Video poker is an extremely popular game both online and in land-based casinos, and it combines the luck and skill elements of traditional poker into a style of play that can be enjoyed alone. Based on the common game of five-card draw, there are many different types of online video poker games and ways to plenty of strategies to pick up and learn. Compare the best online video poker casinos and current bonus offers here.
Introduction to Video Poker
Depending on which part of the world you live in, it’s possible to see video poker machines at local pubs, gas stations, casinos and other businesses. They exploded in popularity decades ago because they combine a few key elements: the ability to get a very low house edge, a serious degree of strategy and a fast style of gameplay. What’s more is that it’s a really easy game to learn how to play, especially if you already know the poker hand rankings or if you’ve ever played five-card draw at the dinner table with family and friends.
No matter if you’re just looking for some excitement as a recreational player or if you’re looking to push the envelope in terms of learning strategy and getting as good as you can, video poker appeals to a wide range of people for a lot of different reasons. In what follows, we’re going to break down the history of this game, why there are so many different styles of it available and how you can learn some fundamental strategies that will boost your chances of winning.
The early beginnings of video poker started in the 1970s. This is when the possibilities of adding a CRT video monitor to a primitive, solid-state computer were first possible in a way that wouldn’t cost more than what would be justifiable. A lot of new types of games started up around this time along the same lines, but 1979 was when video poker in particular really started to take off.
This change in 1979 occurred because the game “Draw Poker” was released that year, produced by the company that would eventually become casino software giant International Game Technology.
A lot of the success of Draw Poker and the other video poker games that came after it was simply because many players found it to be a more enjoyable experience to play alone instead of going to sit and play other types of card games at a table with a dealer and other players. Along these lines, it’s easy to see how this is a game genre that has stayed particularly popular over the years.
Rules and Play Procedure
Of all of the games that you might find in an online or land-based casino, video poker may have the most straightforward gameplay procedure of any of them. A single hand works like this:
- You start by selecting a number of coins to wager and a coin size before making your bet.
- Five cards appear on the screen. You are given the option to discard any number of them.
- Cards are given to you that replace your discards.
- Your resulting hand is judged against a pay table based on five-card poker hand rankings. If you make a hand good enough for a payout, then it’s awarded.
And that is it for how this game works. If you don’t know poker hand rankings, they are listed on the screen with the machine, so you have a handy reference nearby along with the relevant payouts. It will also list out how the payouts change for betting different numbers of coins, but it’s all fairly simple so that it’s difficult to get confused with how it’s laid out.
Basic Tips and Tactics
There are a few fundamental ideas that you should be aware of no matter what kind of video poker you’re looking to play. With so many variations out there, the exact strategies to play perfectly on each will be a bit different. However, they’re similar enough that there are some general principles that you should learn first before moving on to more game-specific ways to play.
First and foremost, most games will require that you play for five coins (or whatever the maximum is) in order for you to get the best payout rate available. This is usually done by offering a better prize for a royal flush if you play with five coins. It doesn’t matter if you play for very small coin amounts as long as you keep the maximum number of coins going per hand.
Second, there are two main types of online video poker machines, and they fall into two strategic genres as a result. The first type uses a standard 52-card deck with no wild cards, and the second type includes wild cards and can also include more cards in the deck. For the first type of game, the title to study is Jacks or Better, and for the second type of game, the title to study is Deuces Wild.
We will cover how to actually play each of these types of games further down below as far as how to play the actual hands. However, we’re first going to look through some basic ideas in what follows that will help you to pick out the right games for you.
Game Selection for Online Video Poker
There are some online casinos that have more than a dozen different types of video poker available. Sometimes you’ll even find multiple versions of what’s essentially the same game. Along these lines, it’s actually pretty important to make sure that you’re picking out the right kind of game because picking the wrong game can kill your potential payout rate.
We want to make something perfectly clear: There is no reason for any player to ever play a video poker game that does not pay out at least 99 percent with correct play. This means a house advantage of less than 1 percent.
In Jacks or Better, for example, the pay tables are referenced by the prizes for a full house and a flush. If a game is called 9/6 Jacks or Better, than that means the win for a full house is 9x while the prize for a flush is 6x. The standard 9/6 pay table for this game pays out 99.54 percent with correct play.
However, you can pretty easily identify weaker pay tables that give you less chances to win based on these same two prizes, and that can simplify the process of looking up which games will give you the best winning chances. Here are a few examples of different versions of the same game and the best available payout rate for them if you play perfectly:
- 9/5 Jacks or Better: 98.45 percent
- 8/6 Jacks or Better: 98.39 percent
- 8/5 Jacks or Better: 97.30 percent
- 7/5 Jacks or Better: 96.15 percent
In Deuces Wild, the relevant values are a little different and refer to the payouts for five of a kind, a straight flush, four of a kind and a full house. In 15/9/5/3 Deuces Wild, you can actually get a payout of 100.76 percent with perfect play, meaning that you can beat the house. It’s not common to find a game with this pay table, but they definitely exist.
Online, you’ll more commonly find one of the following pay tables for this game:
- 15/11/4/4 Deuces Wild: 99.96 percent
- 16/10/4/4 Deuces Wild: 99.73 percent
- 15/10/4/4 Deuces Wild: 99.42 percent
- 16/9/4/4 Deuces Wild: 99.23 percent
- 12/9/5/3 Deuces Wild: 98.94 percent
These are the most common tables for non-wild card video poker and wild card video poker, and almost all other game variations are based on these two listings. If you’re interested in the maximum possible payout rate for a video poker game, which is the standard used to compare different pay tables, then it’s usually available either in the game’s help screen or in an online database.
While we realize that identifying Jacks or Better pay tables is easier because you only have to keep up with two numbers, it’s the standard for how the games are presented, so it’s what we have to work with.
You’ll often see plenty of versions of video poker that allow you to play several hands at once. The way this works is that your discards are played out over and over again however many times the game is advertised for, so you’re only actually playing one hand of video poker at a time. The change in gameplay comes from how many times your discards are simulated to give you your total overall results.
This can add a lot of excitement to the experience, but there’s a trap to look out for. Many software providers offer less favorable pay tables in their multi-hand games. It’s not uncommon to see something like a 9/6 Jacks or Better pay table available in the single-hand version of a game right beside of a multi-hand version that uses the 8/5 or 7/5 pay table instead. Be sure to look out for this if you go to play the multi-hand versions.
Progressive Jackpot Scouting
In the land-based world of video poker, there are teams of individuals who will go out and play perfectly on games that have progressive jackpots that have become large enough to be profitable. If someone from the team wins the big prize, then they will all split the money.
It’s profitable to play like this, and it takes out a lot of the variance when you play in a team along these lines. However, it’s not really that viable of an option online because the jackpots aren’t localized, and it’s harder to find progressives that get large enough to be profitable overall.
With that having been said, it’s still a very valid approach that can get you into situations where you have an edge against the house. Along these lines, there are a number of progressive jackpot video poker games that can be found online, and here are a few of the most popular along with when they become profitable based on jackpot size:
- Playtech’s Mega Jacks – As one of the best progressive titles available in the genre, this is a 9/6 Jacks or Better game that awards a progressive for a royal flush win. It hits often because it’s so popular, but it only needs 4,922 coins or more in the progressive for the game to be profitable as a whole.
- Playtech’s Jacks or Better Progressive – This is a 7/5 Jacks or Better game with a progressive for the royal flush that is profitable when there are 81,388 coins or more in the progressive jackpot. What stands out in this game is that you’re always playing 10 hands at once, which is atypical for a progressive.
- Microgaming’s Jackpot Deuces – You’ll play for €1 a coin in this Deuces Wild game with a progressive for a natural diamond royal flush. It’s a profitable bet when the jackpot is €53,980 or higher along these lines. This game is notable as one of the only wild card progressive video poker titles online.
- Microgaming’s SupaJax – Players will find a 53-card deck here with the addition of the SupaJax card. You’ll trigger a progressive for four jacks with the SupaJax card as the kicker. This game also requires a coin size of €1, and it’s profitable if the jackpot is worth at least €52,417.
Scouting these jackpots and targeting the relevant games whenever they’re profitable because of these jackpots is a sound strategy for finding profitable bets, but because they hit so often online, it’s not as viable of a strategy as it might be for the land-based arena.
Video Poker Strategy: Beginner and Advanced
Whenever you play any type of video poker, you are faced with a simple decision: How do you make your discards? If we include the option of standing pat, then there are 32 different ways to play a given hand in terms of the number of ways you can play your discards. The role of strategy in video poker is to try to figure out which of those 32 ways will give you the best result, on average, over the long run.
There are types of made hands, draws and sets of cards that will give you more value on a draw than others, and we can rank those different types of situations based on how much value they give you. As a result, video poker strategy guides like what we’re going to outline below have to be based on the idea of teaching players which situations give better value than others, particularly in spots where it seem viable to play a hand in more than one way.
In what follows, we’ll break down the basics of wild card and non-wild card games to give you the way that these value assessments work in most situations, most of the time. This approach will allow you to get pretty good at the overall genre in a relatively short period of time. However, to truly master a specific game, you’ll generally have to abandon the idea of being good at all of the video poker games and only focus on the details involved in that one particular style.
Non-Wild Card Video Poker: Basic Made Hands and Draws
There’s a simple ranking system we’re going to list out here that will show you how to play the vast majority of difficult hands that you’ll run into for just about any non-wild card video poker game out there. The idea behind this system is that you’ll want to go for the highest-rated option that you have available to you on this list with the strongest options listed at the top and the weakest listed at the bottom.
- A made hand of four of a kind or better
- Any four cards that could make a royal flush
- A made hand of three of a kind, a straight, a flush or a full house
- Any four cards that could make a straight flush
- A made hand of a paying pair* or two pair
- Any three cards that could make a royal flush
- Any four cards that could make a flush
- A made hand of a non-paying pair*
- Any four cards to an eight-out straight draw**
* A paying pair is a pair that will give a payout on its own; a non-paying pair will not give a payout on its own.
** An eight-out straight draw means that there are eight cards available that could complete the straight (as opposed to a four-out straight draw that could only complete the straight with four cards).
If you can remember these nine points in this order, then you’re good to go when it comes to getting started playing pretty well for almost every type of video poker out there that does not use wild cards.
You’ll notice that this leaves out high-card hands, and that’s because learning to play those well involves some pretty advanced strategies that we’re going to cover separately below. If you’re just looking for an easy strategy for the genre as a whole that will have you playing pretty well in a short period of time, then the above nine points are where to put your focus.
Wild Card Video Poker: Basic Made Hands and Draws
We’re going to assume that you’re playing a wild card video poker game that has at least four wild cards available. There are some that only have one or two, but they actually play more like the non-wild card games in general because the wilds come up so infrequently.
A key difference in the strategies for how video poker games play that use wild cards is that you will typically need a better minimum hand to get paid. Additionally, the strategies are broken up based on how many wild cards you have in your hand. Playing with two or more wilds is actually really easy because you’re going to always make at least three of a kind, and it’s hard to make mistakes. Because of that we’re going to focus on how to play with only one or zero wilds.
With zero wild cards in your hand, you can actually play according to the nine-point, non-wild card strategy that we listed above. There is only one significant difference to the strategy that you should take note of:
Because the wild symbols make it easier to improve non-paying pairs, every single pair will be played as if it’s a paying pair.
Alternatively, if you have exactly one wild card in your hand, then you can play according to the nine-point plan with the following important alterations (which includes removing four of the nine points completely):
- On point four, the only four-card straight-flush draws that rank better than three of a kinds, straights or flushs are if it has three consecutive non-wild cards that are all five or above. All other four-card straight flush draws are ranked just below these made hands.
- There are no single-pair considerations made at all, which removes points five and eight.
- Straight draws and flush draws are ignored unless they are to a straight flush. This removes points seven and nine.
If you can’t make a hand according to those guidelines, then it’s actually better to just discard four and keep your wild card.
Advanced Video Poker Strategy: Playing High-Card Hands
One benefit of playing wild card styles of video poker is that you don’t have to worry that much about playing high-card hands. If you don’t have any wilds in your hand, and you can’t make at least two cards to a royal flush, then you just discard five and hope for the best.
In non-wild card games, however, you end up in a fair number of spots where you don’t have any major draws or made hands available. In these high-card hand spots, knowing how to correctly make the most of a bad situation can make a major difference in your win-rate.
Along these lines, we have a similar setup for how we handle strategy in these situations. In the list below, you want to try to make the hand that’s as high up on the list as you can:
- Two suited paying cards*
- Three cards that can make a straight flush (regardless of rank)
- Two off-suit paying cards**
- A suited pairing of K-10, Q-10 or J-10
- A single paying card*
* A paying card is one that will give a payout if it makes a pair.
** Off-suit means two cards that are not the same suit. Note if you have three off-suit paying cards, then you should only pick the lowest ranked of the two.
This list is sometimes called the Fabulous Five. While it’s a little harder to remember for most players than the nine-point list we’ve based most of these playing strategies on, it’s worth it because of the overwhelming amount of direction it will give you when playing some of the most difficult spots in all of video poker.
The ability for a genre of games to stay popular since the 1970s and 1980s is saying something, especially when they haven’t fundamentally changed that much in decades, and especially when they’re going up against newer genres and high-level graphics in the age of the online casino. This speaks to how video poker offers rules that are really easy to learn while still offering a high degree of depth in strategy. The fact that you can actually beat the casino in many of these games if you choose them correctly and play well adds to the appeal as well.