Video poker is one of the most successful and popular games ever invented. After 30 years, the original Jacks or Better variety is still a favorite, probably because the house edge is less than half of a percent! Video poker came about in the 1970s when Si Redd’s little company in Sparks, Nevada, introduced Draw Poker. The original game was slow and clunky, but as technology grew, so did SIRCOMA, and his company became today’s International Game Technology. Much of the company’s early success was due to video poker’s popularity.
Jacks or Better is the basis for all other video poker variations. Most video poker variations are just Jacks or Better with a dramatic change to the pay table or Jacks or Better with the addition of wild cards. Of course, when you add wild cards, the pay table is adjusted based on.
Also, some video poker games are linked together and offer a progressive jackpot. A 25-cent machine pays $1,000 for a royal flush, but in the 1980s, with many machines linked together in bars and other locations, jackpots often rose to more than $2500. Popularity was sky-high. Over time, new variations of video poker like Joker Poker, Deuces Wild, and Double Bonus were introduced. Triple Play came along later with a player option to play three simultaneous hands on the same machine.
Through all the changes and competition, Jacks or Better has remained the original and most popular game. And there are good reasons for the player loyalty. To begin with, it’s a game that can offer a return of 99.5% to the player. That’s terrific. To get that pay-off, you’ll have to follow the optimal strategy I’ll show you later. Another advantage of Jacks or Better is that it offers lower volatility in payoffs than other video poker games. That makes a difference in your cash flow or bankroll. Games with other high payoffs like Deuces Wild and Double Double Bonus have sneaky ways of making those payoffs.
- Jacks or Better is one of the most popular video poker formats. This has been the go-to version of the game since video poker terminals hit casinos and bars. It is based on draw poker, when you get a single draw and aim to hit jack-jack or better to win.
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Video poker is based on the poker game of five-card draw, but it is unlike the card game, where there is a pot to strive for, and the best hand wins. In video poker, a player makes a wager, usually five coins, and is dealt five cards. They may hold any or all cards or discard as many as five cards and draw new ones. To win, the player must make a final hand of at least a pair of jacks. Payoffs are shown at the top of the video screen and following this introduction.
Any hand with three of a kind pays 3 for 1, regardless of whether you start with that hand or draw cards to make the final combination. A straight is any five cards in sequence, such as A-2-3-4-5 or 7-8-9-10-J. They can be of any mixed suit, and the payoff is 4 for 1. A hand such as 3-4-5-6 is called an open-ended straight since you can make your hand by catching a card on either end with a 2 or a 7.
A gut-shot or close-ended straight draw is a starting hand like 5-6-7-9. To make the straight, you’ll need to catch an 8. A flush is any five final cards of the same suit, such as 3-6-8-9-Q of clubs. Making a flush pays 6 for 1. The next-best hand is a full house. You’ll be paid 9 for 1 when you get three of a kind and a pair, such as 2-2-7-7-7. If you make a hand like 2-7-7-7-7, you’ll have quads. You’ll get paid 25 for 1 when you make four of a kind.
It doesn’t matter what the order of the cards is on a video poker screen. You’ll be paid the same, even if they are mixed up. However, occasionally you’ll find a casino that offers a bonus for a sequential royal flush. The payoff for a sequential royal flush is usually 10,000 for 1. I’ve seen super jackpots or 10k on machines at the Palazzo in Las Vegas, the Atlantis in Reno, and in the past at online sites like Bovada and Jackpot City. You may have to search around, but the added payoff sounds fun.
What you can expect for payout hands on a Jacks or Better 9/6 video poker machine:
|Four of a Kind||25||3,924,430,647||0.002363||5.9064%|
|Three of a Kind||3||123,666,922,527||0.074449||22.3346%|
|Jacks or Better||1||356,447,740,914||0.214585||21.4585%|
This payoff table shows all the possible combinations of video poker. The table is based on 9/6 payout, meaning that you receive 9 coins back for each wagered on a full house and six coins back for each wagered on a flush. You’ll hit two pairs a huge amount of the time. And your payout for that hand will be nearly 26% of your total returned while playing. That helps reduce variance, as you will get a small winning amount back quite often, as compared to getting just even money on two pairs at other games.
Station Casinos has this pay table at many of their casinos, including Palms, Red Rock, Boulder Station, Palace Station, Sunset Station, Texas Station, and Santa Fe Station. They are out there! Keep in mind that although the game has a great payback, your “luck” will have a lot to do with your results. That doesn’t mean varying from the best strategy; it means that when you are playing any gambling game, especially one that has a high payoff jackpot like video poker at 4,000 coins, it can be a long time between big hits.
If you look back at the payback table, you’ll see that the amount you receive over hours and hours of play is dictated greatly by the pair and two-pair hands. And while the royal flush is only about 2% of your total return, it will be your savior and catch you up for a lot of losses along the way. That’s what creates a variance, so you will still have times when you seem to be running bad because you can’t make any decent payoffs.
My first piece of advice is to always look for the best pay tables. When you play Jacks or Better, you’ll find plenty of machines, from IGT Game King to Bally Game Maker, and other suppliers. But what you’ll find most of the time is a payoff that is lower than 9/6. That wouldn’t keep me from playing, but I’d play more often with the best odds, wouldn’t you? Most of these odds are better than playing a game like roulette or Three Card Poker, so video poker isn’t bad. Just keep in mind that you’ll get a lot more hands at the slots and video poker than at a table game.
In fact, you can play quickly and get as many as 300 hands per hour at video poker. Because of this, the game can be as expensive to play per hour as games like roulette with a slower pace and a higher house edge.
9/5 Jacks or Better
In this game, the payoff for a flush is reduced from 6 to 5. The reduction results in a maximum payout to the player of 98.45%.
8/6 Jacks or Better
Draw Poker Jacks Or Better
At 8/6 Jacks or Better, the payoff for a full house is reduced from 9 to 8. That takes the maximum payout to the player down to 98.39%.
8/5 Jacks or Better
This game reduces both the full house and the flush payoff. You’ll get 8 for a full house and just 5 for a flush. Your maximum payout then becomes 97.30%.
7/5 Jacks or Better
At 7/5 Jacks or Better, a full house pays 7 credits, and a flush pays 5 credits per coin wagered. The maximum payout to the player falls to 96.15%.
6/5 Jacks or Better
The 6/5 Jacks or Better payout is found in many casinos these days. It is even found at many online casinos where I think the payouts should be much higher. The maximum payout to players with this configuration is 95%.
Personally, I try to avoid both the 7/5 and 6/5 Jacks or Better games. I will play these games when they are attached to a progressive jackpot, which increases my percentage payback over the long term. The higher the jackpot, the better the payback. And the more likely I’ll vary my strategy to hit that royal flush. My second piece of advice is always to play the maximum number of coins it takes to hit either the 4,000-coin payoff for a royal flush or the maximum number of coins it takes to hit a progressive jackpot.
Also, that royal flush payoff is only 2% of the overall payoff a machine makes, but you’ll need it to keep your payback percentage high. If you don’t, you can expect to take that 2% off the overall payback. That’s on you.
There is a very good, easy strategy you can use in video poker in the beginner’s guide to video poker. However, if you want to get serious and follow the optimal strategy, it is listed below. Regardless of which strategy you follow, keep in mind that even full-pay Jacks or Better video poker machines hold a lot higher percentage than the .5% the optimal strategy offers. Why is that?
The answer lies again in the murky world of variance and what gamblers believe about luck and skill. Well, that and the fact that most players don’t play anywhere near the best they can. Bad play is costly. That’s the bottom line. Play on hunches, and you can expect Jacks or Better video poker to return about 92% to you. Play less than maximum coins, and the house edge comes closer to 10%. It’s fun, but winning is much better!
Here are a few examples where players make mistakes. The first has to do with a low pair below Jacks and a straight draw.
A Low Pair and a Straight Draw
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Suppose you are dealt 4-4-5-6-7. Your pair of threes won’t pay a dime if you don’t improve, and you’ve got an open-ended straight draw. What should you do? According to our optimal strategy, a non-paying low pair (twos through tens) has a higher overall return than an open-ended straight. How can that be, you might ask?
The answer lies in the fact that while the straight will pay 4 coins (20 total) when it hits, you’ll only draw the card you need eight times out of the remaining 47 unseen cards. On the other hand, if you dump the 5-6-7 and draw to your pair of fours, you’ll make two pairs quite often. And you’ll be able to make trips, a full house, and the occasional four of a kind. When all those possible hands are averaged out, the correct decision of keeping the small pair will pay you almost 25% more than drawing at the straight.
This example is shown below by comparing #16, the low pair, to #21, the straight draw.
A Low Pair and a Flush Draw
Now suppose you are dealt that same pair of fours with a four-card flush draw. Now, what’s the best strategy? To start with, a flush pays better than a straight, 6 coins to just 4. Plus, you’ll make a flush more often in the 47 tries outlined above. Instead of making your hand eight times, you’ll make it nine times.
Jacks Or Better Video Poker Strategy Trainer
With those improved odds and payoffs, you’ll want to keep the flush draw and toss those measly fours. Check the list below, and you’ll see the flush draw is listed higher, at #14, compared to the low pair at #16.
Guaranteed Payoff Versus a Big Draw
Sometimes the payoff is more dramatic than making a straight. Suppose you get a guaranteed winner in the form of a pair of jacks. However, your total hand is the jack of hearts with a ten, jack, queen, and king of spades. Now you’ve got a four-card draw at a royal flush. Should you toss the guaranteed payoff of the pair of jacks or toss the jack of hearts and go for the big payoff?
If you have three cards to a royal flush with a high pair, you should go ahead and draw three to the pair. On the other hand, if you have a low pair and a royal flush draw, toss the little pair and draw to the big bucks. If these examples make sense to you, the optimal strategy shown below will too. You will always draw to the biggest hand possible from the highest listed hand on the list.
|3||4 of a kind|
|4||4 cards to royal flush|
|7||3 of a kind|
|9||4 to straight flush open ended (queen high)|
|11||4 to straight flush inside draw|
|12||High pair (jacks, queens, kings, or aces)|
|13||3 cards to royal flush|
|14||4 cards to flush|
|15||10 J Q K|
|16||Low pair (two through tens)|
|17||9 10 J Q|
|18||8 9 10 J|
|19||9 J Q suited|
|20||9 10 J suited|
|21||Open-ended straight draw (highest card a ten)|
|22||8 J Q suited|
|23||3 to straight flush – open ended (highest card a ten)|
|24||9 Q K suited, 9 J K suited|
|25||9 10 Q , 8 10 J , 8 9 J suited|
|26||J Q suited|
|27||J Q K A|
|28||J K suited, Q K suited|
|29||J A, Q A, K A suited|
|30||4 to straight inside (three high cards)|
|31||3 to straight flush – two gaps and one high card|
|32||3 to straight flush – one gap and no high card|
|35||10 J suited|
|37||10 Q suited|
|38||JA, QA, KA|
|39||10 K suited|
|40||One high card – jack, queen, king, or ace|
|41||3 to straight flush two gaps and no high card|
|42||Five low cards, no straight or flush draw – redraw all five cards|
What the strategy above insists is that you see what you are dealt, find the highest part of it on the list, and play from there. In other words, if all you have is five unsuited, unconnected low cards, you discard them all and draw five new cards. The next-worst starting hand is three cards to a straight flush with two gaps (a double gut shot) and no high cards. That would be something like 2-4-6 of diamonds with an 8 and a 9. It’s not much better than a single high card and no straight or flush draw.
Jacks Or Better Video Poker Payouts
The final note is that although you might not be able to find the perfect 9/6 machine, you can always enhance your return by joining the casino players club. Most large casinos in the US and Canada offer complimentary rooms, food, and beverages for players. In Las Vegas, most casinos comp at 1 point per $1 in action. 1,000 points equals $10. If you are playing 25-cent video poker, your comp total for an hour of play with 300 hands played will be about $3.75. If you find a good 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker machine with the standard 99.5% payback, you’ll get more than 100% payback with your comps. It doesn’t get much better than that!