5 Video Poker Tips for Beginners (Or Anyone Else)

Slot Machines at a Casino Floor - Video Poker Screenshot - Man Celebrating

I try not to be judgmental about people’s gambling habits.

But I am always baffled by people who play slot machines instead of playing video poker.

In no way do I understand how you would want to play a game with worse odds where your decisions are meaningless instead of video poker.

Maybe you’ve been playing slot machines for a long time and you’re ready to make the switch from slots to VP.

Or maybe you’re a real beginner at casino gambling, and you’re doing some reading before gambling. (If that’s you, kudos.)

Either way, these 5 video poker tips for beginners should help you have more fun your gambling dollar.

1- Understand Expected Return

With any gambling machine, expected return is the most important factor to concern yourself with. The phrase just refers to how much money you can statistically expect to get back when you play that machine.

You’ll often see expected return called “payback percentage” or “return to player.

These phrases all mean the same thing.

The expected return is a factor of the probability of getting a specific outcome along with its payout.

For example, if you’re playing a simple game where you bet $1, and you have a 50% probability of winning $1 on each bet, the expected return is 50 cents, or 50%.

That’s because half the time you’ll lose the dollar, and half the time you’ll win that dollar.

With gambling machines, it’s a little more complicated, but not much. For one thing, you’re trading the bet you made for your winnings (if any). That’s different from playing a table game. If you win in a table game, you get your original bet back along with your winnings.

The way those odds are explained is different. With table games, you refer to the payout odds as “X to Y,” while with gambling machines, you refer to the payout odds as “X for Y.”

That’s a major difference.

In blackjack, you get paid even money on most hands, or 1 to 1 odds. This means you make a $5 profit when you win a $5 bet.

But on a Jacks or Better video poker machine, you get paid 1 for 1 on a pair of jacks or better hand. This results in no profit and no loss, because the machine kept your $1 bet as soon as you hit the “play” button.

Here are the main things to remember about the expected return:

  1. The higher it is, the better. An expected return of 99% is better than an expected return of 95% by a significant margin.
  2. The expected return is a percentage of each bet that you can expect, on average, over a huge number of repetitions. For example, you won’t win 98 cents when you play a dollar on a video poker game with a 98% expected return. But that will be your average over time if you play long enough.

When you’re playing slot machines, you have no idea what the expected return for the game is.

But with video poker, you know the odds of winning and the payouts for winning, so the expected return for the game can be calculated.

2- Learn to Recognize the Games with the Best Expected Return Figures

Video poker, like slot machines, isn’t just one game. It’s a huge variety of games, all of which have some things in common, like paying out based on the strength of the poker hand you wind up with at the end of the game.

Jacks or Better is the most basic version of video poker. It’s the classic game that deals from a 5-card deck and allows you one round to discard and replace your cards. It also has no wild cards.

The payouts are based on the strength of your poker hand, but the amounts can vary from one game to the next – even if the 2 games are sitting right next to each other on the casino floor.

A full pay Jacks or Better game has an expected return of 99.54% if you play with optimal strategy. The payouts for the final hands in that game look like this:

  • 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 kind – 3 for 1
  • 2 pairs – 2 for 1
  • A pair of jacks or higher – 1 for 1
  • Anything else – 0 for 1

This is also called a 9/6 Jacks or Better game, because the payouts for the full house and the flush are 9 and 6 respectively.

When a casino wants to have a machine that makes more money for the casino, they just adjust the payouts for those 2 hands.

For example, 8/5 Jacks or Better game has the same payouts for every hand except the full house and the flush. The payback percentage for that game is considerably lower, though – 97.3%.

They even have lower payback machines with a 7/5 or 6/5 pay table.

Regardless of which version of video poker you play, you should learn which pay tables offer the best expected return. That’s the first step in getting good at video poker – finding and playing the best games.

Here are the best expected returns to look for with each variety:

  • Deuces Wild – 00.76%
  • Joker Wild – 100.65%
  • Aces & Eights – 100.25%
  • Double Bonus – 100.17%
  • Loose Deuces Wild – 100.15%
  • Double Bonus – 100.14%
  • Super Bonus Deuces Wild – 100.13%
  • Double Bonus Double Jackpot – 100.09%
  • Double Bonus Plus – 100.08%
  • Double Double Bonus – 100.07%

You’ll notice that all of the expected returns on those games are over 100%. This means that if you play with optimal strategy, you’ll actually have an edge over the house.

You can find websites where video poker enthusiasts scout games in casinos in Vegas and elsewhere to help other players find the best games.

3- Learn How to Play with Optimal Strategy

You can only get the returns listed above by using the optimal strategy for the game in question. Every game and every pay table has its own best strategy to use. The correct strategy is easy to find nowadays, too.

You can find strategy advice on any number of websites. Some sites even offer you the option to input the payout table for the game and get a customized strategy tailored specifically to that game.

But another, more practical option, is to buy one of the many computer programs that will teach you to use the correct strategy by playing on your personal computer.

These software programs offer you a playable version of video poker, but you don’t have to input money to play. You also can’t win any money.

Instead, the game analyzes the decisions you make and alerts you when you’ve made a mistake. The training software usually also points out what effect this mistake will have on your expected return if you make that mistake repeatedly in an actual casino.

You can shop around and find multiple kinds of video poker training software. Most of these programs aren’t particularly expensive.

4- Or Just Use a Video Poker Strategy Card as You Play

My favorite source for usable video poker strategy cards is Bob Dancer’s website. His “winner’s guide” series of books is also excellent and should be on the shelves of any serious video poker players.

Video Poker Strategy Card

These kinds of cards are similar to the blackjack basic strategy cards you see on the internet that you can print. Another option would be to just buy the formatted and laminated strategy cards available through Bob Dancer’s site.

5- Always Play with Your Slots Club Card Inserted

Even though all the video poker game examples above had an expected return of over 100%, you won’t usually be playing those games. I recommend trying to stick with the video poker games which have a return of at least 98%, though.

When you play with your slots club card inserted, you get an additional 0.2% of your action (give or take, depending on the casino) back in the form of rebates and comps from the casino.

If you combine that with the double or triple points happy hour promotions available at these casinos, you can get 0.4% or 0.6% back in the form of comps.

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This can take a good game, like full pay Jacks or Better, with its 99.54% expected return, and turn it into a great game with a close to break-even expected return or even a 100%+ return.

And don’t buy into the popular myths that playing with the slots club card inserted makes you lose more often or makes it impossible to hit the royal flush. That’s just baloney.

Conclusion

Video poker is the perfect gambling machine for beginners or intermediate gamblers. Heck, it’s even appropriate for casino gambling experts.

The trick is to find the games with the best expected return and play them with optimal strategy with your slots club card inserted.

What video poker tips would you offer a beginner?