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For anyone trying to decide which game to play in a casino, there are many good reasons to choose video poker over the competition. First and foremost, video poker is more often than not the most generous game the casino offers to its clientele.

Many different pay tables have existed over time with varying rates of return to the player. With the competition amongst casino operators both real world and online, it isn’t hard to find somewhere to play that offers the most generous pay table. These games are known as “full pay” and are most commonly 9/6 games. The nine refers to the return to the player for a full house, whilst the six represents the return for a flush. Any pay table which awards less than this is called a “short pay” game. Pay tables as low as 6/5 have been operated but thankfully these days the 9/6 structure is the standard. Whenever you have the choice you should choose the game with the better pay table. The return to the player for 6/5 is 95% which rises to 99.54% at 9/6.

Variations of the 9/6 table do exist which actually return more than 99.54%, this is usually due to offering a higher return for a Royal Flush either through higher odds or a progressive jackpot. For the purpose of this article we will stick to the most common form of the table to illustrate the odds on offer in the game.

When choosing your stake at the start of a hand you have the option of staking one, two, three, four or five chips. From a strategic point of view you should always choose to play the five chip option. For example of you are looking to play around £/$1 per hand you will be better off in the long run playing five chips at £/$0.25 rather than one chip at £/$1. The reason for this is that the stake multiplier for a Royal Flush is significantly larger as standard for five chips (800 x stake) than for the other staking options (250 x stake). The stake multipliers for each hand in the 9/6 version are:

  • One Pair (Jacks or Better) - 1 x stake
  • Two Pair - 2 x stake
  • Three Of A Kind - 3 x stake
  • Straight - 4 x stake
  • Flush - 6 x stake
  • Full House - 9 x stake
  • Four Of A Kind - 25 x stake
  • Straight Flush-50 x stake
  • Royal Flush-250 x stake (800 x stake for the 5 chip stake level)

Strategy: What Cards To Hold

Achieving the optimum payout of 99.54% is dependent upon playing perfect strategy. Having determined the number of chips to play there is only one other decision point during the play of a hand: which of the five cards dealt to you should you hold? The correct strategy for this game is more complicated than other casino poker games due to the increased number of permutations offered by the draw. The following is a slightly simplified version of perfect strategy. Playing this way will result in a return to the player of 99.46%. We are only giving up 0.08% by playing this way which is acceptable considering the complexity of advanced perfect strategy.

Let’s have a look the correct strategy for each of the possible starting hands you may be dealt. The hands are listed in descending order of strength. All reference to high cards or high pairs should be taken to mean any card/pair that is a jack/jacks or higher.

  • Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush: - Always keep these hands. Hold all cards, sit back and await your payout.
  • Four to a Royal Flush: - Always hold these four cards. Made Straights and Flushes should be sacrificed to take a shot at the massive Royal Flush pay-out. Think of it this way, at this stage you are 46/1 to hit the card you need but you will be paid out at 799/1 if successful. That’s simply too good an opportunity to pass up. Even if you miss you still have a fair chance of achieving a high pair, Straight or Flush.
  • Full House: - Again, always hold all cards.
  • Three Of A Kind: - Always hold the three and discard the other two. This gives you the best chance of hitting either a Full House or Four Of A Kind.
  • Straight, Flush: - Always hold unless the hand contains four cards to a Royal Flush.
  • Four to a Straight Flush: - Always hold these four cards and draw one unless you already have a made Straight or Flush.
  • Two Pair: - Always hold the two pair and draw one.
  • High Pair: - Keep the high pair unless the hand also contains four cards to a Straight Flush or Royal Flush.
  • Three to a Royal Flush: Always hold these three cards unless you already have a High Pair or Three Of A Kind.
  • Four to a Flush: - Hold unless you also have a pair of jacks or better. Keep a high pair but any pair lower than jacks should be sacrificed in an attempt to hit the Flush. The other exception is if your four card Flush also contains three to a Royal Flush, here you should keep the three to the Royal and draw two cards.
  • Low Pair: - Keep the pair unless you have four to a Straight Flush, three or four to a Royal Flush or four to a Flush.
  • An open ended Straight: - e.g. 8-9-10-J unsuited. Hold these four unless you hold four to a Straight Flush, three or four to a Royal Flush, four to a Flush or any pair.
  • Two suited high cards: - Hold these two if you have no pair and no two card draw to a Royal Flush or one card draw to an open ended Straight or a Flush.
  • Three to a Straight Flush: - Hold unless you have an open ended Straight draw, four to a Flush, a high pair or two suited high cards.
  • Two unsuited high cards: - If you have no pair, no one card draws to open ended Straights or Flushes, and no two card draws to a Straight Flush or Royal Flush keep the two high cards. If you hold three or four unsuited high cards you should keep the lowest two of these. This gives you the same chance at hitting a pair but an increased chance at a Straight.
  • Suited J/10, Q/10/, or K/10: - Holding the high card and the ten of the same suit works out marginally better than keeping only the high card due to the Straight or Flush potential.
  • One high card: - In the absence of any Flush or Straight possibilities or a suited 10 keep the high card and draw four.
  • None of the above?: - Throw them all away and hope for better!

The best way to play this strategy is to memorise the order of hands above or keep a list handy to begin with. Work down the list until you find the hand that matches your holding and play accordingly. You will find that much of it is common sense and will become easy to follow with practice.

The strategy outlined above applies equally whether you are playing the single or multi-hand versions of video poker. A number of adjustments do need to be made when playing a version containing wild cards. The specifics of this depend both on the number of wild cards in play and the pay table being used. For example in Jokers Wild the minimum hand requirement is a pair of kings which totally alters the correct play of high cards. In Deuces Wild, Three Of A Kind is the minimum requirement so the strategy is more heavily weighted towards attempting to hit the top end hands. These wild card variations tend not to offer as good a deal to the gambler as standard Jacks or Better, Jokers Wild for instance returns 98.6% to the player. In the long run, therefore, you will be better off sticking to the original Jacks Or Better video poker, although these alternatives still compare favourably to many casino games in terms of the house edge.