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Video Poker Strategy

Video Poker Strategy

Video Poker is the thinking man’s slots. On the surface it looks like any gaming machine, but in video poker a player’s decisions affect the end result

Play wisely.

Here we’re going to take a look at the optimal video poker strategy – from finding the best machine to your actions when playing.

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What You Need to Know About Video Poker Strategy:

  •   It's best to keep strong hands;
  •   You can break up a made hand in particular situations;
  •   You can play for free in order to practise and refine your video poker strategy skills;
  •   Follow our cheat sheet of hands to hold on to while you play online.

Video Poker Overview

Video poker is a combination of playing slots and poker. There are numerous variations of video poker to play with relatively similar gameplay and rules, the only difference being the odds change according to which variation you choose to play. 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.

Playing Video Poker Online

You often read on video poker sites that you don’t have to know the 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 discarding 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.

Best Strategy for Video Poker

video poker strategy 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 too. What do you do in the example shown here? Do you hold the pair of fours, the queen and the jack or do you throw away all five cards? Read our tips below to learn how to win video poker.

1) 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 pairs 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 the example shown here, a player might get tempted to hold the queen. That’s wrong. 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.

2) 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 advises to break it up. Look at the Jacks or Better payout chart below and you’ll understand why. 

video poker strategy hands 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.)

3) Avoid Common Mistakes

video poker strategy hold on to your ace 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”. That's wrong. 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.

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4) Find a Video Poker Casino that is ‘Full Pay’

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 game. Casinos rarely show the actual return percentages 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 an incorrect decision, the house advantage will grow considerably.

5) Practise Video Poker for Free!

Before you start staking your cash on real money video poker games, it’s a good idea to practise the game first on our video poker strategy trainer. This way you get used to using the advice on this page without risking money whilst you test out the waters and get used to the game. offers a completely free version of Jacks or Better which requires no sign-up or download. Simply click 'play' and give the classic game a go on any device without risking a cent!

Video Poker Strategy Chart– Hands 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.

1. Four of a kind, straight flush, royal flush
2. 4 to a royal flush
3. Full house, Flush, Straight, Three of a kind
4. 4 to a straight flush
5. Two pair
6. High pair (jacks or better)
7. 3 to a royal flush
8. 4 to a flush
9. Low pair
10. 4 to an outside straight
11. 2 suited high cards
12. 3 to a straight flush
13. 2 unsuited high cards
14. Suited J-T, Q-T, or K-T
15. One high card
16. Discard everything

Progressive Video Poker Jackpots

Progressive jackpots are something we usually associate with slot machines. However, there are quite a few video poker games that also offer progressive payouts. The prize pools are never as large as in slots, but still, if you catch a royal straight flush, which usually is the hand that triggers the jackpot, you’ll be able to add several thousand dollars to your bankroll.

Video Poker Strategy FAQs

    Is it possible to play with strategy when I play video poker? 

Even though video poker is a slots game, you still have to make a decision about which cards you discard, and which cards you keep in order to make a winning hand. As you need to make some independent choices you should learn how to make the best decisions in order to get the most out of the game.

    How do I know which hand to play?

If you get confused about memorising what to do in each circumstance, you can look at the list presented above as a cheat sheet to know which cards to hold on to, and which ones to discard for hopefully better cards.  

    Should I break up a made hand? 

In some cases, you can break up a made hand in order to aim for a better hand. 

Play Online Video Poker at the Best Online Casinos

Video poker is one of those games that combines the best of different online casino games. You get the entertainment and fun that you get in a slots game, as well as the gameplay and strategy you may get from card games. Choose one of the great video poker online casinos listed in our toplist for the very best online gaming experience.

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