Two of the biggest reasons why I’ve always enjoyed video poker are the strategy and high payback. If you combine the two, then you have a strong chance of winning.
This element has kept me playing video poker for far more hours than I’d like to admit. But a nice byproduct of playing video poker for too long is that I’ve learned a lot about the game.
In fact, I’ve picked up 7 good lessons about video poker that can help anybody win more. Here are the 7 biggest things that I’ve learned by playing this game so much.
1 – It’s Hard to Find the Best Games
Some beginning video poker players get started with the game because they hear that you can earn over 100% payback.
It’s easy to see why this is attractive, considering that you can win long-term profits with positive expected value (+EV). But the catch is that only certain video poker machines offer over 100% payback.
The 3 most-common include Deuces Wild (100.76%), 10/7 Double Bonus (100.17%), and 10/6 Double Double Bonus (100.07%).
Of these 3, Deuces Wild is the only one that gives you a chance to earn reasonable profits. Here’s an example to explain this.
- I play all three video poker machines for 1,000 hands
- I use perfect strategy with each game
- Deuces Wild: 0.0076 edge x 1,000 hands = $7.60
- Double Bonus: 0.0017 edge x 1,000 hands = $1.70
- Double Double Bonus: 0.0007 x 1,000 hands = $0.70
The main problem when searching for Deuces Wild or other +EV video poker machines is that they’re hard to find.
I don’t mean that the process of finding games with over 100% payback is difficult. Instead, you won’t find many of these machines outside of Las Vegas.
Making matters harder is that you also can’t play +EV video poker online, because it doesn’t exist.
Bovada used to have a video poker machine that offered 100.05% payback. But this game is long gone.
The best way to find video poker machines with over 100% payback is by using the site vpFREE2.com. Here, you can quickly search for casinos that offer +EV video poker with the following steps.
- Visit the “Casinos” section at the top
- Select the filters you want (e.g. Las Vegas or East Coast)
- Browse through the casinos to see what video poker games they have
The vast majority of video poker players don’t live around Vegas or visit very often. But keep vpFREE2 in mind when you do get a chance to visit Sin City.
2 – You Need a Big Bankroll
Video poker is like slot machines in that it offers a wide variety of payouts. You can see this in the 9/6 Jacks or Better pay table below.
The nice thing is that you can win up to a 4,000-coin payout if you wager 5 coins. But the downside is that you won’t win as frequently, and the game is more volatile, meaning short-term results fluctuate wildly.
Jacks or Better is one of the least-volatile video poker machines. But it still offers inconsistent short-term results when compared to other casino games.
Your chances of winning something on any single hand are around 45%. This is lower than games like blackjack and European roulette, where you win 46.36% and 48.64% (even-money bets) of your turns, respectively.
Due to video poker’s volatility, I really noticed how large of bankroll you need to play for a long time. I like to have at least 3,000 units (5 coins per unit) in my video poker bankroll at any time.
This sounds like a lot, but video poker also has a higher risk of ruin (chance that you’ll lose everything). Check out the starting bankroll requirements below to see how much you need to avoid losing everything:
I’m not saying that you can’t play video poker for fun with $20. But you should have a lot more than this if you plan on playing for a long time.
3 – Getting a Royal Flush Takes a Long Time
Continuing on the last point, one reason why video poker is so volatile is because you have such low odds of getting a royal flush.
The royal flush payout makes up around 2% of total video poker payback in most non-progressive games. While this may not seem like a tremendous amount, it does have a long-term effect.
Here’s an example.
- 8/5 Bonus Poker offers 99.17% payback
- The royal flush makes up 1.99% of this amount
- If you don’t hit the royal flush, you’re looking at 97.18% payback
Video poker machines offer a royal flush every 40,000 to 48,000 hands, depending upon the game.
I knew that royal flushes didn’t come around every other hand when I started playing. But it wasn’t until later that I realized just how long you have to wait on average.
Here’s the math on how long the average player waits to win a royal flush payout.
- 700 video poker hands
- 1 in 40,000 hands pays a royal flush
- 40,000 / 700 = 57.14 hours
If you play video poker for 15 hours per week, you can expect to get a royal flush once every month on average.
This doesn’t sound bad in theory. But it drags on after a while, especially when you don’t get a royal for 60k or 70k hands.
The vast majority of your prizes will consist of smaller hands that pay less than 10 coins per credit wagered. As long as you’re fine with this, then you should still enjoy video poker.
4 – You Should Mix Video Poker Strategy in with Playing Sessions
Anybody who wants to become good at video poker should spend a reasonable amount of time studying strategy.
I did this from the beginning and immediately embarked on pouring a few hours into improving my video poker play. But what I didn’t realize is that the best way to learn is by mixing up your strategy and playing sessions.
This helps you learn video poker strategy in chunks, then apply what you’ve learned to the games. Furthermore, you’re less likely to forget what you’ve learned by immediately putting your strategy to use after an hour of studying.
I’ve found that this is much better than dumping 3 to 4 straight hours into strategy, then coming back the next day and playing.
The 2 best ways to learn strategy include training programs and strategy charts. I recommend starting with the latter, because video poker strategy charts are a good way to develop a base strategy.
You start at the top of a strategy chart and scan down until you find your hand. If you don’t find your hand, then you need to discard everything.
Here’s a sample chart from 9/6 Jacks or Better:
Jacks or Better Strategy Chart
- Royal flush, straight flush, 4 of a kind
- 4 cards to a royal flush
- Full house, flush, straight, 3 of a kind
- 4 cards to a straight flush
- Two pair
- High pair (As to Js)
- 3 cards to a royal flush
- 4 cards to a flush
- Unsuited K-Q-J-T
- Low pair (10s to 2s)
- 4 cards to an outside straight w/ 0 to 2 high cards
- 3 cards to a straight flush
- Suited Q-J
- 4 cards to an inside straight w/ 4 high cards
- Suited K-Q or K-J
- Suited A-K, A-Q, or A-J
- 4 cards to an inside straight w/ 3 high cards
- 3 cards to a straight flush
- Unsuited K-Q-J
- Unsuited Q-J
- Suited J-T
- 2 unsuited high cards w/ king high card
- Suited Q-T
- 2 unsuited high cards w/ ace high card
- Jack only
- Suited K-T
- Queen, king, or ace only
- 3 cards to a straight flush
This is a helpful reference that you can use while playing video poker to figure out what hands you should play. The only downside is that you can’t find strategy charts for most video poker games on the internet.
When this is the case, you can opt for a video poker trainer. These programs see you play video poker as usual, and they point out any mistakes you make along the way.
The goal is to become a better player through repetition. Here’s a quick example of how a training program would point out your mistakes.
- You’re dealt: 8d-Qc-2c-Kh-Ad
- You keep As, Kh, and Qc, then discard everything else
- The trainer points out the mistake, because you should’ve discarded Qc as well
Video poker trainers embody exactly what I mentioned before, in that you want to divide up your sessions into learning and playing.
For example, you could use the trainer for an hour, then play an online video poker game for another hour. This allows you to take the training wheels off and apply what you’ve learned before visiting a land-based casino.
You can find free online training programs that cover several popular video poker games, including All American, Bonus Poker, Jacks or Better, and Joker Poker.
5 – You Must Buy Training Programs to Practice the Best Video Poker Machines
The drawback to video poker training programs is that you have to purchase software to practice +EV games. I’ve never found a free program that covers full-pay Deuces Wild, 10/7 Bonus Poker, or 10/6 Double Double Bonus.
If you’re a casual video poker player, then I certainly don’t blame you for not wanting to pay an extra $50 for software. You also don’t want to make this investment if you won’t be visiting Nevada, where all the +EV machines are found.
But if you’re a really serious player who wants to practice the aforementioned games, or just anything that’s not covered by free trainers, then you’ll want to invest in software.
Here are 3 different choices that you can buy online.
- WinPoker – $34.74
- Video Poker for Winners – $49.95
- Optimal Video Poker – $54.95
The advantage of these programs is that they come preloaded with dozens of video poker games that you can practice. They also allow you to create your own pay tables and practice optimal strategy for these tables.
Again, if you have any chance to play +EV video poker games, then this type of software is worth the investment. The amount of money you can make back by achieving perfect strategy pays for the software itself.
If you don’t want to purchase software, then you can always go the long route and use a video poker hand calculator to learn.
A hand calculator lets you customize pay tables and set up specific hands. Once you’re finished entering everything, you can choose “calculate” to find the optimal plays in each situation.
Wizard of Odds has a nice video poker hand calculator that players can use. This tool is not only helpful for figuring out how to play +EV games but also learning specific hands that you forget how to play.
But if you’re looking to make the most use of your time, then buying software will save you hours in the long run.
6 – You Need Rest to Play Well
One thing that I never accounted for when starting out in video poker is how much sleep and diet can affect your play.
I would sometimes visit a casino or play online after eating fast food and only having slept 4 hours the night before. I’d then make several mistakes every hour.
I initially chalked this up to regular human error when playing video poker games. But the truth is that I was setting myself up for failure by not sleeping enough and/or eating poorly before sessions.
It was only later when I was randomly reading articles on how sleep and diet impacts your cognitive abilities that I realized what I was missing.
Once I started eating better and sleeping more, I noticed that the number of mistakes I made dropped.
I was also able to play more hands per hour if I felt like it. This is especially beneficial on Las Vegas trips when playing games that offer over 100% payback.
7 – Video Poker Rewards Are Declining – But Double/Triple Points Are Still Available
Land-based casinos used to be more generous with the amount of rewards that they offered gamblers. Unfortunately, casinos have tightened up the number of comps they offer, as they concentrate on the resorts and amenities side of their businesses.
You used to be able to get comped anywhere from 0.2% to 0.4% on your video poker play. But now, most casinos only comp 0.1%.
Moving to Las Vegas and trying to become a video poker pro is less feasible these days. But you can still make some decent money on days when casinos are running double and triple points promotions.
Here are some comparisons.
- 1,000 hands x $1.25 x 0.003 = $3.75
- 1,000 hands x $1.25 0.002 = $2.50
- 1,000 hands x $1.25 x 0.001 = $1.25
If you add $3.75 to $7.60 in Deuces Wild profits, you’re looking at an $11.35 hourly win rate.
Earning $11.35 per hour isn’t going to make you rich. But we can all agree that it’s far better to get comps at this rate than at 0.1%.
Even if you don’t play +EV video poker machines, you can still look forward to nearly breaking even on other games. Optimal play on 9/6 Jacks or Better coupled with a 0.3% comp rate puts you at 99.84% payback.
All you need in this case is a little luck to win long-term money.
Video poker is one of the more complex games in the casino. But the reward is worth the effort if you love gambling and are willing to study strategy.
Some of the biggest things I’ve learned while playing include looking for the best games, pacing yourself with strategy, and starting with a large enough bankroll. Just by following these steps, you can dramatically improve your chances of winning in video poker.
You’ll boost your chances even more by doing the small things like getting your rest, taking advantage of double/triple points, and buying training software.
I had to learn all these factors the hard way, because I didn’t immediately put enough work into video poker strategy. But you can quickly reap the benefits by doing all 7 of these things right away.