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by Jerry "Stickman"

Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in craps, blackjack, video poker and advantage slot machine play. Frank Scoblete's and Jerry "Stickman's" book "Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker" presents dozens of video poker games and strategies for maximum returns. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at

An acquaintance recently asked me to comment on playing the 8/5 version of Jacks or Better. He understands that 9/6 Jacks or Better is a better game to play but he went on to say it is sometimes hard to find this game and many times the best game he can find is the 8/5 version.

For those readers who are not familiar with video poker terminology, Jacks or Better is one of the first video poker games ever manufactured. At the minimum you will get your bet back if you get a pair of jacks or a better hand. The 9/6 or 8/5 refers to the payoff for a full house and flush respectively. The 9/6 game pays nine units for every unit bet for a full house, and six units for every unit bet for a flush. The 8/5 version pays eight units per unit bet for a full house and five units per unit bet for a flush.

A 9/6 Jacks or Better game returns 99.54% of the money played if you play each hand perfectly. "Perfectly" means saving the cards from each initial hand that is dealt so that the overall average return for that hand is the highest possible. The pay schedule for this game with the maximum of five coins wagered per hand is:

Hand Payout

Royal Flush 4000

Straight Flush 250

Four of a Kind 125

Full House 45 (9 times the 5 coins played)

Flush 30 (6 times the 5 coins played)

Straight 20

Three of a Kind 15

Two Pair 10

Pair (Jacks or Better) 5

An 8/5 Jacks or Better game returns 97.30% of the money wagered if you play each hand perfectly. The pay schedule for this game with the maximum five coins bet is:

Hand Payout

Royal Flush 4000

Straight Flush 250

Four of a Kind 125

Full House 40 (8 times the 5 coins played)

Flush 25 (5 times the 5 coins played)

Straight 20

Three of a Kind 15

Two Pair 10

Pair (Jacks or Better) 5

By simply reducing the payout for two of the hands (full house and flush) by one unit per unit bet, the total payback for the game is reduced by more than two percent. In the long run, for every $100 you play through the 8/5 version you will lose $2.24 more than if you played the 9/6 version. For this reason alone, a savvy player will avoid an 8/5 game if at all possible.

Many times a casino that has standard 9/6 Jacks or Better games will have progressive games that reduce the payouts to the 8/5 Jacks or Better level. A progressive game slowly increases the payout for a royal flush as the game is played. Part of the added profit the casino takes in lower the paybacks for the full house and flush is added to a jackpot that pays off when you get a royal flush. Generally the progressive jackpot starts at 4000 units. It very slowly moves upward as people play the progressive group of video poker machines.

As the progressive amount moves higher, the long-term payback also moves higher. It is possible for the progressive to get high enough to offset the reduced payback of the game. Heck, it is even possible for the progressive jackpot to get high enough to make the game have a long term positive payback - that's right, more than 100 percent.

To have an 8/5 Jacks or Better game return 99.54 percent like a 9/6 game, the jackpot has to get very high and that doesn't happen very often at all. The progressive needs to be almost 8,000 units before the payback reaches that of a 9/6 game. That is almost twice the normal payoff for a royal flush.

Let us assume the best game you can find is a progressive 8/5 Jacks or Better. How does your playing strategy change when the progressive royal is at the reset value of 4,000 credits? What about when it is at 8,000 credits?

The following strategy charts were generated by the Video Poker Strategy Master computer program using the "Basic" strategy designation. The resulting strategy lines were then combined where possible to minimize the number of lines in the chart. For example, the first three lines of the original strategy for the full-pay (9/6) Jacks or Better strategy chart were 1) Royal Flush, 2) Straight Flush, and 3) Four of a Kind. These three lines were combined into "4-of-a-Kind or better."

Since it is the benchmark for the strategy changes required for short-pay Jacks of Better, here is the simplified strategy for full-pay (9/6) Jacks or Better...

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