HOW TO WIN AT VIDEO POKER
by Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is an advantage video poker player. He is a feature video poker writer for Strictly Slots magazine, and has given seminars and taught classes on video poker for over 20 years. He will be teaching a video poker class in Las Vegas on August 18. For details on the class, click here.
What follows is an overview on how to win at video poker. Anyone can learn these skills with proper training. Skillful blackjack (and craps) players often play video poker because it allows them to play another casino game where they can gain the advantage. At the minimum, playing video poker with your player's card is a gateway to a lot of casino comps (more so than you will often get playing blackjack or craps). Bottom line: Smart players play video poker skillfully.
Many different games
There are many different types of video poker games on the casino floor. They include the traditional Jacks-or-Better; the Bonus, Double Bonus, Double Double Bonus games; several different Deuces Wild and Joker Wild games; and a myriad of other games. Each game has a specific payout table which is located on the screen. What's more important is that each game has a specific playing strategy and volatility. The latter information is readily available on the internet, in books and computer training software, and on strategy cards (visit the BJI web store for details). Too many players get enamored over the big payouts for certain four-of-a kind hands with a kicker, so that's the game they play. Unfortunately, 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 high volatility, meaning you better have a big bankroll, otherwise, you will go broke very quickly. 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. You always want to play a video poker game with the highest theoretical return (sometimes referred to as "Expected 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, and play, the games that have the highest return.
For example, many casinos offer Jacks-or-Better that pays 8 coins for a full house and 5 coins for a flush (per coin played). This information is right on the computer screen of each machine. The theoretical return for this game is 97.3% (that assumes you play every hand perfectly). 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%. You would be foolish (or worse stupid) to play an 8/5 game instead of a 9/6 game. The same holds for the bonus and wild card video poker games. All video poker games come as short-pay and full-pay games and you must educate yourself as to what the payoff schedule for a full-pay game looks like and then seek out those games in a casino (for example, a 9/6 pay schedule for a Double Bonus game is short pay; it should be 10/7).
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 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 (this is how I teach it in my classes). Plus you can take a video poker strategy card with you when you play (they are perfectly legal, and you'll always make the correct play. Hey, I teach video poker classes and I still carry my video poker card with me when I play just in case I run across a hand that I'm not sure how it should be played. If you play video poker, always have your video poker card handy.
The training software come preloaded with all the popular video poker games. You just start playing your favorite game on your pc and when you make a playing strategy, the software will alerts you, show you the right play, and tell you how much your mistake cost you. You need to be at 99% playing accuracy practicing at home before you ever consider risking money in a casino playing video poker.
If you are dealt a four-card flush that also contains a low pair in Jacks-or-Better, the correct play is to hold the four-card flush and draw one card. It doesn't matter whether you are losing or winning, or what happened the last time you were dealt that hand. Every hand must be played by 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 (like Jacks-or-Better). I'm amazed on how many players sit next to me and select Double Bonus Poker (or other bonus game) and start playing without understanding that these games have a much higher volatility, meaning you had better have a sizable bankroll otherwise you will tap out very quickly,
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 every 40,000 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% returns
Even playing a high paying 9/6 jacks-or-better machine, you will still lose 0.5% of all the money you bet (because even with perfect strategy the theoretical return is only 99.5%). One way to win at video poker is either play a game that returns over 100% (such as full pay Deuces Wild game); however, this game is rarely offered outside of Las Vegas. The other way to get your overall returns over 100% is to play a video poker game accurately with a theoretical return over 99.5% and take advantage of a casino's cash-back, free play, bounce back and comps so that your overall return will exceed 100%. (You must join the casino's Player's Club and always insert your player's card into the machine's card reader when you play video poker.) Smart video poker players who know how to do this (namely, taking advantage of casino promotions) will boost their overall return to over 100%. (Note: There are also techniques that you can learn to boost the amount of bounce back you receive in your casino mailers.)
On most single-line video poker machines, you can wager one coin up to five coins. The general rule on how much you should bet is as follows: never bet 2-4 coins; always bet five coins if your overall return from the game including cashback and bounce back is over 100%; and if your overall return is less than 100%, play one coin.
I've obviously just touched on the surface of what's involved in winning at video poker. If you are serious about wanting to learn how to play and win at video poker, check out the details on my class in Las Vegas
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