The following is an introduction to Video Poker strategy. We’ll be covering a basic strategy sheet that does not take into consideration penalty cards. Penalty cards are cards that are discarded which reduces the chance of completing a flush or a straight. The difference between using the most complete and hence, most complex strategy cards is rather small, usually less than 0.1%. Hence,  many if not most  advantage players ignore penalty cards.

The first step in playing better video poker is choosing the right machine, and that doesn’t mean one the “feels right”, it means a machine with the best pay table.

Variation in Jacks or Bettor Pay Schedules
JOB Version 9/6 9/5 8/6 8/5 7/6 7/5 6/5
Full House
Expected Value

The variation in expected return is due to small changes in the payoff for flushes and full houses. The full-pay version of Jacks or Better is abbreviated 9/6 which means full houses pay 9 or 45 with 5 coins be and flushes pay 6 or 30 with 5 coins in. The game has an expected long run return of approximately 99.5% when using the following strategy.

Strategy for Jacks or Better(JOB 9/6)

[9/6 describes the version of Jacks or Better where a full house pays 9 units or 45  for max bet and a flush pays 6 units or 30 for max bet.]

All strategy list/cards work the same way, you start at the top of the list, and work you way down, until you come to the hand you have been dealt. The list/card will list the cards to hold.

The following is a strategy chart generated by the software package Video Poker Strategy Master by Tomski.

(The number on the left is the expected return by holding the indicated cards, for pat hands expected returns equals actual returns. The numbers are based on a single coin, hence a royal flush is marked 800; multiply by 5 for the five coin pay-out of 4,000. Look at the expected pay-off for two pair, which pays 2 for a single coin bet, is 2.5957. The extra .5957  factors in all possible improvements in the hand, which for two pair is a full house.)

800.0000 Pat Royal
50.0000 Pat Straight Flush
25.0000 Pat Four of a Kind
18.4255 4 Royal
9.0000 Pat Full House
6.0000 Pat Flush
4.3080 Three of a Kind
4.0000 Pat Straight
3.4282 4 STFL, Open, 2345s-9TJQs
2.5957 Two Pair
2.2307 4 STFL, Inside
1.5405 High Pair JJ-AA
1.3201 3 Royal
1.2447 4 Flush
0.8723 TJQK
0.8237 Low Pair 22-TT
0.7979 9TJQ
0.7447 89TJ
0.7280 QJ9s
0.7216 JT9s
0.6809 4 ST, Open, 2345-789T
0.6300 3 STFL, Open, 345s-89Ts
0.6253 KQ9s, KJ9s, QJ8s
0.6096 QT9s, JT8s, J98s
0.6079 QJs
0.5938 AKQJ
0.5858 KQs, KJs
0.5774 AKs, AQs, AJs
0.5319 4 ST, Inside, 3 Hi Cards
0.5318 3 STFL, 2 Gaps, 1 Hi
0.5260 3 STFL, 1 Gap, 0 Hi, +234s
0.5153 KQJ
0.5059 QJ
0.5008 JTs
0.4901 KQ, KJ
0.4804 QTs
0.4783 AK, AQ, AJ
0.4749 KTs
0.4742 Jack
0.4704 Queen
0.4682 King
0.4622 Ace
0.4376 3 STFL, 2 Gaps, 0 Hi
0.3598 Redraw

The following is my first iteration of making sense out of the above strategy list.

1.      Hold the following pat hands Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, Full House.

Notice that Flushes and Straights are NOT automatic holds.

2.      For pat Flushes and Straights, that also contain 4 card royals, keep the 4 card royal and discard the fifth card. For example Ac-Kc-Qc-Jc-5c Break-up the pat club flush, keep the four card royal and discard the 5 of clubs.

3.      Four Card Straight Flush open/no gaps

4.      Two Pair

Two Pair beats High Pair, if you are dealt a pair a Jacks and a pair of fours, hold both pair, don’t throw away the 4s to go for quad Jacks.

5.      Four Card Straight Flush Inside

Four Card Straight Flush beats High Pair

6.      High Pair JJ-AA

7.      Three to a Royal Flush

8.      Four Flush

Notice Three card Royal beats Four Flush

9.      K-Q-J-10

10.   Low Pair (Pair of 2′s through pair of 10s)

11.   Q-J-10-9 or  J-10-9-8

12.   Q-J-9 suited or J-10-9 suited

13.   Four Straight 2-3-4-5 through 7-8-9-10

14.   Q-J-8 suited

15.   3 card straight flush (with at least as many high cards as gaps)

5-6-7 suited works, no gaps so no high cards are needed
J-10-8 suited works, one gap but we have one high card
J-9-7 suited, doesn’t work because we have two gaps but only one high card
K-J-9 suited, works two gaps two high cards

16.   A-K-Q-J unsuited

17.   Two Suited High Cards

18.   Four Card Straight Inside Three High Cards

19.   Three Card Straight Flush 2 Gaps 1 High Card

20.   Three Card Straight Flush 1 Gap  0 High Card

21.   K-Q-J Unsuited

22.   Q-J Unsuited

23.   J-10 Suited

24.   K-Q or K-J both unsuited

25.   Q-10 Suited

26.   A-K; A-Q; A-J all unsuited

27.   K-10 Suited

28.   Single High Card (A; K; Q; J)

29.   Three Card Straight Flush; 2 Gaps; 0 High Cards

Notice in the first list  that a single Jack is higher on the list than a single Queen and that the Ace is lowest on the list of single card holds. This may seem counterintuitive to most people, but the reasoning is actually straightforward. The Jack allows for a greater number of straights and straight-flushs than the other royal cards. If you hold an Ace you can only make a Ace high straight. If you hold a Jack, you can make a Ace, King, Queen, or Jack high straight, hence the Jack is the more valuable hold. The same idea is at work with Jack Ten suited being worth more than Queen Ten suited.

At first glance it may seem like a daunting task to learn the strategy for JOB, but the truth is, with a little practice on one of the many available software programs, JOB strategy is easily mastered. Most people find their enjoyment of playing video poker increases substantially once they have mastered the strategy to the game.

I recommend Linda Boyd’s book:

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