Video poker sits somewhere between poker and slots. It’s a fixed odds game, popular in Vegas as well as online, that challenges players to make the best possible hand from the cards they are dealt. Modelled on five card draw, the game shares many similarities with regular poker, except for one key difference. Rather than playing against others players to win the shared pot, you are competing directly against the house to win a fixed return based on the value of your hand, depending on your stake
Video poker is pretty simple once you get the hang of the rules. The strategic challenge lies in determining the quality of the cards in your hand, to know which to hold when you’re shaping up nicely for a win, and which you should discard to increase your chances of a payout. Unlike slots, where you’re at the mercy of the payout percentage, video poker allows players some control over their hand, and as such is a more skill-based game.
Video poker is played with standard poker hands. Regardless of the variation you’re playing, you will be dealt a five card hand to start with. At this stage, you have the choice to keep or discard any or all of the cards in your hand, to be replaced with new cards drawn from the virtual deck. When your cards are replaced, you’re paid out if your hand qualifies for a payout in the paytable.
Different versions of video poker payout on hands at slightly modified rates, depending on game rules. You are invited to bet between 1 and 5 coins on your hand, with a bonus payout built in for a Royal Flush on max coins. There’s also the chance to double up when you win, which gives you a selection from four face down cards, against a single card drawn by the dealer. If you choose to double, you need to pick a card higher than the dealer’s card, in order to win 2x your payout. If your card is lower, you’ll lose, and the game starts all over again.
For this reason, it’s strategically in your best interests to place the maximum coin bet on each hand, so you can take advantage of the lower house edge this affords.
Strategy in video poker revolves largely around choosing which cards to discard and which to keep. While the usual poker hands apply, some game variations place extra weight on some cards over others, which can impact basic strategy if you’re trying to play an efficient game.
There are a number of different variations of video poker you’ll come across, each with their own unique twist on the standard rules. While they generally follow the same format, there are often a few additional features to be aware of, depending on the type of video poker you’re playing.
Tens or Better
Tens or Better is arguably the most common type of video poker you will see. As the name implies, it pays out on hands at a pair of tens or better. So a lower pair or less won’t win you any money, but the further north of two tens your hand becomes, the more you will win. Winning hands usually start at a 1x payout, ranging up to 250x for a Royal Flush. When you’re playing with max coins, you also stand to win a bonus of up to 4000x and beyond for landing the Royal Flush – hence why it’s recommended that you play with max coins where this bonus is available.
Basic strategy for tens or better is pretty straightforward. Hold anything 10 or higher, discard anything lower than 10, unless you’re on a straight or you have any pair – in which case, it’s worth holding to see if you can make it into three of a kind or better. Any three cards of the same suit on a straight are worth holding too, as are four on a straight or a flush of any kind. If you’ve got nothing that fits neatly with the above, you should just scrap your entire hand, and hope for a better final draw.
This is broadly similar to Tens or Better, except that the game is played with a 53 card deck – with one additional Joker added to the standard pack. The Joker is a wildcard, which substitutes for any other card you need to make up your hand. So if you’re on to a Royal Flush and you draw the Joker, you’re quids in. Similarly, if you have a pair and you draw the Joker, it automatically becomes three of a kind, and so on.
The basic strategy elements of Joker Poker are broadly the same as with Tens or Better, but you should bear in mind the value of the Joker whenever it appears in your hand. If you’re sitting with a pair or threes and a Joker, you’re in a significantly better position that you would be in Tens or Better, so holding these cards becomes even more important.
Double Bonus Video Poker
Double Bonus is a particular favourite with serious players, because it can be played with a negative house edge. In other words, under certain circumstances the RTP breaches 100%, which suggests players would be expected to profit from playing over the long term. The game differs from other types of video poker in that it pays a double bonus for hands of four of a kind, and this skews the basic strategy schedule, changing the cards you should hold and discard.
It’s important not to let this sway you too much from your standard basic strategy. The gains available by biasing your strategy are in the order of tenths of a percentage point, so don’t completely abandon your strategy in light of the double bonus rules. However, depending on the version of double bonus you’re playing, better payouts for four of a kind and flushes means you’re better holding cards that fit with these patterns more often.