Basic Video Poker Strategy

by Enrico
Updated Video Poker Guides, Tips, Strategy

Video Poker StrategyBeat the machines with our basic Video Poker Strategy … When people go to the casinos of the world, they usually know exactly what they want to play when they get there. For some people, games like slots and keno online whet their appetite. But for more serious players, poker is the only way to go. And video poker proves to be especially popular since you get to enjoy it by yourself.

Poker involves a curious mixture of luck and skill that makes every game exciting and unique. Because you have control over the outcome, poker appeals to high-skill players looking to win big. But how do you actually manage to win more at video poker? Despite what you might have read this game is certainly different from what you see on the tables. In fact, it’s a game that has provided its very own casino sub-genre.

The secret is to strike the right balance between manipulating the odds in your favor versus allowing luck to take the reins. Skilled video poker players spend years mastering this balance, and this guide will help you get started on that path. What we’re looking at here today is a couple of scenarios that you’ll likely face when you play video poker and how you should react using a simple video poker strategy.

Now, we’re not saying that these situations are common or uncommon, so there is no guarantee that they’ll pop up every time you play. However, these scenarios can put a video poker outcome on a knife-edge, so these responses should help you head towards victory rather than ruing a missed opportunity.

Scenario No. 1 – Go for Royal flush or hold the pair of aces?

In video poker, everything involves a calculated risk no matter the move you make. The mathematical odds to obtain any kind of hand are well-known, and knowing the right time to take a risk is everything. There are some moments where it’s better to wait and see rather than push the boat out and switch up your hand.

4 Cards to a Royal Flush

A Royal Flush is the ultimate hand, any poker pro will tell you that, as it trumps all others and results in the biggest payouts. As you might expect, this is the hardest type of hand to get. Suppose you have two held Aces, as well as a King, Queen, and 10 in your hand. You’ve got a pair, as well as the chance to get a Royal Flush. What do you do? There is a known return for each type of hand, as well as the chance that you’ll get the card you need. With the right knowledge, it is possible to measure the odds versus payout for each type of hand. We call this the expected return.

How can we calculate this expected return?

If you’re bad at math, then you’re going to struggle with this. Skilled video poker players are able to do this entirely in their heads, but that’s a developed skill. These players can know their odds simply by looking at the cards they have, but most people prefer to let computers do all of the computational legwork.

But let’s say you’re interested in how the math behind expected returns works. Then you’re in luck – we’ll be using our discussed example to show you how to make these calculations and what to look for when deciding what to do in a situation just like the one we mentioned above.

Based upon the remaining cards in the deck when we hold that pair of aces, we know that there is a total of 16,125 combinations that can be dealt to us when we draw. Of this 16,125, 11,559 are pairs, 2,592 results in two pairs, 1,854 gives you a three of a kind, 165 yields a full house, and 45 give you a four of a kind. Not too bad, right? It gets riskier if you want to go for a Royal Flush.

If you instead choose to hold cards to get a Royal Flush draw, then you only have 47 outcomes. Only one of those will be a Royal Flush, while 8 will be an ordinary flush and 3 a straight.

Here’s where hardcore computation is required, so stick with us. The odds of a Royal Flush are 1 in 47, which is just over 2%. Now multiply that by the payout to get a partial expected value of 85.11. If we combine the expected value of all the other winning combinations, then the total value comes out to 92.34. Keep in mind, this 92.34 is only valid if you are holding on to the Royal Flush combination. We will do the same for the pair of Aces that we hold, and this value comes out to just 7.68.

From the above, we can conclude that holding the pair of Aces is not the right move to make if we want to maximize our winnings. This analysis shows that while the odds of getting a Royal Flush are very slim, the expected payout from going for it makes it a vastly better option than holding on to the Aces.

This is just one example of how calculating the expected return enables you to make the most advantageous decision for yourself. Just knowing this kind of strategy will pay off big dividends in the future, and you don’t even need to do all the math in your head. Computers usually do the heavy lifting for us; we just need to know how the math works and how to tell the computer the information we want. With this info, we can make the best decision every time.

Scenario No. 2 – Go for a straight or hold a small pair?

Video Poker Royal flushA Royal flush is the best outcome in any game of video poker, no matter the variation you are playing, but suppose we instead have a 5 and 8 of hearts, a 5 and 7 of clubs, and a 6 of spades. In this scenario, we have two main options: we can hold on to the pair of fives and hope for something better, or we can take a bigger risk and go for a straight, which will pay off much more.

Using the method of expected returns, holding a pair gives us a value of 4.118, and going for a straight gives us a 3.404. These values are easily computed in video poker since the paytable is readily available for viewing.

Now, keep in mind something really important – paytables are not the same from one video poker machine to the next. While a pair of fives is usually the better option to hold on to, your expected return might change on a different machine. This is why it’s so important to understand how the math works – you’ll have a much better understanding of how the odds change from one machine to the next. This strategy can be applied to any machine, but how it’s executed isn’t the same.

If you haven’t caught on yet, you probably noticed that all of the plays discussed in this article are for Jacks or Better. The basic concept behind expected returns is useful for any video poker game, but we suggest reading up on other game types to know how to use it properly. The reason we picked Jacks or Better poker as the game to run these calculations through is simple, it’s far and away from the most popular version of video poker around.

Simple vs Optimal Strategy for Video Poker Players

When playing video poker, there are two main categories of strategies: simple and optimal. Simple strategy, also known as basic strategy, involves finding combinations of cards that have similar payouts and grouping them together. This makes it relatively easy to memorize and employ, and since the difference between the expected and maximum payout is small, it usually works pretty well.

An optimal strategy involves trying to go for the maximum possible payout, which is much harder to do. For Jacks or Better, the difference between simple and optimal payouts is a meager 0.08%. Unless you’re betting a lot of money, this won’t amount to much. We wouldn’t go as far to say that optimal strategy play constitutes going for broke, but should you head in that direction you would definitely be pushing your luck to the extreme.

Jacks or Better Video Poker Strategy Chart

The table we’re about to post will give you the winning combinations that form the core of a simple video poker strategy. The best combos are listed on the top, and descend towards the lowest-value ones, we’ve ranked them from 1 to 15 just so it’s clear. If you follow this chart to a tee, you’ll be able to make the most efficient choices and maximize your winnings from one game to the next.

  • Hand No. 1 – Royal Flush, 4-of-a-kind, Straight Flush
  • Hand No. 2 – 4 out of 5 cards of a Royal Flush
  • Hand No. 3 – Straight, 3-of-a-Kind, Straight, Full House
  • Hand No. 4 – 4 out of 5 cards for a Straight Flush
  • Hand No. 5 – Two Pair
  • Hand No. 6 – High Pair (Royal Suite or Aces)
  • Hand No. 7 – 3 out of 5 cards of a Royal Flush
  • Hand No. 8 – 4 out of 5 cards in a Flush
  • Hand No. 9 – Low Pair
  • Hand No. 10 – Open-ended Straight Draw
  • Hand No. 11 – Two High Cards with the same suit
  • Hand No. 12 – 3 out of 5 cards of a Straight Flush
  • Hand No. 13 – Two High Cards with different suits
  • Hand No. 14 – 10, King, Queen, or Jack suited
  • Hand No. 15 – High Card

Be Wary of Bad Paytables

You know the strategy of video poker now and a little more about how you can put it into effect. But, don’t think the casinos are aware of this, so they’ll do the best they can to baffle you with statistics to throw your calculations off. Earlier we mentioned what a pair of fives can mean across different machines and this bears repeating and explaining further.

The biggest problem with video poker is that many casinos change up paytables on games frequently to keep players guessing. They also like to limit the best paytables to games that have high minimum bets in place. Is this fair? No. Will it ever stop them doing it? Absolutely not. Playing online negates this issue somewhat, but it certainly doesn’t eradicate it.

Giving you an example, you might be able to easily find a $5 or $1 per coin Jacks or Better video poker machine with a stacked paytable, but if you want to play for a quarter or less per coin, you’ll be forced to play on a game that has a worse return.

Online you’ll find a lot more variety on the paytable front, but be aware, some sites will only offer acceptable paytables on single hand machines, which can certainly catch you out should you switch to a multi-hand machine at any point. Players that like to jump from game to game should be especially cautious as a result.

It is always advised that you play within your video poker budget, so if you can’t afford to step up to a better paytable game that may come at an increased cost, you might see your results from using basic video poker strategy differ slightly. If you are straight up left with a choice between a low-end paytable and betting more money than you would be comfortable with, read the room and understand that it just might not be your day to play video poker.

The Pitfalls of Video Poker Strategy

Video poker is deceptively complex, which means that it certainly isn’t a foolproof strategy. It’s a game that takes ten minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. If you want to start winning big and avoid the financial body blows that video poker can deliver, you’re going to need to employ some real winning strategies.

If you follow the tips and tricks laid out in this guide, watch out for poor quality paytables along the way, your win percentage at Jacks or Better can exceed 99.5%, very nearly even with the house. Failing to do so will dramatically lower this number, to below 90% if you’re really not trying.

What should be the goal of any player that plays a casino game? Win money, and to do that you need to drive down the house edge. This guide is your ticket to doing just that.

Try Your Hand at Video Poker Today!

You cannot control what cards you’re dealt in video poker, but you have complete control over what decisions you make with them. Remember, poker is a game of skill. If you want something mindless, go to slot machines. Of course, a slot machine’s payout is a lot lower. If you want to win real money, you’ve got to get good at poker. Following this guide is a great way to start doing that. Good luck, and remember – practice makes perfect in the world of video poker!

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