How to Become a Good Video Poker Player

Casino Card Suites Image With Video Poker Background

I explained the basics of how to play video poker in my previous post on the subject, Video Poker Games in Casinos (2020 Guide). They’re not complicated.

But playing well – being an expert – that’s an entirely different animal.

The house edge, of course, in video poker, depends on how well you play.

And there are 2 critical skills involved in becoming a good video poker player:

  1. Choosing the right video poker machines
  2. Playing the hands optimally.

Since there are so many video poker games available, and since more video poker games are becoming available daily, becoming an expert video poker player is no small task.

The Broad Categories of Video Poker Games

One of my favorite ways to try to understand a subject is to break it down into its subcategories. With video poker, the first 2 subcategories are broad enough:

  1. Games without wild cards – This includes Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker
  2. Games with wild cards – This includes Deuces Wild or Joker Poker

You can subcategorize these even further – there are dozens (if not hundreds) of video poker variations in each of those 2 categories.

Depending on the paytable, and assuming you use the appropriate strategy, the payback percentage for any of these games can vary from 90% to slightly over 100%.

And if video poker seems complicated to you, don’t fret. When you become more knowledgeable about the game, you’ll realize how simple the game is.

The great thing about video poker, in fact, is that you can figure out exactly what the payback percentage is. This is something you can’t do with slot machines.

That doesn’t mean you can figure this out without doing some work. Most people need computer software rather than a pencil and paper.

But it’s work that CAN be done, which is a whole different story from slot machine games.

Any Series of Video Poker Blog Posts Will Be Incomplete

It would be impossible to cover everything there is to know about video poker in a single series of blog posts. Multiple books have been written about video poker, and they’re all incomplete.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get off to a good start with video poker through a series of blog posts, and that’s what I’m offering here.

Row of Video Poker Machines

I intend to include basic strategies for at least 2 of the major video poker variations, but I’ll also include details about where to find more video poker strategies for other games.

And remember how I said that video poker is simple?

You need to understand 3 things to get to that simplicity:

  1. How volatile the game is
  2. How to play each hand optimally
  3. How to read the paytables

Video poker is infinitely more interesting than slot machines. I prefer video poker for that reason alone – even if the odds were the same, I’d want to play the game that offered me some intellectual stimulation.

And even though the strategies can be complicated, they’re not rocket surgery, either. Anyone can learn to play video poker well.

I’m not just interested in offering you the basic strategies for the games, though.

I want you to understand the underpinnings of the games.

Where to Start With Video Poker

The best place to start with video poker is with a variation called Jacks or Better. This is the most basic video poker game, and it’s a variation of the original video poker game, Draw Poker, which was released in 1979.

The original Draw Poker was a cool game, but you only got a winning hand if you had 2 pairs or better. This made the game discouraging and volatile, so it wasn’t as popular as it could be. Gamblers just don’t like losing money on that high a percentage of their hands.

Jacks or Better is almost just like Draw Poker, but the difference was both big and small:

Jacks or Better pays off even money if you get a pair of jacks, queens, kings, or aces.

The popularity of video poker skyrocketed after the introduction of Jacks or Better, and it shows no real signs of slowing down.

And Jacks or Better is still one of the most popular video games in the casino. You could consider it the standard video poker game, of which all other video poker games are just variants.

Jacks or Better is great for video poker beginners because the strategy is so easy to learn and understand.

And if you play well, Jacks or Better video poker has a payback percentage of 99.5%, which means that the house edge for the game is only 0.5%.

What does that mean?

In the long run, the math behind Jacks or Better ensures that for every $100 you gamble, you’ll only lose an average of 50 cents.

And this makes Jacks or Better one of the best bets in the casino.

You can find a handful of video poker variations which offer better odds, but their strategies are invariably more complicated than Jacks or Better strategy.

Jacks or Better should be your first staple of video poker. It’s not necessarily exciting, but then again, neither is a burger, fries, and Coke.

But they’re both cheap and satisfying.

You might want a fancier meal some of the time, but much of the time, the burger and fries will do the trick.

And once you understand Jacks or Better, you’re a long way down the road toward understanding other video poker games.

The Importance of the Paytable in Video Poker

Nothing is more important in video poker than the paytable.

That’s the clue to making video poker easier to understand. If you can understand the paytable, you can understand whether a game is worth playing.

On a slot machine, the paytable is window dressing. Sure, it’s fun to know that 3 cherries trigger a 1000-coin jackpot.

But if you don’t know the probability of getting 3 cherries, it’s kind of meaningless.

On a video poker game, if you know the pay table, you can calculate the payback percentage for the game if you play it correctly.

On older video poker games in brick and mortar casinos, the paytable might be printed on the glass above the machine. It’s more common now to find the paytable on the screen itself.

One of the aspects of the paytable worth paying attention to is that the payoffs are based on how many credits you’ve risked. The payout for 2 coins is twice as much as the payout for a single coin, for example.

The odds don’t change based on the number of coins you play – with ONE important exception:

The royal flush.

The royal flush sees a big jump in the payout odds when you’ve wagered 5 coins – the max coin bet.

The royal flush pays off at 250 for 1 if you bet 1 coins, 2 coins, 3 coins, or 4 coins.

But if you bet 5 coins, the royal flush pays off at 800 for 1.

That’s the jackpot.

Video Poker Machine Screen

Most video poker writers will advise you to always place the max coin bet, but, like most things in gambling, that advice isn’t applicable to every gambler in every situation.

It’s important to realize that the payoffs on a video poker paytable are in an “x for y” format rather than an “x to y” format (which is the standard for table games).

This means that your original bet is included in the payoff amount.

Since a pair of jacks, queens, kings, or aces pays off at 1 for 1, this means you only get your bet back. You don’t see any profit.

In Jacks or Better, you only start to see a profit if you get 2 pairs or better.

That might sound awful, but it’s better than you think. You’ll get your bet back often enough that you’ll be able to stay in the game longer and fight for bigger payouts.

You also need to understand that the payoffs are in credits not dollars. The credits are based on the denomination of the machine. On a quarter machine, a credit is worth 25 cents. On a dollar machine, a credit is worth a dollar.

The max bet – the 5-coin bet – on a quarter machine is $1.25. On a dollar machine, it’s $5.

If you want to calculate the dollar amount of a payoff on a quarter machine, just divide the payoff by 4. A royal flush, for example, on a quarter machine, is worth $1000. (4000 credits divided by 4 equals $1000.)

On a dollar machine, you don’t need to do any math. The amount of the payoff is already in dollars because of the denomination of the game.


This is the 2nd in a series of posts about real money video poker, the best game in almost any casino. I’ve suggested that you start with Jacks or Better and pay close attention to the pay table.

In the next post, I’m going to dig into Jacks or Better and its paytables more closely.