player playing video poker on his computer

What are the Basics of Video Poker?

We at Jackpot Capital online casino offer so many slots including games with a slot machine jackpot, that many players overlook our large assortment of other games.  So, we will begin a series of articles in which we introduce our other categories of games and then, in a separate article or two, discuss strategy in these games.

This time we’ll begin with an introduction to video poker.

High Return to Player Rate

One of the bets reasons for players to play video poker at Jackpot Capital casino is because this game, as we set it up through the Random Number Generator, has, without a doubt, the highest return to player rate of any game we run.  If you play with the best strategy on every hand, you can come very close indeed to a 100% return to player rate.

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The other prominent reason why many gamers fall in love with video poker once they give it a chance is because they love poker but are not so happy about the bluffing side of poker.  Many players also are put off by the major inroads mathematics has made into live poker.

So, the video poker boom was born.  We hope that many thousands more players will try out video poker after they read this and subsequent articles about the game and might even make video poker their default online casino game.

The Basics of Poker

The first basic rule of poker is that you try to get the best hand with only five cards.  In regular poker, a high pair can often win a hand if the player holding that high pair isn’t scared away from the pot by a bluff.  That’s the bluffing side of poker in a nutshell and the biggest reason why video poker is so popular.

There are some poker games in which you get seven cards and choose the best hand with five of those cards.  By adding a sixth and seventh card for players to use or not use, the value of a single high pair goes way down.  This means that if you play seven card stud or Texas Hold’em, every player can use seven cards in his or her five card hand. 

Texas Hold’em is especially tricky for all but the very best players because five of the cards are called community cards; anyone can use them.  The only unknown is what are the two down cards in an opponent’s hand?  This often makes very big differences in the quality of a hand!

Video Poker is a Variation of Five Card Draw Poker

When you play five card draw in your house with friends, everyone gets five cards.  The general rules are that each player can discard up to three cards unless he or she shows an ace whereupon they can discard four cards.

The rules in friendly games like this are that no one can ever discard all five cards.  In video poker, you can discard all five cards if you want to!  This rule alone makes it a lot easier to get a winning hand and is a primary reason why the return to player rate is so close to 100%!

In Video Poker You Play against the Pay Table

You don’t play against any opponent including the “dealer”.  Actually, the dealer is software called the Random Number Generator or the RNG which we mentioned above.  You play against the pay table and the RNG produces cards for every hand you play.

The RNG is entirely random.  We have our RNG examined for fairness every few months since we use a RNG in every one of our online casino games!

Hierarchy of Hands in Poker

Video poker uses the same hierarchy of hands that they use in all (or most) variations of poker.  The lowest hand is a high card with no pair.  Here are the hands in ascending order:

  • High card.
  • One pair.
  • Two pair.
  • Three of a kind.
  • Straight.
  • Flush.
  • Full house.
  • Four of a kind.
  • Straight flush.
  • Royal Flush.

One Pay Table in Five Parts

The video poker pay table is actually five separate tables in one.  There is one set of payouts for a minimum bet and that payout goes up numerically as you increase your bet.  The fifth pay table has a big extra payout for a Royal Flush.  In order to win the extra payout for a Royal Flush, you have to make the maximum bet.

This is where video poker strategy begins.  In order to win the lowest payout, you generally need a pair of jacks or better.  That’s why the basic video poker game is called Jacks or Better and why most variations begin as Jacks or Better and then add their own unique wrinkles.

Going for a Royal Flush

The second unique wrinkle in video poker strategy is that most players will make the maximum bet to qualify for the big Royal Flush payout.  That also means that in many cases, it pays to go for a Royal Flush instead of going for a lesser winning hand.

In a friendly five card draw game in someone’s house, you might never go for a Royal Flush simply because there is no extra payout for a Royal Flush in those games.  You win what’s in the pot.  But in video poker, because of that big bonus, going for the Royal Flush is a major strategy play in many cases.

Both of these strategy plays—being aggressive and going for a higher hand instead of playing it safe by going for a winning pair and going for a Royal Flush— are counter-intuitive.  Most players would be happy to always go for a pair of jacks or better to win the minimal payout.  But the minimal payout is 1-1 and in most games two pair also pay out at a 1-1 rate.  So, in a very large number of cases, it pays to go for a higher paying hand even at the risk of losing a minimally winning hand.

What We Have Learned So Far

This is the end of our introduction to video poker.   Here is what we have learned:

  • The return to player rate with top strategy is close to 100%.
  • Top strategy is often counter-intuitive.
  • You play against the pay table not against the dealer.
  • The best bet is the maximum bet because it qualifies you for the big extra payout for a Royal Flush.
  • Sometimes giving up a chance to get a minimal win is the best strategy.
  • You can draw up to five cards on every hand.

In the next installment in our series on video poker, we will begin to get more deeply into the esoteric side of video poker strategy.

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