Learn Video Poker
Generally, video poker has better long term theoretical odds than slots but you have to learn how to play it. You must find and play only machines with the best pay tables and learn the strategies well enough to get close to realizing the best odds you can find. Though skill will improve your chances of winning, luck is still involved. Video Poker is one of the best games in a casino, but switching to it, is not a panacea for losing.
You will not receive as many comps playing video poker as you will at slots, but if you play your cards right (pun intended), your reduced losses should make up for that fact. You have to practice and study the games to get the best results. It’s possible to win without any knowledge at all (because video poker is still gambling) but it’s not probable over time. If you’re going to get reduced comps for playing video poker, you don’t want ignorance of correct strategy to reduce your odds to those that you would get at slots anyway.
If you are not familiar with the mechanics of how video poker works, there are numerous online and print resources to teach you the hands and how the machines work.
Video Poker | How to Get Started
Jacks or Better is the first video poker game to learn. Its basic strategy is relatively easy to master, once you get the hang of playing video poker and it is a game that you can often find in a full pay version, which is a pay table that returns 99.54% of the money cycled through it, over the long term, with perfect play. Perfect Play is just that, playing perfectly, with no mistakes. Hardly anybody can do that, but you can get close.
Video Poker | Jacks or Better (JoB)
Almost all games without wild cards are a derivative of Jacks or Better. It is called Jacks or Better because you win your bet back for getting a pair of Jacks or Better. The pay table we are looking for is above. This game is often abbreviated as 9/6 JOB because you are looking to receive 9 for 1 for a Full House and 6 for 1 for a flush. Also make sure that you are getting double your money for two pair and that you receive 800 for 1, for hitting a Royal Flush. You will notice that if you play any number of coins less than five, you receive only 250 for 1 if you hit a Royal Flush. Although Royal Flushes are infrequent, they make up almost 2% of the theoretical payback of the game, so if you can’t afford to play 5 coins, then play only one (to save money until you know what you are doing) or wait until you can afford to play 5 coins. (Sometimes you will find games with a 10 or even 20 coin minimum bet to receive the full odds of the game, so you’ve got to check the pay table, denomination and buttons, every time you sit down to play.)
Jacks or Better is THE basic game
Some players are going to tell you that Jacks or Better is boring and that you can’t win real money by playing it. Ignore them! Jacks or Better is THE basic game. It has low variance and if you can find 9/6 JOB and play it reasonably well, the casino should not have more than a 1% advantage against you and even less as you become more skilled. Once you play Jacks or Better nearly perfectly, you will know whether or not to branch out into more exciting, higher variance games. You can also learn wild card games, which will be easier to master once you have the basics down.
How to Identify THE GAME
Reading (and basically memorizing) pay tables is a task you must do if you’re going to be successful, but don’t fret. This becomes an easy and automatic thing to do, once you practice a bit, and when you first start out, you’re only going to be looking for one pay table, for one game: Jacks or Better.
Identify THE GAME by the Pay Table
You identify the game by the pay table, no matter what the machine refers to it as. Many times Jacks or Better will be listed as Draw Poker or the game will say it is Jacks or Better, but the pay table will be different than traditional Jacks or Better. (Technically, any game that pays out for a hand of jacks or better could be referred to as Jacks or Better but we’re looking for a very specific pay table.)
You’re going to need a written out video poker strategy of some sort (cheat sheet) and video poker training software so you can practice without wagering money. If you are completely new to video poker and don’t want to make a financial investment at first, you should be able to find a free strategy and free VP training online. You can try wizardofodds.com or videopoker.com.
Practice and Prepare
Jean Scott, a video poker guru, has written very useful books about video poker, which are geared towards beginners and those wanting to up their game, once they learn the basics. (See: FRUGAL VIDEO POKER) I consider Jean one of my mentors and I finally met her because she spoke at ZorkFest!
I purchased Bob Dancer’s video poker strategy cards and WinPoker, a software training program he endorsed, when I first started. I like the shorthand that those cards use because you can refer to them at a glance. I use these abbreviations to make my own strategy cards, if I come upon a good game in a casino that I want to play. Bob Dancer endorses Video Poker for Winners now. That has newer games in its menu. (Also, be sure to check out: Million Dollar Video Poker)
Search around and find a strategy written in a format comfortable for you. All strategies will list the most valuable draws to hold to the least valuable draws to hold. Be aware that you will have a better chance to reach close to a 99.54% payback if you use an advanced strategy and play it perfectly and that skill could take some time. When you are ready to wager cash money, play the lowest denomination that you can find and play slowly and check your holds a few times before hitting draw.
[Updated June 2019]