Poker is the most iconic of all card games and enjoys worldwide popularity. It also has more variations than any other game. However, for most new players, video poker is the logical starting point and is the gateway to more complex game formats.
Here, we will cover the basics of the game from the beginner's perspective and give you tips on how to win at video poker.
We will also provide links along the way to other useful resources and guides that will help improve your win rates.
While video poker terminals are available in most casinos, playing the game online has exploded in popularity in recent years. For players who prefer to play from home, it is advised to only play at trusted and top-rated sites for video poker.
Five tips to increase your chances of beating video poker
Follow these five golden rules, and you will already be well on the way to beating the house:
1. Learn Five Card Draw
As we will soon discover, thereare numerous different video poker games. However, all of them are based on five card draw.
Before you do anything else, you need to learn the basic 5 card draw rules and, in particular, the comparative value of the different poker hands, such as four of a kind, a full house, or a straight flush.
2. Understand Mechanics of the Machine
When you first sit in front of a video poker machine, it might look complicated. However, there are only a handful of basic principles you need to understand. This short video guide is well worth ten minutes of your time to familiarize yourself with everything you need to know.
3. Choose the Right Pay Table
Every hand of video poker is drawn from a 52-card deck, so you have the same odds of being dealt three of a kind or a royal flush regardless of the machine you use (disregarding games that include jokers or wilds).
The paytable, therefore, provides vital information on your odds of winning, and in a game of Jacks or Better, the potential return could be as low as 97 percent or as high as 99.5 percent. We will look at this in more detail when we discuss full pay vs. low-pay games.
4. Choose the Right Game Variation
This is partially a matter of personal choice but also comes down to experience. A game like Jacks or Better is ideal for beginners, while variations like Deuces Wild appeal to more ambitious players with a little more experience. We will explore some strategy resources for different games in just a moment.
5. Manage Your Bankroll
This is a golden rule that applies to every casino game, and video poker is no exception. Never bet more than you can afford to lose. Decide in advance how much money you are prepared to wager, and stick to that plan no matter what. Sometimes, that is easier said than done, so self-discipline is a vital ingredient for success.
Video poker variations
When you approach a video poker machine, you will be presented with perhaps a dozen or more different variations to choose from. These all follow those five-card draw rules we mentioned but feature subtle differences.
Some are high volatility games, meaning the payouts for lesser hands like two pair are low, but you win more with a royal flush or four of a kind. Others introduce extra elements such as wild cards.
A good way to go about learning the best strategies for these different variations is by using a video poker trainer. These free online tools will provide you with different scenarios where you need to make the right decision, allowing you to learn at your own pace without risking a dime.
Full pay vs. low pay
From the above, it is clear that our old friend, the paytable is an important factor in differentiating between video poker variations. But as we’ve mentioned earlier, you sometimes see variations in the payouts even for the same game as you move from one machine to another.
Let’s look at Jacks or Better, the simplest form of video poker, by way of example.
In a full pay game of Jacks or Better, the return for a flush is six times the wager, and for a full house, it is nine times. Check these two payouts on the paytable, as on low pay games, the returns can be reduced to five times for a flush and six times for a full house.
The information is always there, but the casino will not shout it from the rooftops. You need to examine the paytable closely to make sure you are getting a full pay game.
Single-handed vs. multi-hand
In most games of video poker, you play one hand at a time. However, many online platforms are starting to introduce multi-hand games, where you play two, five, and even 100 hands all at once.
It can look tempting because you will inevitably get some good winning hands in the mix. However, keep in mind that each hand is its own wager.
So if you are betting five coins per hand, that means you lay down 500 coins if you play 100 hands at once.
It can be a swift way to blow your entire bankroll, and you will struggle to make the optimum decisions when trying to manage so many hands simultaneously. So, in general, you should approach multi-hand games with caution.
Basic video poker strategy
Each video poker game has its own subtleties when it comes to difficulty and odds. We will not cover these in-depth here but will mention three of the most popular ones and provide links to online strategy guides that you can read at your leisure.
1) Jacks or Better – the original, and some say the best form of video poker, this is where players typically start, and many see no reason to ever move on from it. As the name implies, you are rewarded for any hand equal to or better than a pair of jacks. Check out this Jacks or Better strategy guide for more details.
2) Deuces Wild – those who choose to advance on to a slightly more complex video poker variation often choose Deuces Wild. The twos (deuces) act as wild cards, meaning it is easier to form winning hands, but you’ll need three of a kind or better for any reward.
The game has higher volatility than most versions, so a good strategy and plenty of patience are essential. Get it right, however, and the RTP can be more than 100 percent.
3) Tens or Better – conversely, here’s a game with lower volatility that was almost unheard of a couple of years ago but has recently gained in popularity. Payouts are lower but more frequent, so it’s a good choice for those who play primarily for fun. If you follow the optimum strategy, the RTP is a very respectable 98.4 percent.
There are numerous other game variations. However, the above three choices will help you figure what levels of volatility and complexity you're comfortable with. These will guide you towards deciding which other video poker variations you should try.
If you’ve grown tired of classic table games like blackjack and baccarat but still want to have some fun with cards, video poker might be the way to go. Have fun playing, and good luck!