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The Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Video Poker Games

Video Poker Games
Video poker is often touted as being so superior to slot machines that you might feel like a fool if you prefer slots games to VP games. I disagree with that assessment. Some players prefer games of pure chance where they don’t have to make decisions.

Also, not all video poker games are created equal. Depending on the pay table, you might find a game with a lower payback percentage than some of the slot machine games in that casino.

And not all video poker games in all casinos are really video poker games. In some jurisdictions, these games only look like video poker—their results are entirely random, rather than being generated using a random number generator that emulates a deck of cards.

This is especially true in casinos that use a bingo game algorithm to power their gambling machines.

All that being said, video poker IS fun, and it’s one of the best games in the casino for most players, odds-wise.

This post has all the tips you need to play like an expert.

1- DON’T Ever Play for Less than 5 Coins

The most important thing you need to understand in video poker is that the top jackpot pays out more if you’re betting 5 coins. If you’re betting 1, 2, 3, or 4 coins, it pays out MUCH less.

How much less?

The top jackpot is for a royal flush, and it traditionally plays off at 200 for 1 or 250 for 1 if you’re playing for 1 to 4 coins.

But if you’re playing for 5 coins, a royal flush pays off at 800 for 1.

You’ll only see a royal flush on average once every 40,000 hands, but getting 4 times the size of the payout for that hand has a huge effect on your overall payback percentage.

If you’re playing full pay Jacks or Better, which has a payback percentage of 99.54%, but you only play a single coin for every hand, the payback percentage drops to about 98.5%.

That doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but it actually triples the amount of money the casino expects to win from you on average from that game.

It’s not the end of the world if you can’t afford to play for 5 coins per hand, but it does mean you’ll lose money faster at this game.

You also won’t get the same thrill from hitting the jackpot hand, which is half the fun of video poker to begin with.

The house edge is low enough on a good video poker game that even the lowest of low rollers can usually afford the 5-coin bet ($1.25 on a quarter machine).

2- DO Start with Jacks or Better

The most basic form of video poker is called Jacks or Better. It’s based on 5-card draw, just as most video poker games are. There are no wild cards, and you have one drawing round before you get paid off based on the strength of the poker hand you wind up with.

The hands that pay off start with a pair of jacks, queens, kings, or aces. Any pair lower than that (10s or lower) doesn’t pay off.

Any hand that makes a poker hand better than a pair also pays off. This includes 3 of a kind, a straight, a flush, a full house, 4 of a kind, a straight flush, and a royal flush.

Understanding how to play Jacks or Better is practically a requirement for learning to play any other variation. You could even say that 99% of the video poker variations out there are really just variations of Jacks or Better.

The differences in the game boil down to the payouts for the different hands and the presence of wild cards. Some video poker games just have different pay tables, like Bonus Poker or Double Bonus Poker. Other video poker games include wild cards, which necessitates changing the pay table to accommodate the stronger than average hands.

3- DON’T Quit Your Day Job to Play Video Poker Full Time

Even though it’s possible to find video poker pay tables where the player gets a positive mathematical expectation if he plays with perfect strategy, it’s all but impossible to earn a living playing video poker. The reason why boils down to simple math.

Let’s say you find a good video poker game with a payback percentage of 100.2%. This means that you have a 0.2% edge over the casino.

Any casino that offers a pay table this generous is only going to allow you to play for a quarter, so you’re looking at putting $1.25 into action per hand.

If you play 600 hands per hour, then you’re putting $750 per hour into action.

Your expected average win on that kind of action is 0.2% X $750, or $1.50/hour.

Even if you take advantage of the slots club, you can only add 0.5% to your expectation tops. That’s a big increase, yes, but it only increases your hourly expected earn rate to $3.75.

That’s half of minimum wage. You’d be better off getting a job at McDonalds flipping burgers.

There are legitimate ways to earn a living gambling, but video poker doesn’t offer the same kind of opportunities to advantage players that other gambling games do.

Skilled poker players can earn $100 or more at the tables. Card counters can generate $100 per hour or more, too. Professional sports bettors see a huge ROI on their money, too.

But video poker isn’t a good route to go down if you want to be a professional gambler.

4- DO Learn How to Read the Pay Tables for the Different Games

I mentioned the pay table for Jacks or Better earlier. Here’s the best pay table available at most casinos—it’s called a  9/6 pay table. Read through this pay table and see if you can figure out why it’s called 9/6 Jacks or Better:

  • Royal flush – 800 for 1
  • Straight flush – 50 for 1
  • 4 of a kind – 25 for 1
  • Full house – 9 for 1
  • Flush – 6 for 1
  • Straight – 4 for 1
  • 3 of a king – 3 for 1
  • 2 pairs – 2 for 1
  • A pair of jacks or better – 1 for 1

If you’ll notice, the payout for the full house is 9 for 1, and the payout for a flush is 6 for 1. These are the 2 hands which get their payouts adjusted when the casino is trying to make a video poker machine more profitable.

On an 8/5 Jacks or Better game, the payoff for a full house would be8 for 1, and the payout for a flush is 5 for 1.

What does this do to the payback percentage for the game?

Assuming you’re playing with perfect strategy, the payback percentage for the 9/6 Jacks or Better game is 99.54%.

The payback percentage for the 8/5 Jacks or Better game is 97.3%.

The house edge for the full pay game is 0.46%, and the house edge for the 8/5 game is 2.70%.

What does this do the amount you expect to lose per hour?

Let’s assume you’re playing a dollar game and betting max coins, or $5 per hand. You’re putting $3000 per hour into action, and your expected loss is the house edge multiplied by the amount of your hourly action.

In this case, you’re looking at $13.80 in average hourly losses on the full pay game.

On the 8/5 Jacks or Better game, though, your expected hourly loss is $81.

That’s a whopping difference just for a 1-coin change in payout on 2 hands, which underlines why it’s so important to learn how to read the pay tables on these games.

The Jacks or Better games aren’t the only games where you need to understand the difference in payouts, though. You should learn these for all the video poker games you’re interested in playing.

5- DON’T Play So Fast

For most people, video poker games are negative expectation games. If you play long enough, the math behind the payouts and the probabilities of winning practically guarantees that you’ll be a net loser.

This is why you should think of video poker as an entertainment expense.

The next step in thinking intelligently about video poker is to look at how much that expense costs you on average over time. I’ve already demonstrated how you can calculate your average expected hourly loss.

But here’s the trick to getting that average as low as possible:

Play fewer hands per hour.

If you can slow down your game, you can cut the amount of money you’re losing per hour in half.

If you’re playing 300 hands per hour instead of 600 hands per hour, your expected loss on the 9/6 Jacks or Better game drops to a miniscule $6.91/hour.

Even on the 8/5 game, your expected loss per hour drops to $40.50/hour.

How do you slow down?

Talk to someone you’re playing with. Wait and take a few deep breaths between hands. Take lots of breaks.

You’ll probably find that you’re enjoying video poker more by playing more slowly, too.

6- DO Learn the Appropriate Strategy for the Game You Choose to Play

If you know anything about blackjack—and if you’ve been reading my blog, I’m sure you do—you know that there’s an appropriate basic strategy for the game. If you follow that strategy, you can achieve the lowest possible house edge for the game.

Video poker is the same way. The expected payback percentage that you keep reading about assumes that you’re playing the game perfectly. For many people, this is far from the truth.

We’ve already talked about what an effect of 1% or 2% in additional house edge means to your average hourly loss rate.

But some players are so bad at video poker they’re giving up 3% or more.

Video poker strategy cards are easy enough to find. You can find websites which generate computer-perfect strategies, or you can buy some of the strategy guides from Bob Dancer or Jean Scott. You can also find several good books about video poker which explain strategy approaches for the various games.

These tables are easy enough to use, too. They just present a chart listing the possible hands in order of desirability. You just start at the top of that list, comparing your hand with the hands on the table. The highest ranked hand on the chart that matches your hand represents the cards you should hold—you would discard the rest (if any).

7- DON’T Play without Inserting Your Players’ Club Card First

You’ll hear all kinds of crazy, irrational statements from various gamblers or self-professed gambling “experts.” One of my favorite myths is the one about how the machines don’t pay out the same if you’re playing with your video poker card inserted.

The player’s club is just a way for the casino to track how much you’re wagering so they’ll know what the appropriate rewards are for your level of play. These usually take the form of rebates or free meals, lodging, and that sort of thing.

The random number generator determines the outcome of each hand via its algorithm, which duplicates the odds you’d see with a deck of cards. Having the player’s club card inserted has no effect on how those results are generated.

It wouldn’t make sense for the casinos to punish you for inserting your rewards card. They’re only awarding you 0.2% back in rewards, anyway—that’s not enough to change their games so that they’re unprofitable.

This applies to both slot machines and video poker machines.

To get the most entertainment for your money, you should never play a video poker game without inserting your credit card first.

8- DO Manage Your Bankroll Appropriately

There’s a difference between bankroll management and money management, even though the 2 concepts are related.

Bankroll management just means managing your bankroll in such a way that makes sense for your goals. If you’re an advantage gambler, this usually means having a large enough bankroll that you minimize your probability of going broke.

When you’re an advantage gambler, you have an edge over the house. This doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win. A mathematical edge is a long-term advantage. In the short run, the results are random, so anything can happen.

Think about it this way:

If the house has an edge of roughly 0.5%, they’re expecting you to lose 50 cents every time you wager $100.

But that’s not what happens.

The ultimate example of the short run is a single hand of video poker.

Losing 50 cents on a single video poker hand is impossible on a $100 bet.

The only possible outcomes include losing $100, breaking even, or winning $100 or more.

That’s why we say that the house edge represents  a long-term expected AVERAGE.

But if you lose your entire bankroll before reaching the long run, you’ll never see that average kick in, because you’ve already gone broke.

The bigger your bankroll is, the better able to withstand the vagaries of chance you become.

On the other hand, if you’re a recreational gambler, you’ll just want to make sure you have enough money to avoid going broke while you’re having fun. Your bankroll management comes from a completely different place, because you have a different goal.

Money management, on the other hand, involves setting stop loss goals and win goals to help you increase your chances of winning. The idea is that you’ll quit a particular session of video poker once you’ve either lost or won an arbitrary amount of your bankroll.

This doesn’t really help you win more often, but it can be a fun way to play.

9- DON’T Play Video Poker at Rogue Online Casinos

You’ve probably figure this out already, or at least suspected it:

Not all online casinos are honest.

I’ve read reports of at least one online casino that offered a video poker game where a player went for several hundred hands without getting a single payout. The probability of that happening is astronomical. You should see some kind of winning hand in almost any video poker variation about half the time.

This isn’t the problem you’ll run into at most rogue casinos, though.

They don’t generally rig their software to make you lose.

They’re more likely to interfere with your ability to cash out. They might delay your withdrawal, or just kick it out entirely for some trumped up reason related to something you did that doesn’t even make sense. They might label you as a “bonus abuser,” for example.

Or they might just limit the amount you’re allowed to cash out each week.

I’m not suggesting that most online casinos are rogue outfits. They’re not.

In fact, I think at least half the online casinos in operation run honest businesses.

But that leaves half of them which might cause you problems.

Want to avoid them?

Stick with the casinos recommended on this site. We’ve done a lot of research into reputations so we could avoid recommending someone who might rip you off.

10- DO Scout Out the Best Games at the Best Casinos

You can find multiple resources for scouting out the best pay tables. For online casinos, you can just review the software reviews for pay table information related to the video poker games offered at the internet casino you’re looking at.

If you’re planning to play at a brick and mortar casino, scouting is a little tougher. You could do a lot of footwork and looking around the casinos for the appropriate pay tables. In fact, that’s unavoidable, because any information you find on the internet might be irrelevant or dated by the time you read about it.

But you can also find communities of video poker players who post scouting reports to the web to help you find the best casinos with the best video poker payouts. Some of these reports even include details about where within each casino the best games can be found.

Believe it or not, you can sometimes find identical video poker games sitting right next to each other with different pay tables. And those different pay tables provide you with different payback percentages.

The difference of just 1% or 2% can change how fast you’re going to lose your money dramatically. It can also change how likely you are to win.

So find the best pay tables before you ever sit down to play.

Conclusion

If you like gambling machines, video poker games are your best bet in the casino.

But not all video poker games are created equally.

Learning to distinguish between video poker pay tables is a crucial skill if you’re a serious gambler. Luckily, everything you need to know about that can be learned on the internet or via most good books on the subject of video poker.

Following the right strategy and always playing max coins are also easy ways to make sure you get the most for you money at the video poker machines.

Common sense should tell you to not gamble with money you can’t afford to lose, but that advice needs to be repeated ad nauseam, apparently. People still lose their fortunes all the time playing video poker and other casino games, no matter how many well-intentioned gambling writers repeat that advice.

Table games are great, but if you like gambling machines, video poker is so much better than slot machine gambling that it’s not even in the same ballpark.