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by Jerry "Stickman"

Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in craps, blackjack, video poker and advantage slot machine play. Jerry "Stickman’s" new book is "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, and Pai Gow Poker." He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. In addition, Jerry "Stickman" along with his partner, #1 best-selling gaming author, Frank Scoblete give private lessons in dice control. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at .


Gone are the golden days of video poker when you could readily find returns of 100+ percent. Those games are now virtually extinct. You can still find some full-pay Jacks or Better (9/6 – meaning 9-for-1 paid for a full house and 6-for-1 paid for a flush) that returns 99.54 percent with expert play. However, even these games are becoming harder and harder to locate. You are much more likely to come across short-pay version, such as 9/5, 8/6, 8/5, 7/5 and even 6/5.

Keep in mind that for every one-unit reduction in pay, the game’s return is lowered about 1.1 percent. Here is how that plays out for the Jacks or Better games listed above:

  • 9/6 99.54 percent
  • 9/5 98.45 percent
  • 8/6 98.39 percent
  • 8/5 97.30 percent
  • 7/5 96.15 percent
  • 6/5 94.99 percent

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to reduce the normally low-house-edge video poker to nothing more than a slot machine in terms of return. Also, keep in mind that these returns are for "expert" play – you need to work to get these returns!

Many casinos regularly change the pay tables on their video poker games. Just because a particular machine had a full-pay game last week, doesn’t mean it will be a full-pay game today. The astute video poker player must be alert for pay table changes.

Obviously, as the pay table changes, so must the playing strategy. As the pay for one type of hand lowers, other hands start to become more desirable. In the paragraphs below, I will examine some of the strategy changes required for some short-pay Jacks or Better pay tables. I am using simplified "basic" strategies when highlighting changes. Advanced strategies will most likely have more changes. If you are serious about playing short-pay games, you should find a program or an app that generates strategies and abide by what is generated. (Actually, if you are serious about video poker play of any kind you should get a strategy generating program or app.)

Jacks or Better strategy is fairly simple because it contains relatively few lines of strategy. Below is a basic playing strategy for full-pay (9/6) Jacks or Better. To use the strategy, start at the top and see if that line describes your dealt hand. If there are multiple hands listed, move from left to right. If you locate your hand, keep those cards. If not, continue moving across then down line-by-line until you find your hand. If you reach the bottom without finding your hand, don’t save anything, just redraw all five cards. The colors represent what the player is saving for. Red stands for royal flush, Blue stands for straight flush, Green stands for four of a kind or full house, Pink stands for flush, and Brown stands for straight.

  1. 5-Card Royal
  2. 5-Card Straight Flush
  3. Four of a Kind
  4. 4 of a Royal
  5. Full House
  6. 5-card Flush
  7. Three of a Kind
  8. 5-Card Straight
  9. 4 of an Open Straight Flush, 2345-9TJQ
  10. Two Pair
  11. 4 of an Inside Straight Flush
  12. High Pair JJ-AA
  13. 3 of a Royal
  14. 4 of a Flush
  15. Unsuited TJQK
  16. Low Pair 22-TT
  17. Unsuited 9TJQ, 89TJ
  18. Suited QJ9, JT9
  19. 4 of an Open Straight, 2345-789T
  20. Suited QJ8
  21. 3 of an Open Straight Flush, 345-89T
  22. Suited KQ9, KJ9, QT9, JT8 or J98
  23. Suited QJ
  24. Unsuited AKQJ
  25. Suited KQ, KJ, AK, AQ or AJ
  26. 4 of an Inside Straight with 3 Hi Cards
  27. Any 3 card Straight Flush except 2 Gaps, 0 Hi Cards
  28. Unsuited KQJ, QJ
  29. Suited JT
  30. Unsuited KQ, KJ
  31. Suited QT
  32. Unsuited AK, AQ or AJ
  33. Suited KT
  34. A Lone Jack, Queen, King or Ace
  35. Any 3 card Straight Flush

This is the basic playing strategy for full-pay (9/6) Jacks or Better. The complete pay table looks like this:

Royal Flush 250/4000

Straight Flush 50

Four of a Kind 25

Full House 9

Flush 6

Straight 4

Three of Kind 3

Two Pair 2

Jacks or Better 1


9/5 Jacks or Better Strategy Changes

Now let’s assume you have scoured the casino for the best video poker game that you can find and came up with a Jacks or Better game that pays 9/5. The only change to the pay table compared to a full pay 9/6 game is flushes are paid 5-for-1 rather than 6-for-1. While not fantastic, this game returns 98.45 percent with expert play and with the right combination of slot club points and other comp considerations, this game could offer over 100 percent return when counting the extras. How would playing strategy change with this minor pay table change?

Much of the basic strategy chart stays the same. Here is the section that contains changes. The first change is line...

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