Video poker is one of the most visited sections of casinos around the world, along with slot machines. Unlike slots, however, video poker is also a game of skill, not simply of chance, which is why it is preferred by many players. Its low house edge, sometimes even non-existent, and the opportunity to beat the machine and collect huge winnings make video poker incredibly attractive for both novices and experienced gamblers. But with the sheer number of types and varieties being developed today it can be difficult to pick an interesting and generous video poker machine.
Despite being around for several decades, video poker did not advance much until the arrival of online gambling and web-based casinos where it literally flourished thanks to the fierce competition in the industry. Game developers created new and more exciting variations, adding different twists to the classic video poker – bonus payouts, Wild Cards, jackpots, and many others. Today, both land-based and online casinos offer tens and even hundreds of varieties for players to choose from. Each one of them has its own set of rules and pay tables that require separate strategies to be employed in order to maximize the return.
In gambling, variety is, for the most part, welcomed, but the bewildering number of video poker games makes them almost impossible to differentiate. And the task of succeeding and winning, therefore, becomes much more complex. For this reason, it is essential for players to know the basic types of this game and to understand the differences between video poker variations.
Full Pay versus Low Pay Video Poker
Video poker derives from the classic 5-card draw table poker, which is the simplest variant of poker and is, in fact, rarely played in professional tournaments or in casinos. In their early days, video poker machines were called Draw Poker, a game we now know as Jacks or Better. It is the basis of most video poker variations and when played accurately with the perfect strategy, it has a return rate of 99.54%. This number shows that if you wager $100 on this game, you can expect to receive $99.54 back in the long run. However, this percentage is average and only valid for the full pay variant of the game, where winnings are high.
The winning hands in a full pay Jacks or Better are rather traditional and ranked the same way as in regular poker, with a payoff for a Full House of 9 times the bet. A winning hand of Flush pays off 6 times the bet. This is why such full pay games are referred to as 9/6 games and when comparing different variations of video poker, one should always look how these two hands are paid. As a rule, this information should be displayed in the pay table of each game, so it should be accessible to players. However, many games with a higher payout rate have been created and usually, casinos offer at least one or two variations with a return of over 99.54%. Some games such as Deuces Wild, for instance, are considered extremely generous, offering a return of more than 100%.
There are, on the other hand, types of video poker which return a lower payback percentage. They are known as low pay games and have a return rate of as low as 95%. This certainly increases the house edge and is less attractive to players. A 6/5 Jacks or Better game, for example, reduces the payout for Full House to 6 times the bet and for Flush, to 5 times the bet. You can find different low pay video poker games – 9/5, 8/6, 7/5, etc., but the payout percentages are rarely advertised by casinos, which makes it difficult for many players to separate full pay and low pay machines.
In order to understand whether a particular game gives an advantage to the player or it favors the house, the player needs to review the pay table and look at the payouts for Full House and Flush. And while this is the simplest way to choose a good game, it is rarely the only one, as the differences in pay tables may be more complex. The typical Deuces Wild game is a good example for that – its Full House payout is 3 times the original bet, while for a hand of Flush, it pays only 2 times the bet. Still, the game features Wild Cards and bonus payouts and as a result, it has a theoretical return of almost 100.8%.
Single-Hand versus Multi-Hand Video Poker
The vast majority of video poker games are single-hand or single-play. This means that the player bets on only one hand at a time, as it is in table poker. In the last couple of decades, however, the so-called “power” poker games have appeared. These are multi-hand (or multi-play) video poker variants where three, five or up to a hundred hands are played simultaneously.
The multi-hand, or Power Poker game, starts with a regular 5-card hand being dealt. The player selects which cards to hold and discards the rest. Upon clicking the Draw button, the cards which are held are now split into multiple hands – if it is a 100-play game, the hands will be 100. The cards remain in the same places as they are in the original hand, but now the draw is independent and randomly run for each of the 100 hands. The game works with 100 decks of cards, not with one, so the possibility of getting a winning hand is the same as in single-play video poker. In other words, each hand receives a unique draw and you are equally likely to win or lose.
However, the bet you have chosen to wager is placed individually for the hands. So, each hand comes not only with its own deck, but with its own bet. Thus, if you play with 5 coins per hand, you are actually betting 500 coins per hand in a 100-play video poker game. If the coin is in $0.25 denomination, you will wager $125 per hand or per deal to be exact.
What attracts most players to multi-hand video poker games is the fact that they often offer higher payouts for some of the winning hands and sometimes, they even have Wild Cards such as Jokers, which make winning easier. The truth is that it is possible to gain the return percentage of the game in a shorter period of time than if the same game was single-hand. The reason for this is not in the house edge – the house edge remains the same, but in the less mathematical variance for each deal.
Many less experienced players will head right to these multi-hand video poker games, because seemingly, the bets are low, while the payouts are quite attractive. The tricky thing is that while you can quickly win big playing this type of game, you can also break the bank in just a couple of rounds.
Popular Video Poker Variations
Land-based and online casinos offer a huge variety of video poker variations – simple or more complex, more generous or with lower payouts. Although they are over a hundred, most of them are actually based on either 9/6 Jacks or Better, the classic video poker game, or on Deuces Wild, which is considered to be much more exciting and rewarding. The most important differences between the different games are the changes in pay tables, which significantly affect the return percentage of each variation.
Some video poker machines feature the so-called Wild Cards, mentioned briefly beforehand. These cards can be Jokers, Twos, or any other, and they can substitute for other cards so that the player can collect a winning hand much easier. Other variations offer greater payouts for particular hands such as a set of four Eights than they would pay out if you collect a four of Nines, for instance.
Jacks or Better
This is the simplest video poker variation, which is why it is often chosen by new players. In its 9/6 form, it has an attractive payback of 99.54%, but there are plenty of low pay Jacks or Better games, too. The lowest paid hand is Jacks or Better, which is a pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces. This hand is paid out evenly, which means that you have a Jacks or Better at the end of the draw, you will receive a winning equal to your bet.
Another important feature of most single-hand, full pay Jacks or Better variations is that you have the option to double your winnings in a bonus game each time you get a Jacks or Better hand. You will receive 5 cards – one of them face up, the rest unknown. Your goal is to pick a card from the four face down cards which has a higher value.
Deuces Wild is another popular variation of video poker which can be found in most land-based or online casinos. Just like Jacks or Better, it comes in shapes and sizes and uses a single deck of 52 cards. The interesting part is that all four Deuces, or Twos, serve as Wild Cards, which can be used by the player to complete a winning hand by replacing any of the dealt cards with a Deuce. The lowest hand in the pay chart is Three of a Kind and it is paid evenly, while a Four Deuces is the second best hand after a Royal Flush.
Most variants of this game offer low returns because, generally, the odds of getting a winning hand increase significantly with the help of the Wilds and casinos need to compensate for this. The full pay Deuces Wild, however, comes with the potential of giving the player an advantage over the house with a return of 100.76% if the game is played perfectly with maximum bets. This is why this particular game, although not very common in casinos, is the most popular one among gamblers. The Four of a Kind payout is 5 times the bet, while for a Five of a Kind earns you a winning of 15 times your bet.
Another game with generous returns is the so-called Not-so-Ugly Deuces Wild which has a payback of 99.73% and is easier to find at casinos than the full pay variation. Overall, the pay table here seems better, as the payouts for Five of a Kind, Straight Flush, and Flush are higher – 16, 10, and 3 times the original bets, respectively. But a closer look reveals that Four of a Kind is paid out for less than in the full pay variation – 4 times the bet, instead of 5. And this single payout contributes to a worse pay table and, in fact, cuts the return. Still, it is a great game even for beginners. There are many other variations of Deuces Wild, but they all offer lower RTP (return to player) rates, which is why it is best to stick to a full pay variant of the game, or at least as close to full pay as possible.
Tens or Better
This video poker variation closely resembles Jacks or Better – it uses a single deck and the winning hands are in the same order. However, you can win here more frequently, because the lowest paying hand is a pair of Tens. The pay table is adjusted accordingly, offering a bit lower, but more frequent payouts than Jacks or Better. The full pay game is often described as 6/5 Jacks or Better and the reason is that the payouts for Full House and Flush are 6 and 5 times your bet, as opposed 9 and 6 times. Of course, as with all other video poker games, the pay charts may vary in different machines and casinos. There is also a Double button, which gives players the opportunity to double their winnings if they win in the bonus game, Jacks or Better-style.
This full pay variation pays back 99.13%, which is quite a nice return compared to almost all casino games. But there are also many low pay Tens or Better games, where usually, the Four of a Kind payout is lower as opposed to the full pay variation. Depending on the exact pay table, these games can increase the house edge with up to 2%.
This variation is also based on Jacks or Better but it offers more generous payouts for certain Four of a Kind hands, four Aces for example. The lowest winning hand is a pair of Jacks and the rest of the winning hands are ranked in the traditional, Jacks or Better order, with the exception of Four of a Kind hands. A combination of four Aces will earn you 80 coins for a 1 coin bet, while a hand of four Twos, Threes or Fours will be paid out with 40 coins. If your Four of a Kind hand consists of values from Fives through Kings, you will receive 25 coins for each bet of 1 coin, just as would in Jacks or Better.
The full pay version of Bonus Poker is 8/5, which means the payout for Full House is 8 times the bet, while the payout for Flush is 5 times the bet. The expected return is 99.17%, which shows that the game is quite generous. In combination with the relatively simple strategy, it is a good option even for new players. There is also a 7/5 variation of Bonus Poker, which is very common across casinos, but over time, it returns 98.01%, which is why it should be avoided if a 8/5 game is available.
The game has plenty of other versions, some of which actually offer higher payback percentages than the original Bonus Poker. One of them, for instance, at first glance is also a 8/5 game, but it pays equally for all Four of a Kind hands – 35 times the original bet. It has an attractive return of 99.66%. Another extremely popular variation is the Double Bonus Poker and more specifically its 10/7 form. The winnings for all Four a Kind hands here are twice as higher as in the typical Bonus Poker, but the payouts for a Jacks or Better and Two Pair are both even. Still, the expected return is 100.17%. Players can also find 9/7 Double Bonus Poker, as well as other lower paying variations.
Aces and Faces
Aces and Faces is a more complex video poker game that derives from Jacks or Better. It is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and payouts start from as low as a Jacks of Better hand. The difference is that it comes with increased payouts for all Four of a Kind hands, formed by Aces or Face Cards (Jacks, Queens, and Kings). The standard 8/5 Aces and Faces game ranks a hand of Four Aces higher than a Straight Flush and the payouts are 80 to 1 compared to 50 to 1. The second bonus payoff is 40 to 1 and it is given for any combination of four Face Cards. The payback percentage is 99.26%.
There are also a couple of other versions of Aces and Faces, one of them is a 7/6 game and the other is a 7/5 game where, of course, the expected returns are lower – 99.2% and 99.1%, respectively. Some casinos offer a 6/5 game, where the house edge is significantly increased and players can expect a return of only 97%.
Joker Poker is an entertaining game, suitable for novices and more advanced players alike. It is a fairly simple game played with 53 cards – a standard deck of 52 cards plus the Joker, which serves as a Wild Card. The game is also called Joker’s Wild and it shows several differences when compared to a typical Jacks or Better video poker.
The first one is that the starting winning hand is significantly higher than in most video poker games – it is Kings or Better (a pair of Kings or Aces). The additional Wild Card makes it possible to form a Five of a Kind hand, which in this game, is ranked right after the Natural Royal Flush, i.e. a Royal Flush without Wilds. And the third best hand is the Royal Flush with a Joker, followed by a Straight Flush, etc. The game offers higher odds of getting a winning hand, which is why it is very popular among players, especially when it is in a 7/5 form (there is also a 6/5 version).
There are, in fact, three types of Joker Poker and the one offering the highest return is the full pay Kings or Better. This is the game where the lowest hand is a Pair of Kings or Aces and it has a payout percentage of 100.64% when it is played accurately and with max bets. The other two are Aces or Better and Two Pairs or Better and their names refer to the lowest winning hands you can have. The expected returns are 98.41% and 99.92%, respectively.
Progressive Jackpot Video Poker
These types of video poker games can be the most generous of all, as players have the opportunity to win a huge jackpot. A Progressive Video Poker game is a variation where one of the winning hands does not pay off a fixed amount of money, but a jackpot, which keeps on rising, or “progressing”. This is possible when multiple video poker machines of the same type are linked in a network and a percentage of every bet placed on them is added to the jackpot. Sometimes, the jackpot winning combination is a Royal Flush, but in some games, it is a Straight Flush or even a Four of a Kind.
When the lucky player hits the jackpot, it is reset and once again, starts to increases. In this case, the expected return jumps significantly (way over 100%), even if it is valid only for the winner of the jackpot. Still, there are ways expert players can calculate the average return of each game of this type and usually, the payback percentage is around or higher than 100%. There are different progressive video poker games, but most commonly, they are progressive Jacks or Better versions.
However, there are several things players should know before placing a wager. The first thing is that they need to play with maximum bets and try to follow the best possible strategy for playing that particular variation of video poker. Also, they should look for a progressive video poker game featuring Wild Cards, which make it easier to get a winning hand. For example, there is a Progressive Deuces Wild game, which in order to compensate for the jackpot, starts to pay out for higher ranking hands. A Three of a Kind, in this case, is usually the lowest winning hand and it is paid out at even odds. Of course, the strategy with progressive jackpots will be much more complex, whether it is a Jacks or Better or a Deuces Wild game you are playing at.