Video poker is one of the most popular games at the top online casinos. With a low house edge, a reasonable chance to beat the machine, and fun game-play, video poker eventually hooks just about everyone that plays it. In fact, video poker is so user-friendly that any beginning player can enjoy it.
Video Poker Rules
Game play is simple.
- You put one to five coins in the machine.
- You are dealt five cards.
- You discard 0 to 5 cards to make the best poker hand you can.
- The machine deals you replacements for your discards.
- The player is paid for the final value of the poker hand using the payout schedule for the machine.
You must, of course, know your poker hands.
Video Poker Machines
There are dozens of variations of video poker. The most popular are some version of Jacks or Better. Consult our article on all the variations of video poker. Beginners should start with Double Bonus Jacks or Better. It has the simplest payout table while still having a high payout percentage.
Find the Video Poker Machine with the Best Payout
Not all video poker machines are created equal. Some offer good payouts all the way down, some offer giant bonuses but skimp on the payouts for lower-value hands, and some skimp on medium hands.
Unlike typical slot machines, video poker payouts are listed right on the front of the machine, so you don’t have to guess what they are. If you’re a beginner, don’t work too hard at this; simply check the payouts for a full house, flush, and straight. All else being equal, pick the machine with the highest payouts you can find for these three hands.
There are actually games named for these differences:
- A 9/6 Jacks or Better machine pays out 9 to 1 on a full house and 6 to 1 on a straight.
- An 8/5 machine pays out 8 to 1 on full house and 5 to 1 on a flush.
- A 10/7 machine pays out 10 to 1 on full house and 7 to 1 on a flush.
Obviously, the higher these numbers, the better the overall payout percentage.
Play a Low-Volatility Video Poker Machine
What is volatility? It’s the difference between the payout percentages posted on the machine and the actual individual payout percentages.
- For a low-volatility machine, you can expect your payout percentage to be close to the posted payout percentage if you play smart. Low-volatility machines pay more often, but pay smaller amounts of money.
- For a high-volatility machine, you can expect a payout very different from the posted one. You will lose everything much of the time. The up side is the opportunity to win a large amount of money, but this is rare.
As a general rule, the more and bigger jackpots a machine offers, the higher its volatility. Jacks-or-better double bonus machines are the ideal volatility for the beginner.
Always Bet the Maximum Number of Coins
Consider this the unbreakable rule of video poker: always bet the maximum number of coins. Double bonuses for the royal flush are only available for the maximum five-coin bet. If you choose to bet fewer coins, the payout percentage drops dramatically. Choose a machine that allows you to make your bet limit with five coins.
Use a Simple Hand-by-Hand Strategy
Don’t use your gut when playing video poker. Use a set of rules. Remember, casinos make money from bad play. The posted payout percentage is for the good players. Bad play can easily demolish that to 2%.
The following provides the best beginner’s strategy for playing video poker. It is optimized for the maximum bet on a Double Bonus 9/6 Jacks or Better game. While it doesn’t perfectly apply to other machines, it will get you close to that machine’s payout percentage.
What to do
HOLD FIVE CARDS
Four of a Kind
DISCARD 1 OR MORE CARDS
4 cards to a royal flush
Discard the other card to make the royal flush
4 cards to a straight flush
Discard the other card to make the straight flush
Three of a kind
Discard the other two cards to make three of a kind, full house, or four of a kind
Discard the other card to make two pair or a full house
Discard the other three cards to make a high pair, two pair, three of a kind, full house, or four of a kind
Four cards of the same suit
Discard the other card to make the flush
Discard the other three cards to make two pair, three of a kind, full house, or four of a kind
Four unsuited cards to an outside straight
Discard the other card to make the straight
3 cards to a royal flush
Discard the other two cards to make high pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, straight flush, or royal flush
Two high cards of the same suit
Discard the other three cards to make a high pair, two pair, three of a kind, full house, four of a kind, straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush
3 cards to a straight flush
Discard the other two cards to make the straight flush
2 high cards of different suits
Discard the other three cards to make a high pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, or four of a kind—if there are more 3 unsuited high cards, keep the 2 lowest high cards
Same suit 10/J, 10/Q, 10/K, 10/A
Discard the other three cards to make a high pair, two pair, three of a kind, full house, four of a kind, flush, straight, or royal flush
One jack or better card
Discard four cards to make the high pair or better
DISCARD FIVE CARDS
All other hands
Discard five cards to make any winning hand
This is a hierarchical list. If you have more than one poker hand, you choose the strategy for the highest-ranked hand in the list. For instance, suppose you have the following hand:
This hand is both a high pair (ranked 11 on the list) and 4 cards to a royal flush (ranked 7). What do you do? Choose the higher ranked hand on the list (4 cards to a royal flush). Discard the queen of hearts and go for the royal flush. The payout on a royal flush is 800x your bet for five coins, but the odds for a royal flush in this hand are 1 in 46. This is far better bet than taking the guaranteed 2:1 return on the high pair.
Remember: any strategy only wins if you play it consistently hand by hand. If you don’t, you will lose money as most beginners do!
Final Tip: all the video poker variations have a free version online. Make sure you try out any hand-by-hand strategy on the free version first!