A Guide to Playing Video Poker Online
Poker in all its forms is one of the most popular games in the world. From the most popular game, Texas Hold ‘Em, to all the other versions like Omaha, Stud, Chicago, Draw, and more, poker is one of the most fun and versatile card games around. You can play it heads-up with a friend, against hundreds or even thousands of people in a tournament, or you can even take on a computer in video poker.
These three styles of poker, in-person, online, and video poker are all very different games. In-person poker means you are physically sitting with a group of people at a poker table and playing with physical cards and chips. Online poker is played in the exact same way as in-person poker except that all the players are seated around a virtual poker table and play the game with virtual cards and chips. But video poker is a different animal altogether.
While the hands are the same in video poker as the other versions of the game, the rest of the game bears little resemblance to the online or in-person variety. In fact, video poker actually resembles slot machine gameplay a lot more closely than it resembles any variation of poker. Video poker is you playing against the house and winning based on the odds of getting a certain hand. The better poker hand you get, the more money you win. It can be played online or on self-contained, physical machines. Here we will discuss everything you need to know about playing video poker.
A Brief History of Video Poker
Modern poker as we know it began in the early 1880s in the United States. Prior to that period and place, the origins of the game itself and its name are unclear and subject to debate. The best guess is that the game and name of poker, like many American inventions, came from a variety of places and games that mixed together to form the card game that we know today.
The game itself seems to have roots in a variety of earlier card games such as the Persian game of As-Nas, the Renaissance game Primero, the French game Brelan, and the English game Brag. The name poker may have a relation to words in multiple languages like “poca” (Irish), “poque” (French), and “pochen” (German).
What is not debated is that the earliest modern poker games were played in New Orleans and on Mississippi riverboats which helped spread the game throughout the country, especially out to what was then the Wild West. The game continued to grow steadily in popularity until the 1970s, a decade that saw multiple factors come together to create the first of several poker booms.
In the ‘70s, casino owner Benny Binion saw the popularity of poker tournaments and created the World Series of Poker at his Horseshoe Casino. Also, technology developed to a point where solid-state processing units could be combined with television-type monitors in an economically feasible way, and video poker was born.
From this point, poker and video poker took different paths but both continued to increase in prevalence and popularity. Poker became a worldwide sensation in the following decades, peaking when the invention of online poker and the WSOP came together and unknown accountant and online player Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event. Video poker took a slower and steadier approach and is now played all over the world.
Video poker machines initially became popular at casinos off the Vegas strip where the video poker machines offered lower minimums and better odds than the machines on the strip. This endeared them to the Las Vegas locals. Today, they remain popular machines, and online video poker is a game that can be found at almost any online casino. Their popularity stems from the fact that they combine two incredibly popular casino games, slots, and poker because players can employ a certain amount of strategy and skill when playing the game.
How Does Video Poker Work?
Playing a Video Poker Machine
Create a Bankroll
To start playing on a video poker machine, the first thing you have to do is start your bankroll. This means you have to fill your account with money. In the old days, this meant coins or dollar bills. Today, you can use credit or debit cards or, when playing online, any number of payment methods from bank transfers to eWallets to cryptocurrency.
Make a Bet
After you have a bankroll, the next step is to place your bet on the next hand. Depending on the video poker game, you can usually bet between 1 and 5 credits, although there are machines that go up to 10 credits. Also depending on the machine, the credits may be worth different denominations. There are usually two main buttons – BET ONE and MAX BET – to make it easier. It is always advisable to bet the max because you will win bigger if you do.
Making Your Hand
While there are variations, in most video poker games you are dealt 5 cards. The goal is to make the best poker hand you can. To do this, you can hold 0 to 5 cards and get 0 to 5 new cards depending on how many you hold and give up. After you draw new cards, you will win if you have one of the following winning hands (ranked best to least):
- Royal flush: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10 of the same suit
- Straight flush: Five consecutively numbered cards of the same suit
- Four of a kind: Four of the same card; one of each suit
- Full house: Three cards of a kind and two of a kind together
- Flush: Five cards of the same suit
- Straight: Five consecutively numbered cards of mixed suits
- Three of a kind: Three of the same card, different suit
- Two pair: Two sets of two of the same card
- Pair of Jacks or better: Two Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks
In video poker, you are not trying to beat another player; you are trying to make the best hand you can to take the house. Prizes vary by how much you bet and the individual game’s paytable, but the better your hand, the bigger multiplier of your bet you will win. If you do win, the winning will go in your bank, and you can continue playing and wagering or cash out and turn your bankroll back into real money.
Types of Video Poker Machines
There are several popular versions of video poker games that you will find. Each has slightly different rules for playing and winning, but they all operate the same as (or similarly to) the basic “how-to” above. The games you will find most often are:
- Jacks or Better – The most common video poker game. You need a pair of Jacks or better to win.
- Deuces Wild – All 2s are wild and 4 2s are the second-best hand you can get
- Double Bonus – Pays out a bonus on 4 Aces
- Double Double Bonus – Pays out bonuses on all 4 of a kinds
- Joker Poker – Two wildcard Jokers are added to the 52-card deck
- All American – Bigger payouts on flushes and straights
- Tens or Better – You need a pair of 10s or better to win
What Are the Best Strategies for Playing Video Poker?
One of the things people enjoy most about video poker is that there are certain strategies that players can use to increase their odds of winning. Again, it is a nice middle road between slots and poker. There is less strategy needed than a real game of poker but more than a simple slots game. Here’s a look at the most popular strategy in video poker. We will discuss the strategy in terms of Jacks or Better but the general idea applies to most video poker games.
Always Play the Max Bet
To win the most money you can in video poker, you need to play the max bet every time. It is better to play on a machine with a lower max bet that you can afford than a higher max bet that makes you play less per hand. Shop around and you will find a game where the max bet fits your budget well.
What to Keep in Your Initial Hand
Most of the strategy in video poker comes down to what to hold on to from your initial hands and what to throw away in your initial hand. Based on the odds, there are hands that you always keep, hands that you sometimes keep, and ways to rank other hands you may have.
If you are dealt any of the following hands during the initial deal, you always keep them and do not try to upgrade (if it is even possible):
- Royal flush
- Straight flush
- Four of a kind
- Full house
- Three of a kind
- Two pair
Full 5-card flushes and straights are hands that you ALMOST always keep. The exception to this rule is if you have a chance at a royal flush or a straight flush. For example, if you have an A, K, J, 10, and 6 of hearts, you may want to throw away the 6 for the possibility of the huge payoff of a royal flush.
As for straights, it depends whether you have an open straight or an inside straight. An open straight is better and is a hand where a card on either side will complete the straight. For example, with a 5, 6, 7, 8 hand, a 4 or a 9 will give you a straight. An inside straight would be like having a 5, 6, 8, 9. In that case, only a 7 will complete your straight.
The general rule of thumb for flushes and straight is to only draw for them when you have 4 of the 5 cards you need. The odds of drawing the exact two cards you need to complete your straight or flush are not that great.
What Else to Keep
The rest of the basic video poker strategy is based on a 27-hand list. The numerical list below ranks the hands that give you the best chance at the highest hand. If you keep this list handy, you will always know the best strategic move when playing video poker. Once again, remember this list is for Jacks or Better so you may need to tweak it a tiny bit to account for the differences in games like Deuces Wild or Bonus Poker games. The hand rankings are:
- 4 card royal flush
- 4 card open straight flush
- 4 card inside straight flush
- Pair of Js or better
- 3 card royal flush
- 3 card flush
- Low pair (10s or lower)
- 4 card open straight, one high card
- 3 card inside straight flush with 2 high cards
- 3 card open straight flush with 1 high card
- 4 card open straight, no high cards
- 2 card royal flush, no A or 10
- 3 card double inside straight flush, 2 high cards
- 4 high cards, mixed suit A, K, Q, J
- 3 card open straight flush, no high cards
- 2 card royal flush, with A but no 10
- 4 card inside straight with 3 high cards
- 3 high cards
- 3 card double inside straight flush, one high card.
- 3 card inside straight flush, no high cards.
- 2 high cards
- 2 card royal, with 10 but no A
- 3 card double-inside straight flush, no high card
Video Poker Tips and Tricks
Here are a few more tips and tricks to consider when looking for the best video poker game or games for you.
- Find a Reputable Casino – One of the most important things you can do before playing any online casino game is to do your research on the casino itself. While there are a lot of great casinos on the internet, there are some less than reputable ones as well. Some casinos are known for tweaking the technology to increase the house advantage or for making it somewhere between very difficult to impossible to get money out once you have put it in. Reading reviews at Online Casino Gems to find which casinos have the best reputation.
- Look at the License – While looking at reviews, also keep an eye out for where the casino is licensed. Certain countries have much stricter policies, rules, and regulations for casinos than others. The more strict an issuing country is, the more peace of mind you will have that the video poker and all other games are on the up and up. Some of the best countries at providing licenses are Malta, Gibraltar, and the Isle of Man. Curacao is a popular country with a decent reputation but somewhat more lax standards, while Costa Rica has a poor reputation in the online gambling world.
- Find Bonuses, Promotions, and Loyalty Schemes – The world of online casinos is incredibly competitive so these operators have to offer incentives for players to play on their sites. These sites offer bonuses for signing up, depositing, playing certain games, or referring a friend. There can also be regular or one-off promotions that reward you for playing a certain game or at a certain time. Loyalty schemes reward you the more often you play. See what bonuses, promotions, or loyalty schemes best fit your playing style.
- Check the Mobile Capabilities – One of the biggest reasons to play video poker online is so you can play from anywhere at any time. You do not need to take a trip to a casino or a pub. You can play right from your desk or couch or even on the go. You want to make sure the mobile option is a good one, so check out the site’s mobile capabilities. The site should offer a well-reviewed mobile browser experience and if they have a dedicated mobile app, all the better!
- Look for the Best Paytables – After you have found out all you can about the online casino and what it has to offer, it is time to look at the video poker games themselves. Check out the max bets because, as we know, you should always bet the max. And, check out the paytables. Some casinos and certain games offer better payouts than others, so do some research to find out which game will pay you the most money.
Poker is one of the most popular casino games in the world. Whether you play in person, online, or video poker, it is always fun and engaging. Video poker is a special treat for gamblers though. It combines the simplicity and ease of slot machines with some of the strategy of poker. Video poker is a great game to play online because it is fast, fun, and easy to learn. Plus, there is always the chance that a royal flush comes your way and you hit it big! Good luck!