Expert strategy for video poker

Video Poker Strategy Guide

Video poker is one of the most loved games of online and physical casino players. While poker is a strategical game, strategy begins where the proverbial luck of the draw finishes. How do you make the most out of your hand?

Video poker offers the best of both worlds for many poker enthusiasts, particularly those who are primarily interested in strategy. There's no bluffing with the software, and it won't trash talk you (although you can throw as much trash as you like!). While personal interaction is an important aspect of poker around a table with friends, its absence in video poker allows you to focus on your strategy. (Of course, you can also bring those skills back to the table, and then clean house with your friends!)

Our in-depth video poker guide is applicable to both online and physically-based video poker. We'll tell you what you have to know before you get in front of the screen, and we have some truly eye-opening advice to get you more frequent and bigger wins. 

Beginning Video Poker Strategy

All of the poker experts agree on one thing: your best game begins long before you get to the table. Overcoming that house edge will be difficult, but if you saddle up with game with poor percentages, you can kiss your chances goodbye. 

Choosing a video poker game

If you want to play online video poker, you will find hundreds of options from many different operators and casinos. But before you even pick which operator you'd like to use, you need to decide upon some fundamental issues: payout percentage, game type, and its winning hands, bonuses, and casino.

Payout percentage

Many novices compare video poker with slots, but the two are apples and oranges (and cherries?). Slots is a game of luck; your only decision is how much you'll wager. Poker is a mixture of skill and luck. You can choose to play your hand or not and to discard or not. In poker, you are looking to build your win based upon your knowledge of the winning hands, whereas paylines are identified automatically in slots. 

But there is another important difference. Your chance of winning in poker is higher than in slots. Video poker slots commonly have a Return to Player (RTP) percentage of 99.5%, whereas with online slots that run between 95-99%. The chance of big wins is very slim with slots toward the 99% end of the spectrum, whereas you can find those big wins with poker at that level.

Still, not all video poker games have those preferable RTP numbers. It pays you to check out the RTP before you sit down with a game. Otherwise, you're just wasting your money.

Poker variations

Second, you must know which variant of poker you're playing. You need to know the rules, available bonuses, and especially the winning hands inside out. Applying the rules of Jacks or Better to Deuces Wild is one way to lose, and not taking advantage of the wilds in Deuces Wild because you have your head in Jacks or Better is another. 

This presents a strong reason to commit to one variation of poker. 

One of the most popular video poker variations is jacks or better. You have to receive a jack or stronger card in your initially dealt hand in order to be able to play (hence the name), but despite that restriction, it has a comparatively low house advantage. Due to its popularity, we'll focus on Jacks or Better in this video poker strategy guide. 

The Winning Poker Hands

Your attention in playing poker should be toward building the best hand you can. To do so, you must have the chart of the 40 winning hands memorized, or right in front of you. Your task then is to avoid distractions. And the source of that distraction is in your hands.

In fact, it is your hand. 

You must contend with two visual temptations. The first is the lure of the mighty Royal Flush. Countless poor decisions are made, innumerable winning hands discarded, because of the pipe-dream that you are headed toward a Royal Flush. We have guidelines for when you should go for the gold, and when you should settle for a nice plate of silver instead.

Second, the visual attraction of the pair or flush can distract from other possibilities. 

Finally, the desire to complete a sequence toward some sort of straight can become a fixation that doesn't see other hands.

Your job is to 1) see the possibilities, 2) calculate the likelihood of 3) forming the strongest hand.

As if that weren't enough, you have to prevent the best being the enemy of the better; i.e., forsaking some very good hands in pursuit of the Royal Flush. What's better than being one card away from a 400x win with a Royal Flush? A 25x win with 4 of a Kind.

The importance of focus

Many of us like to squeeze in a few games wherever we like, and might even begin a game we might not be able to finish. We gamble because we enjoy it, even if we aren't always bringing our A-game.

But if you are wanting to play to win, you need to set your table before you eat. 

Poker experts will tell you that the most important quality of playing poker is the focus. If you don't have focus, all the strategy in the world can't win you a game. But with a rudimentary understanding of the game and clear focus, you stand a better chance to win some.

The most important part of strategy happens before you get to the screen, and that is setting up an environment for you to win. You need to have the things in order that will be important for you and keep yourself away from the things that will distract you. As you can tell from the above that the most important thing to have in front of you, if you don't have it memorized, is the list of the sequence of winning hands. In addition to that, you may want to have a strategy card or a few notes for playing that you think you'll use. 

But it's equally important to keep the things away from would distract you.

The ideal environment for playing is very different for individuals. Some people like to play in silent environments, others prefer casino-like buzzing and whirling around them, while others can concentrate wherever they are. 

Strategies for winning Jacks or Better

There are some guidelines (though we hesitate to call them rules) that are statistically strong for Jacks or Better. These all bear in mind 1) the chart of winning hands and 2) incline toward forming the Royal Flush where possible. 

  • If you are dealt a Full House, Three of a Kind, Four of a Kind or Two Pair, always stick.  If you’re holding onto a Flush, Higher Pair, Straight, or even Three of a Kind, those are all going to beat 3 cards that lead up to a Royal Flush.
  • Unless you are one card away from a Royal Flush if you are dealt a Flush or a Straight, always stick.
  • If you’re one card away from a Royal Flush, discard that card (and cross your fingers).

Royal Flushes are ideal, but scoring 4 of a Kind can win you 25x your bid, which is also not too bad. 

The following are important guidelines that advise toward making a very strong hand. In many of these cases you are trying not to be overly focused on 1) pairs, 2) suits, or 3) flushes.

Even a lower pair can win. If you have 3 unsuited high cards, you might see their value and start dreaming of flushes and high pairs. Discarding that pair with the hope of pairing one of those high cards is very unlikely? Hold on that low pair. This might not (and hopefully won't be!) your strongest hand of the night, but you want to play the strongest hand you're able to with what you're dealt. 

Beating the House with Bonuses in video poker

While Jacks or Better has a very low house edge (with around 95.5% RTP), that is assuming perfect play, and it does still leave you at a disadvantage. Of course, we're all playing hoping to beat that edge at least occasionally with a big win. Physical casinos reward players for their continued patronage, and so do online casinos!

So it's important that you are aware of your rewards system, and be sure that the system and the kind of awards are actually beneficial for your interests and the way you play. If you're primarily interested in bonus dollars, be sure your rewards system features those returns.