A Beginner's Guide to Video Poker

Video poker is a popular casino game that combines elements of poker and slot machines to create a fun and exciting experience. You can find video poker in many casinos around the world, as one of the best-valued game categories in the casino. If you want to learn more about how to play video poker, you're in the right place!

Table of contents

How to play video poker

For the uninitiated, video poker is a virtual version of five card poker, where players try to make the best five-card poker hand possible. Instead of using physical cards, players are "dealt" cards on the screen, and all of the action takes place on the machine. There are physical versions of video poker machines, which can be found in casinos worldwide, and there are online versions of the game, which can be played from anywhere.

When the game starts, players are dealt five initial cards and are given the option to hold or discard them. Once a player has locked in their choices, the cards chosen to be discarded are replaced by new cards. After the new cards have been dealt, the game pays out the player based on the strength of their five-card poker hand.

The player's hand must meet or exceed the minimum qualifying hand of the machine to pay out. If it doesn't, the machine does not payout and the player loses their bet. The minimum qualifying hand will vary from machine to machine, with some being as low as a pair of tens or better and some being as high as three of a kind.

Video poker payouts work on a scale where better hands give higher returns. As an example, here's the game paytable of a video poker version of Jacks or Better:

As you can see, the best hands at the top of the paytable are paid significantly more than the ones at the bottom. In other words, players are incentivized to try and make the best hand possible.

How to choose your game

If you go to a casino or browse an online casino site, you'll notice that there are many different video poker machines available to choose from. So, how do you find the one that's right for you?

The question you need to ask yourself is what you're looking for from your video poker experience. The answer to that question will determine the kind of machine you should play.

If you're looking to make your money last during your time in the casino while playing a fun and enjoyable game, you should look for the games with the highest RTP rates and the lowest variance.

Video poker is a game with a high base RTP rate with an average of 98%. This means that for every $100 bet, the expected return over time is $98. Jacks or Better is a video poker variant with a high RTP rate (99.5%) and low variance, which means this is one of the best games to play if you want your bankroll to last.

However, if you're looking for more of a gamble at one of video poker casinos, you'll want to play a game with a higher variance. When you play these games, you have a higher chance of losing your money, but when wins land, they are generally larger. Loose Deuces is an example of a high variance machine where the minimum qualifying hand is three of a kind, but the maximum payout for making a royal flush is 4000x your money.

Understand the paytable of video poker

The paytable is one of the most important bits of information you get about a video poker game. This information indicates the kind of game you're playing and how much you can expect to get back from a single bet.

While there are different main variants of video poker, such as Deuces Wild and Jacks or Better, there are also different pay tables you can come across within those variations. The rule of thumb when it comes to pay tables is "the more generous, the better", as the better pay tables will pay more for lower-valued hands. Let's look at a couple of examples from the Jacks or Better variant.

9/6 Jacks or Better

9/5 Jacks or Better

8/6 Jacks or Better

As you can see, there are subtle differences between the tables, particularly around the full house/flush payouts. The best paytable is 9/6, as that pays out nine credits for a full house and six for a flush. These differences translate to a difference in house edge, with the fewer credits paid out, the bigger the house edge. Here's how the edge is affected by the different payouts.

  • 9/6 Jacks or Better – 99.54%
  • 9/5 Jacks or Better – 98.45%
  • 8/5 Jacks or Better – 98.39%

That's over a 1% difference in house edge from these payouts. This is why it is a good idea to look at the differences in the pay tables before you sit down to play, particularly if you're just making the minimum bet.

However, if you want to maximize your returns and have the funds for it, you should bet the maximum amount. Just compare the amount you can get for a royal flush from a five-credit bet below to what you'd get from a one-credit bet described above.

How to make your first bet

Playing video poker is very easy. There aren't a lot of complicated mechanics to learn, just load up your bet and try to make the best five-card poker hand. However, knowing exactly how a game works will make you feel more comfortable when you play it for the first time, so if you want to know how to play your first hand of video poker, follow these simple steps.

  1. Insert your money – Make a deposit to the online casino site or insert cash into the video poker machine.
  2. Choose your credits – Choose how many credits you'd like to bet with. Players can choose to bet anywhere from 1 to 5 credits per hand. For physical machines, each credit will be a fixed amount, but online games allow players to change the value of their credits, so it's important to pick an amount that fits your bankroll.
  3. Click "Draw" – Press the "Draw" or "Deal" button to be dealt your hand.
  4. Choose your holds – Choose the cards you want to hold during the draw phase.
  5. Click "Draw" – Press the "Draw" button again to discard the cards you didn't hold and be dealt new ones.
  6. See your result – If your final five-card poker hand meets the minimum requirements, you will win a prize corresponding to the strength of your hand and the amount you bet.

That's the gist of it! In the beginning, you might not know which cards to keep or not. But as you familiarize yourself with the game rules and hands, you will get better at spotting opportunities.

How to know what cards to hold

The most asked question by new video poker players is, "How do I know which cards I should hold and which I should throw away?" It's a good question, as knowing what cards to hold and not can be the difference between potentially getting a win or losing your bet.

Each variant of video poker has its own strategies depending on the accepted hands. Some of these strategies are easier to learn than others, with some requiring the memorization of nearly 30 rules!

For example, the 9/6 Jacks or Better game has two strategies you can follow, the Simple Strategy and the Advanced Strategy. The Simple Strategy has 13 rules to follow and gives players a 99.46% RTP rate, whereas the Advanced Strategy has 28 rules and gives players a 99.54% RTP rate.

The crux of each strategy is to try and make the highest possible hand, as long as there's a reasonable chance of it happening. For example, there's no point breaking a full house just because you've got 40% of a royal flush. It's all about maximizing the hand you're given, which is why there are rules on how to play each kind of hand you can be dealt.

If you're interested in learning more about how these strategies work, check out our video poker strategy section for a full breakdown of each strategy and the rules you need to follow.

Should I gamble my winnings?

Some video poker machines have a "double or nothing" option if you have a winning hand, allowing you to take the chance to double your winnings or lose them. The feature is simple; if you choose to take the double or nothing option, the machine deals four cards face-down and one face-up. The aim of the game is to pick a card that's higher than the face-up card, and if you do, you double your money.

While some players think this is just a way for the casinos to get their money back after a win, the truth is that this double-or-nothing bet is one of the very few bets where the house doesn't have an edge. The casino doesn't make any money when you choose this option; it is, in essence, a pure gamble.

Therefore, whether or not you should take the bet depends on your reasons for playing and your personal risk tolerance. If you're just playing for a bit of a gamble and want to see how high you can spin your money, then, by all means, take the double or nothing option. But if you're looking to make your money last while you have a good time, it might be best to avoid it.

Concluding video poker tips

The fast-paced nature and easy-to-understand rules of video poker make it a popular choice amongst casino-goers. Not many gambling games give you the agency that video poker does, and the ability to make a decision that influences the hand is another reason why it's such a well-loved game in the gambling world.

If this article has piqued your interest, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have plenty of other resources about the history of video poker, video poker strategy, as well as information on the different video poker variants, so check those out if you want to learn more about this fun casino game.

By now, you should be ready to play your first round of video poker, but before you do, here are some final helpful tips:

  • Check the pay tables – If there is a range of video poker machines to choose from, look for the ones with the best pay tables. Remember, the more they pay out, the better they are.
  • Choose carefully – When picking your video poker game, try to pick the one that best reflects why you're playing; if you're looking to make your money last, pick one with a high RTP rate and low variance. But if you're looking for a quick gamble, pick one that's higher in variance.
  • Aim high – The biggest prizes are reserved for making the best hands, so aim to try and make these hands as often as possible.
  • Have fun – The most important thing to remember when playing video poker is to have fun! Not every session will be a winning one, and the casino always wins in the end, but as long as you enjoy yourself, you'll always be a winner.

If you want to try out any of these tips before you play for real money, Casino Guru offers you the chance to play video poker for free.

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