, serious players should always be aware of the video poker volatility level.

In the following article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about video poker volatility. We’ll explain how to play video poker and show you how volatility ties into it. On top of that, we’ll show you how to judge the volatility level of specific video poker variations based on several different factors.

Playing Video Poker

Before you can understand video poker volatility, you first have to understand the ins and outs of playing video poker. For those who already know the basics of playing video poker, feel free to move on to the next section. But if you’re new to the game, keep reading and learn how to play.

If you’re new to video poker, you’re about to discover a game that holds more benefits for players than just about any other casino game you can imagine. As a matter of fact, many video poker enthusiasts won’t play anything else when they enter a casino. They feel like they’ve found the best, so why bother with the rest?

What is it that makes video poker so unique and beneficial? Well, it borrows some elements from table games and some from slot machines. The final product is mostly made up of the best aspects of the two, with the negative stuff left behind.

Take a look at some of the reasons why video poker is such a popular and beneficial game.

  • Video poker is a one-person experience. For those who don’t want to deal with the hassles created by casino employees or patrons, this is one of video poker’s biggest draws. You can play on your own with no one to bother you or comment on the proceedings.
  • The game is extremely easy to play. If you have a bit of a poker background, you’ll pick it up in no time. But even complete newcomers will have it all figured out after a few hands.
  • Video poker can be played in many different ways. There are literally hundreds of twists on the basic concept. This allows you to choose a game based on your gambling style.
  • You can use strategy when you play. It might not sound like much, but it does when you compare it to slot machines. With video poker, you’ll do better if you make the right decisions.
  • Video poker, as we stated above, makes use of playing card probabilities. You can use those probabilities for your strategy, to choose the game you want to play and figure out your chances of winning. As we mentioned, those probabilities tie into the concept of video poker volatility.
  • The game pays back very well. Compared to slots, video poker pays back several percentage points higher on average. And it even ranks well with table games in the payback department.
  • Video poker is a great game for online play. You can play a game at a top gambling website and get the same experience as if you were playing in a casino. And gambling websites offer loyalty rewards in the same way that casinos do, so you’re not missing out on much by playing online.

You can see from these examples why people love video poker so much. Now, it’s time to talk about how to play the game. After that, we can move on to the concept of video poker volatility.

Step 1: Create a Bankroll

The bankroll is the money you’ll use to wager on video poker hands which, in turn, allows you to potentially win money back. You have to put money into a video poker machine to start up a bankroll. Or, if you’re playing online, you’ll have to create a gambling account at a website that offers video poker.

Your bankroll will register on the screen as units known as credits or coins. Each of these units will equal one unit of the denomination you’ve chosen to play. For example, five credits on a 25-cent machine is worth $1.25 (5 times .25).

Step 2: Make a Bet

Most video poker games allow you to bet between one and five credits per hand. There are some video poker games with special features attached to them that allow you to bet more than the normal max bet of five credits. Normally, in games like this, the extra bet allow you to access the special features.

If you’re playing a basic video poker game, you can switch your bet on every hand. But it’s recommended that you bet the maximum amount of five coins for each hand you play. Doing that will trigger the best return from the game, because the payout ratio for the royal flush is much higher at five coins wagered than it is at one through four coins wagered.

Step 3: Play a Hand

If you’ve ever played the card game known as Five-Card Draw Poker, you’ll quickly recognize the style of play that video poker offers. Both games feature five-card deals and a chance for the player to discard unwanted cards from that deal. The discarded cards are replaced by others from the deck to complete the hand.

In both Five-Card Draw and video poker, the goal is to make the best possible five-card poker hand possible. When you’re playing Five-Card Draw, your hand has to be good enough to beat multiple players at the table. But when playing video poker, you just have to make one of the winning hands that are listed on the pay table to earn some money in return.

There are many different pay tables available in video poker, and just about everyone has a pay table unique from any other one. But, for the most part, the winning hands you’ll be trying to make when playing video poker are these:

  • Pair of jacks or better
  • Two pair
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight (five cards of consecutive rank, like 3-4-5-6-7)
  • Flush (five cards of same suit)
  • Full house (three of a kind and two pair in the same hand)
  • Four of a kind
  • Straight flush (straight with five cards of same suit)
  • Royal flush (ten, jack, queen, king, and ace of the same suit)

The combinations at the top of the list come up relatively often during video poker play. As a result, they don’t offer too much in the way of payback. But when you move down the list, the hands start to pay more because they are harder and hard to achieve.

Once you make your wager and hit the “deal” button, five cards appear on the screen. These five cards will be “dealt” from a simulated deck of 52. This simulated deck is always shuffling within the software of the game, ensuring a random deal.

As you look at your five cards, you’ll be seeking out winning combinations. You might have one right off the bat, or you could have a few cards that are just one or two shy of forming a winner. Or you could have five cards with little resemblance to any winning combination.

Your chance to exert some strategy comes into play at this point. After taking a look at your five cards, you have to decide which you want to hold and which you want to discard. The ones you hold will be part of your final hand, while the ones you discard will be replaced by others on the draw.

The draw deck will have 47 cards remaining, since you already received five from the original 52. This deck will also be constantly shuffling, so that the draw is also random.

Let’s take a look at a sample hand to see how this process plays out. Imagine that you received the following deal:

Seven of Hearts, Eight of Hearts, Eight of Clubs, Nine of Hearts, Ace of Hearts

There are no winning combinations in the deal as it is. But there are several possibilities within those five cards that could become winners on the draw. You just have to decide which ones to pursue.

For example, you could hold on to the pair of eights. That would leave with you three cards to draw. With those three cards, you could end up with two pair, three of a kind, a full house, or four of a kind.

You might decide to hold on to the four hearts from the deal. That would leave you just one shy of a flush with a little less than one in five chance of getting it. By dividing the 47 cards in the deck by the nine hearts still there, you can come up with that estimate.

Finally, you might have noticed that you have three hearts that are consecutive in rank. If you were to hold on to the seven, eight, and nine of hearts, you’d leave yourself open to either a straight or a flush on the draw. But the big prize is the straight flush, which you could get with two more consecutive hearts.

You have to decide based on the chances of making a winning hand and how much that winning hand might pay. It’s a case of risk versus reward. And it’s that kind of decision you have to make when playing hand after hand of video poker.

Once you make your decision, you press the buttons below the cards that you want to hold, if any. You then press the “draw” button to complete the hand. Any discarded cards will be replaced.
Now that you know how to play video poker, you can start to see how video poker volatility works and why it’s so important.

What Is Video Poker Volatility?

Simply put, video poker volatility refers to the ups and downs of video poker. It can refer to your individual play at a machine over a single session. More commonly, it refers to the swings between wins and losses you can expect from a specific type of video poker.

Here is an analogy that might help out. Imagine that your video poker play is a journey. The amount that you’ve won or lost at the end of your play is the destination.

In that analogy, consider video poker volatility to be the road that it takes to get to that destination. It might be bumpy, with all kinds of hills and valleys, or it could be smooth as silk all the way. You end up in the same place, but how you got there is completely different.

Video poker volatility is a concept that ties into other video poker factors. It’s hard to understand one without understanding the other. One of those correlating factors is payback percentage.

When you play video poker, you begin with a certain bankroll. And you’ll end with a certain bankroll. Maybe it will be similar to where you started, or it could be significantly higher or lower.

Dividing the amount you have at the end by the amount you started with yields the payback percentage. A percentage of 100 means you ended up with exactly the same amount of money you started with.

Meanwhile, the volatility would refer to all the positions your bankroll was at during play. For example, imagine that you started with $500 in your bankroll. And you ended with that same amount three hours later, leaving you with 100% of your bankroll.

Along the way, that bankroll will rise and fall. How much it changes and deviates from the break-even mark is the volatility.

A highly volatile session might look this:

Starting Point: $500

  • Bankroll after Hour 1: $750
  • Bankroll after Hour 2: $250
  • Bankroll after Hour 3: $500

By contrast, this is what a low-volatility session would look like:

Starting Point: $500

  • Bankroll after Hour 1: $550
  • Bankroll after Hour 2: $450
  • Bankroll after Hour 3: $500

If you were to chart those two sessions on a graph, with the break-even mark of $500 sitting in the center as a horizontal line, the top session would look like a series of steep hills and valleys. The second session would look like little bumps.

Another name for video poker volatility is variance. When people talk about variance in video poker, they are often referring to a mathematical measurement of the variance. It’s expressed as a number; the higher the number, the higher the volatility.

How Volatility Ties Into Your Video Poker Bankroll

The above examples explored video poker volatility in a single session. But it’s more important to understand the volatility levels of the specific video poker variations you might play. In particular, you have to understand how that affects your bankroll requirements.

As an example, let’s say that you encounter two video poker games side by side. The payback percentages for each, which can be measured by combining the probability of making winning hands with the payback amounts on the pay table, are exactly the same. Both are at 99.5%.

Money99.5% is an excellent payback percentage. Even though there’s still a house edge in play, you can overcome it by utilizing casino and gambling website loyalty rewards. With games like these, you can genuinely hope to make a profit playing the game for the long term.

But let’s say that the two have distinctly different video poker volatility levels. Game A has a low volatility level, while Game B has a much higher volatility. What could happen in the short term?

Let’s say that you decide, since the machines have the same payback, that it really doesn’t matter which one you play. So, you sit down to play Game B. You take a bankroll of $200.

Since this game has extremely high volatility, you’re poised for the potential of big payback in a hurry. But you also have to worry about big slumps which will deplete your bankroll quickly.
For the sake of our example, imagine that you start play and hit one of those slumps. Before you know it, all $200 is gone.

Now, let’s imagine that you played Game A. You could hit the same kind of slump there. But because of the nature of the game, it probably won’t hurt your bankroll as badly. Maybe your bankroll sinks to as low as $100. But then, your luck starts to even out and you start to win, pulling your bankroll back up to near 100%.

The payback percentage for Game B wasn’t incorrect. It’s just that your bankroll wasn’t sturdy enough to deal with the video poker volatility. You lost all your money before you could enjoy the upswing that would pull you closer to the payback percentage.

The chance that you might lose your bankroll playing video poker is also known as risk of ruin. Risk of ruin is higher for games that are high in video poker volatility.

As a result, you need to adjust your bankroll based on the video poker volatility. If you find out that a game has a particularly high variance, you should adjust your bankroll accordingly, especially if you want to play for a long time.

By contrast, if the video poker volatility is low, you can get away with a smaller bankroll in an individual session. Your margin for error is a little bit higher with games like Game A. That’s not to say a game with high video poker volatility is always a bad thing. It depends on what you’re seeking.

For example, let’s say that you have a relatively small bankroll that you can afford to lose. And your goal is to play a game that gives you the best chance at a quick, significant payoff.

Well, in that case, you’re better off playing a game that’s high in video poker volatility. Such a game opens up more chances for big paybacks on single hands. And, if risk of ruin isn’t a concern, it’s better for you to play a game that puts those big payoffs more within your reach.

How do you know which games are high or low in video poker volatility? Well, you can always look up the information online. But that won’t help you if you’re in a casino and happen upon a video poker variation that you’ve never seen but want to try.

In that case, it’s a good idea to know how to spot high or low video poker volatility. Here are some of the things you should be looking for to get this done.

What Affects Video Poker Volatility

Video Poker Pay Tables

The pay table shows you what you can expect to win for each winning combination based on the size of your bet. But it does much more than that. It also points the way to strategy and can be used to calculate payback percentage.

On top of all that, pay tables can also clue you into a game’s video poker volatility. How does it do that? Well, it all depends on how the payback is weighted.

What you should be looking at is what the payback is for common hands and what the payback is for rare hands. If you find that a pay table is heavily weighted toward payback for rare hands, it’s likely a high-volatility game. And if you think the payback is distributed more evenly among all the hands, including the common ones, it’s probably a low-volatility game.

Why is this the case? Well, remember that the lower-paying hands are the ones that show up relatively often during gameplay. For example, a hand with two pair will show up about once every 10 hands or so, assuming you’re playing the game with optimum strategy.

If the pay is depleted for a hand like that, your bankroll will sink much faster than games where those hands aren’t at a discount. That could cause those big slumps that come with high-volatility games.

Looking at it from the other side, a game with a large percentage of its payback tied up in high-paying rare hands could see you score a big payback or two which sends your bankroll skyrocketing. But these hands won’t come up often, so you’ll be relying on sporadic payback. Again, that raises the volatility levels.

For an example, let’s take a look at two very popular pay tables. First, here’s a pay table for Jacks or Better, which is the most popular format in all of video poker:

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 17 36 45
Flush 6 12 18 24 30
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
Three of a kind 3 6 9 12 15
Two pair 2 4 6 8 10
Jacks or better 1 2 3 4 5

Now, let’s take a look at a pay table for Triple Double Bonus Poker, which is one of the more popular Bonus Poker games available. Bonus games are known for boosting the payback on four of a kind hands well above the norm.

Triple Double Bonus Pay Table

Coins/Hands 1 coin 2 coins 3 coins 4 coins 5 coins
Royal flush 200 400 600 800 4000
Straight flush 50 100 150 200 250
Four of a kind – aces 2, 3, or 4 kicker 800 1600 2400 3200 4000
Four of a kind – 2s, 3s, or 4s A, 2, 3, or 4 kicker 400 800 1200 1600 2000
Four of a kind – aces 5s – Ks kicker 160 320 480 640 800
Four of a kind – 2s, 3s, or 4s 5s – Ks kicker 80 160 240 320 400
Four of a kind – any other 50 100 150 200 250
Full house 9 18 27 36 45
Flush 7 14 21 28 35
Straight 4 8 12 16 20
Three of a kind 2 4 6 8 10
Two pair 1 2 3 4 5
Pair of jacks + 1 2 3 4 5

In the case of these two games, there payback percentages are extremely similar. The Jacks or Better pay table returns an average of 99.54% to players. Meanwhile, the Triple Double Bonus returns 99.58%.

But the volatility levels are much different. Take a look first at the top of the pay tables. The Jacks or Better game has only a few hands which give you the opportunity at a jackpot-style payback.

Triple Double Bonus has many hands at the top of the pay table which pay back significant amounts, especially when compared to the Jacks or Better game.

Four of a kinds of any kind pay twice as much as the Jacks or Better game. And four of a kinds with certain ranks and kickers involved really stand out. But when you see payback like that at the top of the pay table, you have to expect that the payback at the bottom of the table will be discounted. And, sure enough, that’s the case. Check it out:

Hand Jacks or Better Triple Double Bonus
Three of a kind 3 to 1 2 to 1
Two Pair 2 to 1 1 to 1 (even money)

Three of a kind and two pair are the most common winning hands in all of video poker. And you can see that the Jacks or Better game comes out on top in both departments. That’s an obvious indicator that the Jacks or Better game is low-volatility and Triple Double Bonus is high-volatility.

Learn how to spot these signs when you’re looking at a pay table. Once you do, you can choose the game based on the level of video poker volatility you desire.

Multiple Play Video Poker

There are many video poker machines which allow you to play multiple hands of video poker all on one screen at one time. This is known as multiple play video poker. Common multiple-play set-ups are three-play, five-play, or 10-play, though there are other possibilities.

Before we explain why, suffice it to say that playing multiple hands of video poker at once raises the volatility level. The reason for this comes down to how multiple play video poker works.
When you play multiple hands at once, you have to bet on each one. In other words, if you were to make the maximum bet for each hand, you would need the following wagers for:

  • Three Play: 15 coins
  • Five Play: 25 coins
  • Ten Plays: 50 coins

As you can see, you’re betting more money at once playing multiple play video poker. It affects video poker volatility because of how you play those hands.

When you play multiple play video poker, you will be receiving just one deal. That deal is then the basis for all of the hands you’re playing.

For example, say that you’re playing Triple Play and you receive the following deal:

Four of Hearts, Four of Clubs, Four of Diamonds, Ace of Spades, Nine of Clubs

You would make your decision about what to hold and discard as if you were playing a single hand. But that decision then governs all three hands.

In this case, the obvious play is to hold the three of a kind, which is already a winning combination. Those three cards would already be in place for all three hands. You would then undergo three separate draws to complete the hands.

You might improve one or more of the hands to a full house or four of a kind. Even if not, you walked away with three winning hands just like that, and your bankroll gets credited as such. Imagine if you were playing five-play or 10-play, how much would your bankroll have risen in one fell swoop?

Obviously, that was a great deal. But the flipside is that a bad deal in multiple play video poker will hurt you more. For example, imagine you get a lousy deal while playing 10-play video poker. You might get lucky on some of the draws, but you could also lose 50 coins just like that, as opposed to the five coins you would lose if you were playing one hand at a time.

These examples show you how video poker volatility also rises with the more hands you play at once. In other words, five-play is more volatile than three-play, 10-play is more volatile than five-play, and so on.

Keep in mind that it has nothing to do with the speed of play, which is obviously much faster when it comes to multiple play. Volatility isn’t really measured by time or anything like that.

But it does have to do with the fact that, depending on the deal, you could either be winning a lot or losing a lot in one bunch of hands. That’s why you have to keep in mind that the video poker volatility rises from where it is in single-hand play, even if you’re playing the same pay table for both.

Special Feature Video Poker Games

Video poker manufacturers have done an amazing job with broadening the scope of video poker beyond its original origins. In the beginning, just about all video poker games were based on Jacks or Better. But soon enough, creative minds started to see that you could twist the format a bit.

Hence, you ended up with the different pay tables that you see now. You also saw games created, like Deuces Wild or Joker Poker, that made use of wild cards in play. When you receive whatever card is designated as “wild” in these games (the twos in Deuces Wild and the joker in Joker Poker,) you can turn them into whatever card improves your hand the most.

But soon, video poker game makers went even further than that with games that included special features. They were extremely creative in finding ways to shake up the basic format of video poker play. While most of these games still have some basis in the Five-Card Draw format, they’re just different enough to allow players great variety in how they choose to play.

There are many different ways these games can change up video poker play. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Multipliers: These do as the name suggests, in that you get multiple times your normal payback for a given hand when you attain them.
  • Free Hands: Instead of having to place bets on these hands, you might be able to unlock hands where you don’t have to wager, meaning that anything you get from them is all profit.
  • Wheels: In Wheel Poker games, you can unlock free spins of digital wheels which contain different bonus coin amounts on them.
  • Special Pay Tables: Many games give you a way to unlock pay tables that offer much higher amounts than the ones you would be playing normally.
  • Deal-Based Games: Some games allow you to win based on what you get on the deal in a kind of twist on Stud Poker.
  • Streaks: In games where streaks are involved, you might be able to unlock multipliers or other bonuses based on how many winning hands you are able to win in a row.

As we said above, these are just a sample of what you can expect from special feature games. Some even combine two or more of the above features in unique ways. The bottom line is that you get a chance to experience play in a different way and win lucrative bonuses.

But you have to understand that most of these special feature video poker games come with a condition attached. You must bet more than the normal maximum of five coins to unlock these features.

This is understandable. After all, if the video game makers were to give up these bonuses for free, they would be giving away the house edge. You could be expected to make much higher than 100% payback on these games, which would make them disastrous for casinos and gambling websites.

As a result, a video poker game might make you wager six, seven, eight, maybe even 10 coins per hand. But the trick is that, even with these extra bets, the basic payback you receive from a winning hand will be based on a typical five-coin bet.

For example, imagine that you were playing a special feature game where the required wager was 10 coins per hand. You attain a pair of jacks.

If you were playing this game on a normal machine, you would have bet five coins and received five coins. It would have been a break-even hand.

In the special feature game, you needed a 10-coin wager, but you still would only get five coins in return. As a result, you’d be looking at a five-coin loss.

Of course, there will be times during the special feature game when you will receive the benefit of the feature, whatever it might be. And, at those times, you will likely win much more on the hands that occur than you normally would.

You can then see how the video poker volatility comes into play with these games. There will be times when you experience great surges in your bankroll because of the special features. And there will be other times where the size of the bets drain your bankroll much faster than normal.

One final note on special feature games, they are generally set up so that making the extra bet and playing with the special twist actually increases payback percentage. As a result, if you can withstand the video poker volatility, you should always play these games, making whatever the maximum wager might be on every hand.

Recapping Video Poker Volatility

  • Volatility measures the severity of the swings between the wins and losses you experience while playing video poker.
  • Video poker games that are high in volatility increase your risk of ruin, which is the chance that you’ll lose your entire bankroll.
  • You should adjust your bankroll depending on the volatility level if you want to eventually play the game for a long time and reap its highest payback.
  • While payback percentage measures the end results that you can expect from a video poker game, volatility measures the path that it takes for you to get to those end results.
  • Three key ways that volatility can rise are through pay tables that have stress payback for rare hands, multiple play games where you must bet on several hands at once while still playing a single deal, and games where you must raise your bet to unlock a special feature.

Conclusion on Video Poker Volatility

After reading this article, we hope that you have a firmer grasp on video poker volatility. It can be useful information, whether you’re a casual player hoping to make the most of a single session or a serious player hoping to make a long-term profit. Knowing what volatility can do will make you the best video poker player you can possibly be.