How to Play & Win on Video Poker Machines

Video poker is unique in that it’s the only form of poker that offers you some blessed solitude from others’ demands at the same time it engages your brain and provides hours of fun. This one game, whether played in a gaming house or online, combines skill, luck, psychology and modern technology. All the decision-making power is in your own hands.

The whole point of video poker is that it holds your attention. You focus on the machine while the rest of the world goes about its business. But it does take some thought. It’s not a slot machine, so there’s more to the game than simply pulling a lever or pressing a button and hoping for a win. Sometimes the best thinking takes place alone in front of a video screen.

Video Poker Basics

Five-card draw poker forms the basis for most video poker machines. In this poker variation, five cards are dealt to each player and they are given the chance to trade in cards in the hope of creating a better hand. Discarded cards are replaced by newly dealt cards.

Jacks or Better is the most popular form of video poker, which requires that your hand has at least a pair of Jacks to win. The original video poker games were Jacks or Better, though more varieties have become available, such as Deuces Wild, Joker’s Wild, Bonus Poker and Double Bonus Poker. We’ll be going over Jacks or Better, simply because it’s the most widely played.

Video poker differs from “live” poker in one important aspect: you’re not playing against an opponent. You can win a game of video poker as long as you have any of the five-card winning combinations listed in the table below. This means you aren’t paid for a pair of 10s in Jacks or Better. You’ll only score a win if you have a pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces. Anything above a regal pair also wins, all the way up to a royal flush! The payout table on the machine will tell you the pay scale for winning hands, and at what level hands start paying off. Some video poker machines even have a Help button which will educate you on the rules and payout table, which should be displayed on the front of each machine.

It’s important to note that video poker has become so popular that some casinos will award “comps” to video players on the same basis as players at table games. Be sure to ask about possible comps if you’re a regular video poker player (see the article on comps for details).

Poker Hands Hierarchy (Jacks or Better Video Poker)
Royal Flush A, K, Q, J and 10 in a single suit
Straight Flush Five cards in sequence in a single suit
Four of a Kind Four cards of the same rank
Full House Three of a kind, plus a pair
Flush Five cards of the same suit
Straight Five cards in sequence, any suits
Three of a Kind Three cards of the same rank
Two Pair Two cards of one rank and two of another rank
Jacks or Better Pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces

How Video Poker Machines Work

We’ve discussed the basics of video gambling machines in previous articles, and those basics still apply for video poker. It’s important to remember the basics because the machine can’t control your spending. You have to do that yourself! Computer chips control video poker machines just like they do modern slot machines, but they don’t reach into your wallet and make you bet more money than you should. Always remember the first rule of gambling: Never bet more than you can afford to lose.

One note: After you’ve inserted cash or used your credit card to set up a bankroll, make sure the machine has properly recorded the amount of your bet. If it doesn’t record your bet properly, ask a change person to call a technician to look at the machine before you play.

The machine is programmed with every 5-card combination possible from a deck of 52 cards. Even the odds of forming each combination are programmed into the game. The program also contains the payoff schedule, so the machine knows exactly how much to pay out when you win. Your winnings depend on how well you play your hand and whether luck is on your side!

How to Play Video Poker

Video poker machines and slot machines are roughly the same size. Like slot machines, they also come in desktop and tabletop configurations. Recently, multi-game package machines have begun to appear which offer not only video poker, but also blackjack, keno, even video slots! There’s a great range of machines, from nickels up to $5 games, though the game follows the same basic principles no matter how big a bet it accepts. You’ll be able to select the game you want after you insert your money into the machine, which would be Jacks or Better since that’s what we’re covering. If you’re betting off credits or working with cash, there’s a button for Bet 1 Credit so you’re not wagering your whole bankroll. You have the option to bet morewith the Max Credits button, which will automatically place the max bet for you.

Once your bet is made, it’s time to press the Deal button. Five cards will be dealt to you, appearing on the screen. Some machines offer a bit of help, letting you know which cards you should hold in your hand. Once you’ve gotten a bit more experience playing video poker, you’ll may want to use your own judgment and exchange cards that the machine suggests you hold. To do this, you simply press the Hold button underneath that card.

Not all machines make the choice for you, however, and you’ll get the chance to select your own cards. There’s a Hold button under each space for a card on most machines. Pressing this indicates you want to keep that card in your hand. If the game has a multi-touch screen, you can tap the card on the screen to hold it, too. When you hold a card, it should say either Hold or Held above that card, so you’re sure which ones you’re saving. These cards will stay in your hand when discarding.

After you’ve selected the cards you want to hold, it’s time to press the Deal button again. The cards you didn’t want will be replaced on the screen. If your new cards make a good hand, the machine will let you know you’ve won with an exciting burst of sound or a flash across the screen. Credits will be added to your credit amount if that’s what you’re betting with. If coins are the chosen form of bet, they’ll delightfully clank down into the tray under the screen. Some machines will offer the option of switching between coin and credit modes with a button labeled Credit. If the Credit button lights up, you’re gathering credits instead of coins. Once you’ve had your fill, simply press the Cash Out or Collect button to grab your winnings.

Occasionally the machine will deal you a winning hand on the first pass. When this happens, the first thing you should do is save the hand, either by pressing a button marked “Stand” or by marking “Hold” on each card individually. Then you can press the “Deal” button, and the machine will record your win automatically.

Game Over will probably appear across the screen if your hand wasn’t so hot. Don’t lose heart, because you simply try again!

To start another hand, press the Bet button again or insert a few more coins. If you’re intent on grabbing that fabled royal flush it should only take you about 40,000 tries. There’s no guarantee you’ll be that lucky, though, so it’s better to play to win!

Video Poker Strategy

It may sound impossible, but there are professionals out there that actually make a living off playing video poker! It usually takes a massive bankroll, but it’s possible. You don’t have to be a professional to get a bit of an edge against the machine, though.

There are really only three tips that you need to follow to increase your odds of winning at video poker:

  1. Pick the video poker machine with the best payout table that you can find
  2. Always play the max bet
  3. Play the optimal mathematical strategy when holding/drawing cards

It’s no secret you’re likely to always have a good time playing video poker. But you’ve got to have a strategy and pick the right machines to come out ahead in the long run!

How to Choose the Right Machine

The payout table is your best friend when picking a machine. You can usually find it on the screen of newer video poker machines, or printed at the top of the cabinet on older models. It’s important always to check the payout table, because although you might be playing the same game of Jacks or Better on the various machines available to you, you could playing with different payout schedules.

Here’s an example: One game of Jacks or Better might pay out nine coins for a one-coin full house, and six coins for a flush. Other games will only pay out six or eight coins for that same one-coin full house, and five or six for that flush. The casino controls the machine’s payout percentage or the money a machine is expected to pay out over long periods, with these differing payout tables.

You can expect most video poker machines to payout somewhere between 90 and 100+ percent. That doesn’t mean that’s what you can expect to win, because the extremely rare royal flush is factored into the percentage, too.

Hitting the royal flush is the only way you can hope to win at video poker. You’ve got to be willing to shell out the dough until you get lucky because you simply can’t predict exactly when it will land for you thanks to the computer chip controlling the game. You may remember, though, that the chances of hitting a royal flush are about 1 in 40,000. If you want to keep playing, you’ll have to either keep feeding coins to the machine or win enough credits from the intermediate hands that do happen to land in your hand. You can compare the common payout schedules of most video poker machines using the table below.

One-Coin Payouts for Video Poker

Payoff by Type of Video Poker Machine
Hand 9/6-1,000 8/5-1,000 8/5-250 6/5-250
Royal Flush 1,000 coins 1,000 coins 250 coins 250 coins
Straight Flush 50 50 50 50
Four of a Kind 25 25 25 25
Full House 9 8 8 6
Flush 6 5 5 5
Straight 4 4 4 4
Three of a Kind 3 3 3 3
Two Pair 2 2 2 2
Pair, Jacks or Better 1 1 1 1
Payback percent: 100.7% 97.81% 96.06% 93.76%
Average Losses Between Royals
1 quarter/hand $244 $   440 $   440 $   620
1 dollar/hand $976 $1,760 $1,760 $2,480

You’ll notice that in Jacks or Better machines the only payouts that differ are for flushes, full houses, and royal flushes. You’ve got to stick with the highest paying machines if your goal is the royal flush. Machines paying nine coins for a full house and six for a flush (known as 9/6 machines) are the most difficult to find, but they pay out the highest.

You’ll probably find more 8/5 machines in your travels, and those are your second best bet, especially if you can find one that offers a progressive jackpot. You should avoid 6/5 machine unless they have progressive jackpots that are just too good to pass up.

By the way, some of the newer video poker machines have a feature called Hi-Lo double-or-nothing. This feature is designed to tempt you into doubling your money after you win a hand. You must figure out whether a card drawn from the deck will be 9 or greater (hi) or 2 through 7 (lo). (Aces are always high card in this game). Guess correctly and you double your winnings. Guess wrong, and you lose everything you just won. So you win a Hi-Lo and you go on to the next game, right? Wrong! Some machines will set up Hi-Lo as many as four times after a standard win. Some players like the thrill of Hi-Lo, but we think it’s a way to lose more quickly. Try it if you must, preferably with a small win, but if you don’t want to try your luck simply press the Take Score button after each victory.

So How Much Do You Need for the Big Win?

The trouble with video poker is that most of the flattop machines you’ll find don’t pay back enough to cover the expense of long-term play while you’re striving for the royal flush. (A “flattop” is a gaming machine, either slots or video poker, where the payout is always the same; no progressives, in other words). For instance, it may cost $440 or more to get a one-coin royal flush, and you’d only win $62.50 paid out in 250 quarters! Your safest bet at getting ahead is to track down a 9/6, 8/5, or even a 6/5 machine offering an ever-growing progressive jackpot.

Video poker and even slot machines suffer from low progressive jackpots in the beginning. It takes time and coins for them to get truly impressive. The average break-even point for an 8/5 machine progressive is $2,200 because it takes a maximum bet of five coins to be eligible for the progressive jackpot. (Break-even is when you get back as many coins in winnings as you’ve fed into the machine). This means that between royals you’ll have to win $2,200 on a royal flush to recoup what you spend playing.

You have a bit of an advantage when the progressive jackpot finally gets above $2,200, provided you follow the basic strategy we go over next. But you’ve got make the max bet of $1.25 on a quarter machine to grab that big windfall. You can’t get it if you’re making one-coin bets, because your edge disappears. You won’t get back a sufficient return if you’re making one-, two-, three-, or four-coin bets because you won’t be eligible for the progressive jackpot if you do get a royal flush.

You’ll have to bet $5 on a progressive 8/5 machine to win big. But the jackpot has to be even higher—at least $8,800—to break even on a dollar machine! You can maintain your advantage against the machine if the jackpot has grown higher than that and you keep up strategic playing.

A large progressive jackpot is necessary to offset the low payouts of a 6/5 machine. A quarter machine needs a jackpot of at least $3,100, while a dollar machine must have at $12,400 to reach the break-even point.

8/5 Machine Strategy

The progressive jackpots we covered in the previous section are where the professionals start playing. They don’t play for anything less. Of course, any machine is a good choice if you’re just looking for a bit of fun, though you still follow a strategy. It’s simply the most profitable way to play video poker depending on machine type and jackpot amount. We’ll go over strategies for both 8/5 and 6/5 machines so you can pick your favorite and still be armed with the information you need to make good playing decisions.

8/5 Video Poker Strategy


# Cards to Hold Best Cards Dealt What to Do
5 Straight Flush (SF) Keep pat straight flush, except draw to four cards of RF only for jackpots larger than $2,900
4 Royal Flush (RF) Draw one card
5 Flush Keep flush unless four cards of RF, then draw one card
3 Three of a kind Draw two cards
5 Straight Keep
4 Q-J-10-9 same suit Draw one card
3 RF Draw two cards
4 Two pair Draw one card
4 SF Draw one card
2 High pair Keep and draw 3 to full house
4 Flush Draw one card
4 K-Q-J-10 Draw one card
2 Low pair Draw three cards
4 Q-J-10-9 Draw one card
4 J-10-9-8 Draw one card
3 Q-J-9 Draw two cards
2 High Card-High Card (HC) same suit Draw 3 cards. If choice of two suits, drop suit with ace
4 No HC consecutive Draw one card
3 J-10-9 same suit Draw two cards
3 SF-1 gap, 1 HC Draw two cards
3 SF consecutive no deuce Draw two cards
2 HC-10 same suit Draw three cards
4 Ace-high straight Draw one card
3 K-Q-J Draw two cards
2 HC-HC Draw three cards. If Ace-HC-HC, discard Ace
1 HC Draw four cards
3 SF Draw two cards


6/5 Machine Strategy

Always go for the 9/6 or 8/5 machine over a 6/5 game! But if you’re stuck with only 6/5 machines in your area, the following table offers a little help for you. Don’t forget, you want to get a return on your gambling so seek out those big progressive jackpots!

6/5 Video Poker Strategy

# Cards to Hold Best Cards Dealt What to Do
5 Straight Flush (SF) Keep pat straight flush except draw to four cards of RF only if jackpot exceeds $2,900
4 Royal Flush (RF) Draw one card
5 Flush Keep flush unless four cards of RF, then draw one card
3 Three of a kind Draw two cards
5 Straight Keep
4 Q-J-10-9 same suit Draw one card
3 RF Draw two cards
4 Two pair Draw one card
4 Straight flush Draw one card
2 High pair Draw three cards
4 Flush Draw one card
4 K-Q-J-10 Draw one card
4 Q-J-10-9 Draw one card
2 Low pair Draw three cards
4 J-10-9-8 Draw one card
2 High Card-High Card (HC) same suit Draw three cards. Drop suit with Ace if choice of two suits
4 No HC-consecutive Draw one card
3 J-10-9 same suit Draw two cards
3 SF-1 gap 1 HC Draw two cards
3 SF consecutive-no deuce Draw two cards
2 HC-10 same suit Draw three cards
4 Ace-high straight Draw one card
3 K-Q-J Draw two cards
2 HC-HC Draw three cards. Discard Ace if Ace-HC-HC
1 HC Draw four cards
3 SF Draw two cards

Strategy for 8/5 and 6/5 Machines

The preceding tables give you a good basic strategy for playing 8/5 and 6/5 machines. Just check out your hand to see what you were dealt, then figure out the best potential hand and have a look at the chart corresponding to your machine. Let’s say you were dealt a pair of high cards, and three same-suit cards for a possible straight flush, like 4-5-6-J-J with 4-5-6 being the same suit. First, find the same-suit hand on the chart. Then check the chart again for the high pair. You’ll find that the straight flush is listed below the high pair. With that information in hand, you should hold on to the high pair and replace the 4-5-6. Going for the high pair gives a higher expected win!

If there’s nothing in the chart that corresponds to what you have in your hand, you should draw another five cards. For instance, it’s a good idea to get five new cards if you’re dealt a 3-4-6-7-8 of differing suits.

By the way, regular video poker tournaments have become a fixture at many casinos. These tournaments are a good way to practice basic strategy, even for beginners. Entry fees for these tournaments are lower than you might expect, often about the same as what you’d spend playing Max Coins for an hour. You’ll have a good time and maybe take home some big winnings.

Straights and Kickers

Professionals hold to a few “basic truths” when playing. Luckily, we’ve got them for you right here!

An inside straight is a name given to a straight that can only be completed in one way. A kicker is a high-ranking card that can become a winning pair when you draw again, such as Ace, King, Queen, or Jack.

An Ace-high straight is the only inside straight that you should draw into. Straights with a break in the chain are inside straights. For example, an inside straight would be a hand with 8-7-5-4 in it, where a 6 is necessary to win. A hand with 5-4-3-A is another good example of an inside straight. Outside, or two-way, straights are better to draw to, though, because you’re twice as likely to complete a straight with a hand that includes something like 5-4-3-2.

Don’t try to form a straight by drawing with only three cards like K-Q-J, either. Those are also the only three high cards you should hold if they are of assorted ranks. A hand containing K-Q-J offers two chances at forming a straight, which are an Ace-high and a King-high straight. There’s only a single chance for a straight with A-K-Q, A-Q-J or A-K-J. If you have a hand like this with assorted suits, it’s a good idea just to get rid of the Ace.

If you have three of a kind or any pair, always get rid of your kicker. High cards, excluding 10s, that could form pairs on a draw are kickers. With a high pair, draw three new cards. With three of a kind, draw two. If all you’ve got is a high card, hang on to it and grab four new cards.

You should only draw to a three-card flush when it has the potential of being a straight flush.

Video Poker Variations

There are tons of video poker variations. So many, in fact, that we’d have difficulty covering them all. You should always learn about a new game before you start playing. Locate the payout table of the machine you want to play and study it. If the machine has Help screens, all the better! Looking around a little will show you that there are many variations of video poker on the casino floor. Jacks or Better requires a pair of Jacks or better to win, but that’s far from the only game available. Joker Poker, for instance, requires you to have Kings or better, and Deuces Wild doesn’t pay out for pairs at all!

Playing Joker Poker

A 52-card deck only has one Joker, and each hand in Joker Poker video poker has the potential to have a Joker in it. Always hang on to that Joker if you get it! A winning hand can be made from a losing one with that single card. You’ll need a pair of Kings or better to win at Joker Poker, and a King and a Joker qualifies! Here’s a table to illustrate the payouts of a typical Joker Poker machine:

One-Coin Payouts on 7/5 Joker Poker

Hand Payout
Royal Flush 800
Five of a kind (four with Joker) 200
Wild royal flush (with Joker) 100
Straight flush 50
Four of a kind 20
Full house 7
Flush 5
Straight 5
Three of a kind 2
Two pair 1
Kings or better 1

Always remember that in this game that you need Kings or better to win and Jokers are always wild. We’ve got a simple strategy for you:

  • Always hold a Joker
  • You’re always shooting for a royal flush, so hang on to it when it comes up
  • Never draw to an inside straight. Instead, draw to four cards that might get a straight, flush, five of a kind or royal flush
  • Hold a single King or Ace, but toss out a single Jack or Queen.

Playing Deuces Wild

If you want a change of pace, try Deuces Wild video poker. It’s a variation of poker but bears little resemblance to traditional video poker. The pay tables don’t match regular video poker machines, so you don’t have to worry about finding a 9/5, 8/5 or 6/5 machine. In this game, deuces are wild. This means a two of any suit can complete a winning combination. Let’s say you’re dealt a 10 of hearts, Jack of hearts, Queen of hearts, Two of diamonds and Two of clubs. That hand gives you a royal flush with deuces. It pays pretty well, though you’ll win more for a real royal flush. Here’s a table that covers the typical payouts of a Deuces Wild machine:

One-Coin Payouts for Deuces Wild Hand Payout
Royal Flush 800
Four deuces (plus one card) 200
Wild royal flush (no deuces) 25
Five of a kind 15
Straight flush 9
Four of a kind 5
Full House 3
Flush 2
Straight 2
Three of a kind 1

You’ll discover that you’ll be throwing out your cards and starting fresh with five new ones on the second deal in Deuces Wild because pairs don’t pay anything in this game. We’ve got a little strategy to help you out here, too.

  • Regardless of the number of deuces in your hand, hold on to five of a kind
  • Hang on to that royal flush, too! It may not pay out the top prize, but it’s still worth holding on to it
  • Always keep deuces in your hand.
  • Hold one pair in the hope of getting a deuce on the second draw, rather than keeping two pairs.
  • Single Jacks, Queen, Kings, and Aces aren’t worth the space, either. Discard them and pray for those deuces!
  • Because deuces are wild here, it’s good to draw to an inside straight in Deuces Wild. Your chances of completing it are higher.
  • Stick to either Deuces Wild or Jacks or Better and its variants during a session. Switching off can lead to strategy confusion, and that can lead to losing money quickly

Multiple-Play Video Poker

Now that you’re a little more comfortable with video poker we’re going to throw you a bit of a curveball: multi-play! Don’t get frightened, though, because this new dimension has the potential to win you even more money! You’re given the chance to play 3, 5, 10, 50, or even 100 simultaneous hands of poker in multi-play games. With a strategy in your gaming arsenal, you could win some major cash, because the premise is that with more hands in play, the more money you can win. It may not truly work out that way but the additional hands really amp up the excitement of the game.

You’re allowed to play three or more poker hands at a time in multiple-play video poker games. Each hand is played from a single 52-card deck, the same deck provides all your draw cards and at the end of the game, the deck is shuffled again. During a multi-play game, each hand gets its own deck.

Playing Triple Play

It’s a good idea to learn multi-play video poker on a triple-play machine. This version is relatively simple with only three hands that you have to concentrate on, rather than 5, 10, or more.

The maximum bet is higher in video poker—a total of 15 credits per play—because it requires 5 credits for each hand you’re playing. Touch the denomination circle on the screen to select the level of betting you want when you start playing. Be sure to check the denominations carefully, because while some machines let you wager at 5-cent (nickel), 10-cent (dime) and 25-cent (quarter) levels, others use a 25-cent, 50-cent and $1 scale. There are even high-roller machines out there that let you bet $1, $2, or $5.

Once you’ve picked your desired denomination it’s time to pick your game. You can usually find six different triple-play games at a multi-play machine. Your best bet when starting out is kept to the regular triple-play and avoid the bonus games. Don’t forget, always check the pay table before you start! You want to know what you can expect before you start feeding your cash to the machine.

Press the Deal button after you’ve made your wager. On the screen, you’ll be dealt 15 cards, 5 each in three rows, with the top two rows being face down. The bottom row will be face up, and will look similar to this:



A(spade) 3(diamond) Q(heart) A(heart) 4(club)

With Jacks or Better rules in play, the machine will probably suggest to you which cards you should hold onto. The pay table will let you know if that’s not the case. In this example, we agree with the machine’s suggestion that we hold onto the pair of Aces.

You don’t have to follow the machine’s suggestions, though. You can choose to get of held cards by pressing the Hold buttons on the front of the machine that corresponds to each card, or you can just tap each card on the screen, which will cause the machine to release the hold. To select your own hold, follow the same procedure. Be careful, though, because cards in the top two rows will be held, too, when you hold cards in the bottom row.

Press the Draw button after you’ve made your playing decisions. The machine will deal new cards to each of the three rows. You’re not likely to get the same cards across the three rows because each hand uses its own deck. If it happens, though, you may just grab a bigger payout!

A(spade) J(club) 6(club) A(heart) 3(club)

A(spade) A(diamond) 3(diamond) A(heart) A(club)

A(spade) A(diamond) Q(heart) A(heart) A(club)

We’ve got a winner with that draw! On two rows we managed to get four Aces and a pair of Aces on the third, which comes out to 255 credits. That’s 125 each for the four Aces and another 5 for the pair. If we’d been playing a bonus game that 3 (diamond) kicker would have gotten us a bonus payout, too!

How Much to Bet

You’ll have to really feed a multi-play machine to win the maximum payout: five coins for each of the hands you’re playing. That comes out to $7.50 in total, $2.50 per hand, on a 50-cent triple-play machine.

If you make a five-coin bet on a multi-play machine it only applies to the first hand. To cover the second and third hands, you’ll have to bet another five coins for each. You can get the maximum bets on the bottom and middle hands if you wager 12 coins in a triple-play game, but the top hand only has two coins wagered on it. You’ll have to pray that royal flush lands in the bottom hand if you’re feeding the machine the maximum bet!

Multi-Play Variety

There are multi-play machines that let you play 3-, 5-, 10-, 50- or 100-hands based on the rules of Jacks or Better.

Most of these machines will also let you choose what denomination level you’d like to play. Every variety of 3-, 5- and 10-play machines range from 5-cents up to $5, while 50- and 100-play machines can start with a range as low as 1 cent to 25 cents.

Be aware, though, that you’ll have to pony up more cash at a multi-play machine. To calculate how much it’ll cost you per hand, multiply your chosen denomination by five (the maximum bet). Then take that number and multiply it by the number of hands you’ll be playing to get the total cost of your bet.

Here’s an example: You choose the 50-play machine at a 2-cent level. That level of play, at the maximum bet, will cost you $5 per play.

The cost of one hand = $.02 x 5 = $.10

The number of hands = 50

The maximum bet for all 50 hands = $.10 x 50 = $5

The maximum bet rises to an astounding $250 on a 50-play machine at a $1 level:

The cost of one hand = $1 x 5 = $5

The number of hands = 50

The maximum bet for all 50 hands – $5 x 50 = $250

Because the cost of betting on 50- and 100-play machines can rise so high, they usually offer denominations of 1-cents, 2-cents, and 5-cents, which are lower than 3-, 5-, or 10-play machines.

Now go out and start hunting for those royals to win at video poker!