Playing Video Poker – A Beginner’s Guide

Intro – What is Video Poker?

Video Poker is the hybrid child of two of the greatest games to ever grace the floor of a casino – Poker (of course) and slot machines. Playing Video Poker is as simple and as quick as playing slots, with all of the attendant bells and whistles that the one-armed bandits have made popular at casinos around the world and on the internet as well. Playing Video Poker is as tactical and strategic as playing poker in real life!

As you can imagine, a game that’s so popular, yet technologically advanced, has a fascinating history, which you can read about here. But you’re here to learn about playing video poker, which requires no history lessons at all!

Step 1 – Learn the rules

Video poker is generally based on the 5-card draw version of Poker. The aim is to make the best hand that you can, based on the standard poker hands (High card, 2 of a kind etc all of the way up to Royal Flush).

  1. First, you ante up (usually 1 to 5 ‘coins’)
  2. 5 cards are dealt to you at random from the deck.
  3. Decide which (if any) of the cards you want to swap
  4. Those cards are replaced by new random cards from the deck
  5. This is your final hand, and your payout (if any) is calculated against the game’s ‘paytable’ (see next section)

The key part is to understand which cards to keep, and which cards to throw away.

Step 2 – Understand Pay Tables

Video Poker machines will often have a ‘paytable’ listed on the machine. These give you information about how much the game will payout based on what hand you manage to get at the end. The most basic way to play video poker is called ‘Jacks or Better’. This game has a paytable where the lowest hand that pays anything out is a Pair of Jacks. This generally will return your initial bet. Hands that are worth more than 2 Jacks will pay out more.

This is one of the biggest reasons people love playing Video Poker. These paytables, combined with your ability to affect the game with your choices of which cards to swap out, mean ‘Jacks or Better’ has an average RTP of up to 99.75%! That’s way better than any slot machine, roulette table or craps game!

Understanding these pay tables and what they might mean for your strategy of which cards to swap, and which to keep, is gone into with much more detail on sites like “Wizard of Odds” and in many books and Online Video tutorials. They’re not necessary to begin playing Video Poker, but if you’re a strategic video poker player, you’ll want to get your hands on their percentage tables ASAP.

There’s no time limit to playing video poker, and you’re not at a table with other people, so you can take time to get into the strategy of the paytables!

Just getting your stakes returned might not feel like a huge rush, but low-level wins are going to keep your stakes in your pocket for longer, which gives you more time at the table and more chances to get a killer hand and walk away with big money, so don’t discount it!

Step 3 – Pick your version of Video Poker

Like with online slots, playing video poker comes with an almost endless list of variations and options that the casinos can offer to customise your experience.

All video poker games fall into either ‘full pay’ (also known as long pay) version or ‘low pay’ versions. Full pay versions have the biggest payouts, but often low pay video poker games give players more bonuses and incentives to play at their paytable. They will sometimes reduce the max jackpot (say for a full house, the full pay machine might give you 9x your original bet, but the low pay only 7x) but then offer different payouts for the other hands on the paytable.

Choosing between high and low pay video poker comes down to personal preference and what’s available at the casino where you’re playing video poker itself. Some bonuses might be worth a lower paytable to you. Do your research!

Classic variations of Video Poker

Jacks or better/10s or better

Pay begins with a pair of jacks or a pair of 10s. The classic video poker. Lots of information on the odds and pay percentages available online, full and low paytables everywhere.

Wild card games

Often called ‘Jokers Wild’ or ‘Deuces Wild’. Adding to the usual video poker rules, Wild Cards that transform to make the best hand possible. This has an impact on the odds (more cards in the deck, or more chances to make a good hand) but also will lead to an adjusted paytable so the casino doesn’t end up losing!

Modified pay schedule

These games choose a special hand, often 4 of a kind or 4 Aces specifically, and offer huge bonuses for players who get that particular hand. The impact of that extra coin on the paytable will be felt across all winning hands, however. These games do sometimes have theoretical expected RTP of over 100% though, so if you can play perfectly, you have a chance of walking away with a lot of money!

Tips for playing Video Poker

Especially when you’re beginning, go for a low coin value game so you can bet the max number of coins. Often when you’re playing video poker max bets mean better bonuses. If you play a game with $1 coins, and bet $5 each time to get the max bet bonuses, you’ll do better than playing in a $5 coin game and always betting $5.

It’s also true that a low coin value means that you can make a lot of max bets without risking losing all your money!

Never discard a face card in Jacks or better games. The chances of winning your money back are quite high, as you just need to get a pair of face cards. Remember, breaking even in a hand is still a good outcome!

As with our tips for playing slots online (read them here) make sure you set strict time and cash limits for your playing, to avoid losing control of the situation! There are also a lot of fabulous bonuses on offer from all of the online casinos where you might begin playing video poker, so take advantage of the free plays on offer and get familiar with how the games and casinos work, so you have the best chance of winning at video poker!

Remember, play responsibly!