Find Full-Pay Machines
Jacks or Better is without a doubt the most popular video poker machine in both online and brick-and-mortar casinos. It’s also one of the most player friendly, meaning that it has high return percentage.
Through this article we’re going to use Jacks or Better as the example.
When you’re looking for a video poker game you should try to find one that says “full pay,” or 9/6 on a Jacks or Better machine. Casinos rarely show the actual return percentages on the machines, so it’s up to you – as a player – to figure that out
In Jacks or Better, 9/6 means that you get 9 credits in return for a full house and 6 credits in return for a flush.
This generates a 98.4 % overall return when you play for 1 - 4 credits, which is high compared to most other video poker machines – and other games in the casino for that matter.
When you play for the full amount – 5 credits – the return is 99.5 % and you can’t get closer to a break-even game than that. The reason for the higher payback percentage is that you get more for a royal straight flush when you play max credits.
However, to reach this return you’ll have to play according to the best video poker strategy. As soon as you make incorrect decision, the house advantage will grow considerably.
Best Strategy in Video Poker
The main conflict in a game of video poker is whether to hold on to a made hand or break it up and draw for a stronger one.
The answer is: it depends on what you have and what you can improve to.
What do you do here? Do you hold the pair of fours, the queen and the jack or do you throw away all five cards?
Keep Strong Hands
This might not come as a surprise, but if you have a royal flush, straight flush, quads, full house, three-of-a-kind or two pair you should hold on to it.
If you have three-of-a-kind you should always swap both kickers. A lot of players tend to hold on to a high card in this situation.
In this example, a player might get tempted to hold the queen.
If you swap both cards you increase the chance of getting quads, but the chance of getting a full house remains the same.
Remember: 9-9-9-3-3 receives the same payout as 9-9-9-Q-Q
Break up a Made Hand
Most of the time you should hold all cards when you have a straight, flush (or pair). But there are situations when the basic video poker strategy advices to break it up.
Look at the Jacks or Better payout chart below and you’ll understand why.
As you can see, the return grows considerably from straight-flush to royal-straight flush. Therefore it’s sometimes correct to draw to a “royal” even though you already have a straight or flush on the first five cards.
Any time you have four cards to a royal flush you should aim for the bigger prize. Say, for instance, that you have Ah-Kh-Qh-Jh-2h or Ah-Kh-Qh-Jh-Tc.
In both these hands it’s correct to swap the last card.
(This is obviously also true if you have a pair plus four to a royal straight flush.)
Three Common Mistakes
The three most misplayed hands in video poker are probably gut-shot straight draws, small pairs and three-card flush draws.
A gut-shot straight draw is when you need a specific card to complete the straight; for example 3-4-6-7. Here, only a 5 makes a straight. (The other type is the open-ended straight draw 3-4-5-6 where you can complete the straight on both ends of the draw.)
You can forget about the gut shots altogether because they’re always wrong to play.
Video Poker players also tend to throw away small pairs and instead keep a high card. They think: “a pair of fives won’t pay anyway so I’ll hold on to the ace instead”.
A small pair is not only small. It’s also the beginning of trips, full house or even quads.
The last common mistake is holding on to three suited cards (not in sequence). Even if they’re high you should always discard all five, unless the hand has some other qualities such as a small pair.
Complete List of What to Hold
When you play according to the tips above you will be close to the perfect video poker strategy.
But if you’d ever find yourself in a tricky situation, use the table below.
If your hand matches with the first example, play it that way. If not, go to the second example, then third and so on. (List from WizardOfOdds)
Four of a kind, straight flush, royal flush
4 to a royal flush
Full house, Flush, Straight, Three of a kind
4 to a straight flush
High pair (jacks or better)
3 to a royal flush
4 to a flush
4 to an outside straight
2 suited high cards
3 to a straight flush
2 unsuited high cards
Suited J-T, Q-T, or K-T
One high card
Playing Video Poker Online
You often read on video poker sites that you don’t have to know this strategy when playing video poker online; that the software will give you tips and hold the correct hands.
Don’t trust the casino software to give you the correct suggestions.
In fact, the software often makes the same mistakes as the novice players. For instance, most casino sites always suggest you to discard small pairs, which we know is wrong.
So when you play online, have this article open and consult it if you’re in a tricky situation.
In doing so you’ll minimize the house advantage and you’ll be playing one of the most interesting online-casino games there is.