Video Poker Strategies

By Tom "TIME" Leonard | May 19, 2009

Knowing this site is dedicated to the study of poker I have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that a number of our devotees to poker may also play video poker while visiting my home town of Las Vegas. I know I do and, although I enjoy playing video poker and have hit many jackpots, I realize this is a negative expectation endeavor and I am an overall loser and consider it a leak. If I could just leave the poker room and walk right by those machines, I would be better off in the long run.

I figured if anyone else might, on occasion, weaken enough to indulge I would offer up a tip or two to help you win or at least mitigate the speed in which the casino collects your money. First of all, always bet the maximum number of units so if you hit a royal flush or other jackpot you will be paid the maximum. If playing the maximum number of credits is uncomfortable, then drop down in stakes – but always play the max!

Second, you should always be looking for the highest pay tables in order to be playing the best machine. In video poker, unlike slot machines, the casino tells you right up front how generous or stingy they plan to be. The way to rate a video poker machine is to look at the payoff ratio between a full house and a flush. Most machines on the Las Vegas Strip are what those in the know would call “Eight-Five” machines which means they pay eight units for a full house and five units for a flush. Using this example, it would mean that when playing a one dollar machine for max credits totaling five dollars you would be returned $40 (8 x $5) for your full house and $25 (5 x $5) for your flush.

As a local – “Eight-Five” machines are regarded as horrible. Many casinos offer “Nine-Five” or “Nine-Six” machines and as you can see it makes a big difference. Some local casinos have even offered “Ten-Seven” machines but those seem to have been relegated to history. One may opine that getting $45 dollars back on $5 ventured isn’t that much more than $40 but with the speed of the game it becomes significant. The only way to beat the game is through hitting jackpots and the extra credits from better pay tables give you more ammunition to hit the “Big One”.

With the tips offered so far, we are ready to start playing and we’ll use Jacks or Better as our model. There are many games that seem pretty much the same on the surface but they all require slightly different optimal strategies. Here is a list of optimal strategies for Jacks or Better:

  • Always draw one card to a royal flush even it requires breaking a winning pair or a made hand such as a straight or flush. The exception is not to break a made straight flush.
  • Always draw two cards to a royal flush unless you already hold trips or better.
  • Always draw one card to a straight flush unless you already have a pat hand.
  • Always draw two cards to a straight flush unless you already hold trips or better.
  • If you hold a high pair (Jacks or Better is the name of the game so the high pairs will get your wager returned even if they are not improved), which also includes a four flush or four straight, just keep the high pair.
  • If you need only one card to complete a flush or a straight, draw for the flush.
  • If you hold a low pair along with a four flush, break the pair and go for the flush.
  • If you hold a low pair along with a four straight, keep the pair and draw three.
  • Always hold two pair and trips.
  • Always draw to a low pair rather than holding a single high card and never keep a kicker.
  • If you are dealt a hand with no card Jack or higher and don’t have a four flush or four straight, draw five new cards.

There you have it – optimal strategy tips for Jacks or Better video poker. Remember you are not playing against other players wherein keeping a kicker to disguise three of kind might be a good strategic play. In video poker the math rules supreme! Attempt to find the best paying machine by checking the pay tables, always bet the maximum number of credits and use the above offered drawing strategies and you just might get out of Las Vegas with your shirt still on your back. Good luck and I hope you hit a Royal – it really is a thrill.

By Tom "TIME" Leonard

Tom has been writing about poker since 1994 and has played across the USA for over 40 years, playing every game in almost every card room in Atlantic City, California and Las Vegas.


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