Video poker

How to Play Video Poker (Rules & Basic Strategy)

Video poker offers some of the best odds in the entire casino.

Where slot machines are based entirely on luck, and table games require some degree of skill, video poker bridges the gap between the two. Requiring both skill and luck, video poker provides a lower house edge than typical slot machines, removes the intimidation factor inherent to table games, and can be quite profitable if you run hot.

The origin of video poker

First appearing in casinos in the late 1970s, video poker’s only offering was Jacks or Better draw poker. Today, there are more than 100 different variations including:

  • Bonus Poker
  • Double Bonus Poker
  • Double Double Bonus Poker
  • Deuces Wild
  • Bonus Deuces Wild
  • Loose Deuces
  • Joker Poker/Jokers Wild
  • Aces and Faces
Video Poker

Photo: Dennis Yang, Flickr

How to play

Based on Five-Card Draw poker, video poker has the same rules except you are playing alone and not against other players.

Quite simply, the machine deals you five cards, and you have the option of drawing up to five new ones. You press the “hold” button for those cards you want to keep, and then press the “deal” button, and your discarded cards will be replaced with new ones. The payout depends on your final hand, and you will win based on the pay table posted on the screen or in front of the video poker machine.

Basic poker hand rankings apply:

  • Pair (typically of Jacks or better)
  • Two pair
  • Three of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full house
  • Four of a kind
  • Straight flush
  • Royal flush

Some specialty video poker games have additional paid hands such as four deuces or five of a kind (as in Deuces Wild). Additionally, some games may not pay for a pair or even two pair (such as Deuces Wild).

Video poker

Photo: Domas Mituzas, Flickr

Video poker strategy

Perhaps the greatest advantage of video poker is that you can see exactly how much you can expect to win—essentially, your return on investment (ROI)—while playing. This makes video poker a beatable game and the best value for your dollar.

There are 2,598,960 hands that can be made with a standard 52-card deck. The video poker machine’s random number generator (RNG) is set to distribute cards based on standard probabilities. Casinos obtain their edge by manipulating the machine’s pay table. In other words, casinos can “tighten” or “loosen” the return by adjusting the number of coins won for certain hands. In fact, casinos will place identical video poker machines next to each other which have different pay tables. For example, one machine may pay 35 for a full house while another may pay 40. Similarly, one machine may pay 20 for a straight while another may pay 25. Make sure you are playing the machine that pays the highest return. You can check out the various pay tables for the most common video poker games here. 

Find the best odds

As each variation of video poker has its own strategy, to be successful, you must familiarize yourself with those games you play frequently. There are a number of online strategy guides—such as The Wizard of Odds—to help you learn the optimal strategy for each type of game. When starting out, the easiest game to learn is Jacks or Better. With optimal play, Jacks or Better will pay out 99.5% over the long run.

Video poker can make for a nice change of pace from online and live cash poker games and tournaments. Plus, it can be quite lucrative. Are you a video poker fan? Please share your thoughts below.

Until next time.

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About the Author
Natalie Faulk

Natalie Faulk

Natalie Faulk is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer/blogger and the author of several books. She is an avid low-stakes (for now) poker player and huge Vegas Golden Knights fan.

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