Video Poker Basics
Video poker basics are easy to learn, though mastery takes a lot of study and quite a bit of practice. The good news is that this is one of those casino games in which you can influence the odds if you make the right plays. Hand selection and choosing which cards to discard make a difference in whether you win or lose. That’s a far cry from those cousins of our favorite game: the slot machines.
For newbies, I’m going to walk you through the basics. This short how-to guide will help you learn the game, avoid the common mistakes, and start to improve your play before you ever play a game.
Betting – It’s More than Just Putting Money into a Slot
When you first get to the casino, find the signup for the slots club and fill out the form. The casino staff will give you a plastic card that is your slots club cards. Whenever you start to play at a video poker machine, insert the card into the slot. Every hand you play and every penny you wager is recorded, so you get credit for all the money you’ve spent at the casino. Hit levels of activity and you get rebates (called “cash back”) and comps, which can be anything from free meals to free hotel rooms to just about anything else a casino might think players want. Also, casinos usually offer complimentary drinks, because the casino management knows players who’ve been drinking a little are much more likely to make loose plays. Keep that in mind while you enjoy your games.
Start with the basic game: Jacks or Better. This means you’ll win money if you build a hand with a pair of jacks or better (using traditional card ranks). The better the hand, the more money you win, all the way up to a royal flush, which is the big jackpot. While you’re still searching for the right machine, look to see how much you get paid for winning a full house and a flush. When playing Jacks or Better (but not some of the other games), you’ll do better if you play the games that offer the most payback for full houses and flushes. Hope to find 9-to-1 payouts on a full house and 6-to-1 payouts on a flush, but expect to find 8-to-1 for the full house and 5-to-1 for the flush. Either of these are good games, but the 9/6 Jacks or Better is one of the best games you’ll find in the entire casino.
Now that you’ve chosen your game, remember to insert your slots card in the appropriate slot. Then choose the coin denomination you want to play at. Most games these days have multiple options, from penny machines to nickels, dimes, quarters, $0.50, $1.00, $5.00, and sometimes a whole lot more. Always choose the coin you’ll feel comfortable betting 5-at-a-time. So if you’re comfortable with a bet of $1.25 on a hand, you want to place the quarter bets. Betting five coins instead of 1, 2, 3, or 4 gives you the maximum payout when you hit the jackpot. Never bet anything less than 5 coins on Jacks or Better. You can make the maximum wager by hitting the button that says “Max Bet”.
Once you have your coin denomination and you’ve made the max bet, you’re ready to get your cards and start to strategize. So let’s talk about Jacks or Better.
How to Play
Among the card games you’ve played in your life, Jacks or Better is most like 5-card draw. In most games, you’ll be given 5 cards in the deal. You choose which of the cards you keep and discard the rest. You can discard zero cards, five cards, or any number in-between. When you’ve made your choice, you’ll hit the button and draw new cards. Just like in five-card draw, these will be your final hand.
As I mentioned before, to win at Jacks or Better, you’ll need a pair of Jacks. In this game, a pair of Queens, pair of Kings, or pair of Aces pay the same: 1-to-1. Since you’ve wagered that amount, you are just treading water getting a pair. You’ll only start making money when you get those uncommon hands that you have a realistic chance of hitting once or twice any given session: two pairs, three of a kind, straights, flushes, and full houses. Anyone who’s played poker any length of time knows these hands don’t hit all the time, so understand you’ll have some droughts where you bankroll is dwindling. Hopefully, you’ll hit enough good hands to keep you playing for a while.
I’ve seen notes from a writer named Dan Paymar that says a $100 bankroll will, on average, last around 1,500 hands if you are making the maximum quarter bet and playing like a smart gambler. Understand that any given session is likely to deviate a lot from the average and also understand the implication of what Dan Paymar is writing about: you expect to lose. That’s what anyone walking into a casino should learn real quickly. These big, nice casinos only exist because the odds are stacked against the gamblers. Even in games with good odds like blackjack, you’re probably going to lose more than you win. If that’s discouraging, at least you’ll lose less. And like any casino game, you still have a chance to walk out of the casino the big winner.
Now that you know about Jacks or Better, let’s talk about other variations. A lot of different types of these games exist: wild card, bonus poker, and games with progressive jackpots. Each of these offers different incentives, different challenges, and their own set of rules. Before you start playing any of them, learn the rules to that game variant.
Deuces Wild is the most popular game using wild card rules. All four 2s in the deck substitute for any other card in the game. This means you’ll be able to build better hands more often than in Jacks or Better. As a counterpoise, you won’t win when you get a pair of faces cards. You have to get three of a kind just to win any money. But if you find the full pay version of Deuces Wild, it’s expectation soars over 100% for perfect play. You and I will probably never be good enough to play perfectly, but that means a good player is going to get close to 100% of what he or she spends on the game–on average. You’ll still lose more sessions than you win, because the wins sometimes involve jackpots, though limited jackpots.
Not all have the limited jackpots. Some have progressive jackpots, which means the jackpot continues to grow until someone hits the royal flush and wins the jackpot amount. Progressives have a chance to grow into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars before the big prize is hit, but most versions pay out the big prize about once every 40,000 hands (on average). You might see two jackpots in 10 hands, or you might go a million hands without a jackpot, due to the nature of the random number generator all machines use.
To still be able to make money on the progressive jackpots, the payouts on the smaller hands are much less. This means you’ll go bust a lot more often on a progressive machine than a non-progressive, while one lucky person will win a huge money amount every once in a while. This aspect of the game is tracked mathematically by some players, who give the ups-and-downs the game’s “volatility”.
Another favorite of players is Bonus Poker, which is a game just like Jacks or Better, except which pays out more when you get a four of a kind of certain cards. Aces get the maximum amount, while 2s, 3s, and 4s also pay out more. All the other cards get paid less. This sets players up to keep more twos, threes, and fours, hoping for the big hands, but busting more than they hit the cards.
Those are just the basic games. Continue reading this site to learn about the many alternate titles to look for. Keep studying Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild in depth, so you’ll have a command of the most popular games that are most likely to be found at a casino near you. You have so much more to learn, from charts of pay tables to learning about the exotic games to learning how to calculate what your bankroll is. Hopefully this has been a solid introduction.