Playing Video Poker for Real Money

by James Carter on February 19th, 2015.

How to play video poker and win real money.Learning how to play video poker for real money might be one of the best decisions you ever make as a gambler. The payout percentages and odds on video poker games are far superior to those you'll find at any slot machine. Some video poker games even offer a positive expectation.

The game is essentially a video game version of five card draw, but instead of playing against other players, you're playing against a payout table. The better the poker hand you wind up with, the bigger the payout is. For example, a pair of Jacks might pay out at even odds, but a straight flush on the same machine might pay out at 50 to 1.

The game starts when you input your coins. You can play for between one and five coins per hand, but the top jackpot is only available if you play for five coins. This can make a huge difference in terms of your payout.

In the most common version of the game, Jacks or Better, the top payout is for the royal flush. If you're playing for five credits per hand, you'll get an 800 to 1 payout when you do hit your royal flush. If you're playing for fewer credits per hand, the payout is only 250 to 1. Sure, a royal flush only comes up once every 40,000 hands or so, but that's a huge difference in payoutabout 1.1 %, in fact.

Once you deposit your coins you draw your initial hand, the computer behind the scenes deals you five cards. These are dealt randomly as if they were dealt from a standard 52 card deck.

You'll notice that this is one of the first big differences between video poker and slot machines, by the way. On a slot machine game, you have no way of knowing what the odds are for getting a particular symbol on a particular reel. But since a 52 card deck has a known number of cards of each rank and suit, you can calculate the odds of getting the various hands.

Once you get your five cards, you get to choose which cards to keep and which ones to discard. The computer program replaces the cards you've discarded, and you get a payout based on how good your final poker hand is.

You'll find multiple variations of video poker, but they all feature the same type of gameplay. The variations usually involve different payout structures and the inclusion of wild cards.

Video Poker Odds

Video poker games look like slot machines, but the difference (as pointed out earlier) is that we can calculate the odds and payback percentage for a video poker game. We know the odds of being dealt a straight flush or a royal flush. We never know the odds of getting three cherries in a row on slots games.

But not only can you calculate what the payback percentage is on a video poker game, you can also determine an optimal strategy for playing. This isn't something people figure out using a pencil and a legal pad, though. It's calculated using computers.

A human can't play perfect video poker on every hand. But a human can get close by studying the appropriate strategies for these games. When you get close to perfect, you come within a few tenths of a percentage point of realizing the optimal payback percentage for the game.

For example, Jacks or Better, the most common game you'll find, has multiple pay tables. The best pay table for this game is called a 9/6 game, because the payout for a full house is 9 to 1 and the payout for a flush is 6 to 1. If you find such a game, you'll have an opportunity at a 99.5% payout percentageif you play with close to perfect strategy.

Other variations of that 9/6 pay table are common. For example, 8/5 Jacks or Better is easily found. But the payout percentage for that variation is significantly lower97.3% instead of 99.5%. That 2.2% difference is significant, but a 97.3% payout percentage is still far better than almost any slot machine game in the casino.

The second most common type of video poker you'll find is called Deuces Wild. In this game, deuces are wild, which changes the strategies and odds significantly. You'll find a much wider variety of payout tables for this variation, too.

A so-called full pay Deuces Wild pay table offers a payout percentage of 100.7%, which makes it one of the few games in the casino where a skilled player can get an edge. Full pay Deuces Wild games are almost as rare as dodo birds, though. Most people have to settle for finding what video poker experts call a "not-so-ugly" Deuces Wild game, which still offers a payout percentage of 99.7%.

One more clarification regarding video poker odds is worth mentioning: in most casino games, the odds are discussed in terms of the house edge. This is the percentage of each bet that the casino expects to keep over the long run based on the math behind the game.

When discussing slot machines or video poker, writers talk about payback percentage, which is the amount of money the game returns to the player on every bet over the long run. If you subtract the payout percentage from 100%, you'll have the house edge.

Video Poker Tips

The first and most important tip about video poker is to learn the differences between the pay tables. This has more of an effect on your bottom line than any other factor. Earlier I pointed out that the difference between 9/6 Jacks or Better and 8/5 Jacks or Better is the difference between 99.5% and 97.3%.

But you'll also find casinos offering 7/5 Jacks or Better and even 6/5 Jacks or Better. Sometimes they'll be on the gaming floor right next to the better-paying machines. The payout percentages on these are 96.2% and 95%.

These might seem like negligible amounts, but consider what that actually means in terms of your hourly expected losses. To calculate how much you can mathematically expect to lose per hour at a casino game, you multiple the number of bets per hour by the amount you're wagering per bet by the house edge.

Fast video poker players can get in as many as 600 hands per hour. Assuming you're playing for quarters and making the max bet, you're wagering $1.25 per hand 600 times per hour, or $750 per hour. The difference between 9/6 Jacks or Better and 6/5 Jacks or Better is the difference between a house edge of 0.5% and 5%.

That's the difference between expecting to lose $3.75 per hour and expecting to lose $37.50 per hour.

And that is why learning which pay tables are better than others is video poker tip #1.

Video Poker Strategy

Real-money video poker strategy varies based on which game you're playing. The first video poker strategy you should learn is for Jacks or Better. The simplest strategy for that game is to consult the following list. Start at the top, and go down the list until you reach the hand that matches what you have, then hold those cards.

Jacks or Better Strategy

  • Royal flush, straight flush, or four of a kind
  • Any four cards to a royal flush draw
  • Any three of a kind, straight, flush, or full house
  • Any four cards to a straight flush draw
  • Two pairs
  • A pair of Jacks or better
  • Any three cards to a royal flush draw
  • Any four cards to a flush draw
  • A pair of tens or lower
  • Any four cards to an outside straight draw
  • Any two suited cards ranked Jack or higher
  • Any three cards to a straight flush
  • Any two unsuited cards ranked Jack or higher
  • Any suited 10J, 10Q, or 10K
  • Any card ranked Jack or higher
  • If you don't have anything better than that, discard everything and start over

That's a simplification of the correct strategy, but it's an excellent starting point, and it's quite manageable. You'll notice that unless you have four cards to a royal flush draw, you'll always hang on to any cards that are already winners. That's because the expectation of already having a winner trumps drawing to a better win unless you're drawing to the royal flush. The payout on the royal flush is so high that it compensates for breaking a winning hand some of the time.

Deuces Wild Strategy

The correct strategy for Deuces Wild starts with a look at how many deuces you have in your hand. Otherwise, it works just like Jacks or Better strategystart at the top and work your way down the list.

Four Deuces - You always hold all four deuces.

Three Deuces - If you have a royal flush, keep it, otherwise, discard everything except the three deuces.

Two Deuces

  • Keep any four of a kind of better
  • Keep any four cards to a royal flush draw
  • Keep any four cards to a straight flush draw
  • Keep the two deuces and discard everything else

One Deuce

  • Keep any four of a kind or better
  • Keep any four cards to a royal flush draw
  • Keep a full house
  • Keep any four cards to a straight flush draw
  • Keep any three of a kind, straight, or flush
  • Keep any three cards to a royal flush draw
  • Keep any three cards to a straight flush draw

No Deuces

  • Keep any four of a kind or better
  • Keep any three of a kind or better
  • Keep any four cards to a straight flush draw
  • Keep any three cards to a royal flush draw
  • Keep any pair
  • Keep any four cards to a flush draw
  • Keep any four cards to an outside straight draw
  • Keep any three cards to a straight flush draw
  • Keep and four cards to an inside straight draw
  • Keep any two suited cards higher than a Jack

If you don't see a hand on this list, don't play it. Just throw it away and draw new cards.

Real Money Video Poker Online

Playing video poker online for real money is a great way to practice for the casinos. It also provides you with an opportunity to test your mettle against real casinos. Most online casino software is almost exactly like that you'll find in a traditional brick and mortar casino.

My favorite place for video poker on the Internet is Slots.LV. This casino has a gaming machine theme to begin with, and the software offers excellent graphics and sound effects. They also offer good odds on most of their video poker games.

Finally, Slots.LV offers a generous signup bonus for new players. On your first ten deposits of $500, you'll receive a $500 bonus. Your total signup bonus is $5000. That's a lot of extra time on the video poker machines for your money.