I am frequently asked why I spend so much time in my articles writing about jacks or better. "It’s such a boring game," I’m told. To be honest, I can’t really argue with that assessment. With the advent of games like Double Bonus and Double Double Bonus, not to mention the old standbys of Deuces Wild and Joker’s Wild, who could argue that jacks or better is the video poker equivalent of vanilla ice cream?
There are reasons why I use jacks or better in my articles. The first of which is that it’s a relatively easy, straightforward game. If I were to introduce someone who had never had ice cream to ice cream, I’d probably start with vanilla, not Rocky Road. I’d never want to start with a wild card game as identifying hands can be much more difficult with wild cards. The strategy table for most bonus games are longer than for jacks or better, so again, jacks or better is a good place to start.
The second reason is that jacks or better can be found in virtually every jurisdiction that video poker is available. Power House Poker is a great game with a great payback table, but you’re not going to find it in every casino, so it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of energy on this one.
The third reason is that although jacks or better may not be exciting, it does offer a fair payback in its full-pay version. If you’re just learning how to play and are prone to making mistakes, you don’t want to play on a lower payback machine, or one with higher volatility. You won’t learn much other than how to use the casino’s ATM machine.
The fourth reason is that the lessons that can be learned by playing jacks or better are identical to the ones that are needed for all other versions. While there are specific strategies required for each version of video poker, the basic concepts of recognizing hands, playing full-pay machines, memorizing strategy tables and the like are all the same regardless of which game you play.
So, when I use jacks or better, it’s not because it’s the most exciting game ever created (although no one could ignore its place in gambling history). There is no doubt for those looking for a higher level of excitement, there are other versions that offer this.
Of course, more excitement is really a nice way of saying there’s a better chance to win big and a better chance to go bust. This "excitement" is not for everyone. As I like to stress, for the vast majority of players, casino gambling is a form of entertainment. Everyone likes to win, but for most, the goal is to not lose a lot and to play for enough time to get your money’s worth.
I like jacks or better because it is the best game with which to learn video poker. I consider the purpose of this column to educate the masses of the virtues of video poker, and why players should give up the slot habit in favor of video poker. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t cover the more volatile games from time to time. But I didn’t start liking Cookies and Cream until I got sick of vanilla.