Apr 14, 2020
Apr 14, 2020

# Video poker odds and strategy

## What are the best video poker hands?

Video poker may be a card game that cannot be played at a table, but this doesn’t mean the odds and probabilities involved and strategy that can be applied to them are any less important. Here is a runthrough of the probabilities and house edge in Video poker and tips and strategy that you should bear in mind when playing.

### Video poker probabilities and house edge

As per any casino game, it is vital to establish the probabilities and house edge involved in Video poker and thus, how they may dictate any relevant strategy.

Outlined below is a table for the most common Jacks or Better 9/6 pay table, detailing the payout ratio (number of credits won divided by number of credits bet), probability and expected return rate (payout ratio multiplied by probability) for each hand:

Jacks or Better 9/6 Video poker house edge

 Hand Payout ratio Probability Return rate Royal Flush (five credit bet) 800 0.002% 1.981% Royal Flush (one to four credit bet) 250 0.002% 0.619% Straight Flush 50 0.011% 0.547% Four of a Kind 25 0.236% 5.906% Full House 9 1.151% 10.361% Flush 6 1.101% 6.609% Straight 4 1.123% 4.492% Three of a Kind 3 7.445% 22.334% Two Pair 2 12.928% 25.856% Jacks or Better 1 21.459% 21.459% Other 0 54.544% 0.000% Total (five credit bet) 100% 99.543% Total (one to four credit bet) 100% 98.181%

As you can see from the table above, the approximate probability of getting a winning hand in any given round is 45.456%. The return rate when placing five credit bets is 99.543% whereas when placing a one to four credit bet it is 98.181%, translating to house edges of 0.457% and 1.819% respectively.

The house edge is lessened when placing five credit bets as Jacks or Better 9/6 pay tables traditionally reward a 4,000 credit ‘jackpot’ for a Royal Flush achieved on a five credit bet, more than tripling the payout ratio. This means that for every €100 spent on five credit bets, your expected return is approximately €99.54 and for one to four credit bets, it is €98.18.

The other major takeaway is despite the fact that its payout ratio is only one less than the other two combined, a Full House is actually more likely than either a Flush or Straight. As a result, it is the only winning hand other than those with the three smallest prizes to offer a return rate of over 10%.

To provide more detail, here are the approximate return rate and house edges for several popular Video poker variants. You will notice for some that when placing a five credit bet the return rate is actually over 100%, meaning the odds are narrowly in the player’s favour.

Video poker games house edge

 Game Five credit bet One to four credit bet Return rate House edge Return rate House edge Jacks or Better (9/5) 98.449% 1.551% 97.080% 2.920% Jacks or Better (8/6) 98.392% 1.608% 97.020% 2.980% Jacks or Better (8/5) 97.298% 2.702% 95.929% 4.071% Jacks or Better (7/5) 96.147% 3.853% 94.778% 5.222% Jacks or Better (6/5) 94.996% 5.004% 93.627% 6.373% Deuces Wild (full pay) 100.762% -0.762% 99.457% 0.543% Deuces Wild (regular pay) 99.569% 0.431% 98.303% 1.697% Double Bonus (10/7) 100.172% -0.172% 99.058% 0.942% Double Double Bonus (10/6) 100.067% -0.067% 98.718% 1.282%

### Video poker strategy

The most obvious advice is that you always seek to place the maximum five credit bet, as you are shortening your return rate by 1.362% otherwise. People fall into the trap of deciding not to do this because they think it requires them to bet more money in an attempt to enjoy added benefits on something that has a 0.002% probability of occurring.

However, this is not the case. For instance, if you want to bet €5 per round, it makes considerably more sense to set your credit value to €1 and bet five credits as opposed to betting one €5 credit. You will win the same amount of money for any given prize, with the exception of if you get a Royal Flush, at which point you will win €4,000 as opposed to €1,250 – 3.2 times more.

What to do when initially dealt a winning hand

There are several hands that should always be entirely held if they are dealt initially. Obviously, these include a Royal Flush as it is the best hand in the game, alongside a Straight Flush and a Four of a Kind.

A Full House should also be entirely held. You may feel enticed to discard the pair in an attempt to upgrade the hand to a Four of a Kind in the knowledge that should this fail, you will have a Three of a Kind to fall back on. However, assuming a solitary deck of cards in play there is only a 4.30% chance of this succeeding, meaning on average just over 19 times out of 20 your winnings will be reduced by two-thirds.

If you are initially dealt a winning hand, it is important to know what to do with it.

If you have a Flush or Straight, hold unless you have four of five cards required for a Royal Flush, at which point the decision is at your discretion.

For instance, if you have the Ace, King, Queen, Jack and nine of hearts, discarding the nine can provide several winning hands. This will enable you get a Royal Flush if you get the ten of hearts (a 2.13% chance assuming one deck in play), a Flush if you get any other heart (a 17.02% chance), a Straight if you get any other ten (a 6.38% chance) or Jacks or Better if you get any Jack or higher (a 25.53% chance).

If you originally had a Flush, this totals a 19.15% chance of either maintaining or improving upon your hand and a 25.53% chance if you had a Straight. In both cases, there is a 53.19% chance of any winning hand, although obviously some of these provide will diminished winnings compared to what you originally had.

If you are initially dealt a Three of a Kind or Two Pair, swap the remaining cards that do not contribute to the winning hand for a chance to get a Full House.

If you have Jacks or Better, solely hold the pair unless you have four of five cards required for a Straight Flush (e.g. the Jack of clubs, Jack of spades, ten of spades, nine of spades and eight of spades), at which point discard the card in the pair of the other suit.

While discarding the Jack of clubs in this scenario sacrifices being guaranteed to have your bet returned to you, you will now get a Straight Flush if you get the Queen or seven of spades (a 4.25% chance assuming a single deck in play) and a Flush with any other spade (a 19.15% chance), as well as another Jacks or better pair with the Jack of hearts or diamond (a 4.25% chance).

This provides a 23.40% total chance of improving upon your hand. While again how you proceed is your decision, these are arguably decent odds when the alternative is essentially agreeing to break even on the round.

Many players believe that if you get Jacks or Better alongside a lone high card (Jack or higher) of a different rank, you should hold onto both and only discard the other two cards. However, this strategy is not desirable, as by holding onto the lone high card you are in fact limiting the opportunity to improve upon the pair with a Three of a Kind, Full House or Four of a Kind.

This information is summarised in the table below:

Video poker winning hand strategy

 Hand Optimal stategy Royal Flush Hold entirely. Straight Flush Four of a Kind Full House Flush Hold entirely, unless you have four of five cards required for a Royal Flush. Straight Three of a Kind Discard the other two cards to try and get a Full House. Two Pair Discard the remaining card to try and get a Full House. Jacks or Better Hold the pair, unless you have four of five cards required for a Straight Flush. Discard any lone high cards.

What to do when not initially dealt a winning hand

If you are not initially dealt a winning hand, the best approach is to assess the winning hands from best to worst and establish how close you are to achieving them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best non-winning hand you can initially be dealt is having four of five cards required for a Royal Flush, which provides the aforementioned 53.19% chance of getting a winning hand.

However, this process is more complex than simply trawling through the list of winning hands to assess if you are one card away, then two cards away, and so on. It is equally important to consider the value of the initial hand in terms how many different winning hands it can potentially supply and how much money these would win.

When reviewing a Straight or a Straight Flush in this scenario, you also need to check whether it is open or inside. If it is open, this means a card is missing from the beginning or end, for instance a three or eight to add to a run of four, five, six and seven. If it is inside, this means at least one of the three middle cards in the run is required, for instance the five, six or seven in a run from four to eight.

As a result, several Video poker strategies rank non-winning hands as follows and recommend not holding any cards that do not contribute to the hand described:

Video poker non-winning hand strategy

Naturally, this is a somewhat extensive list. The most effective way to adopt this strategy is to try and retain as much information from it as you can and play through rounds of Video poker while trying to conclude where your hand ranks as quickly as possible (particularly as some machines at casinos have time limits for each round).

If you keep doing this and addressing gaps in your knowledge in the process, being able to instantly determine what you should do with your initial hand will ultimately become second nature.

To address some specific points raised by the list, a common conception is that a pair of tens or lower is less valuable than a single Jack or higher, as it is not a winning hand. While retaining the latter does offer a 26.38% chance of getting a winning pair, keeping the low pair enables you to potentially achieve a Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Full House or Four of a Kind.

Likewise, a two card Royal Flush with no Ace or ten may initially seem less valuable than some of the hands listed beneath it. Indeed, while in this circumstance achieving a Royal Flush is extremely unlikely, it opens up an opportunity to also land a Flush, Straight and Jacks or Better. Remember, the true value of an initial hand often comes from how many different winning hands can be achieved with it, as opposed to simply the best one.