Video Poker is one of the best games for earning comps in a casino. Most important among the reasons video poker is a great game to play to earn comps is that it is a game of skill, which allows the player to “trick” the casino into thinking that you are a more valuable customer for the casino than they really are. Additionally, games are available to satisfy just about any level of gambler, from highroller to lowroller. Finally, but by no means least in importance, video poker is fun! Video Poker has become so popular, in many locals casinos in Las Vegas it has practically taken over the whole gaming floor. The game seems to have the right balance of player involvement via the discard decisions, but is not so taxing as to impede the fun. After playing the game for awhile it is easily understood why Video Poker is called the ”Crack Cocaine” of casino games.
As the popularity of video poker has grown over the past several years, so has the number variations in the game. The original game is called Jacks or Better, often abbreviated in video poker books and articles as JOB. The game plays like 5card draw, where the player is dealt 5 cards, with which he decides how many to discard for a redraw. In video poker you are playing against a predetermined payschedule not other players, hence there is no bluffing! Having a predetermined payschedule is an advantage to the player, since it allows the player to determine the payback of the video poker machine before he even sits down at the machine.
Video Poker Basic Rules
All Video Poker games are a variation of a five card draw poker game, the goal of which is to select which of your initial five cards to discard so that you end up with the best possible poker hand. The rank of poker hands is as follows, in descending order:
Royal Flush: Ace; King Queen; Jack; 10 all of the same suit
Straight Flush: 5 consecutive cards all of the same suit e.g. 56789 of clubs.
Four of a Kind(Quads): Such as four Jacks.
Full House: Three of one denomination and a pair of another denomination such as three Jacks and a pair of Queens.
Flush: Five cards of the same suit.
Straight: Five consecutive cards, not all of the same suit, which would make it a straight flush.
Three of a Kind(Trips): Three cards of the same denomination, such as three Jacks.
Two Pair: Two cards of the same denomination plus another pair of different denomination.
Single Pair:Two cards of the same denomination.
Each version of Video Poker will assign a unique value to each possible outcome. For Jacks of Better (JOB) the payschedule is shown in the following table.
Jacks or Better PaySchedule
Poker Hand 
Pay Off (1/5 coins bet) 
Royal Flush

250 / 4000

Straight Flush

50 / 250

Four of a kind

25 / 125

Full House

9 / 45

Flush

6 / 30

Straight

4 / 20

Three of a kind

5 / 15

Two Pair

2 / 10

Pair Jacks or Better

1 / 5

The first number is for a single unit bet, while the second number represents the maximum coin bet of five units.
Notice, with the exception of the Royal Flush, the five unit bet is simply five times the single unit bet. That the Royal Flush payoff is not a simple multiple of the number of units bet, is more obvious when you look at the Royal Flush payoff for one to five units bet: 1=250; 2=500; 3= 1,500; 4= 2,000; 5=4,000 this extra payoff, 4.000 versus 2,500 is what leads to the expert advice of always playing maximum credits, five units per hand, when playing video poker.
The exception to this rule, aren’t there always exceptions, is under the rare circumstances when the video poker machine offers no royal flush premium for five coins bet, e.g. 800 coins per unit bet.
Video Poker Game Variations
There are many variations in video poker payschedules, most involve the payoffs of four of a kinds, often called “quads” The most common variation involves premium payoffs for quad Aces and quad 2s; 3s; and 4s. Which leads to ever higher payoffs for these premium a hands in the following games:
Bonus Poker
Double Bonus Poker
Double Double Bonus Poker
Triple Double Bonus Poker
That list is enough to make any novice video poker player’s head spin, but there is method to the madness.
Video Poker Pay Schedules
–Game– 
Jacks or Bettor 
Bonus Poker 
Double Bonus 
Double Double Bonus 
Triple Double Bonus 
Royal Flush 
4,000

4,000

4,000

4,000

4,000

Straight Flush 
250

250

250

250

250

Quad Aces w/ kickers 
125

400

800

2,000

4,000

Quad Aces 
125

400

800

800

800

Quad 2s, 3s, 4s w/ kickers 
125

200

400

800

2,000

Quad 2s, 3s, 4s 
125

200

400

400

400

Quad 5kings 
125

125

250

250

250

Full House 
45

40

45

45

45

Flush 
30

25

35

30

30

Straight 
20

20

25

20

20

Three of a Kind 
15

15

15

15

10

Two Pair 
10

10

5

5

5

Pair JOB 
5

5

5

5

5

Expected Value 
99.54

99.17

99.11

98.98

98.15

Before we dive into the table let me first say, that I have chosen representative versions of each individual game, with a preference given to the best version of the game that is commonly available in Las Vegas.
First let’s look at what happens to the payoff to Quad Aces as we progress through the list. For the sake of completeness I’ll start with our old friend Jacks or Better (JOB), in that game all quads pay 25 per unit bet or 125 for a five unit, hence quad aces pay 125.
As a side note, since I already explained that it is almost always optimal to play five units per hand, henceforth I will always assume I am speaking about a five unit bet when I am speaking about video poker pay schedules.
Next in the list is Bonus Poker this games pays 400 credits for quad Aces. Guess what Double Bonus pays for quad Aces, that’s right 800 credits.
Now we come to Double Double Bonus Poker, what does that mean. This is where we introduce the idea of “kickers”.
A kicker is a fifth card that increases the value of the quad.
Double Double Bonus is a very popular version of video poker, probably the most common. In Double Double Bonus Aces; 2s; 3s and 4s make up both the premium quads and the kickers. For example quad aces with a kicker fifth card of any 2, 3 or 4 is worth 2,000 credits, wow, now that’s a bonus quad. Without the kicker quad aces is worth 800, as in the base Double bonus game. In Triple Double Bonus the payoff is ratchetedup to 4,000 for Aces with a Kicker.
Every version of Double Double Bonus will have identical payoffs for all the quads, that is Aces with a kicker will pay 2,000 while Aces without a kicker will pay 800, and so on. The difference among versions of Double Double Bonus is found in the payoffs of Flushes and FullHouses, just where most players are not looking. We’re back to our recurring theme that it is the small things that are often most important in casinos.
Don’t be lured into playing an inferior game by the prospect of large jackpots.
Most gamblers would look at the table and say, Triple Double Bonus is obviously the best game of the bunch. Why would anyone bother ever playing Jacks or Better for a measly 125 units, when you can get 4,000 units for Aces with a kicker. First impressions can be deceiving. The punchline is contained in the last line of the table labeled “Expected Value” The line tells you the expected return of the game, when playing the game with the correct strategy. The higher the number the better, hence Jacks or Better with the measly 125 units for all quads is the best game in the table with 99.54% return versus 98.15% return for Triple Double Bonus. The obvious next question is “How can that be true?” To answer that question, let’s compare the payschedules.
Quads versus Two Pair and Trips
The differences in the schedules are due to the payoffs in the quads and the payoffs in two pair and three of a kinds. The payoffs for quads all favor the Triple Double Bonus schedule, with all quads being much higher than the measly 125 Jacks or Better pays for all quads. However the payoffs for two pair and three of a kind favor Jacks or bettor. If you think about this classic tortoise and hare example, it is rather amazing. The plodding advantage of getting an extra 5 units for two pairs and three of a kinds outweighs the advantage of getting 4,000 units for Aces with kickers and 2,000 units for 2s, 3s, 4s with kickers versus 125 units with JOB, I haven’t even mentioned the significant premium that Triple Double pays for all the other quads, as can be seen in the Table Video Poker Pay Schedules
Video Poker Pay Schedules
–Game– 
Jacks or Bettor 
Bonus Poker 
Double Bonus 
Double Double Bonus 
Triple Double Bonus 
Royal Flush 
4,000

4,000

4,000

4,000

4,000

Straight Flush 
250

250

250

250

250

Quad Aces w/ kickers 
125

400

800

2,000

4,000

Quad Aces 
125

400

800

800

800

Quad 2s, 3s, 4s w/ kickers 
125

200

400

800

2,000

Quad 2s, 3s, 4s 
125

200

400

400

400

Quad 5kings 
125

125

250

250

250

Full House 
45

40

45

45

45

Flush 
30

25

35

30

30

Straight 
20

20

25

20

20

Three of a Kind 
15

15

15

15

10

Two Pair 
10

10

5

5

5

Pair JOB 
5

5

5

5

5

Expected Value 
99.54

99.17

99.11

98.98

98.15

To help drive home the importance of paying close attention to small changes in payschedules, and for completeness, let’s quickly review key aspects of the Variations Table . Starting at the right side of the table with Triple Double Bonus and moving leftward, the next game is Double Double Bonus. The only difference between these two games is the reduction of the “kicker” payoffs from 4,000 to 2,000 for Aces and from 2,000 to 800 for 2s, 3s, 4s and the increase in three of a kind payoff from 10 to 15. Once again we see that the small 5 unit increase in payoff more than makes of for some substantial quad payoffs. I say more than makes up for the difference because Double Double has a higher expected return than Triple Double, 98.98 versus 98.15.
Double Double Bonus versus Double Bonus
The next game to the left of Double Double Bonus is just plain Double Bonus, say that three times fast! In Double Bonus the kickers are removed, hence all Quad Aces pay the same, 800, while 2s, 3s, 4s all pay 400. To make up for this shortfall, flushes are increased to 35 from 30 and straights are increased to 25 from 20. Notice again these small strategically placed 5 unit increases slightly more than make up for the big kicker payoffs. Double Bonus has a higher expected return than Double Double Bonus, 99.19 versus 98.98.
Double Bonus versus Bonus
The jump from Double Bonus to Bonus gets us to a game that is much closer to Jacks or Better than any of the previous games we have discussed so far. As you might expect, in going from Double Bonus to Bonus the all quads are cut in half, Aces from 800 to 400, 2s, 3s, and 4s from 400 to 200, nonbonus quads from 250 to 125. The flush is cut from 35 to 25 and straights are cut from 25 to 20. The only gain, which again more than offsets these cuts, is that two pair is now worth 10 instead of 5. Expected return of Bonus is 99.17 versus 99.11 for Double Bonus.
Bonus versus JOB
The final jump is from Bonus to Jacks or Better the reduction is in quad Aces from 400 to 125 and quad 2s, 3s, 4s from 200 to 125. Note that both games pay 10 for two pairs. JOB more than makes of for the reduction in bonus quads via 5 unit increases in flushes and fullhouses to 30 and 45 respectively. The jump in expected value from Bonus to JOB is the largest in the table, from 99.17 to 99.54.
Pay Schedule Variation within Versions of JOB
There is more variation in Video Poker Pay Schedules than just among the different games, Pay Schedules can vary among different versions of the same game. As always, small changes can be very important. We’ll take a closer look at our old friend, Jacks or Better (JOB).
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 
45

45

40

40

35

35

30

Flush 
30

25

30

25

30

25

25

Expected Value 
99.54

98.45

98.39

97.3

97.24

96.15

95.0

(Only the hands that vary are included)
Notice how small changes can have large effects. In going from JOB 9/6, which pays 45 for full houses and 30 for flushes, to JOB 8/5 which pays 40 for full houses and 25 for flushes we lose over 2% of our expected return, going from a 99.54% game to a 97.3 % game.
The same variations occur in all versions of video poker games. For instance in Double Double Bonus poker, the game where quad Aces with a kicker pays 2,000 the standard game we looked at in the first table paid 45 for full house and 30 for flushes, if we drop the pay schedule to 40 for full house and 25 for flushes the expected value of the game goes from 99% to 97%.
The reason that small changes in hands like two pair or three of a kind are enough to offset large changes in quad hands is due to the relative frequency of each type of hand. In any given session of video poker you are going to have many more hands resulting in two pair than you are quad Aces with a kicker. This is obvious to anyone that has any played poker. What is less obvious, is the exact extent of the difference in frequencies. This is why expert video poker players don’t rely on gut instinct in deciding how to play each hand they are dealt in video poker. Experts rely on strategy sheets and cards that tell them exactly how to play each hand. Remember, there is no bluffing in video poker!
There are 2,598,960 unique possible dealt five card hands in video poker. Fortunately, many of these hands are treated the same way from a strategy perspective. This allows us to have a relatively short list of instructions to advise on how to play any given dealt hand. The best way to learn the correct strategy for any video poker games requires both a basic understanding of the theory behind the strategy and some brute force practice and memorization.
In Part an upcoming post we’ll walk through a Jacks or Better strategy sheet.
For a good beginner’s book on Video Poker, I recommend Linda Boyd’s book, the book also includes several strategy cards.
A good forum on Video Poker is the vpFree one on Yahoo Groups.
For Information on Las Vegas Casinos Please Visit: MavensVegas.com