All About Video Poker
Regular poker is one of the best known card games in North America and many countries around the world, growing in popularity in the US since the early 19th century and having received a huge resurgence in the 2000's with the introduction of online poker and massive televised tournaments.
Video poker naturally requires a fair bit more technology than what was available in the 1800's, the first machine wasn't introduced until 1970; after which it was quickly adopted in most Vegas casinos over the coming years and casinos all around the world not long after that.
While there are quite a few varieties available, all of them are essentially based off traditional '5 Card Draw' poker - in which the player is dealt a hand, can choose which (if any) of their initial 5 cards to hold, after which replacement cards are dealt to bring the hand total back up to 5 (or not, if the player held all 5 cards.) In traditional poker you're competing to have the best hand at the table compared to other players, in video poker there are no other players - you win with certain poker hands, and the better your hand the more you win.
To get a quick visual introduction to how the game is played, watch the video below:
Playing Video Poker
Video poker is one of the few games that plays pretty much the same in a physical casino as it does online, and why shouldn't it - they're both computer run games being played on a screen. Physical machines have shiny buttons and cash slots sure, but other than the physical interface the games remain the same.
The minimum hand required to win and how much each type of hand pays depends on what variant of video poker is being played, but the game itself is played the same:
- If you're playing at a physical machine, put your money in the machine first. Online, make sure you have an adequate balance available.
- Select the number of 'coins' you wish to play with. Most games allow you to choose between 1 and 5, and a 'coin' may be valued anywhere from a penny to hundreds of dollars (thus the quotes around 'coin.') Some physical machines allow you to change coin values, some are fixed. Most online games allow you to choose your bet size and the number of coins per hand.
- Press 'Deal' to initiate a new hand at the cost you've designated. For example betting 5 coins on a 25 cent machine, each hand will cost $1.25.
- Press the 'Hold' button underneath any (or all) the cards you'd keep for the second draw. Cards not held will be discarded and replaced with new ones.
- Press 'Draw' to receive your new cards (or hold your current hand if you have held them all.)
That's it - winning hands are paid out according to the paytable shown on the machine, losing bets are finished, and the player is ready to deal a new hand at any time.
Video Poker Hands
Below are the possible hands you can get in descending order from the highest paying to the lowest. Note that some game variants pay not have payouts for some of the lower valued hands (pairs, two pairs.)
5 of a Kind
This is only a possible hand when the game being played has wild cards (such as the fairly popular Deuces Wild.) As the name implies, it's 5 of the same cards - such as 4 Kings and a wild card.
This is the best possible hand in regular poker (where no wild cards are available.) A Royal Flush consists of an Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10 - all of the same suit.
This is the second best hand possible in regular poker, consisting of five cards in sequential order and of the same suit. For example a 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 of hearts. Ace can be used as the lowest card in the sequence such as A, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Four of a Kind
This hand is made up of four cards of the same type and a fifth card (whose value is irrelevant.) For example 7, 7, 7, 7, 5.
A hand containing three cards of the same type plus another matched pair. For example Q, Q, Q, 6, 6.
When all five cards are of the same suit it is a 'Flush' regardless of which cards they are. For example a 3, 7, 9, 10 and Ace all of spades.
A straight is made up of of five cards in sequential order, but not of the same suit. For example a 2 of clubs, 3 of diamonds, 4 of hearts, 5 of hearts and 6 of spades.
Three of a Kind
This hand is made up of three cards of the same type and two other, mismatched cards. For example a 7, 7, 7, 5 and 2.
Two cards of the same type and an additional 2 cards that are of the same type and one mismatched card. For example a 6, 6, 7, 7 and 2.
A pair is two cards of the same type along with three other mismatched cards. Video poker games generally only pay on pairs if they're of a certain value or higher, normally Jacks or better, though 10's or better is a game variant that's available.
* Keep in mind the cards will not necessarily be in any particular order when they are dealt to you. A straight is still a straight even if it's dealt out 3, 6, 2, 4, 5 so be careful not to miss out on wins by misreading the cards.
Different Game Types
Some are harder to find than others, but here are the most common video poker variants you can play online or off:
Jacks or Better
This is the most commonly played version of the game, played with no wild cards. The lowest valued hand that can win is a pair of Jacks (thus the name.)
10's or Better
Very similar but not nearly as popular as Jacks or Better and offering slightly lower pay tables to make up for the additional win condition, played with no wild cards. The lowest valued hand that can win is a pair of 10's.
Double Bonus Poker
Still played with no wild cards and similar to Jacks or Better; this variation has higher payouts for 4 of a kind wins, and higher still if they're certain cards. Four aces for example pays significantly more than four 10's. The payout for two pairs however is reduced to be the same as a single pair.
This variant adds a single Joker to the deck that acts as a wild card. It can be used to make whatever hand is most advantageous to the player. Pay tables have reduced payouts compared to Jacks or 10's or Better to make up for the increase in winning hands, and while still hard to land - 5 of a kinds are now possible.
In Deuces Wild all 2's act as wild cards that can be used to make whatever hand pays out the most. Pay tables have significantly reduced payouts compared to non-wildcard games to make up for the increase in winning hands, 5 of a kinds are possible, and there is usually a healthy bonus payout for landing all four deuces.
Deuces and Joker Poker
This variant adds both a single Joker to the deck and has all 2's acting as wilds as well. Pay tables have even further reduced payouts compared to non-wildcard games, 5 of a kinds are not only possible but frequent, only paying about 9x your bet on most machines, and the lowest possible hand for a win becomes 3 of a kind. All 5 wilds is the highest paying win.
There are other types of video poker games, but those listed above are the most common types you'll come across.
Note that the same type of game doesn't necessarily offer the same payouts depending on where you're playing, so try to find the machines with the better odds - referred to as 'full pay' machines. A quick way to check Jacks or Better is to look at the payouts for a a full house and flush. A full pay machine will pay 9x on the full house and 6x on the flush.
Video Poker Strategy
While video poker (like all card games) is largely about luck - because the player makes decisions there are ways to play that will increase the players odds of winning. In fact, with perfect play on full pay machines some types of video poker actually have higher than 100% expected returns for the player. As unlikely as that sounds for a casino, keep in mind that very few people come anywhere near 'perfect' play.
Before considering what actions to take while playing the game, one of the most important things to do is make sure you're playing at a machine that offers the best possible payouts. The same type of game (say Jacks or Better) can have different payouts depending on where it's played and what the machine has been set to. For example:
|Machine Pays:||Overall RTP:|
|9 for a Full House / 6 for a Flush||99.5%|
|8 for a Full House / 5 for a Flush||97.4%|
|7 for a Full House / 5 for a Flush||96.3%|
|6 for a Full House / 5 for a Flush||95.2%|
A Jacks or Better game offering 9 for a Full House and 6 for a Flush (look at the payouts for one coin on the paytable) is known as a 'full pay' game - and the house advantage is very low. Slightly reducing these payouts such as 8 for a full house, 5 for a flush increases the house edge by more than 2%. While that might not sound like a huge percentage, on average it will make a significant difference over time as to your outcome.
Once you're confident you've found a machine offering the best possible payouts, it's time to start playing. First things first - always play the maximum number of coins. Take a look at the paytable, and you'll see that the 5th coin offers a bonus payout on a Royal Flush (at least on Jacks or Better, though other game variations will still normally have similar extra payouts.) A full pay machine for example will pay 250 for a Royal Flush for one coin, 500 for two coins, 750 for three coins, 1000 for four, and 4000 for five coins. While playing 1 to 4 coins all offered 250 to 1 payouts, that 5th coin makes it pay 800 to 1. While your chances of getting a Royal Flush aren't any better, you can bet you'll want that bonus payout if you hit one.
* Note that betting the maximum number of coins is different than betting the maximum amount of money, it's better to bet 5 coins at $1 a coin then 1 coin at $5 a coin to get access to the 5th coin bonuses, so find a machine in your budget that allows you do do so.
Different types of machines have different strategies to employ for optimal play, and some players may be inclined to play differently depending on their objectives - even if it's not the best bankroll strategy. There are players who are happy to take a loss on most of their sessions for slightly better odds in the pursuit of a Royal Flush, and there's nothing wrong with that if that how they enjoy their time.
The easiest way to learn proper strategy is to play our Jacks or Better trainer above, it will let you know if you're making the right decisions or not until you get the hang of it while you play at your leisure. A very over-simplified playing strategy for Jacks or Better is shown below.
|4 of a Kind or better||0 cards (keep all your cards)|
|4 cards towards a Royal Flush||1 card (get rid of the card that doesn't help towards the Royal Flush)|
|Full House or Flush||0 cards (keep all your cards)|
|3 of a Kind||2 cards|
|4 cards towards a Straight Flush||1 card (get rid of the card that doesn't help towards the Straight Flush)|
|Straight||0 cards (keep all your cards)|
|2 pair||1 card (keeps the pairs)|
|High pair||3 cards (keeps the pair)|
|3 cards to a Royal Flush||2 cards (get rid of the cards that don't help towards the Royal Flush)|
|4 cards to a Flush||1 card (get rid of the suit that doesn't match)|
|Low pair||3 cards (keep the pair)|
|4 cards to a Straight, open-ended||1 card (the 4 cards should be in sequence so 2 cards can complete the straight)|
|3 cards to a Straight Flush||2 cards (get rid of the cards that don't help towards the Straight Flush)|
|2 high cards||3 cards (hold the 2 cards valued Jacks or higher)|
|1 high card||4 cards (hold the card valued Jacks or higher)|
|Nothing||5 cards (start from scratch)|
While there are more nuances to consider for 'perfect' play, the above is still a good starting point for new players on what to hold and why.
Multi-hand Video Poker
Many casinos (both online and off) offer not only single hand video poker games, but multi-hand versions as well. Multi-hand video poker comes in a wide variety of options, from 2 hand all the way up to 100 hands per play in just about every video poker variation available.
Regardless of the total number of hands played, multi-hand video poker starts with one hand that the player is to act on. Like single hand games, the player is dealt their initial hand and chooses which (if any) cards to hold. These held cards are then kept for not only that individual hand, but for each of the hands being played once the player draws. For example, playing 5 hand Jacks or Better - if the player holds a pair of Queens then all 5 hands will hold that same pair after the draw. Each hand would then have 3 new cards dealt to them, each from their own virtual deck making for 5 probably unique hands - though each with that pair of Queens.
Multi-hand machines can be a lot of fun to play and certainly give the player a better chance of hitting big hands - but ultimately the odds are no better as your total bet is split amongst each hand. For example, if you play a 50 hand game and hit a Royal Flush after the draw on one of the 50 hands, that Royal is only going to pay off on one 50th of your total bet - i.e. 10 cents of a $5 wager.
Certain machines offer a progressive jackpot for particular wins (generally hitting a Royal Flush or whatever is on the top of the paytable) when players have made a max bet. A progressive jackpot is a jackpot that increases each time any player plays said game until someone wins it - at which point it's reset to it's starting point. A Jacks or Better progressive may start at $4000 for a Royal Flush and grow by 1 cent every time it's played for example. After a few days with enough players the jackpot may have grown to $10,000 and will continue to grow until it's won.
These games generally come at the expense of lower payouts to fund the jackpot, making the expected return vary depending on the value of the progressive. If the jackpot has just reset, the player may have a much lower than average RTP expectation - if it's been building for a long time and yet to be hit, the RTP may be well over 100%.
Generally speaking these aren't my favorite games - with a very small chance of hitting a Royal I'd rather have the better payouts for lesser hands. But for those who are looking for the huge wins, they're an exciting option provided the jackpot is high enough.