Video poker is an especially popular game. If you’ve ever been inside a casino, you have certainly seen the machines, either lined up next to the other slots or sometimes embedded in bars enabling players to play while enjoying their favorite adult beverage.
Video poker is favorite online, as well, usually a choice in any online casino alongside the slots and table games.
The games were first introduced in Nevada in the late 1970s, proving a huge hit right away. Unlike regular poker where you sit down at a table and compete against other players, video poker is a single-player game in which the player is dealt five cards, chooses which ones to keep or discard, then can win a payout based on the strength of hand the player makes.
As that description indicates, learning how to play video poker is easy. If you know how to play five-card draw, you already know how to play!
The payouts when playing video poker can vary, but they are always based on hand rankings with players winning the most for hitting rare hands like royal flushes or four of a kind on down to a high pair.a
One reason why video poker is such a popular game is that unlike practically every other casino game, there really is a skill component to the game. Having some knowledge of poker odds and probabilities increases your chances of winning at video poker, whereas when playing slots or roulette you really are just hoping things spin favorably for you.
You sometimes hear people talk about having a winning “system” for playing, say, roulette, but truthfully there are no such systems. However there really is such a thing as playing a correct video poker strategy that genuinely makes you more likely to win.
Another reason why many prefer video poker over other games is the fact that the house generally has less of an edge in video poker than in other games, especially if you play a smart strategy. In fact, those who play “perfect” video poker strategy can make the house edge essentially disappear altogether, with the very best players even able to enjoy a consistent profit.
We’re not going to aim that high and try to make you a video poker pro with the following tips for playing video poker. But having even just a few general guidelines in mind when you play can help you do much better than the average button-clicker.
Below are five quick tips to keep in mind and get you started next time you play video poker.
1. Know the Rules
There are a variety of different types of video poker games out there with different rules governing how hands are ranked and payouts are determined.
The most popular video poker games include Deuces Wild and Jacks or Better.
As the name implies, in Deuces Wild deuces can count as any card, meaning you’ll always want to hold your 2’s when choosing which cards to discard. In Jacks or Better, you must make at least a pair of jacks to win the minimum — usually just your money back.
There are other popular video poker games like Double Bonus in which making four aces pays twice as much as any other four of a kind, or Double Double Bonus that offers even more bonuses for other four-of-a-kind hands. Joker Poker throws a joker into the mix, creating five-of-a-kind hands and making kings the lowest one-pair hand that cashes.
Knowing what game you are playing obviously should affect your strategy when deciding which cards to keep and which ones to discard.
2. Pay Attention to the Pay Tables
You know a straight flush is better than four of a kind — but how much better is it when you’re playing video poker? It’s worth paying attention to the pay tables so you know just what it is you are attempting to win as you try to make your poker hands.
Here’s a typical pay table for the “Jacks or Better” game:
|4 of a Kind||25||50||75||100||125|
|3 of a Kind||3||6||9||12||15|
|Pair of Jacks+||1||2||3||4||5|
Notice for a moment the payouts for full houses and flushes — 9x your money for a full house and 6x for a flush.
This is what is known as a “full pay table” (or, sometimes, a “9/6 pay table”). Sometimes you’ll encounter lower payouts such as 8x for a full house and/or 5x for a flush (an “8/5 pay table”).
Obviously if you have a choice you want to find video poker games with better payouts. In any case, remain familiar with the pay table as that will guide you sometimes when it comes to deciding your strategy.
3. Bet the Max
When playing video poker you have a choice regarding how much you want to bet on each hand, much like you do when you play slots. You’ve probably heard the advice always to “bet the max,” since that ensures you earn the biggest payout when you win. But with video poker there’s a specific reason for betting the max — the payout for the best hands is often much greater percentage-wise when you do.
In a way this tip is related to the previous one, because if you pay attention to the pay tables you’ll know whether or not you’re playing a game where betting the max is indeed the right strategy. For example, if you are playing a video poker game that features a “progressive jackpot,” you have to bet the maximum in order to qualify.
Also, most video poker games pay out a bonus if you’ve bet the maximum. For instance, look back at that table up above. Notice how if you bet the maximum 5 coins and make a royal flush, you win 4000 and not just 1250. That’s fairly standard, and is a big reason why betting the max can be the right way to go.
You shouldn’t count on making royal flushes that often, of course, but when you do it is nice to win as much as you can.
4. Focus on Making Good Decisions
You might be used to playing video slots where you mash a button, see your result, and immediately spin again without a moment’s thought.
Video poker should not be played that way. Rather, take a moment — or a few moments, if needed — to think through your decision before deciding which cards to hold and which ones to discard.
There is no bonus for playing your hands fast in video poker. You probably don’t need to take as much time as you might when playing regular poker games online or live against other players, but you should play at a deliberate enough pace that you give yourself a chance to think before you act.
5. Practice Before You Play
Video poker games are freely available online, including “play money” video poker games which you can find via a quick internet search or in just about any online casino.
Having these games available online means you can practice all you like before playing video poker for real money. Give the games a spin and by practicing learn how to adjust your strategy. You might even search for a so-called video poker cheat sheet online and follow its advice for a while, eventually absorbing the guidance to a point where you know it by heart.
Video poker can be a fun and rewarding game to play. Follow these tips, get some practice to learn more specific strategy, and give yourself the best chance to win.
Photo: “A Video Poker machine” (adapted), public domain.