Video poker has been around for decades, but its lack of outrageous graphics and flashing lights have always left it playing second fiddle to the slots. Most VP veterans are perfectly happy with that arrangement, as it leaves these potentially profitable machines free of crowds and curious onlookers.
In case you’re unaware, video poker is the rare casino game where the player can actually gain an advantage over the house in the right set of circumstances. This isn’t always easy to achieve, of course, and losses are still bound to happen. But for those who want to be smart when it comes to gambling, this game represents one of the best bets in any online or land-based casino.
This article is meant to explain the basics of the game, from how to play video poker to the most common types of variants. While reading this won’t guarantee you any wins in the future, it should at least provide enough information to determine whether or not VP is right for you.
How to Play Video Poker
Video poker is an easy game to learn, especially when you consider that the player can actually gain a slight advantage over the house. Played like a game of five-card draw poker, the game begins when the player makes their wager and gets dealt five virtual cards.
After examining their hand, the player must decide how many of their cards are going to be retained. They may keep all of them, a few of them, or none at all. This is accomplished by pressing (or clicking) the button that corresponds to each card on the screen.
Once the keeper cards have been selected, the game discards the others and deals replacements to the player. This is where the game ends, as the computer determines the final value of the player’s hand and issues a payout accordingly. As you might imagine, a stronger hand receives more money (with the royal flush being the top prize on the majority of VP machines).
Popular Types of Video Poker
The following list includes some of the most common versions of video poker. When possible, I’ve also included the expected return for the player. Expressed as a percentage, this number indicates the amount that the player should expect to receive back in the long term. For example, a return of 99% would deliver $99 for every $100 wagered (on average).
You’ll also notice that games sometimes have a fractional number in front of them, such as 9/6 Jacks or Better. This means that a full house pays 9 times the original wager, while a flush pays 6 times the player’s bet. 9/6 is generally the top payout for Jacks or Better, so this is known as a “full pay” machine. An 8/5 machine, meanwhile, would be labeled a “short pay” game due to a decreased payout.
Jacks or Better – Also referred to as “draw poker,” this game doesn’t deliver a payout unless the player gets a pair of jacks or higher. Using a simple strategy on this game delivers an expected return of 99.46%, while employing a more advanced optimal strategy yields 99.54%.
Deuces Wild – Two cards are considered in this version of the game. While a royal flush comprised of one or more wild cards pays 125 credits, a natural royal flush is far more valuable with a 4000-coin payout. Using a simple strategy on the full-pay version of this game yields an expected return of 100.71%, which means the player actually has an advantage over the house.
Bonus Poker – One of the most common casino options, this version offers a full-pay of 8/5 and includes a number of four-of-a-kind payouts. When using optimal strategy, the expected return is 99.17%. It’s not uncommon for this version of video poker to be the most profitable version offered in some casinos, especially since the others often give the player a mathematical edge over the house.
Double Bonus Poker – 10/7 is common for the full-pay version. Players are paid with jacks or better, although four-of-a-kind hands offer the largest prize. 100.17% expected return.
Joker Poker – The joker acts as a wild card, and a pair of kings or better are required for a payout. The expected return is 100.64% when using a basic strategy.
Double Double Bonus Poker – This game offers increased payouts for four-of-a-kind hands in specific combinations. For example, four aces with a 2-4 kicker pays 400 coins, while four-of-a-kind of 2-4 with an ace-4 kicker pays 160 coins. The full-pay version is 10/6, and employing basic strategy on this machine yields an expected return of 100.07%.
Progressive Jackpot – While this isn’t a specific type of machine, I did want to mention that VP games can offer progressive wins just like slots. In some cases, multiple machines may be linked together at various locations.
Video poker is the best-kept secret in the casino, and many patrons are happy to pass it by once they realize that it’s not a slot machine. However, veteran gamblers and advantage players know the truth, which is why many of them scour online and land-based casinos for the VP machines with the best paytables. Once they’ve found a suitable option, all they have to do is apply the proper strategy, wait for the house edge to drop, and watch their bank account begin to rise.