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You’ve finally decided you’re willing to give video poker a try. But, how do you start? Where do you start?

You’ve read how video poker can give you a much better chance of winning than slots, but quite frankly, sit down at a video poker machine with no idea what to do, and you may wish you had stuck to slots.

Playing slots pretty much consists of showing up and putting your money in. Nowadays, you don’t even necessarily get the joy of pulling the handle, just pressing the button. Playing games like Three Card Poker, Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud all require some strategy, but it’s hardly difficult strategy to remember.

Getting the most out of video poker requires learning some serious strategy. In fact, it requires learning some of the most complex strategy of any casino game.

The good news is you don’t have to sit down and figure out the strategy on your own. Over the course of the past 20 years, a lot of sources of video poker information can be found. You can find some on the web. You can find some in books. You can find tip sheets, strategy cards and software. Obviously, I’m a bit partial to our own products, but they’re hardly the only ones out there. The key is to get one you feel comfortable with and learn the strategy.

Strategy for video poker generally consists of a strategy table, which lists the playable hands in the order of the Expected Value from highest to lowest. The higher the Expected Value, the more valuable that hand is.

As we’ve discussed in the past, a higher Expected Value does not mean a hand that will win most often, but rather over the long haul. It represents how many coins you can expect to win on average.

Expert strategy dictates that you play the hand with the highest Expected Value. Most hands you are dealt will not be an issue, but sometimes, Pre-Draw hands can be interpreted as two or more possible hands on the strategy table. For Example: 4 of diamonds, 5 of diamonds, 6 of diamonds, 7 of clubs, 7 of hearts.

The hand could be interpreted as a 3-card Straight Flush, a 4-card Straight or a Low Pair. The decision on how the hand gets played is determined by the strategy table. In looking at the Strategy Table for Jacks or Better, we find the entries in the table above.

From this portion of our strategy table, we now know the proper play is the Low Pair. All three are losing hands on average, but we can minimize the damage by playing it as the hand with the Highest Expected Value. In parentheses next to the hand description is the shorthand I use when referring to certain hands.

I’d like to tell you there is one absolute standard for this, but none exists. There are similarities from one source to the next. In a future column, I’ll cover my own shorthand in more detail.

Of course, before you run out and buy a book or a strategy card or some software, you need to decide which game you want to start off with. My recommendation is to start with Jacks or Better. There are two major reasons for this.

The first is that it is the most widely available game. You won’t have to worry that you learned a game, only to show up at your favorite casino and find it’s not there.

The second is that one of the key things to learn when you play video poker is the ability to recognize hands in order to determine which has the highest Expected Value. Wild Cards just add a layer of complexity you don’t need to deal with when you’re first starting out.

So, the first step in becoming an expert video poker player is to get a strategy table for Jacks or Better. It’s probably preferable you find one that comes with some basic explanations of the game, too. If you were just handed a strategy table without some information around it, it might not be very useful.

The next step in the process is learning the strategy table. I strongly recommend you either practice with a deck of cards or get a video poker software product. And, practice, practice, practice.

Once you feel fairly confident in your abilities, you’re ready to hit the casinos. My advice here is to start small. If nickels are available to you, that’s a good place to start. In some jurisdictions, you can even find penny machines.

Although, I normally advocate playing max-coin, it’s okay when you are first starting out to play just one coin. You’ll give up about 1.4% in payback, but given you’re still likely to make mistakes, better off sticking with one coin until the strategy table is mastered.

Once you feel you’re playing 99%-plus of hands accurately, you’re ready for max-coin play. Remember, assuming identical pay tables, you are better off playing five nickels instead of one quarter. From here, you can move up in denomination to whatever level you feel comfortable playing.

Once you feel completely comfortable playing Jacks or Better, you’re ready to work on the next game. Keep in mind, even games that seem similar have at least slight variations in their strategy tables. While using the standard Full Pay Jacks or Better Strategy Table on Bonus Poker won’t cost you much, using it on Double-Double Bonus will significantly reduce the payback.

Becoming an Expert Video Poker player takes a bit of work. By becoming one, both you and your wallet will benefit.





About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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