How to Play Video Poker
Of all the different types of slot machines invented for gambling, Video Poker is the world’s most popular.
It offers players all of the thrills and strategy of the table game, but without the need to sit down with other players, no waiting for shuffling and dealing, and no danger of losing to bluffers or bullies.
That’s because Video Poker is played one-on-one against the machine. It has the added assurance of fixed payouts based upon the size of the bet made and type of winning combination held, not the size of the pot.
The number of Video Poker variations has grown exponentially in recent years. In addition to straight “Jacks or Better” and the wild-card favourite “Deuces Wild,” you can choose 100-Play Poker, Spin Poker, Reversible Royals, Triple Bonus Poker, and a myriad of other poker spin-offs.
Video Poker Slots – Video Poker Machines
Multi-denomination and multi-hand video poker slots have also been introduced, along with games that feature progressive jackpots for truly huge payouts. Although some Video Poker machines still accept coins, the vast majority of those installed today take paper currency.
They indicate on the video screen the number of “Credits” you have available to play. The value of a “Credit” depends on the machine you have chosen, from as little as a penny to as much as $100. Many nowadays are multi-denomination versions which allow you to select the credit value you prefer.
To begin the game, choose the number of credits you want to wager, and then push the “Deal” or “Play” button. Five cards will be dealt to you face up from a standard 52-card deck, or with a joker added for “Joker Poker.”
Once you have looked over your hand, select the cards you want to retain by touching them directly on the screen or by clicking the corresponding “Hold” buttons beneath the cards to be kept. In most versions of the game, you can hold as many cards as you want, or discard any number of them for replacements.
After you have indicated the cards to keep, click on the “Draw” or “Play” button. The machine will automatically deal again for you, replacing your discards with new cards. The program will then determine whether you have a winning combination and, if so, pay you accordingly.
The credits won will be indicated in a window on the screen and added directly to your total credits available. You will then have the option to remove your funds by pressing the “Collect” button or else wager and deal again.
It is possible to change the amount of your bet between deals. You may do so at any time before you press the “Deal” button to receive your hand.
However, the amount bet may not be altered after the first five cards have been received. In some versions of Video Poker, you may be prompted to “Double” your bet after a win, or else “Rebet” the same amount on a new hand.
Another button on the machine console is “Max Bet,” which will automatically deduct the maximum number of credits permitted from your credits and initiate the deal.
When playing a “progressive” version of the game, “Max Bet” is the only way to qualify for the top jackpot. It is important, therefore, to check the machine’s paytable before you play in order to know what the betting limit is and the associated payouts are.
Video Poker Winning Hands
Following is a list of the ten types of hands possible when playing standard Video Poker. The ranking of Video Poker hands is the same as when playing draw poker with real cards at a table. They are listed in order from the highest possible hand to the lowest.
1. Royal Flush – This is the A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. In Video Poker, this hand produces the highest payout and is used to trigger progressive jackpots when the maximum number of credits is played.
2. Straight Flush – This is five cards in sequence in any suit, such as the 9-8-7-6-5 of spades or the J-10-9-8-7 of hearts. There can be no gaps in the sequence. A straight flush is the second highest hand in standard Video Poker, although it may be topped by exotic combinations in some double and triple bonus.
3. Four of a Kind – This hand has four cards of the same rank, one in each of the four suits, such as A-A-A-A or 8-8-8-8. The fifth card can be anything and has no affect on the hand.
4. Full House – This hand contains three cards of one rank (a “set” or “trips”) and two of cards of another rank (a “pair”), such as J-J-J-7-7 or 5-5-5-3-3.
5. Flush – This hand is comprised of any five cards of the same suit, such as the K-10-7-6-2 of diamonds or A-Q-9-5-4 of clubs. The cards do not have to be in sequence.
6. Straight – This hand has any five cards in sequence, regardless of suit, such as one containing Q-J-10-9-8. Most Video Poker games count aces as either high or low for straights, i.e. A-K-Q-J-10 or 5-4-3-2-A.
7. Three of a Kind – This is a hand containing three cards of the same rank, such as J-J-J or 3-3-3. The other two cards can be of any value and do not affect the hand.
8. Two Pair – This hand has two cards of one rank and two of another rank, such as K-K-9-9 or 8-8-5-5. The fifth card is known as the “kicker” in table poker and is used to settle ties, but in Video Poker it can be anything and has no affect on the hand.
9. One Pair – This hand contains two cards of the same rank and three unrelated cards, such as J-J-7-6-4 or Q-10-3-2-2. Most Video Poker games make a high pair, typically Jacks or better, the threshold combination for a winning hand. Low pairs typically have no payoff value, although they may attain value after the draw as a Two Pair, Three of a Kind or Four of a Kind.
10. High Card – This is any five unmatched cards. In draw poker played at a table, it may be possible to “bluff” or even win outright with such a hand, but in Video Poker it has no value whatsoever. About one out of every two deals results in such a hand.
One other special hand is possible when playing a Video Poker game that includes “wild cards,” such as Joker Poker or Deuces Wild. This is called Five of a Kind and it occurs when five cards of the same value are held. In most versions of Video Poker, this outranks any other hand except a “Natural Royal” (i.e., a royal flush that contains no wild cards).
Video Poker Odds and Payouts
Playing off the deal (before the draw or “stud” poker) with a standard 52-card deck, there are exactly 2,598,960 different five-card hands possible. Of these, 1,302,540 (or 50.12%) are high-card only hands, all of which are losers at Video Poker.
Another 1,098,240 hands (42.26%) contain just one pair, of which exactly 760,320 (29.25%) are ranked less than Jacks or better. That leaves 536,100 (20.63%) hands that are guaranteed to win back your wager or more.
Obviously, the house has a big advantage, dealing you an automatic winner just once every five hands. Because there is a draw, however, your odds of winning improve. Taking into account all possible deals and all possible draws, there are an amazing 19,933,230,517,200 different hands. The real odds of winning are based on this number.
Jacks or better pays 1-to-1 and occurs 27.27% of the time. For two pair, you will receive a payout of 2-to-1 and see this combination 12.89% of the time. Hands of three of a kind will pay 3-to-1, and make up 7.42% of all possibilities.
As you can see, you really need to catch some higher ranked hands with bigger payouts in order to be a winner at Video Poker. In the standard version of Jacks or Better, a straight is worth 4-to-1, a flush pays 6-to-1, and a full house will get you 9-to-1. Their respective probabilities are very close to 1.12%.
Four of a kind yields a payout of 25-to-1 and comes in with a probability of just 0.24%. A straight flush is good for a payout of 50-to-1, but there only around 2,200 million such hands possible, or 0.011% of the total.
When it comes to the “Royal Flush,” the goal of all Video Poker players, there are just four possibilities—one each of the suits. On a minimum bet of one unit, it will pay 250-to-1. At “Max Bet,” most Video Poker machines jump the payout up to 800-to-1. Nevertheless, this combination comes up a mere 0.0027% of the time.
If you multiply the probability of the hand times the payout for each winning combination, you can calculate the “return” or payback rate for each possible hand. The sum of all the payback rates is the total return expected for the game. The best of Video Poker machines have paytables that allow players to win from 99.5% to 99.9% of the time.
Video Poker Strategy
The object of Video Poker is to create a “winning hand,” i.e., one that qualifies for a payout. With this in mind, your first thought should be to “hold” whatever cards give you the greatest probability of ending up with a winning combination after the draw. For the purpose of creating basic strategy, the game Jacks or Better can be used.
Any winning hand on the initial five cards is called a “natural.” If you are dealt a natural of two Jacks or better, you will almost always hold the winning cards and discard the others in an attempt to improve the hand’s value.
The only time you might want to deviate from this “always hold a natural” rule number one is when a potential big winner comes up, such as A-K-Q-J of spades and an off-suit Jack as the fifth card. Holding the natural two Jacks will at best give you a four of a kind paying 25-to-1 after the draw. Quite likely, you will end up with even money.
On the other hand, discarding the Jack gives you a shot at the 800-to-1 Royal Flush with a 1-in-47 chance of drawing the 10 of spades. If you miss, you still have the opportunity for even money on eleven of the remaining cards, a straight paying 4-to-1 on three of the remaining cards, and a flush paying 6-to-1 on nine others.
That’s odds of 24 in 47 (51.06%) of making some kind of winner, so by all means give up the lowly natural pair and apply rule number two: “go for the big win.”
“Going for the big win,” however, applies only to a situation where a royal or a straight flush is not improbable. For example, discarding two off-suit Jacks and keeping the A-Q-10 of spades is not a viable strategy.
The Jacks are more likely to yield four of a kind, a full house or three of a kind than the spades are of producing a Royal. Use common sense. Take natural winners when you can.
The only real dilemma in knowing what to keep and what to discard at Video Poker is when you get dealt a small pair or a face card. Keeping either of these may bring you a winning match on the draw.
If your hand contains both, it can be a toss-up as to which you keep, but “never ever keep a kicker.” For example, keeping the Ace along with the pair when holding A-J-7-3-3 will only decrease the chances of matching the pair.
Also, when holding two unmatched face cards, many players like to hold both, looking for Jacks or Better. This is a very conservative approach. A more aggressive player will always keep only one, always seeking the Royal or at least higher odds of improving to a winning combination.
Some other guidelines for winning at Video Poker are: 1) draw five cards if you have a Jack or better; 2) never break up a straight to draw to a flush; 3) do not draw four cards if it is possible to draw three to a royal; and 4) never break up a flush, not even to draw to a possible straight flush.
However, there is one exception to the latter: Always break a flush if you have the opportunity to draw one card to a Royal.
One other key aspect of strategy is financial. If you can afford to, “always bet the maximum.” That’s the only way to get top pay for a Royal Flush or win a progressive. If you cannot afford “Max Bet” every hand, find a lower denomination machine or play fewer hands.
Bonus Video Poker
How much you win at Video Poker depends on three factors: the version of the game you play, the value of your winning hand and how much you bet. As mentioned previously, in the standard version of Jacks or Better, you must have at least a pair of Jacks to collect even money and the biggest payout is 800-to-1 for a Royal Flush.
To add a bit more incentive to play, the manufacturers of Video Poker games have come up with ways of adjusting the payouts by using “bonuses.”
For example, in “Bonus Poker,” a special payout of 80-to-1 is made for four Aces, while hands containing four twos, threes or fours will pay 40-to-1. To compensate for these enhanced bonus hands, the odds on a full house have been lowered to 8-to-1 and on a flush to 6-to-1. The net result is a paytable that yields a 99.17% return instead of 99.5% or higher.
In the popular game called “Double Double Bonus,” the paytable has been further modified to include bonuses for certain “kickers”—the otherwise meaningless cards that accompany four of a kind. The payout for four Aces with a two, three or four is a whopping 400-to-1.
Other four-of-a-kind hands pay from 50-to-1 to 160-to-1. Again, the bonuses are offset by changes further down the table, where two pair pays only even money, and a full house earns 8-to-1. The overall return rate is 97.89%.
In much the same way, “Triple Double Bonus” elevates four Aces with a 2~4 kicker to the same level as a Royal Flush at 800-to-1. The trade-off is even money for two pair and 2-to-1 for three of a kind. In some variations, a straight will pay 7-to-1. As a result, expected returns may vary from 99.58% to as low as 93.87%.
Other bonus versions of Video Poker include Bonus Poker Deluxe, Bonus Poker Plus, Double Bonus, Super Double Bonus, Super Double Double Bonus, Triple Bonus, Super Triple Bonus, Ultra Bonus Poker, Full House Bonus Poker, Ace$ Bonus Poker, Aces & Faces, Aces & Eights, and Royal Aces Bonus Poker.
The only way to know exactly what the bonuses are, and the associated cost of obtaining them, is to study the paytable before you play.
In this regard, it is important to look carefully at the payouts for the lower ranked hands as well as the bonus incentives. In essence, when you play these bonus games, you are trading small wins for the opportunity to get bigger ones, and often giving the house an increased advantage in the bargain.
This is not to say that some versions of Bonus Video Poker are inherently better than others; you just need to clarify your objectives when you play them, because your strategy will change according to the payouts possible.
If big wins are what you seek, there may be other versions of the game that suit your style even better—such as Sequential Royals or Reversible Royals, which pay as much as 10,000-to-1 for hitting a Royal Flush in ascending or descending order.
The Wild Side of Video Poker
Anyone who has ever played table poker has most likely encountered some version of the “wild card.” In the game Deuces Wild, for example, any deuce may used as a substitute for another card. This makes straights and flushes easier to obtain. It also makes five of a kind possible.
In Video Poker, Deuces Wild typically requires three of a kind or better to win. It pays even money for trips and nothing for two pair. A natural Royal Flush with no deuces in the hand still pays 800-to-1, but a “wild royal” pays only 25-to-1 and five of a kind pays just 15-to-1.
A special bonus of 200-to-1 is paid for four deuces, and the overall return on the game varies “wildly” from 91.42% to 99.96%, depending on how the intermediate hand payouts have been adjusted.
Of course, manufacturers have added bonus elements to Deuces Wild, too, such as Bonus Deuces, which pays 400-to-1 for four deuces plus an ace kicker.
Loose Deuces, Double Bonus Deuces Wild, Super Bonus Deuces Wild, and Triple Deuces Wild are other variations to look for. There is even a game called Sevens Wild that replaces deuces with sevens as the wild card.
Joker Poker is another popular wild card game that has become a hit on video screens. Variations include Kings or Better, Aces or Better and Two Pair or Better, with paytables adjusted accordingly.
There is Double Joker Poker as a bonus variation paying 100-to-1 on a Wild Royal, with two pair as the minimum winning hand. And in Deuces and Joker Wild, five wild cards are in play, putting five wilds as the top hand paying 2000-to-1 and three of a kind as the lowest even-money winner.
One-Eyed Jacks makes the jacks of hearts and spades the wild cards. Sevens and Joker Wild pays 100-to-1 for a five wild hand. And Five Aces Video Poker allows a fifth ace with a star on it into the deck, which is not wild but may be used to form the top five of a kind hand worth 1200-to-1.
Poker aficionados do not consider any of these wild card games to be “real poker,” but they certainly can be fun, and the payouts can be astronomical. One of the newest versions, for example, is “Anything’s Wild Poker,” which allows the player to choose the rank of the cards that will be wild.
The top payout on this machine is 80,000 credits. It may not be “real” poker, but it will feel very “real” indeed whenever the jackpot is won.
A History of Innovation
Manufacturers’ compulsion to keep coming up with new versions of Video Poker is as old as slot machines themselves. By the late 19th century, poker had become national craze in America, and one of the very first “coin-in-the-slot” machines ever invented was based on the game of five card stud.
The original poker-playing machine was built by a Boston-based company named Sittman and Pitt in 1891. It cost a nickel (five cents) to play. Its mechanism featured five sets of cards that were “flipped” until they came to a stop and were displayed as a poker hand in the slot window.
Depending on the strength of the hand, players would win a prize. For example, a cigar might be awarded for two pair, while a full house would win four cigars.
The leap from that early coin-operated machine to today’s Video Poker units required some significant advances in technology and a marriage of television and computer engineering. The first company to combine electronics and a video display for a card-based gambling game was Nevada Electronics. In 1963, they developed a game called American Blackjack.
Refinements to this early blackjack game were made by Richard Raven of Raven Electronics, who also came up with video keno and a screen version of reel slots.
Then, in 1970, Dale Electronics developed a rudimentary version of video slot poker called Poker-Matic. But the gambling public was not quick to embrace the new technology. They initially distrusted it, and perhaps with good reason. Were the deals truly random or was the game rigged?
It was not until later in the 1970s that a totally reliable Random Number Generator (RNG) became available for installation in gambling machines. In 1975, Walt Fraley of Las Vegas introduced the first true video slot. Soon after, Bally Gaming, a pioneer in pinball and electronic slots, got into the field.
Then in 1979, a breakthrough occurred. A Bally employee, William “Si” Redd, left the company and became the owner of a struggling video slot manufacturer called Fortune Coin.
Two years later, Redd took the business public, renamed it International Game Technology (IGT), and introduced a new “Draw Poker” video game in 1982. It was an almost immediate hit. By 2000, “Video Poker,” as all versions of the game became collectively known, was lauded as the most popular of all slot games.
Today, IGT is the world’s largest supplier of slots and Video Poker machines. It was responsible for the introduction of progressive Video Poker jackpots and the first multimillion-dollar progressive slot, Megabucks.
Its “Game King” machine has become the industry standard for Video Poker. Now in version 6.2 with 46 themes and 69 different games loaded, Game King is featured in just about every casino in Las Vegas and exported around the world.
One of the keys to IGT’s success has been its constant drive to innovation. The company started out with single-hand Video Poker and soon introduced multi-hand versions—such as Triple Play, Five Play and Ten Play Poker.
It then created multi-game units and expanded the Video Poker market through the development of “penny games.” It is now possible for Video Poker to be enjoyed on any budget. And IGT’s family of poker spin-offs continues to grow thanks to some amazing creativity.
The Far Side of Video Poker
Perhaps even wilder on the Video Poker screens than wild card games are the new “novelty” versions that allow multiple substitutions of cards, extra draws, bonus multipliers, and split hands.
These include Multistrike, Shockwave, Super Times Pay, and Trade Up Poker, to name just a few. In fact, as of this writing, IGT alone has 58 separate Video Poker machines ready for supply to casinos.
All of them are based on the standard Jacks or Better as a model, but with nuances that make it very difficult, if not quite impossible, for players to calculate odds and returns.
As an example of just how far Video Poker has come, consider IGT’s “Big Split Poker.” It is loosely based on a popular table game called Pai Gow Poker, with eight cards dealt that must be arranged into two poker hands, one with five cards and one with three.
The object is “qualify” for a win with jacks and twos or better in the larger hand. Pairs, straights and flushes count in the small hand. The top prize is 80,000 credits for a Royal Flush facing three of a kind. Big Split also has a Deuces Wild version, Joker Poker and Joker Joker Poker with two wild cards.
Another Video Poker novelty is “Ultimate X Poker.” Players can select three, five or ten hands to play at once. Bonus multipliers for each hand are determined by the value of the current hand in play and applied to the next hand.
Ultimate X Poker pays the standard 800-to-1 for a Royal Flush, but the multipliers can be worth 2~12 times that. The catch here is that access to the multipliers must be purchased for additional credits, which makes small wins much more difficult.
In the game called “Spin Poker,” the spinning motion of a three-reel slot machine has been merged with Video Poker. This is a one- to nine-line game that spin-draws cards in three hands. The first of these hands is dealt on the center payline.
Identical hands are then dealt from two additional decks, one above the center hand and another below. All cards held on the center hand are also held in the top and bottom hands.
When the draw button is pushed, the remaining cards in each hand are spun. This results in up to nine different winning combinations. With “Max Bet” wagered on all nine lines, a Royal Flush produces a top award of 216,000 credits.
Most recently, the machine known as “Opponent Poker” has added a social element to Video Poker. Six animated opponents appear on the screen. After betting, the player chooses two of them to play against.
The object is to get a winning hand according to the paytable and also to beat both of the opponents’ hands, just like at a table poker. Doing so allows the player to claim the bonus award.
In Opponent Poker, the highest hand wins all of the other players’ bets, while a tie creates a bonus pot. Games available are Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Bonus Poker Deluxe, and Double Double Bonus Poker.
The top prize is 8,000 credits, and the opposing characters appear to be excited when they win and upset when they lose, just like in a real poker room.
The Language of Video Poker
Although Video Poker does not require any conversation, it is a good idea for players to familiarise themselves with some of the basic terminology used. Most of it derives from the table version of poker, but some of the phrasing is unique to this genre of the game.
Among descriptions of hands containing aces, “Ace-High” refers to an ace without a pair or better, “Aces Full” is a full house with three aces and any accompanying pair, and a “Royal” is a straight flush topped by an ace. The ace itself is sometimes called a “Bullet.”
Among other hands, on the winning side a “High Pair” is pair that qualifies for a payout, straights can be referred to as “Runs,” a “Boat” is any full house, and a “Pat Hand” is any hand so good that it requires no more cards to be drawn.
On the down side, a “Bust” is a final hand that pays nothing, a “Garbage Hand” contains no cards worth holding, and a “Rainbow” describes a hand with three or four cards of different suits.
A “Four Flush” contains four cards of the same suit, requiring a fifth card of that suit to complete a flush, while an “Inside Straight” has four cards that would make a straight if a missing inside card is drawn, such as the 9-8-6-5, needing a 7.
An “Outside Straight,” on the other hand, has four sequential cards, needing a card at either end of the sequence to complete the straight, i.e. a 9-8-7-6 requiring a 5 or a 10.
Many of the cards themselves also have nicknames. The King, Queen and Jack are often referred to as “Face Cards,” “Court Cards,” or “Paint.” The King alone may be called a “Cowboy,” the Jack is sometimes a “Knave,” and the Queen can be either a “Lady” or a “Bitch,” depending on whether one is losing or winning.
A pair of Aces is sometimes called “Pocket Rockets” and a pair of Jacks may also be called “Fishhooks.”
The consoles on which Video Poker is played come in three basic formats: “Upright,” “Slanted Face,” and “In-Bar” or “Recessed.” The units referred to as “Full Pay Machines” have the highest payback tables. They are also known as “Full Pay Games” or “9/6 Machines.”
The latter phrase is a reference to the standard payout for full houses and flushes, 9-to-1 and 6-to-1, respectively. In contrast, “Low Pay Machines” or “Partial Pay Games” do not offer the maximum payouts. These include “8/5 Machines” and “6/5 Machines.”
With regards to the money used to play Video Poker, “Credits” are like virtual coins, worth a fixed amount each. Your “Bankroll” is the total amount you are willing to play with.
A “Flat Top” Video Poker machine has a set maximum for its biggest jackpot, while a “Progressive” offers a constantly accumulating jackpot with no fixed limit. The “House,” of course, refers to the casino operator.
Playing Video Poker Online
The variety of Video Poker games available on the Internet is rapidly approaching what’s found in land-based casinos. However, IGT is not the driving force online. That honor has fallen to Microgaming, which has developed Video Poker applications for more than 100 casino web sites.
The company’s software also powers the world’s leading progressive jackpot networks, responsible for paying out over $280 million and creating 14 millionaires since 1994.
Currently, Microgaming offers nine different Video Poker games through Internet casinos. These include the ever-popular Jacks or Better, as well as Joker Poker, Deuces Wild, Aces and Faces, Double Double Bonus 9/6, Tens or Better, and more.
There are single-hand and four-hand variations, and a few Microgaming casinos now offer 100-hand versions of Jacks or Better as well.
The payouts afforded by online Video Poker games are comparable to those put up by stand-alone machines. Payback rates range from 96.77% on Deuces Wild Single-Play to 99.54% on Jacks or Better. The graphics and audio features of Microgaming’s Video Poker games are also on par with what is found in bricks and mortar casinos, too.
Success breeds competition, of course, and Microgaming is not without its rivals. Cryptologic, for example, has introduced five online Video Poker versions of its own, including Jacks or Better, Tens or Better, Deuces Wild and Joker Poker.
Its unique All American Video Poker is also becoming well accepted, and multi-hand formats have been developed along with a Super Jackpot Progressive. However, players should be aware that Cryptologic’s payback rates are a bit on the low side compared to Microgaming’s, running from 97.96% for Tens or Better to 98.94% for Joker Poker.
A third major competitor in the creation of Video Poker software for the Internet is Playtech. The company offers six different games: Jacks or Better, Deuces Wild, Joker Poker, Aces & Faces, Tens or Better, and Two-Way Royals.
Playtech has created a number of 4-hand and 10-hand variations as well. The payback rates range from a low of 95.44% on the 25-line version of Aces & Faces to a high of 99.54% on Jacks or Better.
Before trying out Video Poker online, players are well advised to take a close look at the associated paytables and any special rules that may apply. These will be clearly posted on the web site and should be accessible by clicking on the “See Pays” or “Help” buttons of the Video Poker game selected.
Those who are interested in trying out a number of Video Poker games for free before committing real money to play, may wish to take advantage of the “for fun” downloads offered by most of the established online casinos. In fact, IGT also offers the opportunity to try out dozens of Video Poker machine games on its corporate web site.