Introduction to Video Poker

If you are new to video poker these pages provide an introduction to the game.

Game Anatomy
How to Play
Games Overview
Strategy
Players Clubs
A drawing showing the anatomy of a video poker game.

The drawing above represents a typical video poker machine and some of its key components. Most games have roughly the same components, although they may be arranged in a slightly different way depending on the machine's make and model.

The game machine itself resembles other types of slot machines. It has a bill validator to accept your money, a ticket printer to print your cash-out ticket when you are through playing, and various buttons for drawing and holding cards and cashing out.

Arguably, the most important feature of a video poker machine is the game's pay table. The pay table determines how much any winning hand will pay and ultimately determines the return, or "payout", of the game. Strangely, in spite of its importance, the pay table may be one of the most frequently overlooked components by uninformed players.

Video poker machines, when played with the correct strategy, will return a certain percentage of the amount played to the player. The percentage is determined by its pay table. But they do so over a very long period of time -- millions of hands. The ups and downs -- winning and losing "streaks" -- all figure in to this percentage return. Over the game's life, it is a statistical certainty the game will return the percentage dictated by the game's pay table (given perfect play, and keeping in mind that pay tables for a machine can be changed over its life, but not while you're playing the game). But in any one session, day, or week, there can be streaks of wins or losses, which are what creates the excitement in playing the game.

Unlike traditional slot machines, the expected return of a video poker game can be determined by evaluating its pay table. That, of course, doesn't mean you won't win or lose money on that day, but the pay table determines with precision what the game can be expected to pay out over time. In some casinos, pay tables are relatively consistent, but in others there are huge variations. It is not unusual to find a 9/6 Jacks or Better returning 99.54% sitting right next to a 6/5 Jacks or Better returning 95.00%. While on any one hand this difference may not amount to much, over thousands of hands played, it sharply reduces the likelihood of finishing as a winner.

This is why the pay table is important to the player. If you consistently play games with higher returns, you are almost certain to win more money (or at least, lose less) than the uninformed player who plays lesser paying games. Perhaps not on any one given day, but over time it will make a significant difference in your results.

Here is a sample pay table:

A sample video poker pay table.

Each numeric column in the pay table represents the number of credits bet, starting with 1 credit on left and in the example above, up to 5 credits on the right. It shows that if you have bet one credit and get two pair, you will receive two credits back. If you bet five credits and get a four of a kind, you will receive 125 credits back. If you bet three credits and get a full house, you will be paid back 27 credits. Notice that if you bet four credits and get a Royal Flush, you will be paid 1,000 credits; however, if you have bet five credits and "hit the Royal", you'll be paid 4,000 credits -- four times as much for playing one additional coin. This "bonus payout" generally only applies with the royal flush as an enticement for you to play all the credits in the game.

The game for the above pay table, with perfect play, will return 99.54% over time if you bet the maximum number of credits each hand. This is determined solely by the pay table; no other information is relevant. When you visit our "Games" page, you will learn, for example, that the game with a similar pay table, but having the full house reduced from nine to eight credits and the flush reduced from six to five, will return only 97.30%. Although it doesn't seem like much, there is a vast difference between these two pay tables.

If you plan to play very much video poker, it is essential that you are able to identify those games having the best pay tables and avoid those that don't. Once you know which pay tables to look for, you can get on to learning the strategy that will optimize your return for a given game.

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