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Here we will walk you through basic video poker strategy: the importance of pay tables and payout schedules, and tactics for how to play each hand. For those of you interested in strategy specifics, we recommend ten excellent books on the topic of video poker.
Additionally, we go over laws related to cheating as they pertain to video poker: what is and what isn’t considered cheating? Lastly, we introduce the experts. Perhaps, with some practice, you will find yourself on that list one day.
Video Poker Strategy
No one could cover everything there is to know about video poker strategy in a single section. Even if you just wanted to cover the most popular games, you’d need multiple pages. This section is meant to serve as an introduction to video poker strategy.
Video poker is a fascinating game. It certainly offers more mental stimulation than slot machines. If you don’t mind thinking about what you’re doing when you’re gambling, then video poker is superior to slots in almost every way, especially in the most important way—monetarily. Learn how to be a smart video poker player, and you’ll lose less money and win more money than any of your “slot machine zombie” friends.
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Pay Tables and Payout Schedules
Playing video poker is no more difficult than playing slot machines, but minimizing the house edge (which also maximizes your chances of winning) requires a little bit of knowledge and effort. The first aspect of your gambling strategy involves learning why the pay tables and payout schedules are important.
Video poker games can be divided roughly into two categories:
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- Non-wild games. These include games like Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, and Double Bonus Poker.
- Wild games. These games include Deuces Wild and Joker Wild, among others.
Both games generally offer excellent payback percentages, but depending on the pay table, the payback percentage might be as low as 88% (or even lower) or they might be has high as 100% (or even higher). If you can find a machine with a payout of over 100%, then you can expect to make a profit over the long run—if you play with perfect strategy.
The pay table is a list of possible hands and how much they pay out if you get that hand. The amount paid out per hand determines how low or how high the house edge is. Since all legitimate video poker games mimic an actual deck of cards, determining the payout percentage is relatively simple, mathematically. (This is a big advantage over slot machines altogether, since it’s impossible to determine the payout percentages on slot machine games.)
All the payoffs are based on how many coins you’ve wagered. So if you wager two coins, your payout is twice as much for a hand than if you wagered a single coin. The same is true for three coins and four coins. In Jacks or Better, which is the standard video poker game, the payout (on a royal flush) when playing five coins is significantly higher than all the others.
When you wager a single coin, a royal flush pays out at 250 to 1. When you wager two coins, it pays out at twice that, or 500 coins. But when you wager five coins, a royal flush pays out at 4000 coins, which is 16 times the amount of a single coin. The importance of this can’t be understated:
The first strategy decision is to be sure to always play for the max coins.
The best video poker game to start with is Jacks or Better. Once you understand the fundamentals of Jacks or Better, all the other games become variations. The best pay table available on a Jacks or Better game offers a payback percentage of 99.5%, which makes it one of the best gambles in any casino.
Your initial strategy goal in Jacks or Better is to find a full pay game, which is the variant offering that big 99.5% payout. Luckily, it’s easy to determine the payout percentage on Jacks or Better by looking at the pay table, because the only payouts that vary from one machine to another are the amounts for the full house and the flush. All of the payouts for all the other hands are the same from game to game.
On a full pay Jacks or Better machine, a full house pays off at 9 to 1, and a flush pays off at 6 to 1. Other machines have lower payouts for these hands. Some pay off at 8 to 1 and 5 to 1 respectively, while others pay off at 7 to 1 and 5 to 1. The lower payouts, of course, result in lower payback percentages on the machines, as follows:
- 9/6 Jacks or Better pays out at 99.5%.
- 8/5 Jacks or Better pays out at 97.3%.
- 7/5 Jacks or Better pays out at 96.2%.
- 6/5 Jacks or Better pays out at 95.0%.
Why is this so important? The payout percentage determines (mathematically) how much you can expect to lose over the long run on a game. The house edge is 100% minus the payout percentage, so the house edge for each game is as follows:
- 9/6 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 0.5%.
- 8/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 2.7%.
- 7/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 3.8%.
- 6/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of 5%.
The house edge is the percentage that the casino expects to win of every bet you make over the long term. So if you make a $100 wager on a game with a house edge of 0.5%, the casino expects you to lose on average $0.50 of each wager.
So if you’re playing a typical Jacks or Better game for a dollar, then you’re looking at wagering $5 each hand. If you play 500 hands per hour, then you’re putting $2500 per hour into action. The house edge determines how much you’re expected to lose per hour, so your expected loss per hour for each variation is as follows:
- 9/6 Jacks or Better has an expected hourly loss of $12.50.
- 8/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of $67.50.
- 7/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of $95.
- 6/5 Jacks or Better has a house edge of $125.
It should be clear why finding a good pay table matters so much. The difference between losing $12.50 per hour and losing $125 per hour is significant.
Tactics and How to Play Each Hand
The next big consideration in video poker is learning the mathematically correct way to play every hand. This is similar to learning basic strategy in blackjack.
All of the house edge and payout information listed earlier is based on the assumption that you’re using expert strategy when you play. Casinos and gambling machine manufacturers assume that you won’t use correct strategy, and that lack of skill equates to an additional 2%-4% in the casino’s favor.
The tactics and strategies vary according to which game you’re playing. Video poker strategy for Jacks or Better is dramatically different than video poker strategy for Deuces Wild. But all of the strategies have some things in common.
How Are the Tactics Determined?
You have 32 different ways you can play each 5 card hand. You have 2 options for each card—hold it or discard it. The correct play in every situation is the one with the highest expected return. Computers are able to determine mathematically which play has the highest expected return. Intuition and skill at playing real poker aren’t enough; you need to do what’s mathematically best in almost every situation.
A video poker strategy for a game takes into account the expected return for every hand. These strategies and tactics are not mathematically perfect—they have to be practical enough to actually be used in a casino, which means that accuracy is sometimes sacrificed to make the decisions easier.
Specific strategy tables are available for each variation on the appropriate pages. Here are some general tips that apply to most video poker games in most situations:
- Don’t hold a kicker. A kicker is a high card (like an ace or a king) in addition to a pair. Holding a kicker sometimes makes sense in real poker, but seldom makes sense in video poker.
- Don’t draw to inside straights. An inside straight consists of four cards that could potentially make a straight, but only one possible draw can complete the sequence. (An outside straight draw can be filled by two possible cards.)
- Don’t hold on to a three card flush or a three card straight. The odds are too slim that you’ll complete your hand in both of those situations.
- If you’re playing Deuces Wild, never discard a deuce. Never, ever, ever.
These tips only make up the bare beginning of video poker wisdom, but everyone has to start somewhere.
Most Popular Video Poker Strategy Books
Not all video poker books are created equal. In fact, many of the books on the subject that you’ll find for sale include flat-out wrong information. The following recommendations are for books with accurate information. They’re also clearly-written and easily-understood.
Frugal Video Poker
Frugal Video Poker, by Jean Scott and Victor Nacht, is one of the best books on video poker. It includes information about stretching your bankroll so that you can have more fun in various casino destinations, but it also features tips for playing with profitability as your goal. One of the major themes emphasized in Frugal Video Poker is the importance of practice, which is a lesson that most people need repeated multiple times before it sinks in.
Fundamentals of Video Poker
Fundamentals of Video Poker was written by Mason Malmuth and Lynne Loomis. Malmuth owns one of the premier gambling publishing companies in the world, Two Plus Two, and he’s well known as an authority on the subject of gambling and how gambling related math work. This book serves as an excellent introduction to video poker, and includes the basic how to play info as well as examinations of and strategy tips for Jacks or Better, Tens or Better, Deuces Wild, Joker Wild, and Double Bonus Poker. The sections about money management, hot and cold machines, and casino comps are also excellent.
Million Dollar Video Poker
Million Dollar Video Poker is a memoir by Bob Dancer, relating the story of how he started with a bankroll of $6000 and parlayed it into $1 million in winnings at video poker. This is not a how-to book, but it includes quite a bit of real-life lessons which are probably more easily learned via anecdote than from explanation anyway. Bob Dancer is considered by many to be the foremost video poker expert in the publishing industry.
The Video Poker Answer Book
The Video Poker Answer Book was written by John Grochowski, a prolific and entertaining gambling columnist. The entire book is written in question and answer format, and it’s excellent for beginners. He analyzes almost every video poker game and variation out there. His use of stories to illustrate the points he wants to get across is excellent.
Video Poker for the Intelligent Beginner
Video Poker for the Intelligent Beginner is another volume from the aforementioned Bob Dancer. In this book, he provides a step-by-step plan for becoming a successful video poker player. He focuses on first things first, like how to identify the best pay tables. Without that information, your memorization of strategy is next to useless. He also includes information about learning expert strategies. He rounds out this data with advice on slot clubs, casino promotions, and progressive jackpots.
Video Poker Optimum Play: The Strategies and Tactics of Advanced Play
Video Poker Optimum Play: The Strategies and Tactics of Advanced Play by Dan Paymar is one of the classics in the field of video poker. He focuses largely on the math behind the game. If you ever wondered why video poker is beatable and wanted to see the actual math behind the proof, then this is the book for you. His strategy explanations are easier to relate to than many of the chart-based strategies out there, too.
A Winner’s Guide to Full Pay Deuces Wild
A Winner’s Guide to Full Pay Deuces Wild by Bob Dancer and Liam W. Daily is probably the most complete guide to Deuces Wild that you’ll ever read. The book follows a logical structure, first explaining the data that someone needs to know before jumping into the actual strategies. In all of Dancer and Daily’s books on video poker strategy, multiple strategies are included. These begin with the strategies that are easiest to memorize and then move in to the more advanced strategies.
A Winner’s Guide to Jacks or Better
A Winner’s Guide to Full Pay Deuces Wild by Bob Dancer and Liam W. Daily is an indispensable book in any well-read video poker player’s library. It’s the first volume in their series of strategy guides, and since Jacks or Better is one of the easiest games to learn and play in the casino, it should probably be the first detailed strategy guide the beginner should buy. Most of the notes above about A Winner’s Guide to Full Pay Deuces Wild also apply to A Winner’s Guide to Jacks or Better.
A Winner’s Guide to NSU Deuces Wild
A Winner’s Guide to NSU Deuces Wild by Bob Dancer and Liam W. Daily is also worth your money, especially if you enjoy Deuces Wild. This is recommended reading even if you’ve already studied A Winner’s Guide to Full Pay Deuces Wild, because there are significant differences in strategies and approaches to the game.
Winning Strategies for Video Poker
Winning Strategies for Video Poker by Lenny Frome is another essential book about video poker, but it’s a little more dated than some of the other books on this list. It was published in 1997. At the time, the 60+ different strategy charts covered most of the games available in Vegas, but now there are new games which aren’t covered here. None of that makes this book less enjoyable, though—many professional video poker players got their start by using this book.
You can find lots of other books on the subject, but these are the best of the lot. If you’re looking for more ideas on what to read, keep in mind that the authors of these books have also written additional books on the subject. Bob Dancer, in particular, is prolific, and he sells a large variety of comprehensive strategy guides for specific games and variations. Jean Scott’s The Frugal Gambler is also a great book, even if it’s not specifically about video poker.
Video Poker Cheats & Cheaters
Video poker cheats try to get an unfair advantage over the casino by breaking the rules. Any responsible writer describing cheating at video poker will define “cheating” early in their essay, because definitions vary. For our purposes, we’ll look at what the state of Nevada considers cheating in a legal sense.
Nevada Gambling Laws Related to Cheating
The state of Nevada takes gambling seriously, and they take a hard line against cheaters. If you’re caught cheating in Nevada, then you’ll face felony charges. That’s right—it’s not a misdemeanor. It’s a felony.
That should be enough to discourage most wannabe cheaters right there.
But what constitutes cheating versus just smart play? After all, you can get a mathematical edge over the casino in some games just by using smart decision making. For example, in some versions of Deuces Wild, if you play well, you have an edge over the casino of up to 0.76%.
That’s not cheating, because you’re not physically manipulating the game. You’re abiding by all the rules of the game. You’re just making good decisions. That’s called “advantage play”. Casinos might dislike advantage players, and, in fact, some casino employees feel like advantage players are cheaters, but that’s not a legal distinction. It’s just a business opinion.
Examples of Cheating
Any of the following behaviors would be considered cheating. Some of them apply to video poker, but not all of them:
- Rigging a video poker machine by hacking into its random number generator or changing its payout schedule. (I don’t know how you’d pull this off, but if you did, it would definitely count as cheating.)
- Using any kind of device to aid you in playing the game. For example, if you used a computer to tell you how to play each hand in Jacks or Better, you’d be cheating. (On the other hand, using a strategy card isn’t cheating—that’s not considered a “device”.)
- Tricking the machine into thinking you’ve inserted money when you haven’t. This isn’t nearly as easy as it once was—in fact, it’s practically impossible. But never say never.
Examples of Legitimate Advantage Play Techniques
These are examples of how you can get an edge over the casino (or minimize the casino’s edge). None of these activities are cheating, but casinos retain the option of banning players who use them. Most casinos limit this to card counters. I’ve never heard of anyone being told that they were too skilled at video poker in a casino, but it’s theoretically possible.
- Being able to recognize a video poker machine with excellent payouts.
- Being able to make the right decision about how to play almost every hand at video poker games.
- Counting cards in blackjack. This is cheating if you use a computer, but if you just think while you’re playing, then how is that cheating? Casinos have effective countermeasures to prevent this now, but they don’t always use all of them.
- Dice control in craps. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of this technique, but if it’s possible, it’s legal as long as you’re not using loaded dice.
Why Cheat at Video Poker?
I’m not sure I understand why someone would want to cheat at video poker. I guess the idea of money for nothing is attractive for people, but the reality is that if you’re clever enough to cheat at video poker, you’re clever enough to find the best machines and play them really well.
Even if you couldn’t find advantage play opportunities at video poker, you’d still have other legal options for making real-money while gambling. Counting cards in blackjack is an effective way to gamble with an edge over the casino. Learning how to play real poker with real opponents at an expert level is another way to gamble with a positive expectation.
And don’t forget the most profitable means of getting an edge while gambling—sports betting like an expert. The best sports bettors make far more money than any other kind of professional gambler, including card counters and pro poker players. If you’re interested in getting started in that activity, try reading Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong. That will give you a good start on learning how to profit while betting on sports.
The risk reward ratio for cheating at gambling makes it a poor gamble, even if you have no moral qualms about the activity. You risk going to prison for years if you get caught, and casinos spend a fortune on surveillance in order to catch cheaters. That’s a horrible downside.
The upside includes the potential profits, but as I pointed out, you can make profits without cheating. The only other upside is the pleasure that you receive by getting away with something. I’d argue that you could take that same pleasure from legal advantage play techniques, but if you’re just someone who wants to break the law for the thrill of it, you probably won’t listen to good sense anyway.
Video Poker Experts
This page takes a look at some of the video poker experts on the Internet. As with most information on the Internet, especially when it’s related to gambling, the buyer should beware. The bogus video poker experts outnumber the legitimate video poker experts by a huge factor.
Legitimate Video Poker Experts
Bob Dancer – The biggest name in video poker is probably Bob Dancer. He won over a million dollars playing video in Las Vegas during a six month period. He also teaches classes at casinos and writes some of the most detailed and accurate strategy guides available.
On his website, Dancer sells a variety of products to help novice (and even intermediate) video poker players improve their game. For example, you can video poker strategy cards to use while playing—these cards are available for every commonly found video poker game you’re likely to want to play, from Double Bonus to Jacks or Better to Deuces Wild. You can also buy video poker training software. He’s also written a wide variety of books on the subject, including two novels, Sex, Lies, and Video Poker and More Sex, Lies, and Video Poker.
Bob Dancer also co-hosts a radio show called “Gambling with an Edge” on KLAV Talk Radio in Las Vegas. You can listen live on the Internet, and he also has an archive of his shows available for streaming on his website. His co-host is gambling author Richard Munchkin, but some of his older shows feature a different co-host, Michael Shackleford, who is also known as “the Wizard of Odds.”
You can also find Dancer occasionally teaching video poker seminars at the South Point Casino. Check his website for his upcoming class schedule. All of his classes are free, but you must be 21 to attend.
Jean Scott – Jean Scott is the author of The Frugal Gambler and its sequel More Frugal Gambling. She’s also written one of the best books on how to become a winning video poker player, Frugal Video Poker. A particular focus of her books is the use of comps and slot clubs to get as much free stuff from the casinos as possible while playing video poker.
Like Bob Dancer, she also sells software that’s designed to help you improve your strategy skills to an expert level. You can find her frequently-updated blog about playing video poker and gambling frugally at the Las Vegas Advisor website.
JB (aka vpGenius) – JB is also referred to by the moniker of “vpGenius” because he created the website of the same name, which offers all kinds of strategy calculators and analytical tools for video poker. He is a moderator at the Wizard of Vegas forum. He’s started over 300 different threads there and made over 1600 posts in various discussions over the last 5 years.
The Entire vpFREE Community – vpFREE is a Yahoo discussion group populated with real-life experts at video poker. Their group’s discussions were a lot more active six or seven years ago, when they were posting 1000+ messages per month, but you’ll still find a healthy amount of activity there in 2014, even though the posting volume has decreased to between 200 and 400 messages per month.
If you’re looking for detailed reviews of what kinds of games you can expect to find in various in casinos in various gambling destinations, they run a website with that information. The “What’s New” section of their site is important, too, because they list which casinos have removed certain interesting games, as well as listing which casinos have added new hosts and games. http://www.vpfree2.com/ and https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/vpFREE/info
John Grochowski – He isn’t just an expert on video poker machines; he’s also an expert on slot machines. He writes a nationally syndicated column on gambling—in fact, he was the first casino gambling writer to work as a columnist at a major newspaper in the United States.
He’s the author of multiple books about casino gambling. The most interesting of those, to video poker fanatics like us, is probably The Video Poker Answer Book, which is part of a series of books about casino gambling, all of which feature a “question and answer” format. Other books in that series include The Casino Answer Book, The Craps Answer Book, and The Slot Machine Answer Book.
Dan Paymar – His book Video Poker—Optimum Play is one of the most well-thought-of and respected books in the video poker gambling community. Dan Paymar has used his training and education as a computer programmer and engineer to analyze the math behind the game. He has also produced a video poker training software called “Optimum Video Poker”.
Lenny Frome – The author of Winning Strategies for Video Poker is called the “Godfather of video poker.” He was one of the first advocates of using strategy to increase your chances of winning at video poker, at a time, 20 years ago, when the game was considered little more than a variant type of slot machine. He died in 1998, but his son, Elliot, maintains a website at http://www.gambatria.com/.
Michael Shackleford—The Wizard of Odds – It’s almost unfair to list Michael Shackleford as a “video poker expert”, because he is truly an expert on almost everything related to gambling, not just a single game. At the same time, you’ll find so much accurate and useful information on his site and in his book, Gambling 102, that I’d be doing you (and him) a disservice by not including him on the list. Not only is he an entertaining writer, he’s an expert on many subjects. His website includes playing strategies for at least a dozen different video poker games, as well as return tables for at least 100 different games. He also sells a video poker training software called, appropriately enough, Video Poker Wizard, which you can use to improve your strategic abilities.
Are You the Next Big Video Poker Expert?
I’d estimate that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other video poker experts who haven’t written books or sold software for the game. Instead, they play the game at an extremely high level and enjoy all the perks that their skill entitles them to. If you want to become that kind of video poker expert, then you’ll find the other articles on our site on the subject to be a big help in achieving that goal.
Slot Machines vs. Video Poker Machines
What looks like a slot machine, sounds like a slot machine, but isn’t a slot machine?
Even though they look and sound alike, the two games have significant differences that any serious gambler will want to be aware of. If you’re new to gambling machines, this page offers explanations of the various differences between slots and video poker.
Both video poker and slot machines have pay tables describing the payouts for various combinations. The big difference is that the combinations on video poker are based on a deck of 52 (or 53) cards, while the combinations on a slot machine game aren’t based on anything specific.
Here’s an example. In Jacks or Better video poker, a pair of Jacks, Queens, or Kings results in a payout of 1 to 1. We know, mathematically, that the probability of being dealt this hand is 21.46%. We can do that calculation for every possible hand in the game, so we can determine two things:
- The payback percentage for the game.
- The correct strategy for playing the game.
On the other hand, slot machines are programmed with an arbitrary set of symbol combinations with probabilities which are determined by the desired payback percentage for the machine. We might know that three cherries pay off at 5 to 1, but we have no way of knowing what the probability of getting that combination is.
That’s because modern slot machines use a random number generator to determine how often a particular symbol comes up. This RNG can be programmed so that the symbol comes up once out of every ten spins, but it could also be set up so that the symbols comes up once out of every twenty spins.
To add to the obfuscation, different symbols might have different probabilities of showing up. Cherries might come up once every ten spins, but oranges might come up once every twenty spins. And there might be as many as 20, 30, 50 (or more) symbols on the reels.
Since you can’t ascertain the probability of each symbol coming up, there’s no way to determine the payout percentage for a slot machine game. To use a bad metaphor, choosing a slot machine is a…wait for it…a crap shoot.
Not only is the ability to actually calculate the potential payout percentage for a video poker game an advantage over slot machine games, the payout percentages on even the worst video poker games are almost always higher than on the average slot machine.
According to a survey by Strictly Slots magazine, of some of the loosest slot machines in major gambling destinations, you could find some of the following payout percentages:
- In Atlantic City, the best payout percentage overall was for the Borgata Casino, which offered 92.63%.
- In Colorado, the best payout percentage overall was for Cripple Creek Casino, which offered a whopping 94.17%.
- The entire city of Reno, Nevada had an overall payout percentage of 94.88%.
By way of comparison and contract, a 9/6 (or full-pay) Jacks or Better video poker game offers a payback percentage of 99.5%. Even if you can’t find a full pay machine, the next step down, the 8/5 Jacks or Better game, offers a 97.3% payback percentage. Both of those are clearly superior to what you’d find on the average slots in any of the destinations above.
How big is the difference? Assume that you’re playing $1.25 per wager, and that you’re playing 600 spins (or hands) per hour. You’re putting $750 per hour into action. Your expected loss per hour with those payout percentages look like this:
- Full pay Jacks or Better video poker results in an expected loss per hour of only $3.75.
- 8/5 Jacks or Better video poker offers you an expected loss per hour of $20.25. That seems huge compared to the full pay machines, but wait until you see the expected hourly losses on the slots games.
- Slot machines in Reno, Nevada, on average, offer you an expected hourly loss of $38.40. And that’s the best of the slot machine bunch!
Even if you don’t bother to learn how to play video poker according to proper strategy, you’re only giving up another 2% or so back to the casino. (Common sense is assumed.) 8/5 Jacks or Better is STILL a better bet than a slot, albeit barely, since your hourly loss without using correct strategy goes up to $35.25.
For the most part, slot machines often offer bigger jackpots than video poker games. For example, the best possible payout on a 9/6 Jacks or Better game where you’re wagering $1.25 per spin is $5000. You can easily find a slot machine game with two or three times that amount as the top jackpot.
So if you enjoy going after huge, potentially life-changing jackpots, and you don’t mind the greater hourly loss and volatility found on slots with large jackpots, then slots might work out well for you.
Decisions and Strategies
Another pro that slot machines offer over video poker is the lack of decision making required, and even that is only a pro to a specific set of gamblers. Some gamblers don’t like to make decisions while they’re playing—and they certainly don’t want to make decisions that might actually affect their outcome.
Other gamblers enjoy the challenge of making strategic decisions that actually affect their outcomes. These are the same types of gamblers who enjoy blackjack, sports betting, and poker games. No amount of strategy or good decision making will make a negative expectation video poker game into a positive expectation game, but you can get pretty close.
So the question becomes this: What kind of gambler are you?
If you want some control over your fate and enjoy the challenge of making decisions which might or might not be correct, then video poker is probably the game for you.
On the other hand, if you just want to soak up the casino ambience and hope to get lucky, then slot machines might be a viable alternative.
Video Poker Training
Video poker training software of all kinds is available these days. Some of it’s even available for free online; you can just play and learn from your browser window. Some of it requires a download and/or purchase. This page looks at the uses of such software. It also examines and describes some of the various types of video poker training software that are now popular.
One of the most celebrated sites in the video poker niche is VideoPoker.com, which offers free training tests for three different games:
- Jacks or Better
- Double Double Bonus Poker
- Deuces Wild Poker
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This particular program (http://www.videopoker.com/test/) deals you ten hands in a row. After you’ve played those ten hands, you get corrections based on your mistakes. I practiced on the Jacks or Better software, but I only played six hands correctly.
The game looks like a real video poker game from a casino. The only disappointment I had was that there was no explanation for why I should have made different decisions, although I was able to reason through those easily enough.
Of course, once you’ve finished using this free version of the software, the site offers to sell you software to practice with. One of those was Video Poker for Winners, from Bob Dancer.
Bob Dancer’s Video Poker for Winners
This (http://www.videopokerforwinners.com/) looks like a complete software training program. Not only does it include strategy trainers, it also offers bankroll and comp calculators, which are an important aspect of video poker strategy that are too often overlooked. A free trial is available, but the software is reasonably priced at just $49.95. The site features videos of the software in use, which includes an introduction from Bob Dancer. The videos were a little more heavy on hype than I would have liked, but it was still nice to get the details of the software before buying the product.
Video Poker’s Greatest Hits
Less interesting and less impressive was the page about “Video Poker’s Greatest Hits”. One of the aspects I found disappointing about this sales page was the lack of a price listing. There’s a button for a free trial, and another “buy now” button, but I don’t think I should have to click “buy now” to get a price. I did click through, and the price is only $19.95, but the software is limited to 8 video poker games.
You can find more games at a better price with similar functionality at the Wizard of Odds site.
The Wizard of Odds
If you visit the Wizard of Odds site, you can find a free video poker game available in your browser window that includes auto-hold features and warnings when you’re about to make a mistake. This is a free Jacks or Better 9/6 game: http://wizardofodds.com/play/video-poker/. You can even update the pay tables for this game to something other than 9/6 Jacks or Better. For the price, this training program is hard to beat. The game also features a “more games” button which opens up a screen where you can choose from three dozen different games, including the following:
- Double Bonus
- Double Bonus Deuces Wild
- Double Double Aces & Faces
- Double Double Bonus
- Double Double Bonus Plus
- Double Joker
- Jacks or Better
- Joker Poker Kings
- Joker Poker Aces
- Joker Poker Two Pair
- Nevada Bonus
- One-Eyed Jacks
- Royal Aces Bonus
- Sevens Wild
- Super Aces Bonus
- Super Bonus Deuces Wild
- Super Double Bonus
- Super Double Double Bonus
- Tens or Better
- Triple Bonus
- Triple Bonus Plus
- Triple Double Bonus
- USA Poker
- White Hot Aces
- Ace & Deuce Bonus
- Aces & Eights
- Aces & Faces
- Acey Deucey
- Blackjack Bonus
- Bonus Deluxe
- Bonus Deuces Wild
- Bonus Poker
- Deuces Wild
- Deuces & Joker
- Double Aces & Faces
- Double Acey Deucey
Frugal Video Poker
Frugal Video Poker first became available in 2000, but it’s now available in a free version from http://www.wolfvideopoker.com/FVP.htm. It was created for Windows 95, so the software looks dated, but it’s still an excellent learning tool. The software literally only takes seconds to install when using a high speed Internet connection.
I thought the classical music that played in the background was nice, but some players might find that irritating. It’s easy enough to turn that feature off, though. I also had a little trouble actually getting to the software. I kept clicking on the splash page, and it kept sending me to a Web page where I could buy Wolf Video Poker or Wolf Video Poker Lite, which are the current training programs available from this publisher.
Wolf Video Poker and Wolf Video Poker Lite
Wolf Video Poker and Wolf Video Poker Lite are both available for $39.99 and $19.99 respectively at http://www.wolfvideopoker.com/. Like other video poker trainers, this one is designed to help you learn how to make the right decisions on specific hand types. It also is capable of designing computer generated strategy charts of three different complexities. It also allows you to simulate 100 sessions of up to 100 million hands each. You can save records of your sessions to see how well you’re improving as a player, too.
The lite version allows you to configure payoff tables and create a single strategy chart for any game you input. You can also use the lite software to practice playing the various games. It lacks some of the other fancier features, but those are a bit “fluffy” anyway. You can download free demos from the site before making a decision as to whether or not it’s a good purchase for you.
There are, no doubt, many other video poker strategy trainers on the market, but these seem to be the most popular and easiest to find. They all seem to have their pros and cons, too. Try whatever you can for free before making your final purchasing decision.
Video Poker Simulators
Video poker simulators are free games that simulate actual video poker games. The main difference in the two is that you can’t win or lose money on a simulator. Some people shun these “play money” free games, but others consider them an excellent tool to help players acclimate themselves to how the games work. If you’re a novice, then you should take advantage of the availability of these simulations in order to perfect your strategy before wagering real money in an online casino or even in a traditional casino setting like Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
Hand Rankings in Video Poker
Also, if you’re interested in video poker simulators, you’re probably a newbie. If you haven’t already memorized the hand rankings in poker, then that should be one of the first action items on your to-do list.
Poker hands take two factors of each card into consideration—suit and rank. There are four suits in a standard deck of cards: clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades. The ranks are the numbers on the cards, from ace to ten, and the face cards (the jack, the queen, and the king). The higher on the list the combination is, the better the hand. Better hands beat worse hands in table poker; in video poker, they generally result in higher payouts.
Here are the hand rankings, from best to worst:
- Five of a kind. This hand is only possible in games with wild cards. This refers to a hand where all five cards have the same rank.
- Royal flush. This hand consists of a 10, the jack, the queen, the king, and the ace, all of the same suit. This is the best possible straight flush, but since it has a separate payout in most games, it’s listed as a separate hand.
- Straight flush. This hand consists of 5 cards with consecutive ranks which are also all the same suit.
- Four of a kind. This hand consists of four cards all the same rank.
- Full house. This hand consists of a three of a kind of one rank along with a pair of another rank.
- Flush. This hand consists of five cards of the same suit.
- Straight. This hand consists of five cards of consecutive rank.
- Three of a kind. This hand consists of three cards of the same rank and two other cards with different ranks.
- Two pair. This hand consists of two cards of one rank, two more cards of a different rank, and a fifth card of a different rank than either of the pairs.
- One pair. This hand consists of two cards of the same rank along with threee other cards of different ranks. In Jacks or Better video poker, the game only pays out if the pair is ranked at least jacks.
- No pair, high card. No video poker game pays out for this hand, but this is how you determine the winner in poker when players don’t have any better hands.
Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
Types of Video Poker Simulators
You’ll find two types of video poker simulators on the Internet. The most common is the casino software at an Internet casino. All online casinos offer free versions of their software in order to entice new players to their sites. These games work just like the real games, but you don’t wager any actual money—you just play for “play money” or “pretend chips”.
The other kind of free game you’ll find is for entertainment purposes only. This kind of free video poker is usually accompanied by subtle (or not-so-subtle) advertising so that the site owners can make a profit of some kind by selling their ads. Sometimes it’s just a pure entertainment app, too, and some companies even make money by selling software that simulates games.
Persistence and Goals
Video poker simulators are fine if you just want to learn how the game interface works. They’re also good for killing time. It’s like playing solitaire with a fake gambling element. But the best use of these kinds of games is to improve yourself so that you become an expert player. Expert video poker players face the lowest house edge in the casino.
Persistence matters because it takes time and practice to improve at video poker. The best simulators provide strategy advice that you can use to catch your mistakes as they happen. Not all simulations offer this perk, so look for one that does.
Persistence and practice are useless if you don’t have goals. Decide what you want out of your video poker experience. If you just want to play well enough to enjoy the perks of gambling without losing a lot of money, then that’s fine. These perks can include free show tickets, room and board, meals, and even travel to and from the casino. When you face a house edge of under 0.5%, you can afford to put a lot of money into action, but only if you can play like an expert.
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Other Uses for Video Poker Simulators
Free video poker games are useful for more than just learning the basics of how to play and practicing strategy. They can also help you determine how much stamina you have, so that you can decide on a bankroll for the casino. If you know you play an average of 600 hands per hour, but you can only stand to play for 2 hours before getting tired, then you know to have a bankroll large enough to accommodate those 1200 hands.
One important thing to remember too is that if you can’t make the correct decisions on a computer simulation, you won’t be able to make correct decisions on a real money video poker game in a casino, either.
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Standard Deviation in Video Poker
When people discuss variance in any kind of gambling game—including video poker—they’re discussing statistical probabilities. Variance determines how often you’ll have big wins or losses. The more likely it is to go on a winning streak (or a losing streak), the higher the variance is for that particular game.
Some people like casino games with a high variance. They enjoy the opportunity to get a really big win or to go on a big winning streak. Other people prefer “grinding it out”—having relatively predictable results over time.
For the most part, if a game has a really high jackpot, its variance will be higher than a game that doesn’t. So a progressive jackpot video poker game with a huge jackpot will have a far higher variance than a blackjack game, for example. You’ll occasionally (rarely, in fact), see a big win on the progressive video poker game, but you’ll see wins more often playing blackjack. The difference is that the blackjack wins will be for smaller amounts.
Volatility in Video Poker
Another way of looking at variance in video poker is in terms of volatility. Volatility is a word that, when used to discuss video poker, describes short term fluctuations in your results. Suppose you’re playing full pay Deuces Wild with perfect strategy, and you have a 0.76% edge over the house. You sit down to play, and after five sessions, you’ve lost a couple hundred dollars, even though you’re expected to win in the long run.
Eventually, if you play long enough, your results should grow closer to the mathematical expectation. The more volatile the game, the longer it takes to near that expected number.
Hit Frequency in Video Poker
One factor that affects volatility in video poker is hit frequency. This term describes the percentage of hands that actually provide you with winnings. A game with a high hit frequency means that you’ll have wins relatively often, but a game with low hit frequency means that you’ll have wins less often. Winning more often, even for smaller amounts, preserves your bankroll so that you can eventually hit some of the larger jackpots.
Hit frequency and payoff amounts determine the volatility of a game. For example, Deuces Wild is considered a particularly volatile game. You’ll only receive a winning hand 45% of the time, which isn’t awful. But almost 30% of the time, your win will consists of a three of a kind, which only pays out at even odds. Much of the expected return for the game comes from the hands which have four deuces in them.
How often will you see hands with four deuces in a game of video poker? Statistically, that hand shows up once every 5000 hands or so. It will take most video poker players 8 to 10 hours to get that payout.
And how often does it take to get a royal flush in Deuces Wild? That happens maybe once in every 45,000 hands, so that means you have to play close to 90 hours before you hit that hand.
Of course, a royal flush could come up on your very first hand. That would be cool, even if it’s unlikely. It’s also possible to play for well over 90 hours and not see a royal flush.
The point is that with a highly volatile gambling game, you’ll lose hundreds of bets before winning one of the big payoff bets. You have to be patient, and you need a large bankroll to avoid going broke while you pursue the jackpot.
A Rule of Thumb
Casino games with the highest returns exhibit the highest volatility and the highest variance. For example, the Mega Jackpots slot machines are super-high in volatility and variance. In fact, you might play for the rest of your life without hitting a jackpot. That’s even truer in games like the lottery and keno.
In terms of video poker games, Jacks or Better is one of the games with relatively low volatility. It’s also easy to learn how to play, and the strategy isn’t hard to learn either.
But even Jacks or Better is prone to bigger streaks more often than games with really low volatility (like blackjack).
Here’s an example based on a statistically perfect sample (which ain’t gonna happen, but it’s good for illustrative purposes.)
You’ll see a royal flush once in every 40,390 hands. If you’re playing $5 a hand, you’re going to wager almost $202,000 before hitting the royal. The return on a full pay game, eliminating the return for that royal flush, is 97.6%, which means you’ll have lost $4850 or so before hitting the royal flush. Then when you hit your royal flush, you’ll win $4000 back, which cuts the amount you lost overall by 80%–on a single hand.
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What’s Your Tolerance for Risk, and How Do You Make Decisions Based on That?
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You’ll have to decide how much variance and volatility you’re willing to tolerate. Once you’ve decided on that, you can find information about how volatile various video poker games and payout tables are using software like WinPoker, or by doing research on the Internet. Bob Dancer’s Winner’s Guides include detailed information about the volatility and variance of various games.