Video Poker Strategy

Video poker experts advocate an optimal strategy of sorts that is very similar to the basic strategy guidelines governing blackjack. When practicing optimal video poker strategy, players can enjoy the highest possible expected return on their money, provided they consistently make the most correct choices. You can search for optimal video poker strategy tables, but from there you’ll have to memorize the rules for all of the possible situations you’ll encounter on your first five cards. 

Most of the time you’ll find yourself facing straightforward decisions, such as when you’re dealt two pair. In this case, you need only hold the two pair (as this represents a qualifying hand that is guaranteed to payout at least double your bet). After drawing one additional card, you can either improve to a full house or not, and a new hand will begin.

The real game begins when you’re faced with a tougher choice, and that’s where optimal video poker strategy comes into play. As an example of the intricate rules used to define optimal video poker strategy, consider a five-card deal where you receive both a low pair and four cards to a flush. In this scenario you have two choices that both seem relatively equal in terms of expected value: 1) keep the low pair and draw three cards hoping to make three-of-a-kind or better, or 2) keep the four-flush and draw one.

According to optimal video poker strategy the math is indeed quite close, but you should always keep the four suited cards and draw to the flush. Considering the odds of completing your hand relative to the payout awarded, this play offers better expected value than the odds against/payout ratio of drawing to three-of-a-kind or better.

The following table is useful for visualizing optimal video poker strategy for Jacks or Better:

Pre-Draw Hands                                           Optimal Decision

Mixed Low Cards                                              Draw 5                       
1 High Card (A, K, Q, J)                                     Draw 4           
2-Card Royal (with a 10 but no Ace)               Draw 3
2 High Cards                                                     Draw 3
3 High Cards                                                     Draw 2
2-Card Royal (Ace but no 10)                          Draw 3
3-Card Straight Flush                                       Draw 2
4-Card Straight                                                 Draw 1
Low Pair                                                           Draw 3
4-Card Flush                                                    Draw 1
3-Card Royal                                                   Draw 2
High Pair (Js or better)                                    Draw 3
Two Pair                                                          Draw 2
4-Card Straight Flush                                      Draw 1
Three of a Kind                                               Draw 2
4-Card Royal                                                   Draw 1

To use this chart, a player simply scans the screen and determines which hand they have before the draw. In the event they have two or more of these hand scenarios, choosing the highest possible draw (lowest on the chart) provides the most optimal decision in terms of odds against versus potential payout.

Another useful strategy tip for video poker concerns the payout tables on various machines. Experts recommend only playing “9/6” machines (which pay out at 9:1 for full houses and 6:1 for flushes), because these offer a house edge of under 1 percent when playing optimal strategy. Compared to the 2.71 house edge that comes with “8/5” machines (which pay out at 8:1 for full houses and 5:1 for flushes), the “9/6” machines are by far the better choice for improving your expected return over the long run.

By diligently avoiding the reduced odds offered by “8/5” machines, and hunting the floor for the more lucrative “9/6” payout table, you can improve your expected return while reducing the house edge to under 1 percent. You can even find online services dedicated to helping players plan their trip by mapping out the presence of “9/6” video poker machines at casinos and gaming properties.

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