Gambling Tips >Video Poker for Dummies






Please don’t send me emails about how upset you are over the title of this column. If you are reading this far, then I’ve succeeded in getting your attention. Now I aim to keep it by giving you information on how to play one of the best casino games which could result in you winning more money.


Slots vs Video Poker

If you are a die-hard slot player, you know very well that today’s slot machines come in all different shapes, sizes, and flavors. The newer slots have high tech graphics and sound effects, game-within-a-game features, bonus jackpots, familiar TV game show themes, and more. BUT, there is one undeniable fact about a slot machine. It’s impossible to calculate what a slot machine will pay back with the information that is provided on the face of the machine. Only two people know this deep, dark secret – your friendly casino slot manager and the slot manufacture that sold him the machine. So even though casinos may advertise that their slot machines pay “up to 99%,” you have no clue that the slot machine standing in front of you returns that much, or probably a lot less.


Ahh, but standing next to those slot machines are the fewer in number, but higher in payback, video poker machines. Although they look like slot machines there is one big, major difference.  All the information you need to determine a video poker machine’s payback percentage is contained smack dab on the front of the machine.


So, unlike slot machines, reading a video poker machine’s pay schedule is very important since it will give you information on the machine’s payback. And since video poker machines are not all created equal, by understanding how to read a video poker machine you can scout a the casino floor and walla, find the ones that have the highest payback. Your job, therefore, is to understand how to read the pay schedules, and my job is to show you how easy it is to do it.


Playing Skill

First you must understand that there is another important factor besides knowing how to read the pay schedules on video poker machines. And that is your skill in playing them.


Unlike slot machines where skill plays no role, it’s quite different with video poker. You will be dealt five electronic cards and you must decide which cards you want to keep (or hold) and which ones you want to discard for new ones (i.e., you only get to draw once). Your objective of course is to end up with a five-card poker hand which results in a payoff. So, no matter how well you learn to read the machine’s pay schedule, if you insist on discarding a low pair and keeping a single high card, or always keeping a kicker, your return will be much lower.


Fortunately, several video poker experts have already computed the optimum playing strategy for different video poker games. These strategies are available in books, videos, and software programs. But in the next issue of Jackpot I’ll show you how you can play like an expert without having to resort to spending hours memorizing playing strategies.


Full Pay vs Short Pay

Video poker machines that have the highest payouts are known as full pay machines. For example  look at the pay schedule for the original version of Jacks-or-Bettor. Specifically we will look at the single coin pay schedule for three different machines.


Jacks-or-Better Pay Schedules
  A B C
Royal Flush 250 250 250
Straight Flush 50 50 50
4-of-a-Kind    25 25    25
Full House     9*   8*   6*
Flush  6*    5*    5*
Straight  4   4     4    
3-of-a-Kind  3  3  3
2 pairs  2 2 2
Pair of Jacks or Better 1 1 1
Payback percent  99.5% 97.3% 95.0% 


Every video poker machine that has ever been built will list somewhere on the front of the machine, or on the screen itself, the pay schedule for each winning hand for the number of coins (or credits) played. Glance at the pay schedules for machines A, B, and C above (for a single coin play). You will notice a difference in the payouts for a full house and flush. Machine A pays 9 coins for the full house and 6 coins for the flush. Likewise Machine B pays 8/5 and C pays only 6/5. No big deal you say? Well these slight differences in payouts result in machine A having an overall payback of 99.5% with expert play (this also assumes you play the maximum five coins and the royal flush payout for maximum coins played is 4,000 coins). The 8/5 Machine B, even with expert play, will yield a long term payout of 97.3% and the 6/5 Machine C only 95.0%.


Over 100% Payback Machines

When video poker players became smarter about how to select the full pay 9/6 Jacks-or-Better machines the casinos began to flood the market with all different kinds of variations. Each of these variations  (eg. deuces wild, jokers wild, double bonus, etc.) have their own specific full pay schedule and expert playing strategy.


There isn’t enough space in this column to list the full pay schedules for every type of video poker machine you will find in a casino Therefore, I’ve summarized the full pay schedules for the popular Deuces Wild and Double Bonus Poker machines as a starter. I’ve chosen these games because they are fairly popular and more importantly they offer the astute video poker player the opportunity to play with an expected return that exceeds 100% (that means these machines will pay out more coins then they take in over time with expert play).


Notice I’ve highlighted the key payoffs for specific hands that you need to look for as you scout and read the different video poker machines in a casino. For the Deuces Wild machine make sure the 4-of-a-Kind payoff is 5 coins (not 4)  and for the Double Bonus machines look for a 10/7 payout for the full house and flush.



Double Bonus Poker
Royal Flush 250*
Straight Flush 50
Four Aces 160
Four 2's, 3's, 4's 80
Four 5's through Kings 50
Full House 10
Flush 7
Straight 5
3-of-Kind 3
2 pairs 1
Pair of Jack-or-Better 1
Payback Percent 100.2%

* 4,000 coin payout for Royal Flush with max coins played



Dueces Wild
Royal Flush 250*
4 Deuces 200
Royal Flush with Deuces 25
5-of-a-Kind 15
Straight Flush 9
4-of-a-Kind 5
Full House 3
Flush 2
Straight 2
3-of-a-Kind 1
Payback Percent 100.7%


* 4,000 coin payout for Royal Flush with max coins played


 Greater Than 100% Return Means What?

In order to receive the greater than 100% return on the above machines you need to hit the royal flush since it contributes somewhere around 1.5% (depending upon the game) toward the overall payback percentage. The chance you’ll hit a royal flush is about once every 40,000 hands or about 80 hours of play for most folks. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and hit more then one royal flush during this time and sometimes you won’t hit any. Over time however, you’ll average hitting the royal about once every 80 hours.  So, during the 79 hours of play on average when you don’t hit the Royal Flush your return will be less then 100%.


What this means in dollar and cents is that most of the time you are playing video poker your bankroll will go south. It’s not uncommon to have several losing sessions in a row even though you are playing a full pay machine expertly. In fact with video poker, you will lose more often than you will win, then get it back when you hit the royal flush.


Optimum Playing Strategy

I encourage you to read the video poker books by experts Bob Dancer, Jean Scott, Dan Paymar, John Grochowski, Frank Scoblete, Skip Hughes, John (Lodestone) Kelley, and the late Lenny Frome to become familiar with the optimum playing strategy for whichever video poker game interests you. However, here’s a tip that will get you started playing like a pro. Purchase an inexpensive video poker strategy card by one of these experts and take the card with you when you play. As the hands pop up on the screen, refer to the card so that you will always be making the correct play. And don’t be embarrassed if you have to use it; even the pros carry and use them. Playing this way will be slow going in the beginning and cut down on your hourly win rate, but it’s a way to get started with minimum study time. 


Final Tips

  1. Shamelessly copy the full pay schedule for each video poker game on an index card and take it with you to the casino to help you compare pay schedules.
  2. Always use your slot card when you play video poker. Casinos will reward you with a combination of cash rebates, comps, and mailings of free offers just for playing. Often the total return for these rewards equals 0.25% (or more) of your total play.
  3. Always play max coins to get the maximum payback.
  4. Only play video poker on full pay machines. If you can’t find any full pay machines, then only play on machines with the highest pay schedules that you can find.
  5. Always play with your handy strategy card in hand.
  6. When you scout the casino’s inventory of video poker machines, don’t forget to check out the multi-game machines for hidden full pay games.
  7. Try to take advantage of double and triple point days. This means you will be earning double or triple points with your slot card, which will further increase your overall return percentage.
  8. Be especially careful with the pay schedules on the multi-hand video poker machines (ten, twenty, fifty play) where you play more then one hand at once. Because the amount of money that you play is so much greater on these machines, playing one with a short pay schedule can be murderous to your bankroll.
  9. If you have a computer and want to practice the playing strategies before you hit the casino, consider purchasing the the video poker training software endorsed by Bob Dancer or by Jean Scott.
  10. Consider subscribing to Strictly Slots Magazine where you’ll find some excellent articles on video poker for beginner and experienced player.
  11. There are several Internet sites that offer good information for video poker players including
  12. Keep in mind that playing a full pay machine with expert strategy is no sure thing over the short term.  In fact in any one short playing session you are more likely to be a loser then a winner. However, if you continue to play full pay machines with expert strategy and have enough bankroll to whether the short term fluctuations, then over the long term (about 250,000 hands) you will win more money then lose.