Most video poker players can improve their chances by following the few simple rules for holding or discarding the first five cards that they have been dealt:
Always hold a royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, three of a kind, or two pair. However, with three of a kind, discard the remaining two cards for a chance at four of a kind while leaving full house opportunities open, and with two pair, discard the fifth card for a chance at a full house.
Break up a flush or a straight only when you have four cards to a royal flush. That is, if you have ace-king-queen-jack-9, all of clubs, discard the 9 to take a chance at the big payoff for the 10 of clubs. That still leaves open the possibility of a flush with any other club, a straight with any other 10, and a pair of jacks or better with any ace, king, queen, or jack.
Break up a pair of jacks or better if you have four cards to a royal flush or four cards to a lower straight flush.
Keep a low pair instead of a single high card (jack, queen, king, or ace).
Do not draw to a four-card inside straight -- one in which the missing card is in the middle rather than on either end -- unless it includes at least three high cards. A four-card open straight is one that has space open at either end to complete the hand; for example, a hand of 4-5-6-7 can use either a 3 at one end or an 8 at the other to complete the straight. An inside straight has space in the middle that must be filled to complete the hand; 4-6-7-8 needs a 5 to become a straight. Open straights give the player a better chance, with twice as many cards available to fill the straight.
Once you're used to the quick strategy, you may want to move on to a version that is more complex, but more accurate. Following is a strategy that is optimal for the common 8-5 and 7-5 Jacks or Better machines. It also varies only about a tenth of a percent from optimal on 9-6 Jacks or Better and for Bonus Poker machines.
Just as in the quick version, a few hands are never broken up. Obviously, if you're fortunate enough to be dealt a royal flush, you hold all five cards and wait for your payoff. (On payoffs this large, the machine will flash "Jackpot!" or "Winner!" In these cases the winnings will be paid by an attendant rather than by the machine. Do not put more coins in the machine or attempt to play another hand before you are paid for the royal flush.)
Also hold all five cards on a straight flush or a full house. Hold all four matching cards on four of a kind. Hold three of a kind while discarding the other two cards for a chance at either four of a kind or a full house. Hold both pairs in a two-pair hand, but discard the fifth card for a chance at a full house.
In the right circumstances, however, the player sometimes will break up a flush, a straight, or a pair of jacks or better. If you do not have one of the "always keep" hands, use the following list. Possible predraw hands are listed in order. Find the highest listing that fits your predraw hand, and discard any cards that do not fit the hand. For example, if your hand includes jack of spades, jack of diamonds, 10 of diamonds, 9 of diamonds, and 8 of diamonds, you have four cards to an open straight flush in diamonds, and you also have a pair of jacks or better. The four-card open straight flush is higher on the list than the pair of jacks or better, so you would discard the jack of spades and draw to the four-card straight flush. You are giving up the certain 1-for-1 payoff for a pair of jacks, but you have a chance at a straight flush with either a queen or 7 of diamonds, could draw a flush with any other diamond, or still could finish with a pair of jacks by drawing the jack of either clubs or hearts.
This strategy distinguishes between inside straights or straight flushes and open straights or straight flushes.
Remember, keep a royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, three of a kind, or two pair. Here is how other predraw hands rank:
In any hand that does not fit one of the above categories, draw five new cards.
That's a pretty lengthy list for a beginner, but it can be shortened considerably by taking all those three card straight flushes -- open, inside, double inside, with high cards, without high cards -- and lumping them together just below four high cards. That'll cost you a few tenths of a percent, but when you're comfortable with the rest of the strategy, you can start breaking down the categories for more expert play.
Two important points to remember: Don't overbet your bankroll, and if a machine is available at which you feel comfortable playing the maximum number of coins, do so. If you are sitting down to play with $20, you don't belong at a $1 machine that will take up to $5 at a time. It is better to play five quarters at a time than one dollar at a time. Though video poker machines pay back a high percentage of the money put into them, the payouts are volatile. It is not unusual to go five or ten or more consecutive hands with no payout. Don't play at a level at which you do not have the funds to ride out a streak.
While the saying, "The house always wins," is true for almost any casino game, video poker is one of the few exceptions. If you have patience and can follow the simple rules in this article, you may come out ahead for once.
For more information on video poker and general poker tips, try the following links:
- To see all of our articles on poker rules and advice, go to our main article on How To Play Poker.
- Whether you're playing a machine or eight guys with cigars, you'll be glad to know some Poker Basics.
- If you like your card games on a screen, you might enjoy learning How to Play Poker Online.
- There are other machines happy to take your money on the gambling floor. Be smarter than they are with some Casino Gambling Basics.