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Video Poker 101

26 November 2005

Unlike slots, video poker is a beatable game, but there are two key factors to winning at video poker.

First, you must know what kind of video poker machine to sit down at. Second, you must use the correct strategy according to that particular game.

Today, we're going to explore the first key - what kind of video poker machine to play. There are hundreds of varieties of video poker machines, but narrowing the choices down to the best paying kinds of machines has already been done for you.

The best games to play are 9/6 Jacks or Better, Full Pay Deuces Wild, Joker Poker, 10/7 Double Bonus, All American and Pick-Em Poker. But for now, we're going to concentrate on only one of these games - 9/6 Jacks or Better - the granddaddy of all video poker.

"Jacks or Better" is a generic term for a video poker game in which the lowest payout is one coin paid out for one coin played if you draw a pair of jacks or higher. The "9/6" part of the name comes from payouts for full houses and flushes.

For example, for one coin played, you're paid back nine coins for a full house. For five coins played (the maximum), you receive 45 coins back for a full house. For the flush, you're paid back six coins for every coin played, up to the maximum of 30 coins for five played.

Where do you find this information? From the payout schedule. And that is printed right on the front of the machine or on the screen itself. The payout schedule lists the payback for every winning hand from a pair of jacks or higher on up to the royal flush.

Below is a payout schedule for one coin played:

Royal Flush      250
Straight Flush50
Four of a kind25
Full House9
Three of a kind3
Two Pair2
Jacks or Better1

But when you look at a payout schedule, it will have four more columns, a column for two, three, four and five coins played. The payouts will be two, three, four and five times the above payout numbers except for the royal flush. For five coins played, you are paid back 4,000 coins; that means 800 coins back for each coin played. That's the reason for playing max coins - you receive a non-proportional bonus for the royal flush.

9/6 Jacks or Better is not a positive expectation game. By that, I mean that the overall payback is 99.54 percent for perfect play over the long term. But combined with a decent players club cash back rebate, the payback can reach to a little over 100 percent. And it is one of the least volatile video poker games, with smaller positive fluctuations but also with smaller negative fluctuations.

It is the game that all beginning video poker players should learn first.

Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, Mr. Phelps, is to find a 9/6 Jacks or Better game. Cut out the above payback schedule and walk up to any video poker machine, locate the payout schedule and determine if it's a 9/6. Look at the payout on the full house and then at the flush. Sometimes the name on the machine says simply "Jacks or Better." Sometimes it says "Player's Edge Draw Poker," but the pay table must be exactly like the one above, plus at least 4000 coins back for the royal flush if five coins are played.

Once you have found a 9/6 JB payout, take a look at the rest of the machine. Locate the players' card reader and the bill acceptor. Look at all the buttons; quite a few more than a slot machine, right? At the far left is the Cash Out button. To the right of it is the Bet One Credit button followed by five Hold/Cancel buttons, then Play Max Credits and finally Deal/Draw.

Just take a moment and familiarize yourself with the machine itself.

Okay, now for the strategy part of winning at video poker. When I started writing The Low Roller five years ago, Bob Dancer gave me permission to reprint the beginner's level rules from his "9/6 Jacks or Better Video Poker Report." You've probably heard of Bob Dancer. He's the video poker editor for both Casino Player Magazine and Strictly Slots. He writes for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and teaches a weekly video poker class at Fiesta Henderson Casino in Las Vegas. And he makes his living playing professional-level video poker.

Over the course of four months during 2000, I devoted ten partial or full columns to stating the rules, defining terms, giving examples and testing you on your understanding of the rules. It was brutal, and I've decided not to do that to you again. What I'll do in the next article is give you the resources you should use to learn new games and some helpful tips to learning the strategies.

Until next time, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, or her web site
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, or her web site