Developing a Video Poker Strategy

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Since its debut in the 1970s, Video Poker has proven to be one of the most popular games for betting, both in land-based casinos and on the Internet. The number of variations on the basic game of Five-Card Draw has proliferated so that there are literally hundreds of different ways to play nowadays, from games with wild cards and multiple hands to exotic versions with reels that spin like slot machines and those with bonus multipliers for achieving certain combinations. Nonetheless, the basic approach to developing a Video Poker strategy is roughly the same for every version.

Identifying Threshold Hands

First, each form of Video Poker has its own pay table, showing the values of the hands and their associated payouts. All of them have a minimum threshold for receiving a payout. For example, the game known as Jacks or Better awards even money for a pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces. Some versions of Joker Poker require Kings or better, while others start payouts at Aces or better. There are also games that pay even money for a pair of tens or better, but some, including Deuces Wild, do not pay for anything less than three of a kind.

The primary objective for all of these different games is the same: to win by meeting or exceeding the minimum threshold. For that reason, the first rule of a basic strategy will be to keep any combination of cards that will pay even money or better and discard the ones that do not. In other words, after the initial deal, keep all five cards in any “pat” hand (straight, flush, full house, straight flush, royal flush) and discard the single unused card when holding four-of-a-kind or two pair. Keep three-of-a-kind and discard the two unmatched cards; keep a high pair meeting the threshold requirement and discard the unmatched three cards.

There are some important exceptions to this rule. The Royal Flush typically offers such a high payout that it is almost always to the player’s advantage to keep four cards forming part of the Royal, such as 10-J-Q-A suited, and discard the fifth card, even if it meets the threshold requirement by forming a flush, a straight or a high pair. Similarly, depending on the payouts, it may be desirable to keep four cards forming part of straight flush, even if the fifth card forms a straight.

Handling Lesser Hands

As it turns out, decisions regarding such premium hands are infrequent. Much more common is the need to choose what cards to keep and which ones to throw away in hands that do not meet the threshold for payout. At the far end of the spectrum are so-called “garbage hands” that hold no promise—no pair, no high card, no suited run of three or four cards, no 4-flush and no open-ended 4-card straight draw. These hands should be discarded in their entirety, looking for five fresh cards to meet the threshold on the draw.

Cards worth keeping in a non-threshold had will include high cards, wild cards (if any), pairs and suited runs, among others, but a close analysis of odds will be needed to determine the optimum strategy. In general, the decision should be based on what combination of cards will afford the greatest possibility of obtaining a payout. Should a low pair be kept or discarded in favour of two suited high cards? The answer requires some calculations to be made and it may differ from game to game, depending on the payout table.

Apart from how to play the cards, Video Poker strategy should also take into account money management. Most of the pay tables offer a premium or bonus for a Royal Flush or other combinations, so it is to the player’s advantage to always wager the maximum number of coins allowed. If playing the maximum seems too costly relative to the size of the bankroll available, a machine with a lower denomination for betting should be selected.

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