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This electronic cousin of live poker enjoys a huge following, much made up of hardcore local gamblers. Although a video poker machine resembles a slot machine and is typically located on the slot floor, it is an entirely different beast. Make no mistake about it. Video poker is a game not of chance but of skill. If played perfectly, the house edge can often be flattened to zero or even pushed into the negative, and that means a return to players over 100 percent. Casinos can only afford to do this because perfect play is the province of the merest handful of experts, people who use powerful computer programs to work out strategies that is accurate within ten thousandths of a percentage point. Instead of a slot machine’s spinning reels, a video poker screen displays a five-card hand of draw poker.

Basic video poker games

Every deal comes from a freshly shuffled 52-card deck. Buttons allow the player to hold or replace the dealt cards. After the draw, the game pays off according to a payout schedule listed on the screen. A pair of aces might pay one to one, while a royal flush almost always pays out at a rate of one. Most basic poker rules are in effect as far as hand rankings go (minus ‘kickers’, or unpaired or unsuited high cards, on all but one or two variations of video poker), but the psychological angle is jettisoned. You are playing against a machine that doesn’t respond to bluffing, the quality of your hand is all.

There is no way to summarize basic strategy for video poker, partly because it’s extremely complex and partly because the game comes in so many different varieties. Each variety has its own unique characteristics too, such as wild cards and bonus options, and consequently different pay tables and different strategies for optimal play. You can buy video poker strategy cards which will allow you to make the right decision on every hand, in essence, you will be playing computer-perfect strategy.

The basic variation is ‘Jacks or Better, which plays most like a five-card stud and pays out on pairs of jacks or better. The strategies for Jack or Better are pretty much intuitive for anyone who already knows how to play poker, but some rules have to be learned. For example, you never hold a kicker (a high-value card to be held along with a pair). You never draw to a four-card inside straight.

For example, you are you always go for the royal flush if you hold four of the cards, even if it is going to mean sacrificing a pair, a flush, or a straight in the process. As with slots, you should play the maximum number of coins, as this greatly increases the top payout for a royal flush. Another tip, be sure to play ‘full-pay’ games as opposed to their ‘short-pay’ brethren. The same style of the game might pay the same hand differently in different casinos. For instance, in Jacks or Better, the full-pay version returns 9 for 1 on a full house and 6 for 1 on a flush, it’s called a ‘9/6 machine’. On the short-pay version, it is sliced to 8/5 or even as low as 6/5. The only reason to play a short-pay version of Jacks or Better would be if it was connected to a progressive jackpot or paid off on a pair of tens or better.

However, the 8/5 Bonus, with extra payouts for four-of-a-kind, is a different animal. So are Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus, Triple Bonus, and Double Triple Bonus variations. Then there is Joker Poker and many different varieties of Deuces Wild. Video poker players should consult the books and reports on the market that detail proper play for sample video poker hands. There are excellent computer programs available that tutor players in video poker strategies. Casinos don’t mind if you refer to strategy charts while playing, but they draw the line at laptop computers.

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