Video poker is a popular game for a simple reason; like all the best games, it’s just complex enough to provide variety, while being simple enough to learn quickly. The basic mechanics of the game are very straightforward and you can learn them in a few minutes, which also makes the game accessible and fun for a quick flutter, or casual play.
However, as you learn the ropes and explore variations on the basic game, you’ll also find that there is a strategy to video poker that can improve your odds of winning. This gives the game longevity, rewarding players who stick with it by offering more challenge.
Most strategies surrounding video poker are based on how you handle discarding or keeping your hand, which is your key decision in this game. After you place a bet and are dealt a hand of five cards, you may already have a winning combination, or you may have nothing useful at all. You can then pick which cards to discard and the dealer will draw replacements. Put simply, the strategy here is to check how close you are to a winning hand, then discard any cards which are not useful in building that combination.
For example, if you have two pairs of matching cards and one random card, then you have nothing to lose by discarding that last card. With a little luck, it may turn your two pairs into a full house (a pair and three of a kind).
Similarly, another common technique when dealt three of a kind, is to discard the other two cards, hoping to get four of a kind or a full house. The key is to look at the hand you have and work out what you need to make it better. Some players will even discard winning hands to try for a better win, but that’s where you need to decide how much risk you’re willing to take.
Let’s look at some other common strategies. Many players will favour a pair over a high card like a king- you may be tempted to discard a basic pair (especially since in Jacks or Better a low pair is not a winner) in an attempt to build something with that king, but consider the fact that your pair has potential value- it could turn into two pairs, three or four of a kind or even a full house.
When dealing with straights and flushes, try not to break them up unless you have a shot at a royal flush with four of the cards. Dropping a low card in that situation might net you the jackpot and you still have the possibility of a pair, straight or flush.
Strategies get more complex as you further calculate the odds of a win. Players will often rank hands by the probability of getting a stronger hand, while also considering the value of staying. For example, it’s usually a given that you would keep a full house. The odds of discarding to get something better are slim in comparison to the healthy payoff you already have in your hand.
Hands can be ranked by their value based on this likelihood. You can check which of these example ranks your current hand fits, and opt for the hand which is ranked higher. As a rule of thumb, give preference to a hand which contains four of a kind, straight flush or royal flush. Give second preference to a hand with four to a royal flush.
Next ranked would be three of a kind, straight, full house or flush. Then, four to a straight flush. Next most preferable is a two pair, then a high pair, because of the way they can unlock higher hands. These are higher up the list than people expect! Next is three to a royal flush, four to a flush then a low pair. You should usually keep a two suited high cards over two unsuited high cards.
When playing video poker, spotting the strength and potential of your hands will soon become second nature. The key is to consider what you hand can become and how likely that is, compared to what you’ve already been dealt.