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Video Poker Tips and Tricks

Video poker is a straightforward enough game, but it’s not as straightforward as roulette, for example. You do have decisions to make with VP, like which games to play and how to play them. With roulette, you just put your money down and hope for the best.

The video poker tips and tricks on this page will get you started in the right direction with one of the best games in the casino for the discerning gambler. You might or might not be dedicated enough to get an edge over the house, but you can at least start down that road.

At the very least, you can increase the amount of entertainment you get for your gambling dollar, and that’s a trick most of us would like to learn.

1. Choose the Right Pay Tables

Our favorite aspect of video poker is the transparency of the game. When you’re playing a slot machine, you don’t have any way of knowing what the house edge is or how much you can expect to lose per hour. You have half the information you need to calculate that—how much each combination pays out.

What you’re missing on a slot machine is the probability of getting each combination.

But with video poker, you know the odds of getting the various hands, because it’s based on a deck of 52 playing cards. (Well, in the case of Joker Poker, it’s 53 cards, but that’s nitpicking.) Since you know the odds of getting any particular card are 1 in 52, you can calculate the theoretical probability of getting any particular outcome.

Once you combine that information with the payouts for those hands, you wind up with the overall expected return to player for the game.

And the difference can be huge depending on which game you play.

Example

The best pay table for Jacks or Better is called a 9/6 pay table. That’s because the full house pays 9 to 1 and the flush pays 6 to 1. If you play with perfect strategy, the house edge is 0.46%.

A much more common pay table is an 8/5 pay table. In this case, the full house pays 8 to 1 and the flush pays 5 to 1. The house edge on this game is 2.8%.

Most of us think of percentages as small numbers, and they are.

But look at the cumulative effect on your expected hourly losses in this case:

A player who’s playing for $5 per hand at the 9/6 game expects to lose $15 per hour. She’s putting 600 bets per hour into action, for a total of $3000 in hourly wagers. Half a percent of that is around $15.

But if she plays the 8/5 game instead, her expected hourly losses go up to $84. That’s almost 6 times as much money, for what amounts to gambling on the same game. The big difference is the pay table.

You can compare pay tables and payback percentages of the various games right here on this site. Just go to the page for the specific game in question. We provide full details of the most common pay tables and what kind of payback percentage you can expect with each of them.

2. Join the Players Club

The biggest perk of video poker is the extremely low house edge. When you combine that low house edge with the 0.3% or 0.4% you get back from being a member of the slots club, you turn a negative expectation game into a positive expectation game.

Don’t believe the hype from the superstitious know-it-alls on the Internet, either. Playing with the slots club card inserted doesn’t hurt your chances of winning in any way. The random number generator in a video poker machine duplicates the odds of a deck of cards regardless of whether or not the card is inserted.

Here’s how the players club works:

You sign up at the appropriate desk or station in the casino. You’re going to provide the casino with your id, your name, address, phone number, etc. Then they’re going to give you a card—it’s a plastic card that looks sort of like a credit card.

Each gambling machine in the casino has a card reader. You’ll insert that card while you play.

The casino tracks how much money you put into action and pays you back rebates and free stuff based on how much you’re gambling.

It’s important to understand that the casino isn’t basing these rewards on your actual losses. They’re counting on the law of large numbers for that. They want to encourage you to play even if you’re winning, because they know in the long run they have the edge.

So if you sit down and get a royal flush in your first hour, even though you’re up quite a bit, you’ll still get comps and rebates as if you had lost.

Here’s how the casino calculates how much to give you back:

They look at how much money you put through the machine, then they multiply that by 0.1% or 0.2% or 0.3%, depending on the property.

Example

You’re playing Jacks or Better with perfect strategy and the best possible pay table. The house edge is 0.46%. But the casino doesn’t worry about that. Most players don’t play very well, so they tend to lose 1.5% or 2%.

Let’s say you’re playing for $1.25 per hand and you play 600 hands per hour. You’re putting $750 per hour through the machine. You expect to lose maybe $3.75 per hour, but the casino expects you to lose between $7.50 and $15 per hour.

But they’re going to pay you back between 0.1% and 0.3% of the $750 just to reward you for playing. That’s only a dollar or two per hour, but it’s just free money to play with.

The only drawback to being a member of the players club is that you’ll receive advertisements in the mail.

3. Practice

You can play free video poker games on all kinds of sites on the Internet. This is a good idea, because you can get a feel for the game and how it works. Understanding the basics of how the game moves is essential to avoiding mistakes that just cost money because you did something dumb.

Eventually you’ll want to move up to something more advanced when you practice. We’re talking about games which provide tutorial functionality. These often cost money, although you can find free versions online that you can play in your browser.

  • WinPoker is one of the oldest and most popular computer programs that can teach you to play video poker with correct strategy. At $29.95, it’s the most affordable software we know of for this purpose.
  • Wolf Video Poker (formerly Frugal Video Poker) is another software program, this one from James Wolf and Jean Scott, which offers many of the same functionalities. You can download the old version, Frugal Video Poker, for free, but the newly upgraded program is available for $39.99.

Video Poker for Winners is probably our favorite program to practice on. It’s available from Bob Dancer, who many consider to be the leading video poker expert in the world. The price is $49.95.

All of these programs offer more or less the same functions, but you can try most of them for free to see which you prefer. The prices are low enough that you can probably afford all 3, but why waste money you don’t need to?

4. Learn this Quick Strategy for Jacks or Better

Jacks or Better is the most common variation you’ll find, and it’s the basis for all other video poker games. Understanding the basics of how to play this one will serve you well as you learn other games. You can learn a more detailed strategy later, but here is a quick strategy that will still keep the house edge under 1%:

Always hold the following hands:

  • Royal flush
  • Straight flush
  • 4 of a kind
  • Full house
  • 3 of a kind
  • 2 pair

If you have 3 of a kind, you will want to discard the other 2 cards though. Your goal is to improve to a full house or a 4 of a kind. Never keep a kicker, though.

Also, with 2 pair, you’ll always discard the 5th card in your hand in order to try to improve your hand to a full house.

You’ll USUALLY hold the following hands, but the exceptions are noted in parenthesis:

A flush or a straight
(You’ll break these hands up in order to draw to a royal flush, but only if you have 4 cards to the royal.)
A pair of jacks or higher
(You’ll break this hand up if you can draw to a straight flush or a royal flush.)

If you don’t have a paying hand, look for one of the following hands:

A low pair
You’ll usually try to hit 3 of a kind with this one.
Straight draws
You’ll usually draw to an outside straight draw, but you will never draw to an inside straight draw. An outside straight draw is one that can completed with a high card or a low card, but an inside straight draw is one where you need a card in the middle to complete it. The difference is that 8 cards will fill the outside straight draw, while only 4 cards will fill the inside straight draw.

Those are the basics. Most of the rest of the strategy just involves drawing to a flush or a straight when the opportunities present themselves.

You should, of course, learn the actual strategy for Jacks or Better as soon as possible, but this will get you started. Also, with this strategy, you’re still playing one of the lowest-house-edge games in the casino.

5. Study the Strategies for Other Games

Depending on where you play, the pay tables for some games will offer better odds than others. If you know how to play multiple games well, then you can choose the game with the best odds.

But you can only do this if you know multiple strategies.

Luckily for you, we provide strategy advice for almost every game available. We suggest starting with the following games, because they’re the most common, and they offer the best payback percentages:

  • Jacks or Better
  • Deuces Wild
  • Bonus Poker
  • Joker Poker
  • Pick’em Poker
Please Note

You should note, too, that “Bonus Poker” refers to a whole family of video poker games that offer bonus payouts when you get a 4 of a kind. These are the most common games you can find that offer a 99%+ payback percentage.

The biggest differences in strategies can be found when comparing and contrasting Jacks or Better with Deuces Wild. That’s because you have to account for the wild cards. One aspect of Deuces Wild strategy that’s easy to remember is that you never discard a deuce. That covers a lot of ground in terms of memorizing the right strategy.

Conclusion

The video poker tricks and tips on this page won’t make you an expert player. But they will put you on the road toward BECOMING an expert player. And that’s a good thing.

We love video poker because it offers some of the best odds in the house. Most slot machine games have a house edge of at least 5%. You can almost always find video poker games with a house edge of less than 2%, and you can often find games with a house edge of less than 1%.

That’s the difference between losing $15 per hour and losing $5 per hour and losing $3 per hour.

The other important thing to remember about these numbers is that they represent long term mathematical expectations. In the short run, you can expect different results. You’ll usually see losses that seem too high for the game, but that’s just because a royal flush, with its 800 to 1 payout, makes up so much of the expected return in the game.

You’ll only see that hand, on average, once in every 40,000 hands.

But if you catch that hand early in that cycle, you’ll see results that seem better than expected.

That’s called volatility. Video poker is less volatile than a lot of games, especially slots, but it’s more volatile than blackjack, for example.

You can expect some volatility in any game at the casino, but you can’t expect to find odds much better than the ones you’ll find playing video poker.

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