Jacks or Better is one of the most popular video poker variations available in both land based casinos and in online casinos.
It’s also often listed as one of the best games to play if you want to play a low house edge game. But Jacks or Better games are found with a wide variety of pay tables.
In this post, I show you the most popular pay tables, how to read them, and what all of the numbers mean, and how they change the payback percentage.
With this information, you can make sure you’re playing on a machine that offers the best possible pay table.
It’s important to compare several different Jacks or Better pay tables side by side to see how one small change can alter the payback percentage. I’ve done this in the chart below. But before getting to the chart let’s cover a few other important things.
Before moving on, I want to make sure you understand exactly what payback percentage means and how it relates to the house edge.
The payback percentage is the average amount the machine returns for every dollar wagered. This percentage is based on hundreds of thousands of hands and also includes the elusive royal flush.
This means that in the short term, which can consist of thousands of hands, your return may be higher or lower than the numbers listed below.
To get the house edge simply subtract the payback percentage from 100.
Here’s an example:
The 9 / 6 game in the chart below shows a payback percentage of 99.54%. This means the house edge is .46%.
Most Jacks or Better players show a larger house edge because remember the payback percentage includes the large pay out for a royal flush. According to the mathematical calculations done on Jacks or Better you hit a royal flush on average one out of every 40,391 hands.
What this means is to achieve the actual payback percentages listed in the chart below you’re going to need to play 40,391 hands on average.
And worse than the thought of playing that many hands to reach the payback percentage is that it’s entirely possible to play that many hands and still not hit a royal flush.
Of course, it’s also possible to hit two or three royal flushes in that many hands.
Every hand of Jacks or Better you play has a one in 40,391 chances to hit a royal. So, a machine is never due to hit a royal, even if it hasn’t hit one in years. And if a machine has just hit a royal flush it has the same chances of hitting another one the net hand as it did the previous hand.
Video Poker Machine Memory
Video poker machines have no memory so each hand has the same odds and chances as any other hand played.
Unlike slot machines, video poker machines are specifically based on a deck of playing cards so the chances of getting any particular card is one in 52. This is specific to Jacks or Better and other video poker machines that don’t use jokers.
This information is useful in determining the exact payback percentages listed in the chart and is also useful when making strategy decisions.
Here’s an example:
If you get four to a flush on your starting five card hand you know the deck still has nine cards to complete your flush. You’ve seen five cards so the rest of the deck consists of 47 cards. This means that if you play this hand 47 times discarding your non-flush card and drawing one, on average you’ll win nine times and lose 38.
Here’s another example:
If you have four cards to a royal flush you know that only one card will complete it. This means that one time out of 47 you’re going to get the card you need on average.
I keep saying on average because you can’t actually play the exact same situation 47 times at once. But over time the correct percentages work out.
I’ve put together a chart listing the six pay tables you’re most likely to find in a casino and three special pay tables that offer higher returns. The most common ones are the first six and the special ones are the last three.
The best pay table I’ve played on is the regular 9 / 6, but if you ever run across one of the last three in the chart you should jump at the opportunity to play.
The chart lists the payout numbers you see in the first column to the left on most Jacks or Better machines. The only exception is for the royal flush. The number in the royal flush column in my chart is the top jackpot amount divided by five.
You only qualify for the top jackpot amount by playing five coins per line. If you play fewer than five coins the payout for a royal flush is less, which in turn reduces the overall payback percentage.
On the pay tables that list 800 for the royal flush it shows 4,000 in the five coin payout spot on the actual machine. The 940 machine listed below shows 4,700 and the 976 machine shows 4,880.
The payback percentages listed in the chart are all based on you playing perfect strategy.
- RF – Royal flush
- SF – Straight flush
- 4K – Four of a kind
- FH – Full house
- FL – Flush
- ST – Straight
- 3K – Three of a kind
- 2P – Two pair
- JoB – Pair of jacks or better
- % – Payback percentage
The most common tables are the first six in the chart. The 9 / 6 is the hardest to find, but you can still find them in many land based casinos and in most online casinos.
The other five common machines are found everywhere, with the worst ones usually in bars and illegal gambling houses. Any machine using less than the 8 / 6 pay table should be avoided, and many people won’t play on anything less than a 9 / 6.
One thing you need to watch for is on machines that offer single hand and multi hand play. Multiple hand play is the ability to play five, 10, or even 52 hands at the same time.
The way it works is you receive a five card starting hand and decide what to hold. The same cards are held for all of the hands and each hand uses its own deck to complete your draws. Each of the decks removes the same five cards you start with and then randomly draws a card or cards to replace your draws.
The thing to watch for is many of these machines offer the 9 / 6 pay table if you only play one hand but switch to a lower paying table if you play more than one hand at a time.
Many players assume all of the games are at 9 / 6 and end up playing with a higher house edge for a long time without realizing it.
The three best pay tables are rare. I only include them in the chart so you can see what a pay table needs to look like to be better than the 9 / 6 that’s commonly the best you can find.
Notice that in order for a machine to offer a 100% payback percentage the royal flush payout has to be 976 per coin compared to 800. And even if you find one of these machines to play, in order to achieve a break-even level of play you have to eventually hit a royal flush.
Also notice that with payback percentages of 99.9% and higher, if you get any kind of comps through a player’s club while playing these machines you’re basically playing with an edge against the casino.
When you see a Jacks or Better video poker machine use the chart above to determine the payback percentage. You’re fairly safe playing a 9 / 6 machine, but be wary of any other pay tables without checking their exact payback percentages.