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How To Play Video Poker

Video poker owes much of its origins to 5 Card Draw, and the gameplay is similar to the regular rules of 5 Card Draw poker. However, rather than competing against other players for the pot, video poker takes place on a fixed odds basis, against the machine directly. In this respect, it’s more like a slot machine – you put your money into the machine, cards are dealt, and you’re paid if you land a winning hand. There’s no dealer’s hand – it’s all about making the best hand you can from the cards you are dealt, in the hope that you match the minimum hand value for a payout.

Players are dealt a starting hand of five cards. You then have the chance to hold or discard any or all of the cards you’ve been dealt. There’s one re-deal, which will determine the final value of your hand – and whether you’ve landed a winner. Alternatively, you can choose to keep all your cards from the first round if you’ve already landed a winning hand.

  • High Card: Your highest value, single card. Not considered a paying hand in most video poker variations.
  • Pair: Two cards of matching value. Most games pay out only for pairs of Jacks or above.
  • Two Pairs: Two separate pairs in one hand.
  • Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same number.
  • Straight: A consecutive run of numbers across all five cards, not suited.
  • Flush: All five cards of the same suit.
  • Full House: A pair, plus three or a kind.
  • Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same number.
  • Straight Flush: A consecutive run of numbers across all five cards of the same suit.
  • Royal Flush: A consecutive run of numbers across all five cards of the same suit, running 10-A. The highest paying hand in video poker.

How To Start Playing Video Poker

Getting your video poker play underway is a simple process, and you can be up and running in minutes with one of our recommended casinos.

  1. Choose a Casino. Browse our list of recommended video poker casinos, and choose one that most appeals.
  2. Make a Deposit. Choose your deposit amount carefully, considering any deposit match bonuses, and the amount you want to spend during your video poker session.
  3. Choose a Game. Choose from the collection of different video poker variants available, for example Deuces Wild, Jacks or Better, or Multi-hand variations.
  4. Choose Coin Limits. Once you’ve found your game, decide on the game limits and the coin limits. It’s always recommended that you play with max coins in any video poker game, because there’s a bonus for landing a Royal Flush on max coins only. This skews the RTP more in favour of the player, so provides a statistical advantage compared to playing the same hand with lower coin limits.
  5. Select Cards You Want To Hold. This is where your discretion comes in. You choose which cards you want to keep from those you are dealt, and which you want to replace.
  6. Hit Deal or Draw and Make Your Move. If you’re drawing cards, you’ll be given replacements for the cards you’re getting rid of, to complete your hand. Hopefully you’ll land a hand that qualifies for a payout, which in most cases is a pair of Jacks or above.
  7. Rinse and Repeat. You’ve just completed your first hand of video poker. Why not play another?

Video Poker Payout Tables

Video poker paytables can be used to calculate payout rates for different hands on the fly. Because the payouts are based on outcomes drawn from 52 cards (or in some cases 53, with a Joker), you can quickly apply some basic arithmetic to work out your options across different games.

There are video poker experts who swear by paytables, as the only thing you should be concerned about when you’re comparing different game variations. In the knowledge that standard video poker gives rise to 2,598,960 combinations, players can calculate the likelihood of landing a given hand, and the payout rate for that hand, based on the value assigned in the paytable.

Winnings obviously depend on some extent on whether you’re playing with max coins. By processing the figures, you can see where the premiums lie, often for royal flush or straights, which skew the RTP further in your favour.

You’ll see some games marked as ‘9/6’ or ‘7/5’ on their paytable – this indicates the payout for a full house and a flush – 9 credits for a full house, 6 for a flush, in the first case. The greater the gap between these numbers, the ‘looser’ the video poker game can be said to be – this is the type of game you should consider playing.

Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing is a feature you find in some video poker games, where you can effectively choose a second bet to go double or quits after any winning hand. There are some good reasons to take this – it’s a bet with no house edge, which is rare, for starters. It’s a simply 50/50 outcome, a game of chance against the house, so in some instances, this might be worth considering.

However, you should seriously think about whether you want to risk winnings, which are more than your original bet, on a game of chance vs. skill. If you’re playing in a positive RTP scenario, for example, there would be no advantage in taking this option – but as always, it’s up to you!

Video Poker Strategy and Tips

If you’re playing slots, there’s not much you can do to improve on strategy. Ultimately, all slots are a game of chance, and you’re stuck waiting for that lucky spin. In video poker, however, a solid strategy is paramount if you want to get the best RTP, and the biggest possible advantage in your video poker play.

A good strategy goes a long way, especially when it comes to knowing which cards to hold and which to draw.

The specific best strategy in any situation depends on the cards that have been dealt. Generally, you want to hold onto cards that are already in winning combinations, or that leave open the most possibilities on the next hand. In most cases, it will be obvious which cards to hold. But when difficult decisions do present themselves, things can start to get a bit more complex.

Say for example you were holding a flush, with K, Q, J, 10 and 2 of the same suit. In this instance, is it worth discarding the 2, in the hope of landing the royal flush? If you keep your hand, playing at 5 coins, you would typically expect to win 30x. But the Royal Flush would come in at 4000x. This is an example of a tougher call, but your odds of turning up the Ace you need are much shorter than the difference in the return offered.

It depends on your risk appetite, but the value bet here would be to change the remaining card.

Countless books have been written about video poker strategy, and calculating the odds and probabilities of different outcomes is more complicated than it might at first seem. However, with the right basic mindset and approach, it can be possible to significantly improve your outcomes over chance – even if you’re not quite optimal in your strategy.

Video Poker vs Online Slots

Video poker and online slots share a number of features.

  • Beginner Friendly: Both are easy to play, requiring little understanding of rules or strategy
  • Based on RNG Outcomes: Outcomes are determined randomly, by a random number generator
  • Variable RTPs: The return to player percentages vary between different games
  • Different Betting Options: Players can set their own betting options and levels
  • Elements of Luck: Both games require some degree of luck, in terms of the outcomes drawn from the RNG.

However, despite these similarities, there are a few significant differences aside from the basic mechanics of these two game types.

  • Video poker requires skill: Unlike slots, your skill will determine your success in video poker long term.
  • Higher RTPs with video poker: Video poker RTPs are frequently around 98-99%, and in some cases, can even move into positive RTP territory, vs. approximately 95% for slots games.
  • Smaller Jackpots with video poker: The jackpots in video poker tend to be smaller than, say, progressive slots.

Video Poker vs Poker

It’s often said that video poker is the intersection between poker and slots. As we’ve seen, there are some similarities between slots and video poker – but what about between video poker and the ‘real’ thing?

  • Poker hand rankings: The same hand rankings apply, although video poker only pays out on a selection
  • Gameplay emulates poker: The game progresses in the same way as draw poker, mimicking the structure of the original game.
  • Players bet on each hand: Players place bets ahead of each hand in video poker, like they do in regular poker.

Arguably the crucial difference comes from the fact that video poker games are run one-on-one with a machine, rather than against other players.

  • Machine-generated outcomes: Video poker is player vs machine, rather than player vs players. This means the machine is generating the outcome, all you have to do is make the hand.
  • Capped winnings: With video poker, your winnings from a given hand are capped at the machine maximum, unlike regular poker, where winnings can be unlimited, depending on the game rules.
  • Limited betting options: Players have more limited betting options in video poker, and cannot bet between rounds, or responsively depending on the actions of other players.

Video Poker Game Variations

There are countless different variations of video poker, each introducing their own twist on the standard rules. These often introduce differences in RTP, or weight hand values differently compared to the standard.

There are regular versions, where players compete with just one hand, and even multi-hand games where players can run multiple hands at the same time. Beginners are recommended to start with a simple Jacks or Better, until they’ve got their strategy figured out. With a bit more experience, you’ll be well placed to capitalise on the unique features of other variants, where you can take advantage of differences in hand weighting, RTP and jackpot types.

Popular Video Poker Game Types

Jacks or Better - Online Video Poker Game Review
Jacks or Better
One of the most popular variants, the ‘default’ in video poker. All hands paid above a pair of Jacks, or better. Supported by all the major software developers, you can play this game at any casino offering video poker – a great starting point for beginners.
Aces and Faces - Online Video Poker Game Review
Aces and Faces
Another commonly found variant of video poker, Aces and Faces allows for an elevated ranking, and therefore higher payouts, for four of a kind across the Aces and face cards, compared to other games. This offers a slightly higher RTP than Jacks or Better, with similar levels of variance.
Deuces Wild - Online Video Poker Game Review
Deuces Wild
All 2 cards are wild, adding pays for wild royal flush, four of a kind wilds and similar. A fun variant that can offer up to 100.76% RTP, although it’s can be difficult to find full paying versions at this level. Deuces Wild is available at our recommended casinos, alongside other variations.
Joker Poker - Online Video Poker Game Review
Joker Poker
An additional card is added to the pack – a Joker. Ideally look for Kings or Better variants of Joker Poker, for maximum RTP. The Joker is wild, which adds extra pays for hands including the Joker, similar to Deuces Wild. Can provide positive RTP, 100%+ for full pay games.
Tens or Better - Online Video Poker Game Review
Tens or Better
Not recommended, despite feeling like an easier game vs Jacks or Better. Payout is lower than standard Jacks or Better, based on a skewed paytable. A less common variant in any case, Tens or Better is one to steer clear of. The game itself pays out for pairs 10 or higher.
All Aces Poker - Online Video Poker Game Review
All Aces Poker
All Aces is Microgaming’s highest RTP video poker, offering RTPs up to 99.92%. Increased payouts for 4 of a kind Aces are offset by some lower payouts further down the paytable, but this can still be a good option for players switching up from Jacks or Better.

Top Video Poker Software Providers

  • NetEnt: One of the leading developers of casino software, with a notable specialism in slots. When it comes to video poker, their games are also reasonably impressive, offering better graphics than a lot of the competition, across their 5 standard games. It’s fair to say NetEnt covers the basics, with the likes of Classic Deuces Wild and All American on offer. Their highest RTP games are those based on Deuces Wild, which offers RTPs of up to 97.97%.
  • Microgaming: Has been creating mobile games since 2004, and has been around the wider online gaming industry since the very beginning. They offer a selection of decent video poker game variants, including Aces and Faces, Jacks or Better, and the ever-tempting Double Double Bonus Poker. The games are easy to play, thanks to the prominent paytable in most cases – the only downside is their graphics are terrible, and more reminiscent of the origins of video poker than a modern day casino game.
  • Playtech: Offers a more limited selection of video poker titles, and on mobile, that’s narrowed down to just four. Nevertheless, the casino gaming giant has a reputation for quality games, and they maintain that through their video poker offering. Not a lot of variety here, but the graphics are at least a level better than Microgaming, so that’s one plus point for Playtech.
  • Betsoft: A smaller, less common player in the market, BetSoft go for the premium end of the scale, producing some fantastic quality games. While the selection is tight, the graphics are impressive throughout, and this does make a difference compared to playing, say, Microgaming games. Their Double Double Bonus Poker can have RTPs of up to 99.96%, almost a 0% house edge when playing basic strategy.

Video Poker on Mobile

Video poker is also increasingly available on mobile, through casino apps and their mobile-optimised websites. While it’s still a case of one or two games for most casinos, accessing video poker on mobile is becoming an increasingly common way to play – perfect for honing your skills on the go, or fitting in a few hands when you’re out and about.

The experience doesn’t suffer from being on the small screen, although in most cases you won’t have the paytable in front of you as you play. Otherwise, it’s a more than acceptable alternative – check out Betfair or 32Red for mobile video poker.

Free Video Poker

One of the best ways to learn the nuances of video poker online is to play for free. In fact, even if you’re a seasoned pro, demo games give you the opportunity to test out new strategies without breaking your bankroll. If you take a look at The Hippodrome Online Casino, you’ll find 18 video poker games. Scrolling through the lobby, all but two are available in free-play mode. Why don’t certain games have a “play for fun” setting? Simple: they’re progressive jackpot games. Because jackpot games run on the basis of everyone contributing to the prizepool, it’s impossible to play them without paying anything into the pot.

Excluding these games, you can play everything from Deuces Wild and All Aces Poker to Jacks or Better and 3 Card Poker for free. One of the main reasons it’s a good idea to check out these demo games is that they offer full functionality without the cost. In other words, you can adjust your bets as you wish, choose which cards to hold, play multiple hands (if it’s available) and win prizes. Basically, practice tables are exactly the same as their real money counterparts.

The obvious benefit of this is that you can get a feel for how a game plays and see which variant works for you. As you’ll see when you visit our recommended video poker sites, this game comes in a variety of formats. Although you could play for real, it’s much better to use the free-play settings to build up an idea of what you like and what you don’t like.

Further Reading

If you’re ready to learn more about video poker strategy and how you can improve your game, there are a number of writers you should check out. Bob Dancer’s Million Dollar Video Poker is pretty much the international authority on the subject, detailing the author’s journey from $6,000 to over $1 million in six months, solely through video poker. A renowned video poker expert, Dancer is well worth listening to if you want to improve your technique.

Dan Paymar’s Video Poker – Optimum Play is somewhat more analytical, documenting the definitive strategy required to identify 100%+ payout opportunities that essentially limit house edge when playing video poker.

For a lighter insight into how some players are succeeding with video poker, Jean Scott’s The Frugal Gambler explains how she plays video poker at casinos 120 nights a year, staying in luxury hotels and living the high life, for free, thanks to her video poker success. An inspiration to any video poker beginner.

John Grochowski 
offers another authoritative look at video poker fundamentals in The Video Poker Answer Book, an instalment of his larger ‘Answer Book’ series covering technique and strategy for common casino games.
Each of these authors has interesting tips and strategies to share, and it’s worth reading in more depth if you want to get serious about your video poker.

Conclusion

Online video poker has a lot to offer. Bringing together the best elements of online slots with the skill and savvy of poker, video poker games offer a level of challenge beyond your regular jackpot slot. With the ability to improve your skills, and thereby increase your win rate, video poker is often a preferred alternative.

It’s not hard to play video poker, but mastering video poker can take many years. The more optimal your strategy, the more favourable the RTP in most cases, so there are real dividends for players who invest their time and energy in improving at video poker.

With sites like Hippodrome and PokerStars offering a wide array of video poker titles on desktop and mobile platforms, there’s never been a better time to play your next game.