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Video poker is a favorite for players in both land-based and online casinos. And you don’t have to look far to see why. These graphic-rich, enjoyable casino games are fairly easy and straightforward to play.
But the icing on the cake is that video poker comes with some of the most lucrative odds. Don’t be surprised to find out that some video poker games have an RTP of 100% or even more.
At the very core, video poker is somewhat similar to slots. They are both reel-based games with pay tables, symbols, jackpots, bonus rounds and other special features. Unlike slots which are games of chance, however, video poker is typically strategy-based.
You are five times more likely to hit a video poker jackpot than that of an online slot. So, if you are thinking of ditching online slots for something better and more rewarding, look no further than video poker.
There’s a small catch, though. You need to learn video poker strategy to take full advantage of the excellent odds. If you go on a hunch or gut instinct, you will leak oodles of cash to the casino.
That’s why we have put together this guide to help you learn how to play and win at video poker.
What is Video Poker?
Video poker borrows a big leaf from slot machines. That’s why it comes as no surprise that it's the second most popular casino game, right behind online slots. But unlike slot machines which are purely down to chance, video poker adds an element of strategy or tactics.
Video poker is essentially a five-card draw poker played on a video slot machine. As such, you will need to use all the strategies and skills required by regular 5-card draw poker. What that means is that some decisions you make as a player can affect your chances of winning.
In a video poker game, cards are dealt from a randomly shuffled 52 or 53-card deck. It’s only Joker’s Wild video poker games that offer a 53rd card. Interestingly, potential combinations should be well-known to a seasoned player.
The trick is for the player to calculate the frequency at which certain combinations will appear. This way, the player comes up with a good strategy to make the most winnings out of the combinations.
Take Jacks or Better, for instance. This classic video poker game returns 99.5%, which is the RTP for long-term play. Funny enough, some variants of Deuces Wild are known to have positive returns, which means RTPs of 100+ percent. In other words, when you play these video poker games over a long period you will get more than 100% returns in its full-pay version.
History of Video Poker
The fascinating history of video poker is closely tied to that of slot machines. In fact, the earliest version of video poker machines that existed as far as the 1800s were known as “poker slots.”
As the name suggests, these were based largely on chance, just like slot machines. Players had no choice of drawing or holding any cards they received. Much like today’s online slots, poker slot machines featured 5 spinning reels, which delivered a poker hand when the reels stopped.
Since they were games of pure luck, the first ancestors of video poker didn’t gain much traction with players and casinos alike. They were hard to beat and the players often complained of being duped.
The first poker machine to ever come with the ‘draw feature’ was called Skill Draw, which was developed in 1901 by a gaming engineer by the name of Charles Fey. Suddenly, playing poker machines was no longer a matter of chance. Players could use certain ‘draw’ skills to influence the outcomes.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s, however, that video poker entered the scene. William Redds, an employee of Bally Distributing Company, is often credited for creating the first video poker machine on behalf of Bally Gaming in the mid-1970s. However, the company didn’t want to move away from slot machines, allowing Si Redds to own the patent.
That was a clear blessing for him. He soon struck a deal with Fortune Coin Company to mass-produce video poker machines. In 1979, the partnership produced Draw Poker, the first-ever video poker machine which was installed all over the United States. It was an overnight sensation.
Sircoma and Fortune Coin Company formed International Game Technology, followed by an IPO in 1980. The company is what’s now called IGT, one of the most recognized names in the video poker niche.
Over the years, video poker has gone everywhere slot machines can be found. They are not confined to casinos only; they are also available in airports, strip clubs, bus terminals, pubs, bars, and even bowling alleys. That’s not a coincidence. Both machines feature reels that are operated via a random number generator, or RNG. And they don’t need an intervention of a dealer.
Microgaming, however, beat IGT to be the first gaming developer to take video poker online in 1994. Today, it’s hard to find an online or brick-and-mortar casino that doesn’t have at least a handful of video poker games. They are now some of the most frequently played and popular online casino games. And they are available for play on desktop, tablets and mobile devices.
How to Play Video Poker - The Ultimate Guide
1) Choose the Right Video Poker Game
There are several versions of video poker games available in the online gambling scene. And they all come in all shapes and sizes. So, how do you choose a game that’s a good fit for you?
Perhaps the first thing to do is to consider the theoretical return to player percentage. If you are a seasoned slot player, you typically have to trust the RTP and payout numbers published by the software developer and online casino.
With video poker, however, you can actually calculate possible payouts and returns based on the numbers available from the paytable. That’s why the first place to look is the paytable of a particular video poker game.
When all’s said and done, however, choosing the best video poker game for you comes down to the variance. This is also known as volatility. The higher the variance, the higher your risk, which means you need a larger bankroll.
There are three types of video poker games based on volatility:
a) Low Volatility Games
Low variance games pay more frequently, but big wins are rare. Otherwise put, these are the games that deliver small wins more often.
A video poker variant with a volatility of 30 or less is often considered a low-variance game. These are ideal games for budget video poker players with the smallest bankroll. Also, if you want to stretch your money and have more fun, this is what the doctor prescribed. Equally, don’t expect many massive jackpots wins to come your way.
If this sounds like you, go for low-variance video poker games like Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, Aces and Eights, Pick'Em Poker, Aces & Faces, and Double Jackpot Poker, just to name a few.
Note, however, that not every online casino has all of these low-variance games. Nonetheless, you should be able to find a version of these games in almost all online casinos.
Low volatility often means an easier video poker strategy. That, in turn, means you are less likely to make a mistake. Unfortunately, this also may translate to lower chances of excitements and the game can be boring.
b) Moderate Volatility Games
Low volatility games are great for newbie players because they are fairly easy to play and need a smaller bankroll. However, if you want to take it up a notch, you may be interested in moderate variance video poker games.
They offer the best of the two worlds - they pay more often and require a relatively smaller bankroll, and yet they aren’t as boring. Moderate volatility games are those whose variance ranges from 30 to 50.
The best examples include Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Jackpot Poker, Deuces Wild Double Bonus, Super Double Bonus Poker and White Hot Aces.
c) High Variance Games
As you can expect, these are video poker games with high volatility. They pay less often, but big wins are quite common. They are usually designed for high rollers, players with massive bankrolls.
If you have lots of money to burn while waiting for an enormous payout, high variance video poker is your best shot. These are games whose variance is higher than 50. Some high variance video poker games have a volatility of up to 180.
As you can see, such high volatility games can create plenty of action and excitement. But can usurp a big portion of your bankroll before you hit a major payout. Of course, that’s the point.
So, if you are a gambler with an elaborate video poker strategy and an enormous bankroll to match, high variance games are meant for you. Unfortunately, your choice is narrow. You have to choose from Royal Aces Poker with a variance of a whopping 184, Triple Double Bonus Poker, Triple Deuces Poker, Loose Deuces Poker or Super Double Double Bonus Poker.
Don’t forget that your choice of the casino will also matter if you are planning to play video poker online. As a general rule, be sure to do your due diligence on potential casino sites. Read online reviews, ask for player recommendations, check out player ratings and ultimately trust your instincts.
If something doesn’t add up, don’t hesitate to run away from a particular online casino. Remember a reputable and worthy casino site should operate under a tight lease of recognized gambling licensing authority, preferably UK Gambling Commission, Malta Gaming Authority, e-Gaming Curacao, and the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC).
You can never be too careful with your hard-earned dollars online. That being said, you need to see to it that the casino site has cutting-edge encryption and other security technologies in place. This will help keep you and your information safe online.
2) Get to Know the Paytable
Once you have chosen the right video poker game and, of course, the best place to play, the next sensible step is to peruse and understand the paytable. This is like the instructional manual for the game. It will help you devise your video poker strategy, and determine potential returns.
A paytable in video poker is designed based on 5-card poker hands, which are ranked as follows for the game Jacks or Better:
Royal Flush; This implies the appearance of 10-J-Q-K-A, all of the same suit. For example, 10-jack-queen-king-ace all of the clubs, spades, hearts or diamonds.
Straight Flush; This means 5 consecutive cards of a similar suit have to appear. For instance, 4-5-6-7-8, all of the diamonds.
Four-of-a-Kind; It’s exactly what it means - a hand with 4 different cards of a similar rank. For instance, you can get A of diamonds, A of clubs, A of spades and A of hearts.
Full House; This is a hand with 2 cards of the same rank and 3 cards of another rank. For example, 4 of spades, 4 of hearts, 4 of clubs, 7 of spades and 7 of hearts.
Flush; Unlike Royal Flush, the 5 cards don’t have to be consecutive. But they need to be of the same suit. For instance, A, Q, 7, 3, 2, all of the clubs.
Straight; This is similar to Royal Flush, but the consecutive cards don’t have to be of the same suit. For example, 4 of clubs, 5 of spades, 6 of clubs, 7 of hearts, and 8 of diamonds.
Three-of-a-Kind; This is a hand with 3 cards of the same rank. For instance, 3 of diamonds, 3 of hearts, and 3 of clubs.
Two Pair; This hand has 2 cards of one rank and 2 other cards of another rank. For instance, 5 of hearts, 5 of clubs, 2 of diamonds, and 2 of spades.
Pair of Jacks or Better; it’s exactly what it sounds like - 2 J’s, Q’s, K’s, or A’s
Now that you are aware of how much each possible hand of Jacks or Better is worth, let’s see how to strategize and increases your odds of winning.
3) Hone the Strategy
Again, video poker is, for the most part, a game of skill and strategy. You can't play any which way and expect to win. At this point, you should make a point of learning the best strategy for the particular video poker game you’ve chosen.
Remember you have an impact on the outcome as a player, unlike when you are playing slots. It’s almost obvious that streaks or hunches will not get you anywhere. Of course, every hand that the machine will deal will be a unique scenario. How you approach the scenario could make a huge difference in the hand’s outcome.
This happens with every hand you are dealt with. Only a mathematically devised strategy will get you the most out of your video poker playing session. A strategy that’s great for Deuces, for instance, may not work for Jacks or Better. The vice versa is also true.
A general good example is Simplified Strategy by Wizard for Jacks or Better. In this strategy, you relegate a small part of the return, usually 0.8%. In return, you’ll enjoy a strategy that is far easier to remember and learn.
The idea behind this strategy is to play the list’s highest hand which best matches your cards. Here is a good example which only works for 9/6 Jacks or Better;
Start with a Full house or better, 4 to a royal flush, straight, three of a kind, or flush, 4 to a straight flush, two pair, high pair, 3 to a royal flush, 4 to a flush, low pair, 4 to an outside straight, 2 suited high cards, 3 to a straight flush, 2 unsuited high cards, suited 10/J, 10/Q, or 10/K, one high card, and finally get rid of everything.
4) Practice, Practice, Practice!
Decisions, decisions! Even the best of us want to jump right in. however, if you have not played video poker before, it’s prudent to take some time to practice and sharpen your skills and strategy. A veteran player can also practice to brush up on some of their tactics.
The good news is that most online casinos offer free-play versions of their video poker games. This makes it easy and risk-free for you to practice. Use external practice games like Wizard’s which will indicate when you make a strategy error. Bovada Casino has a worthy practice game, too.
5) Place Your Maiden Bet
By now, you should have your favorite video poker game. You must also have the desired bankroll, online casino, strategy, and skills. Make sure that you have practiced plenty, as well.
It’s now high-time to place your first bet. The good thing is that you can adjust your bet amount at any time. But, first, you have to choose your bet size or insert money/load card in case of a physical video poker machine.
Depending on the amount you inserted, you will see the number of credits of the screen of the machine. For instance, when you insert $50 and the credit limit is 10 cents, the machine will tell you that you have 500 credits.
For online video poker games, you will have to pick the credit limits you want. More often than not, you can switch between 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, $1, $5 and $10.
As a rule of thumb, you must play a max bet to take maximum advantage of your credits per game. For example, if you intended to wager 50 cents per game, always play max number credits and pick a lower limit per game. The possible payout will be much higher than when you play fewer credits at a higher limit.
6) Which Cards to Hold?
This is where the fun and excitement starts. It’s also the most challenging portion of playing video poker. Knowing which card to hold will certainly make a big difference. Thankfully, this is where your video strategy chart comes into the picture. Stick to your strategy no matter how counterintuitive it might seem.
Use the strategy chart when you practice, helping you memorize better and prevent chances of mistakes. Every incorrect decision you make will cost you in returns. It’s worth noting that your knowledge of the poker hand ranks and paytable may also become especially useful. Take them into consideration when mastering the strategy of whatever video poker game you intend to play.
7) Know When to Double Down on Your Winnings
The big question is: should you wager or not wager your video poker winnings? This is particularly true with video poker games with a very low house edge. Casinos offer you a chance to double your winnings if you succeed or go home with nothing if you lose.
This is a big gamble and a genuine concern for most video poker players. This is how this works: the casino lets you choose a single card from the winning hand. If the card you choose is higher in value than the one chosen by the house, you multiply your winnings by two.
Some casinos may have limits and other requirements that apply to how many times you can double down on your winnings. In some cases, the casino can allow you to quadruple your winnings. This is usually the case for video poker games from software provider Playtech. Again, this is a scenario in which your master strategy will come to your rescue.
We understand that video poker might sound complex. But it’s one of the easiest types of casino games to learn, master and play. The most important thing to remember is to learn and how to stick to the best strategy in each hand. Practice will also be worth your while and money!