Video poker is an unusual casino game in multiple ways. For one thing, it’s a game that looks like a slot machine, but the differences in these games couldn’t be more pronounced. A slot machine is a game where the player has no decisions to make, and nothing the player does affects the outcome. Video poker is a game where the player has to make decisions on every bet, and everything the player does affects the outcome.
Besides that, video poker games come with varying pay tables. Some machines pay out more for certain outcomes than others, and being able to distinguish the higher-payout video poker machines from the lower-payout games is the first skill a winning video poker player learns. Compare that to games like blackjack, roulette, and craps, where the winnings for various outcomes are more-or-less standard.
The purpose of this page is to provide an introduction to video poker, its history, how to play the game, and how to win more often.
Video poker is far newer than most casino games. Blackjack is at least 400 years old, and roulette is a little more than 200 years old. Even slot machines have been around close to a century. But video poker didn’t become available until the 1970s.
In a sense, video poker is a computerized solitaire game based on five card draw. Early versions of the game weren’t popular, because they didn’t pay off frequently enough. A slight change in the payout structure solved that problem, and over the next twenty years, video poker has become a casino mainstay.
Video poker games appeal to players who want to make decisions affecting the outcome of the game, but who might not enjoy the social component of playing blackjack. In a sense, it’s a midway point between blackjack, which is all about skill and socializing, and slot machines, which is all about luck and solitude. Video poker is all about skill and solitude.
Playing video poker is easy. The computer deals you five cards. You choose which cards to keep and which ones to throw away. The computer replaces the cards you threw away, and then, based on the ranking of the poker hand you wound up with, pays off a predetermined amount. This amount is based on the pay table for the machine, which is posted above the screen. The harder it is to hit a hand, the more the machine pays out.
The most basic type of video poker is Jacks or Better, so called because any pair of jacks or higher wins at least even money. The biggest payout is for the royal flush. Variations of Jacks or Better that pay bonuses for specific hands are called “Bonus Poker” games, and there are a wide variety of those available, too.
The second most common type of video poker is Deuces Wild. The game plays just like Jacks or Better, but deuces are wild cards. You need better hands to achieve the same kinds of payouts, and the strategy decisions for Deuces Wild are significant in comparison to Jacks or Better.
The first step in learning how to win at video poker is to realize that even though the house edge is small, it still exists. That means that winning at video poker over the long term isn’t realistic. Whenever the house has an edge over a player, the longer the player plays, the more likely she is to lose all her money.
Some versions of Deuces Wild offer an expert player a tiny edge over the house, but those machines are hard to find, and playing well enough to gain that edge is a tough endeavor, too. Your time might be better spent learning how to count cards in blackjack.
The best payout structure for Jacks or Better is a 9/6 game, which means a game which pays off at 9 to 1 for a full house and 6 to 1 for a flush. The house has roughly a 0.5% edge in this game, IF you play with perfect strategy. If you make mistakes, that edge goes up. Theoretically, if you could find a slots club that offers rebates and perks greater than 0.5% on the money you wagered, you could break even or even profit consistently on these games.
There’s only one problem, though—9/6 games are hard to find. Casino managers understand about Jacks or Better payoffs as well as most players, so they have most machines programmed to pay off at 8/5 or even 7/5. That increases the house edge by 2-4%, which is comparable to the house edge at a European roulette table.
On the other hand, video poker offers a lot of entertainment at a low price for people who learn how to read pay tables and memorize the correct playing strategies. Almost any video poker game, no matter how bad the pay table is, still offers better odds than a slot machine, even if the player isn’t an expert.
If you like doing your own thing in the casino, and you also enjoy the challenge of making the correct decision in various gambling situations, video poker is hard to beat. The best way to “win” at casino gambling is to be crystal clear about what you hope to get out of the experience. If you want a chance at a life-changing jackpot of six or seven figures, then progressive slot machines are the game to play. If you’re willing to accept more modest (but more likely) returns, video poker is a better fit.