June 24, 2023 by

Play Video Poker Correctly for Highest Return-to-Player

Video poker is one of the newest casino games since it has never been played at a table in a live casino format.  Video poker games are based on the most classic of all poker variations, five card draw.  Traditional poker was either five card draw or stud poker.  The relatively newfangled poker variations such as Texas Hold’em had not been developed yet.

While land-based casinos do offer video poker, most people play this great poker variation at a video poker casino online.  The game is perfectly suited for the digital format of online casinos.

Video Poker is All about Skill and Luck

A casino game that can be gamed using good strategy has elements of both luck and skill.  Think blackjack.  Even keno has an element of strategy since statistically it is best to choose between 4 to 8 numbers even though players are allowed to choose up to 20 numbers.

In video poker, the game uses a single deck of cards.  That makes calculating odds relatively simple.  It is the gamer’s ability to calculate odds and count outs that makes video poker possibly the most strategically accessible game in the casino.

The Special Quality of Strategy in Video Poker

If the gamer uses the best strategy on every hand−a skill that can be learned even though it does take time to do so−the return to player rate is about 99.5%.  that makes it possible to play video poker for a relatively long time and finish the session either a little ahead of the house or a little behind.

Video Poker Can be Easy or Hard to Find

At an online casino, video poker is equally as easy to find as slots or any other game the casino offers.  At a land-based casino, the video poker terminals might be “hidden” among the hundreds of slots terminals since the house edge in slots is quite a bit higher than the house edge in video poker and the “house” at a land-based casino has massive operating costs.

The Basics of Video Poker

Video poker is a variation of poker in which the gamer plays only against the pay table.  Here is where one of the big differences between online video poker and land-based video poker occurs.  At online casinos, the pay table is called a 9-6 pay table because it pays 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush.

At many land-based video poker terminals the pay scale is called an 8-5 pay scale since it pays only 8 coins for a full house and 5 coins for a flush.  Remember that the return to player rate in video poker is 99.5%.  This return to player rate is possible ONLY in a 9-6 video poker game!  The rate in an 8-5 game is substantially less!

So, video poker basic number one is only play 9-6 video poker.

If you find a video poker terminal at a land-based casino that pays 9-6, you can play it knowing that the game has no other tricks that could lower your 99,5% return to player rate!

In This Sense, Video Poker is Different than Blackjack

In blackjack, each variation has separate rules for some of the player-friendly actions.  When is a player allowed to split or double down?  When is the player allowed to surrender?  Does the dealer hit or stand on soft 17?  What are the rules regarding a blackjack?

Will You Bet the Maximum?

Basic video poker strategy assumes that the gamer bets the maximum on every hand.  In multi-hand video poker, that means betting the maximum on perhaps 100 hands!

The reason to bet the maximum is because there is an extra bonus payout for a Royal Flush.  Now, it is true that a Royal Flush comes about only once in 40,000 hands but you would be amazed at how quickly a dedicated video poker player plays 40,000 hands!  And then 40,000 more!

The Hierarchy of Hands

Video poker uses the standard hierarchy of hands.  Strategy in video poker takes into account that gamers will try to get hands that are higher in the rank of hands.  Good video poker strategy calls for giving up a winning pair sometimes if it is possible to go for a high-ranking hand by doing so.

The Best Strategy: Optimal Decision-Making for Video Poker

Best strategy in video poker is based on statistical analysis and probabilities.  Gamers do not have to do all of this work; computers have already done the statistical heavy lifting!

Hold Pat Hands.

This applies from two pair and up.  There are times when we break a pair, even a winning pair, to go for a better hand.  A dealt straight and above is a given pat hand unless you have four to a Royal Flush.

The fundamental principle of basic strategy is to hold the cards that offer the greatest chance of creating a winning hand.  This sometimes calls for breaking a winning hand to go for a much better hand.

The Top Three Hands

These are the Royal Flush, straight flush, and four of a kind.  This is for any video poker variation that does not have a wild card.  Obviously, in Deuces Wild, it is possible to get five of a kind and that hand would rank above four of a kind.

It is also impossible to improve these hands in standard video poker.  Thus, there is nothing out of the ordinary strategy-wise if you are dealt one of these hands.

Why Does Four to Royal Flush Reign Supreme?

The big extra payout with a Royal Flush makes having four to the Royal Flush the cards to keep even if the card you discard makes a pair with one of the royals.

We go for the Royal Flush because it is potentially worth so much.  It is quite rare to be dealt four to a Royal Flush.

Hold Onto a Straight, Flush, Full House and Three of a Kind

A straight, flush, and full house are made hands but they rank below four to a Royal Flush!  It is possible to have a straight and four to a Royal Flush.  It is possible to have a flush and four to a Royal Flush.  It is rare for this to happen but, if it does, you should break the straight or the flush and go for the Royal Flush.

There are still cards in the deck that can give you a wining hand even if you don’t get the Royal Flush!

Also, keep in mind that these three hands rank above four to a straight flush!  Such is the power of the Royal Flush!

Two Pair is Higher Than a High Pair

In other words, if you have two low pairs, you have a winning hand.  If you have a high pair, you also have a winning hand but you do not discard a low pair in this scenario.

What is so interesting is that a single high pair is so strong in video poker!  Here are the rest of the possible hands in order of preference.  You keep the highest hand in this list but a high pair outranks them all.  Please do not confuse this list with the really powerful dealt hands we covered above!

  1. Three cards to a royal flush
  2. Four cards to a flush
  3. A low pair
  4. Four cards to an outside straight
  5. Two royals suited
  6. Three cards to a straight flush
  7. Two royals unsuited
  8. A royal and a ten suited
  9. One high card

10. Any other dealt hand is so low in value that you should discard all of the cards!

Advanced Strategy is….Well, Advanced!

There is more to video poker than what we have covered here!  But even if you master super advanced video poker strategy, you will add only about one tenth of one percent on your expected return to player rate!

So, concentrate on the basic set of strategic hand values.  You will be able to win a lot of sessions.

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Jack Marsh enjoys examining the world around him from many different points of view: the mathematical, the psychological, the political, and the philosophical.

He will write from a mathematical perspective on why the cards fall the way they do, from a psychological perspective on why gamblers gamble the way they do, from a political perspective on why forms of entertainment that are encouraged in one place are prohibited in another, and from a philosophical perspective on the nature of happiness ... [Read Jack Marsh full bio]