Introduction to Video Poker

By Bob Dancer 
Video poker is a beatable game. It is one of the few casino games where the knowledgeable player can have an advantage over the casino on every bet.

In most casinos, however, at least 80%+ of all video poker games contain a built-in house edge, and in some casinos 100% of the games have a house edge.

Video Poker Pay Schedules
Royal Flush250800800800800
Straight Flush5050505050
Four of a Kind25252580/40/25160/80/50
Full House998810
Three of a Kind33333
Two Pair22221
Jacks or Better11111

The most important factor in identifying those games that are beatable and those games that are not is found by looking at the pay schedule --- which by law is prominently displayed on the front of every machine.

At first glance, the chart above looks like a pay schedule, but it actually represents five different pay schedules. Notice the final hands are listed down the left side.

A. 9-6 Jacks or Better --- played with 1 thru 4 coins --- 98.37%

B. 9-6 Jacks or Better --- max coins --- 99.54%

C. 8-5 Jacks or Better --- max coins --- 97.30%

D. 8-5 Bonus Poker --- 99.17%

E. 10-7 Double Bonus --- 100.17%

A. 9-6 Jacks or Better --- played with 1 thru 4 coins --- 98.37%

Column A represents the one-coin pay schedule for the best commonly found Jacks or Better game, which is also called Draw Poker. It is also the basic game found on "Triple Play", "Five Play" and "Fifty Play" machines.

The two most important numbers are the 9 listed beside "Full House" and the 6 listed beside "Flush". These numbers are so important that we call this the 9-6 version of the game.

The next most important number to look at inColumn A is the amount the game returns for "Two Pair". If it says 2, you are on the correct game. If it says 1, it means you are on a 9-6 Double Bonus game (which is a lousy schedule on a good game) or a 9-6 Double Double Bonus game (which is the best schedule on a game always avoided by knowledgeable players).

Beside "Royal Flush", you usually see 250 or 300 on the one-coin pay schedule. That is the amount you receive if you hit the royal while paying fewer than "maximum coins" --- which is usually 5 coins, but can be a different number. As a general rule, always play maximum coins. If you cannot afford to play maximum coins, find a machine in a lower denomination with the correct pay schedule.

At the bottom of the chart you will see that playing one-coin 9-6 Jacks or Better returns 98.37%. The machine doesn't automatically give this to you. Skill matters a lot. Playing the hands correctly is vital. And the strategy isn't written down anywhere.

B. 9-6 Jacks or Better --- max coins --- 99.54%

Rather than worrying about the strategy differences between one-coin and maximum-coin play, just play maximum coins at all times. Column B shows the pay schedule for this. Everything is the same between Column A and Column B except the amount returned for the Royal Flush. Column Bsays 800. To be sure, you will not see a machine saying it pays 800 for a Royal Flush. What you will see, however, are plenty of machines saying they return 4,000 coins for a 5-coin bet. This means they return 800 coins per coin bet, as long as you play maximum coins.

When you do play maximum coins, the game returns 99.54% for perfect play. The 99.54% figure is for computer-perfect play. Every hand has a unique best play. There are occasional ties (where two different plays have identical expected values) but they are rare in most games.

Another point to get clear here. If you ask a slot director how much one of these machines pay back to the customer, he will give you an answer around 97.8%. So how come I tell you it is worth 99.54% percent and he tells you it actually returns much less. Who's lying?

Actually, we are both telling the truth. I am talking about your long run return if you play perfectly. The slot director would be talking about the long run return of actual players --- playing some mixture of maximum coin and short coin and using whatever strategy they think is best.

The public plays almost 2% less than optimal on this game. Other games, such as Joker Wild, will find the public playing at about 3% less than optimal.

Also, note that even at best, the game returns under 100%. I for one never play video poker games unless they return over 100%. This can happen on a Jacks or Better machine, but only when you have a generous slot club or you have a lucrative promotion going on.

C. 8-5 Jacks or Better --- max coins --- 97.30%

Column C shows 8-5 Jacks or Better. This is exactly the same as 9-6 Jacks or Better, except it returns less for both a full house and flush. It's only one unit each, did I hear you say, so it's not a big deal? That one unit represents 5 coins (since you are playing maximum coins, aren't you?). And you hit about 7 full houses per hour and 7 flushes per hour.

In round numbers, then, 8-5 Jacks or Better returns 70 coins less per hour than 9-6 Jacks or Better. (7-5 Jacks players give up another 35 coins per hour and 6-5 Jacks players give up still another 35 coins per hour.) The 8-5 Jacks returns 97.30%, and frankly are the best machines at a number of casinos.

D. 8-5 Bonus Poker --- 99.17%

Column D shows the schedule for 8-5 Bonus Poker. This is the same game as 8-5 Jacks, except that you receive more for four twos, threes and fourss (you receive 40 instead of 25) and you receive much more for four aces (80 instead of 25). These higher payoffs for these quads make the game worth 99.17%.

This game returns quite a bit less than 9-6 Jacks or Better, but is more popular among players. Go figure! Avoid the 7-5 Bonus Poker or 6-5 Bonus Poker games. They are real coin suckers!

E. 10-7 Double Bonus --- 100.17%

Column E shows the schedule for 10-7 Double Bonus Poker. Compared to Jacks or Better, this game pays more for all 4-of-a-kinds, full houses, flushes and straights, but only half as much for two pair. Over all it's a good trade off for the player.

10-7 Double Bonus returns 100.17%. It is the only game EVER found on Triple Play that returns over 100%. This game is found in virtually ALL of the bigger local casinos and NONE of the bigger strip casinos.

There is one more game that you should know about if you are playing for quarters in Las Vegas and that is Deuces Wild.

Although some variety of this game appears in all casinos, knowledgeable players insist on a pay schedule that returns 5 for 4-of-a-kind and 15 for 5-of-a-kind. This game returns 100.76%, is plentiful in Las Vegas, and is relatively easy to learn.

You will find this game in ample supply at the local casinos known for good machines --- i.e. (alphabetically) Arizona Charlie's, Fiesta, Gold Coast, The Orleans, The Reserve, Sam's Town and Santa Fe. It also exists in a few other places, but not many.

Learning to recognize promising pay schedules is the most important step in learning to play winning video poker --but it is just the first step. This site will provide more and more information over time, and there are free classes taught by me on the first two Tuesdays of every month.

These are held at the Fiesta Casino Hotel in North Las Vegas, and begin at 7:00 p.m. Contact the Amigo Club at the Fiesta for the current schedule.

That's it for now. Until next time, go out and hit a royal flush.