The following key points are what I tell casino players when they ask me how to win at video poker.
Many different games
There are many different kinds of video poker games on the casino floor. They include the traditional Jacks-or-Better, Bonus, Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus, Deuces Wild, and Joker Wild games. Too many players get enamored over the big payouts for certain four-of-a kind games with a kicker, so that’s what they play. They don’t realize that the playing strategy for these types of video poker games is very difficult to learn and, more importantly, these games have a higher volatility, meaning your bankroll swings will be higher (and lower); therefore, for the same risk, you need more bankroll for a more volatile game. Bottom line: You should never play any video poker game without knowing the correct playing strategy for that game and having enough bankroll.
Every video poker game has a specific pay schedule and a theoretical return (the latter is sometimes referred to as Expected Return). You always want to play a video poker game with the highest theoretical return. There are hundreds of different video poker machines in a casino and no one is going to tell you which one has the highest theoretical return. It’s up to you to know which ones have the highest return and play only those games.
For example, many casinos offer Jacks-or-Better but with different pay tables. Some will pay 8 coins for a full house and 5 coins for a flush (per coin played). Others will pay even less, and some will pay more. The theoretical return for 8/5 Jacks-or-Better (JOB) is 97.3 percent. In the same casino there may be a Jacks-or-Better machine that pays 9 coins for a full house and 6 coins for a flush. The theoretical return for this game is 99.54 percent.
You would be foolish (or worse, stupid) to play an 8/5 JOB game instead of a 9/6 JOB game. The same logic holds for Bonus games and games with wild cards. You must educate yourself to know what the payoff schedule for a full-pay game is supposed to be and then seek out those games in a casino that have that pay schedule (for example, a 9/6 pay schedule for a Double Bonus game is short pay; it should be 10/7). The key point is that it is your responsibility to know what the theoretical return is for the game you want to play and to be sure you play only those games that have as close to or slightly over a 100 percent theoretical return.
Achieving theoretical returns
The above theoretical returns can only be achieved if you play every hand perfectly. This may seem like a daunting task, but it isn’t. I teach video poker classes in Las Vegas and all my students have been able to learn the playing strategy. The easiest and quickest way to learn any video poker playing strategy (say, for Jacks-or-Better) is to purchase a relatively inexpensive software-training program and practice playing video poker on your computer.
The software will keep track of your playing accuracy as you play. You should be at 99 percent playing accuracy on a consistent basis before you risk any of your hard-earned money in a casino. You should also bring a video poker strategy card with you when you play (they are perfectly legal) in case you are dealt a hand where you are not sure what cards to hold. (You’ll always make the correct play with a strategy card at your fingertips.) (Note: The video poker strategy cards and software that I recommend and use in my classes are contained on my Web store on my site www.smartgaming.com.)
If you are playing Jacks-or-Better and you are dealt a four-card flush that also contains a low card, the correct play is to hold the four-card flush and draw one card. It doesn’t matter whether you have been losing or winning, or what happened the last time you were dealt that hand. Every hand must be played the mathematically correct way. Period.
Every video poker game has a specific volatility, which means how much your bankroll is going to swing up and down. If you are a beginner, you should only play video poker games with low volatility (such as Jacks-or-Better or Bonus Poker). If you play games with higher volatility (such as Double Double Bonus Poker), you can easily get wiped out unless you have enough bankroll to cover those bankroll swings.
Playing video poker is a journey
You will have good days and a lot of bad days when you play video poker. That’s normal, because the top-paying royal flush doesn’t occur very frequently (about once very 40,000 or hands or so). So most of the time, your bankroll will go south between one royal and the next. That’s normal and that’s why you must have enough bankroll to get you over the short-term dips that will occur.
Over 100 percent returns
Even playing a high-paying 9/6 Jacks-or-Better machine, you will still lose 0.5 percent of all the money you bet (because even with perfect strategy, the theoretical return is only 99.5 percent). Therefore, the only way to win at video poker is to either play a game that returns over 100 percent (such as playing a Full-Pay Deuces Wild game) or to take advantage of the casino’s cash back, free play and comps if you play a game that returns less than 100 percent. Remember that to be a winner at video poker, your overall return from the game plus cash back and bounce back needs to be over 100 percent. Therefore, it’s important that you learn how to get the most return from a casino’s slot club program (for example, scheduling your play time when the casino is offering multiple points).
For example, if you are playing 9/6 Jacks-or-Better with a 99.5 percent return, you need to get at least 0.6 percent or more from cash back and bounce back. Make sure you know what the return is from the casino’s slot club to be sure you’ll be getting over 0.6 percent. (There is a chapter in the book "Video Poker for Intelligent Beginners" by Bob Dancer that explains how to evaluate casino promotions.) Unless you play a video poker game that returns over 100 percent, you need to get a healthy return from the slot club to boost your overall return to over 100 percent.
I’ve obviously just touched on the surface of what’s involved in winning at video poker. If you want to learn more, there is a ton of good advice available and the specific products that I use in my courses and recommend are in my online and print catalog (www.smartgaming.com).
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