Bonus Poker is a variation of Jacks or Better video poker which offers bonus payouts for a 4 of a Kind. The amount of the bonus for the 4 of Kind is based on which rank the cards are in that hand. This is one of the best video poker games to play in most casinos.
On this page, we cover Bonus Poker in quite a bit of detail. We explain how to play, take a look at the pay tables, and provide details on the odds and payback percentages. There’s some strategy advice too, to help you play the game optimally.
Bonus Poker has spawned its own variants, too, and we also cover Bonus Poker Deluxe in its own section.
How to Play Bonus Poker
Bonus Poker is based on Jacks or Better video poker, so gameplay is similar. You start by inserting money into the Bonus Poker machine, and the screen updates to display the number of credits you have. You then decide how many coins you want to play for—1 to 5.
The computer then deals you a virtual hand of 5 cards. Video poker is based on draw poker, so you’re allowed to discard between 0 and 5 cards. The computer then deals you new cards to replace the ones you discarded. Based on the poker rank of your final hand, you get a payout, based on the pay table for the game.
In Jacks or Better video poker, the lowest paying hand is a pair of Jacks or Better, and the highest paying hand is a Royal Flush. Bonus Poker offers bonus payouts for the 4 of a Kind hand, based on what rank the cards are as part of that hand.
Since the odds of getting a particular hand are based on a standard 52 card deck of cards, you can calculate the appropriate strategy to maximize your odds of winning. You can also determine the payback percentage for the game, which is something that’s impossible to do with slot machines.
The reason should be clear, but in case it isn’t—you know the odds of getting a particular card out of a 52 card deck. There are only 4 cards of each rank, and there are only 13 cards of each suit.
But with a slot machine, you have no way of knowing what the odds are of a particular symbol coming up. Even though you know what the payout is for a particular combination, you have no idea what the odds of hitting that combination are.
Bonus Poker Pay Tables
We already mentioned this, but the main aspect of Bonus Poker that distinguishes it from just a plain old Jacks or Better game is the bonus payout for the 4 of a Kind. Pay tables vary from machine to machine, though, and some pay tables offer better odds to the player. Here’s a guide to the various hands and common payouts for each.
- Royal Flush
- This is traditionally the highest paying hand in any video poker game. It pays off at 800 to 1, but only if you’ve placed the max bet of 5 coins. That means you see a 4000 coin jackpot if you hit this one. You should NEVER play for less than max coins on any video poker game because of the reduced payout for a Royal Flush in the case of a smaller bet.
- Straight Flush
- This hand pays out at 50 to 1. The payouts for a Straight Flush, and for all of the lower ranked hands, remains consistent regardless of whether or not you made the max coin bet. The only final hand where that matters is the Royal Flush.
- 4 of a Kind – Aces
- This is the big bonus hand. It pays off at 80 to 1. It’s the highest paying 4 of a Kind in Bonus Poker.
- 4 of a Kind – 2s, 3s, or 4s
- These hands all pay out at 40 to 1.
- Any Other 4 of a Kind
- These hands pay out at 25 to 1.
- Full House
- This hand pays off at 8 to 1. It’s an important hand, because in Jacks or Better games, the size of the payout for the Full House and the Flush are the payouts that change from game to game in order to give the casino a higher or lower edge. The best versions of Bonus Poker have an 8/5 payout on these 2 hands, which means that the Full House pays off at 8 to 1, and the Flush pays off at 5 to 1.
- Pays off at 5 to 1. We had more to say about the Full House/Flush relationship in the section above on the Full House.
- Pays off at 4 to 1.
- 3 of a Kind
- Pays off at 3 to 1.
- 2 Pairs
- Pays off at 2 to 1.
- A Pair of Jacks or Better
- This pays off at even odds.
An actual 8/5 Bonus Poker pay table follows. Notice the difference in payouts for 1-4 coins versus the payout for 5 coins for the Royal Flush.
It should be obvious why you would want to make sure you bet max coins every time you play. The payout for the Royal Flush is only 250 to 1 unless you place that max bet, in which case the payout is 800 to 1.
Not all Bonus Poker games are created equal. Casinos and manufacturers can adjust the payouts for various hands. As with Jacks or Better, most of the variations occur with the Full House and Flush combination. The best combination here is 8/5, but you can find games with 7/5 and 6/5 payouts, too.
Bonus Poker also sees variations in the size of the bonuses for the 4 of a Kind hands. Some Bonus Poker games only pay 35 to 1 or 30 to 1 on any 4 of a Kind, regardless of the ranking. This has a surprising effect on your payback percentage, which we’ll discuss below.
You’ll also (rarely) find a Bonus Poker game which offers INCREASED payouts for a Full House and a Flush, like 10/8. They pay for this by reducing the payouts on the lower ranked hands, like 2 Pairs and 3 of a Kind.
Odds, Probability & Payback Percentages
The payback percentage for Bonus Poker is a known quantity, because we know the frequency of the possible hands as well as how they pay out. The details are just a math problem.
What’s a Payback Percentage?
The payback percentage represents the long-term mathematical expectation of the casino. If a game has a payback percentage of 99.17%, then over enough hands, the casino expects to keep 99.17 cents for every dollar you wager. In the short run, this will vary dramatically, but the more hands are played, the closer the actual results will resemble this long term expectation.
The flip side to the payback percentage is the house edge. This is the percentage of each dollar wagered that the casino expects to keep in the long run. The house edge is just the payback percentage subtracted from 100%. In the above example, the house edge is 0.83%.
For some reason, gambling writers usually use house edge when writing about table games, but they use payback percentage when writing about gambling machines (slots and video poker).
Traditional 8/5 Bonus Poker is often the best video poker game in the casino. If you play with the appropriate strategy, the payback percentage for this variation is 99.17%.
In a 7/5 Bonus Poker game, the payback percentage drops to 98.01%. In a 6/5 Bonus Poker game, the payback percentage drops again, this time to 96.87%.
In games with a 35 to 1 payout for any 4 of a Kind, the payback percentage is 99.66%. That might surprise some people, as they might think the 80 to 1 and 40 to 1 payouts being gone will have a big negative effect on the payback percentage. But the increase from 25 to 1 on the majority of the 4 of a Kind hands more than compensates for this.
The games with a flat 30 to 1 payout for any 4 of a Kind have a payout percentage of 98.48%, which is actually lower than the traditional 8/5 game we discussed earlier.
In games where you see a 10 to 1 payout for a Full House and an 8 to 1 payout for a Flush, the payout for 2 Pairs is reduced to even money. (It pays 2 to 1 in all other variations.) The bigger payout for those other 2 hands is impressive, but 2 Pairs comes up so often that this change has a devastating effect on the payout percentage. The payout percentage on this version is only 94.18%.
Bonus Poker Strategy
The payout percentages listed assume that you’re making the mathematically best decision on every hand. This is represented via a strategy table. Optimal video poker strategy is similar to basic strategy in blackjack—there’s only one correct way to play each hand.
Video poker strategies are organized as a list of hands. You start at the top and keep going down until you find a hand that matches what you have. You keep the cards indicated in the strategy table. It’s easier than it sounds.
Here’s the correct strategy for Bonus Poker:
- 4 of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush
- This should be obvious. These are the highest paying hands in the game, and if you get one of these hands on your initial deal, you keep it and get your payout.
- 4 to a Royal Flush
- The payout for this hand is so high that you might break up a hand with a guaranteed payout in order to take a shot at the better hand. For example, you might have a Straight, but one of the cards might not be suited. Rather than keep the sure thing, the correct play is to discard the unsuited card in order to try to get the higher payout for the Royal Flush.
- Straight, Flush, Full House
- Like the first line of the strategy chart, this line is obvious. Let the machine deal you a winner.
- 3 of a Kind
- Of course, you’ll discard the other 2 cards in hopes of improving to a 4 of Kind or a Full House.
- 4 to a Straight Flush
- A straight flush isn’t that exciting a hand, but it’s what you go for, even if you have a pair of Jacks or Better. The payout is that much higher.
- 2 Pairs
- You will, of course, discard the card that isn’t part of the 2 Pairs, in a try at hitting the Full House.
- A Pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces
- You’ll discard the other cards in hopes of upgrading to a 3 of Kind, Full House, or 4 of a Kind.
- 3 to a Royal Flush
- You’re starting to get into speculative territory here.
- 4 to a Flush
- Also speculative, but you still have a pretty good shot at hitting your hand here.
- KQJT unsuited
- Your goal is, of course, to hit a Straight. But you have a secondary goal of hitting a high pair.
- Low Pair
- You’re holding onto this in hopes of hitting a 3 of a Kind or 4 of a Kind.
- 4 to an Outside Straight
- An outside straight draw is one that can be filled on either end, so there are 8 cards which can make your hand. (An inside straight has a gap in the middle, so there are only 4 cards that can make your hand.)
- 3 to a Straight Flush
- This is only the correct move at this point on the chart if it’s an open-ended straight flush draw with at least on high card and 1 gap or less. (A gap is the difference in the cards which will make up your hand.)
- AKQJ unsuited
- Again, you’re hoping for a Straight, but you’re going to be satisfied with a high pair.
- 2 suited high cards
- This is getting pretty speculative, but you’re hoping for a Royal Flush, but you have possibilities of getting a lot of other hands, too.
- 3 to a Straight Flush
- But only if it’s an open-ended straight flush draw. This one shouldn’t have high cards or gaps.
- 4 to an Inside Straight with 3 high cards
- The high cards are important, because even if you miss the Straight (which you will, most of the time), you’ll still have 3 shots at hitting a high enough pair to at least get an even money payout.
- Unsuited JQK
- Same philosophy applies here. You hoping to catch a straight, but even if you miss, you have a shot at a high pair.
- Unsuited JQ
- As above, you’re going for a straight or a high pair.
- 3 to a Straight Flush
- Now we’re getting down to some pretty speculative Straight Flush draws. This is when you start drawing to a Straight Flush with any high card regardless of gaps. This hand includes a low Straight draw that includes an ace, because the ace counts as a high card. As with some of these other speculative hands here toward the bottom of the chart, you’re looking for hands where you have multiple opportunities of hitting a payout, even if it’s a small one based on a pair of Jacks or Better.
- KQ, KJ unsuited
- Limited Straight potential, but at least you have a shot at a high Pair, too.
- JT suited
- It’s a long shot draw toward the Royal Flush, but you also have a shot at a pair of Jacks and a shot at a Straight Flush, a Straight, or a Flush.
- AK, AQ, AJ unsuited
- Straight potential, but you’re more likely to get a high Pair or maybe 2 Pair with this draw.
- You’re really reaching with this one, but there are lots of hands where an ace would come in handy, including the Royal Flush. If you’re this low on the strategy chart, you really don’t have a lot of options.
- 3 to a Straight Flush
- This one is open ended, has no high cards, and only a single gap.
- KT, QT suited
- Another shot at a Royal as well as several other possible hands.
- Jack, Queen or King
- Mostly just a shot at a high pair, although you could hit a much higher hand if you’re lucky.
- 3 to a Straight Flush
- This is your last resort Straight Flush. This one has no high cards and 2 gaps.
If you’ve gotten this far and couldn’t find a playable hand, you should just discard everything and start over.
Where to Play Online for Free or for Real Money
Bonus Poker is one of the most common video poker games available online or off. It’s available for both free play and real money games at most online casinos powered by most reputable casino software companies.
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Bonus Poker Deluxe
Bonus Poker Deluxe is a re-branding of Bonus Poker which offers one payout for any 4 of a Kind, but it makes up for this by offering a lower-than-usual payout for 2 Pairs. You’d normally expect to get paid 2 to 1 for a 2 Pair, but this game only offers even odds on that hand—just like you’d get if you were dealt a single high pair.
The pay tables for Bonus Poker Deluxe also vary widely, but they focus largely on adjusting the payout amounts of the Full House and the Flush. Bonus Poker Deluxe is available in 9/6, 9/5, 8/6, 8/5, 7/5, and 6/5 versions. The payout percentages go down accordingly.
The best possible version of Bonus Poker Deluxe has a payout percentage of 99.64%. The worst (6/5) has a payout percentage of 95.36%.
Bonus Poker is a fun and common version of Jacks or Better that offers some of the best payouts in the casinos. In fact, at most land-based casinos, Bonus Poker is the best-paying video poker game you’ll find. Full Pay Jacks or Better and even “Not So Ugly” Deuces Wild are much rarer and harder to find.
The strategy for playing Bonus Poker is straightforward enough. Just start at the top of the list provided in this guide and work your way down.
Lots of online casinos make Bonus Poker available for free or real money, too. It’s well worth the effort required to learn how to play it well, and we’re big proponents of practicing online before trying it out in a land-based casino.