Video Poker Strategy for All Players

Posted by James Guill

Video poker is the perfect game for those who enjoy the real money slot experience, but are also interested in taking more control of their bet’s final outcome. For that reason, online casino poker is best explained as a nice blend of video slots and five-card draw poker. A slot machine’s final outcome is predetermined once you hit spin or pull the lever, but poker allows you to keep the cards you believe give you the best chances of winning. Our online casino video poker strategy guide walks you though the basics, understanding the rules, paytables and paylines and simple versus optimal strategies.

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Video Poker Strategy: Learning, Understanding Rules

Before you step up to play for the first time, you’ll want to understand the basics of how to play poker and the strongest winning hands. Here are those winning hands, ranked strongest to weakest.

Hand Definition
Royal Flush five cards of the same suit, ranked Ace-through-10 (ex: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10 of Hearts)
Straight Flush five cards of the same suit and consecutively ranked (ex: Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight of Diamonds)
Four of a Kind four cards of the same rank (ex: four 9’s)
Full House three cards of the same rank and two more cards of the same rank (ex: Three 8’s, Two 5’s)
Flush any five cards of the same suit (ex: Queen, Jack, Seven, Four, Two of Hearts)
Straight any five cards consecutively ranked (ex: 4 of Clubs, 5 of Diamonds, 6 of Diamonds, 7 of Hearts, 8 of Spades)
Three of a Kind three cards of the same rank (ex: three 5’s)
Two Pair two cards of the same rank and two more cards of the same rank (ex: Two Queens, Two Kings)
Jacks or Better two cards of the same rank so long as they are Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces (you can’t win with a pair of 5’s)

Unlike in regular poker where any pair or, in some extreme cases, high cards can win a hand, most online casino games require the player to hit at least a pair or Jacks or better and with the ultimate goal to hit a royal flush.

Because most players, along with those of you reading this guide, are first-time novice poker players, it’s crucial for you to learn the basics before playing for real money.

In short, after you place your initial bet, the video poker machines deal you five cards, face up, on screen. You’ll want to keep the ones that give you the best shot at winning by clicking the HOLD button beneath those cards. You’ll then click DRAW again and if you’ve created a five-card hand that boasts any of the combinations listed in the table above, the game will automatically notify if you’re a winner and those credits will be added back into your account.

video poker paytable

Video Poker Strategy: Understanding Paytables and Paylines

More times than not, strategy comes down to understanding the game’s paytables and paylines. The paytable is the chart featured on the game’s main page that acts much like a legend does on a map. The paylines within the paytable define how much you can win based on how much you wagered and which hand you built. In the Deuces Wild example above, if you wagered one coin/credit and hit a STRAIGHT FLUSH, you’d win nine coins/credits back. However, if you MAX bet and wagered five credits/coins and a straight flush hit, you’d win 45. The common consensus among players is that you should always be playing the MAX bet payline to take advantage of these larger payouts so long as you stick within your budget.

This may go without saying, but video poker, and all casino games, are only enjoyable if you play within your means and set aside a specific bankroll before you start a gaming session. If you do that, the experience and strategy remain consistent throughout. If you don’t, the strategy could be thrown out the window as you go on tilt and start betting with emotion rather than good sense.

Video Poker Strategy: Variant vs. Betting Style

video poker strategy

In this next strategy lesson, we’re going to illustrate how different game variants impact the way you may (or may not) play a hand.

In Bovada’s Deuces Wild example pictured to the right, you can see we’ve been dealt a 10 of spades, 2 of spades, 2 of hearts, 2 of clubs and 3 of hearts. By holding the three 2’s, we’ve hit four of a kind before hitting draw a second time and because we hit MAX bet before, our minimum payout is 20 coins/credits. However, because we studied the paytable beforehand, we also know that if we draw a fourth 2 (of diamonds), we’ll win 1000 credits/coins!

Now, for the sake of argument, say we had the same exact hand Jacks or Better video poker. The three 2’s would afford us a minimum payout of 15 coins/credits, but with a ceiling of 125 credits should we pull the fourth deuce and a far cry from 1,000.

This is just one example of how casino games strategy is impacted by the variation you’re playing. Do not ignore the paytables and paylines because it can cost you big time in the end.

Simple vs Optimal Strategy

In short, the difference between simple and optimal strategy can be hundredths of percentage point, but over time, these hundredths add up in the player’s favor. This applies when playing 9 / 6 Jacks or Better where the payoff for a full house is nine times the initial bet, while the flush is six times the initial bet. The 9 / 6 format has low volatility, which allows for players to take advantage of those percentage points to improve their return to player rate.


James Guill

James Guill is a former professional poker player who writes fro GambleOnline.co about poker, sports, casinos, gaming legislation and the online gambling industry in general. His past experience includes working with IveyPoker, PokerNews, PokerJunkie, Bwin, and the Ongame Network. From 2006-2009 he participated in multiple tournaments including the 37th and 38th World Series of Poker (WSOP). James lives in Virgina and he has a side business where he picks and sells vintage and antique items.

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