Ever since I discovered a decommissioned Game King machine in my grandfather’s den, I’ve been fascinated by video poker. Jacks or Better, Joker Poker, Double Double Bonus, Deuces Wild… How could a single machine be home to such multitudes?
These days, I grind the Game Kings at my favorite Las Vegas casinos. But my love for the game originated in that cozy den way back when. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the real money video poker community, especially the slang terms coined by its diverse members.
Full Pay Video Poker
In video poker parlance, a “full pay” game is one which offers the best possible pay table, and thus the highest possible payback percentage (more on this to come).
For example, in the foundational game known as Jacks or Better, most versions pay out nine coins for making a full house and six coins for landing a flush. The full 9/6 pay table can be found below.
Jacks or Better 9/6 Full Pay Table:
|Four of a Kind||25|
|Three of a Kind||3|
|One Pair (Jacks or Better)||1|
When you play Jacks or Better using this 9/6 full pay table, the game offers players who use basic strategy a 99.54% payback rate.
Thus, you’ll find 8/6 and 9/5 pay tables on Jacks or Better, which is one way casinos trick unsuspecting players. They see most of the numbers they’re used to, like the 250 coins for a royal flush and 50 coins for a straight flush, so they don’t bother thinking about why those crucial full house and flush payouts are slightly different.
But as you can see below, these modified pay tables are always worse than their full pay alternative.
Jacks or Better Pay Table Comparison:
|Pay Table||Payback Rate|
These so-called “low pay” versions of the game are scorned by sharp video poker players, and for good reason. Sacrificing percentage points off of your payback rate only gives the house a helping hand, and the casinos don’t need any additional help if you ask me.
Now that I’ve touched on the concept of payback percentage, here’s how these essential data points really work.
With a payback rate of 99.54% on 9/6 full pay Jacks or Better, for every $100 you put into the machine, you can theoretically expect to bring back $99.54 over the long run.
*That’s a theoretical probability, mind you. In reality, you’ll be losing the full $100, winning a few hundred, hitting the jackpot, or breaking even on any given session
If you’re familiar with the term “house edge” which is used by table game players, just think of payback percentage as the inverse side of the same coin. In this case, the casino’s house edge on 9/6 Jacks or Better stands at 0.46%.
But when you slip up and put money on an 8/6 low pay machine instead, your payback rate plummets to 98.39%. Just like that, the house’s edge swells from 0.46% to 1.61%—a statistically significant increase to say the least.
Video poker players use payback percentage rates to compare the different variants found on the standard Game King machine.
Bonus Poker, for example, runs with a payback rate of 99.17% on its 8/5 full pay version. Aces and Faces climbs to 99.26% on its 8/5 full pay table, while Double Double Bonus bumps it up to 99.44% on the 10/6 full pay game.
You can even find payback rates that climb above 100%, meaning a master of basic strategy actually enjoys a slight edge over the house on every hand. Deuces Wild is the de facto favorite for edge chasers, as it provides a sweet 100.76% payback rate on the 15/9/5 full pay version.
With that said, most casinos don’t spread full pay Deuces Wild machines for that very reason, so look for the variant offering 16 coins for five of a kind, 10 coins for a straight flush, and four coins for four of a kind. This game, known as “Not So Ugly Deuces,” creates a payback rate of 99.73%—higher than full pay Jacks or Better.
Kicker (With Four of a Kind)
In certain video poker variants like Double Double Bonus, the pay table is stretched out to divide four of a kind hands according to their rank of the fifth remaining card. Better known as the “kicker,” this fifth card can mean the difference between 400 coins and 160 coins.
Here’s how kickers work in Double Double Bonus… This variant is all about four of a kind hands, so players tend to shoot for “quads” whenever the opportunity arises. Landing any quads of 5s through Kings is good for 40 coins per coin wagered, but that’s the bottom rung of the ladder.
Next up are quads in either 2s, 3s, or 4s, which doubles the payout to 80 coins per coin in. From there, four of a kind in aces ups the ante to 160 coins per coin bet.
And here’s where the kicker commotion comes into play. If you land four of a kind in aces with a 2, 3, or 4 kicker, that payout climbs to 400 coins. The same goes for a quads in 2s, 3s, or 4s with an ace, 2, 3, or 4 kicker.
Essentially, you’re looking to land certain four of a kind hands (aces, 2s, 3s, or 4s) coupled with an ace, 2, 3, or 4 kicker. When you do, you’ll earn a premium jackpot payout that actually equals that paid out on a royal flush.
Several games use the kicker conceit, so be sure to check your pay tables carefully so you know exactly which kickers to hold onto before the draw.
In poker parlance, a “pat” hand is simply any hand that doesn’t require a draw to improve. For video poker players, you might see the screen light up with a 4-5-6-7-8 combination for a pat straight. Any five cards of the same suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts, or spades) is good for a pat flush.
Of course, pat hands can be broken when the situation calls for it. If you catch something like the Ace-King-Queen-Jack-10 straight (better known as “Broadway”), but four of the five cards are suited, you actually have a dilemma on your hands.
You could keep the pat straight intact and lock in the four-coin payout, or you could keep the four-card royal flush combo and hope to hit the fifth card for a 4,000-coin jackpot. Royal flushes are quite rare (as you’ll learn about below), so you’ll be sacrificing that small four-coin payout more often than not. With that said, how many four-coin giveaways will be worth it when you finally bag the elusive royal flush jackpot.
For what it’s worth, Jacks or Better basic strategy advises players to chase the royal flush every time in the scenario above.
You know royal flushes are rare in a five-card draw game like Jacks or Better. But just how rare are they?
Well, to score a pat royal on the initial draw involves odds of 1 in 649,740, making it an extreme long shot. But when you factor in the holding round, video poker drawing odds make your chances of running into a royal flush at 1 in 40,391 hands.
This 40k-hand interval is known as the “royal cycle,” because players can expect to cycle through that many random hands before finally breaking through.
Gain Control by Playing Casino Video Poker
Learning to play video poker is one of the only ways in the house where players have a semblance of control over the action. Sure, those first five cards come your way completely at random. But from there, you get to decide which ones to hold and which to fold.
This ability to apply skill and strategy is what makes video poker classics like Jacks or Better such a favorable game. But for my money, it’s the slang tossed back and forth between video poker aficionados that makes the game so special.