The strategy charts for all non-wild card games are organized the same way. The hand with the highest average return goes at the top of the strategy chart. For most video poker pay tables that hand is the royal flush. It is followed by lower paying hands and partial hands in order of decreasing return. Keep in mind that partial hands that are not winners themselves will at times be included above hands that are winners because they have an average return (for all possible outcomes) that is higher than a dealt winning hand. For example, in most games four cards of a royal flush is listed above a full house because of the possibility of that hand turning into a royal flush. However, that is not the only hand that can be made from a hand with four cards of a royal flush. There is also the possibility that the hand could become a straight flush, a flush, or a straight with the proper cards being drawn. See the examples below.
As you learned in section 6.2, the arrangement of a video poker strategy chart is different. The list contains the card(s) to hold in the first five card hand that you are dealt. The top line contains the cards to hold that give the highest average return. Each line below that has the cards to hold that will produce the next highest average return. This continues until the player is better off discarding the entire first hand rather than holding anything at all.
Video poker made its entry to the casino in the seventies; and is today one of the most popular forms of gambling. For the player who likes a game of skill, a low house edge, the possibility of large wins, and the anonymity of playing alone there is nothing else that can compare to video poker. The rules of video poker are simple; you play 1 to 5 coins, the machine give you five cards, you choose which to hold and which to discard, the machine replaces your discards and pays you off according to the value of your hand.
The popularity of these machines increased until they were an absolute must in any land-based casino. Now, almost every single casino on the Vegas Strip offers its players a number of video slot machines. In the 1990s, with the huge breakthrough in technology, video poker games started to offer better gaming quality and more variations of the game were introduced.
Think about how normal video poker play goes. After depositing your initial amount, you start playing hand after hand. Most often you lose your bet. The next most frequent occurrence is to simply get your bet returned by hitting a high pair (or sometimes two pairs) that returns 1 for 1. You will also hit other higher paying but less frequent hands. In each case, however, unless you hit a royal flush or other very high paying hand such as four aces with a kicker, the amount you win is not enough to cash out and be considered a good win for the day. Instead, all of these lesser wins are really just extra money that allows you to play a few more hands in order to try to win the jackpot sized hand(s).
But video poker adds something slot machines don't have -- an element of skill. Players have decisions to make that affect the outcome. And because cards are required to be dealt from a randomly shuffled 52-card deck -- or 53 cards, in the case of Joker's Wild machines -- the possible combinations are known, the frequency of the combinations can be calculated, and an optimal playing strategy can be devised. In fact, when Missouri riverboats opened under a law that forbade games of chance, casinos were allowed to offer video poker, as a game of skill, even though slots, as games of chance, had to wait until voters changed the law.
Each card in the Jacks or Better category has a distinct value. A 3 can only count as a 3, a king can only count as a king, and so forth. The lone exception is the ace which can count as the lowest or highest card in a straight or straight flush. Each game in the Wild Card category has one or more cards which can count as a card of any rank or suit. They are called wild cards and hence the name of the category. In the game called Deuces Wild, each deuce (2) is wild. Each can be used as any other card in the deck when it is advantageous to do so. In a Joker Poker video poker game, the joker is the wild card.
A royal flush is a straight flush composed of the highest cards, such as 10? J? Q? K? A?. But of course they don't all have to be in order. Q? 10? A? J? K? is still a royal flush. The Royal Flush is the jackpot in video poker, and comes around about once out of every 40,000 or so hands -- or a week and a half of full-time play. Hey, it could be worse: The jackpot on a typical slot machine only hits about one out of every 262,144 spins.
Winning hands can often be gambled via a ‘higher or lower’ game. UK players will be familiar with this concept as it was used in the popular 70s/80s quiz show ‘Play Your Cards Right’. A single card is dealt and the player must guess if the next card in sequence will be higher or lower. If they choose correctly, their prize is doubled. Choose incorrectly, and all winnings for that hand are lost. Players can usually gamble in this way up to five times in succession.
There are several different ways to develop a video poker playing strategy. It could be tailored to favor hitting royal flushes. A strategy developed in this way could be useful in video poker tournaments where the participant has a limited amount of time to get a high score in order to win. This type of strategy would see a greater number of royal flushes. It would however also see a smaller return to the player because smaller winning hands would be sacrificed in favor of holding for a royal flush.
The strategy below is the Wizard's simplified strategy for Jacks or Better. You give up just a tiny part of the return (99.46% instead of 99.54%) and in exchange you get a strategy that's much, much easier to learn and remember than the perfect strategy. The 0.08% penalty costs you only $0.60 per hour of play on average, assuming a quarter machine played at 600 hands per hour.
To be clear, Bovada's not perfect. Once they got duped by a vendor (Betsoft) who provided progressive slots whose jackpots weren't winnable. When I discovered this I alerted Bovada, and they pulled all the Betsoft games from the site, but I thought they were slow to do so and didn't offer proper restitution to affected players. Still, even with this incident, their overall history is better than most; as just one example, there are many other casinos still offering Betsoft's questionable games.
Online gambling is largely unregulated in the U.S. That means the casinos serving U.S. players generally don't answer to anyone. If you have a problem with a casino (like they won't pay you), then you're usually out of luck. I can't count how many players have written to ask me for help because they didn't get paid by some other casino. (Not that I helped them—if a dodgy casino won't pay you then you're on your own.)
Right after learning the proper strategy, the most important thing about playing video poker is to choose a machine with a good paytable! Here are some pictures I just took in the same casino, same style game, same denomination. The only thing that's different is the paytables. The first one pays 9 & 6 for the full house and flush respectively, and the second one pays only 8 & 5 for those hands.
If you choose the machine on the right, you'll lose your money six times faster! And your chances of winning will be far less. If the reason isn't obvious then consider this: If the player is getting back 99.54% and 97.29%, that means the casino is keeping 0.46% and 2.71%. The casino profit on the second machine is 2.71 ÷ 0.46 = 5.9 times higher.
In the right circumstances, however, the player sometimes will break up a flush, a straight, or a pair of jacks or better. If you do not have one of the "always keep" hands, use the following list. Possible predraw hands are listed in order. Find the highest listing that fits your predraw hand, and discard any cards that do not fit the hand. For example, if your hand includes jack of spades, jack of diamonds, 10 of diamonds, 9 of diamonds, and 8 of diamonds, you have four cards to an open straight flush in diamonds, and you also have a pair of jacks or better. The four-card open straight flush is higher on the list than the pair of jacks or better, so you would discard the jack of spades and draw to the four-card straight flush. You are giving up the certain 1-for-1 payoff for a pair of jacks, but you have a chance at a straight flush with either a queen or 7 of diamonds, could draw a flush with any other diamond, or still could finish with a pair of jacks by drawing the jack of either clubs or hearts.
So far we have looked at low variance and moderate variance video poker games. Low variance games have the advantage of a smaller bankroll size requirement and relatively simple video poker strategy. This comes at the cost of playing a somewhat boring game. Moderate variance video poker games are more exciting to play because they have more high paying winning hands. The excitement factor is offset, however, by higher bankroll requirements and somewhat more complex playing strategy.