Basics of video poker

Apr 20, 2004 3:55 AM

No other casino game has gained the popularity that video poker has enjoyed over the past few years. In Las Vegas, electronic games ”” slot machines, video poker and video keno — now take up more than 50 percent of the casinos’ floor space. And most of those machines are video poker machines.

There are several reasons for video poker’s popularity. The first is that people can play at their own pace, without pressure from dealers, croupiers or other players. Secondly, there’s an element of skill in video poker: Decisions must be made which, unlike slot machines, will determine whether and how much you can win. And, most important, there’s always the chance of hitting a lottery-like jackpot.

The machines proved so popular that the original upright machine design was adapted to a bar-top model, which created a powerful new revenue stream for local taverns. The prototype Draw Poker machine led to multiple variations on the theme: Jacks or Better, Jokers Wild, Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild Bonus Poker, Player’s Choice Poker and dozens more.

Video poker stayed pretty consistently popular (some might say "stodgy") until 1998, when an inventor named Ernie Moody pioneered a multi-hand concept he called Triple Play Draw Poker. The new game allowed a player to play three hands at once (on a 15-coin max play) by dealing three rows of five cards. The first two rows are dealt face down, and the bottom row is dealt face up. The player then chooses the cards he/she wants to keep from the bottom hand, and those cards automatically appear in the corresponding spaces in the top two hands. After hitting the Draw button, the player gets three different draws from three different decks. So if a player holds three-of-a-kind from the bottom deck, he/she has three different chances to get four-of-a-kind.

Players also liked the fact that when they were dealt a big hand like a Royal Flush, they got paid three times as much as on the older, single-hand video poker games! Many players say that after playing Triple Play, they can never go back to playing regular video poker.

Triple Play Draw Poker has since given birth to Five Play, Ten Play, Fifty Play and even Hundred Play Poker (one hundred hands at a time). Other variations include Flex Play Poker, Millionaire Triple Play Poker, and Chase the Royal.

The Play

The game of video poker is basically five-card draw poker. Machines offer several variations to the game, with more being developed every day. Among the most popular are Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Joker Wild Poker, and so forth. They vary as to the payoffs, but the basic strategy remains essentially the same (the most variation occurs with wild cards, such as the deuces and joker games). Listed below is basic strategy for Jacks or Bettor poker.

The play begins after the player makes a bet. In order to win the highest royal flush jackpot or the progressive jackpot (which continues to grow as coins are played), always play the maximum number of coins, which is usually five.

After the coins are inserted, the machine "deals" five cards to the player, who must decide which cards, if any, to discard. You play your hand based on the payouts for winning hands, which are listed just above the video screen. Some machines indicate a possible winning hand, such as "Three of A Kind" on the video screen, but don’t always rely on the machine to figure your hand for you.

After deciding which cards to keep, you press the "hold" button under each card, then press the "draw" button. (Some machines combine the deal and draw buttons into one.) The cards you’ve discarded will be replaced with new cards and, if you have a winning hand, its payoff will be indicated on the screen. At this point your winnings will drop into the coin bucket, or you will be given credit for the amount of the winning hand.

A note about credits: Credits allow you to play faster, without having to continually push coins into the slot. But always remember that the credits are yours, and you can collect your coins at any time by pushing the "Cash Out" or "Collect Winnings" button. It is not uncommon for players to move to another machine and forget their credits in the old machine.

Jacks-or-Better Basic Strategy

The full payout pays a fixed amount of coins for a royal flush, usually 4,000 coins with the maximum bet (five coins). The progressive pays a jackpot that continues to grow until one of its machines hits the royal flush.

The progressive jackpot is higher than the fixed payout, but that is sometimes offset by lower payouts on the other hands, such as full houses and flushes. Always try to play a machine that pays the following jackpots for one coin bet:

Royal flush, 800 coins

Straight flush, 50 coins

Four of a kind, 25 coins

Full house, 9 coins

Flush, 6 coins

Straight, 4 coins

Three of a kind, 3 coins

Two pair, 2 coins

Jacks or better, 1 coin

The primary objective at the Jacks-or-Better machine is to hit the royal flush. You’ll also want to maximize your winnings if you don’t hit the royal, which has odds of about 40,000 to 1 against it. In order to do that, follow this basic strategy:

1. Always draw one card to a royal flush, even if it means breaking a pat high pair (jacks or better), straight or flush. But don’t break a pat straight flush for a one-card draw to a royal.

2. Draw two cards to a royal flush, unless you already hold a pat straight flush, straight, flush or three of a kind.

3. Draw one card to a straight flush unless you already hold a pat flush or straight.

4. Draw two cards to a straight flush unless you already hold a pat flush, straight, three of a kind, or high pair.

5. If you need one card for either a flush or a straight, draw for the flush.

6. If you need one card for either a flush or straight and already hold a high pair, keep the high pair.

7. If you need one card for a flush and already hold a low pair (10s or lower), break up the pair and draw for the flush. If you need one card for a straight and already hold a low pair, keep the low pair.

8. Always hold two pair and three of a kind.

9. Always draw to a low pair rather than holding a single high card.

10. Draw five cards when you don’t have a single high card that can be paired and don’t have four to a flush or straight.