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Answers to common video poker FAQs


Video poker is a casino mainstay, and with good reason. Offering elements reminiscent of both slots and poker, video poker is one of the few games in the casino where a player can actually find positive expectation of winning. What follows are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about video poker.


What do the numbers 9/6 and 8/5 mean in front of the name of a video poker game?

These numbers represent the single-coin payoff, usually for the full house and flush. For example, 9/6 Jacks or Better means the pay- out for the full house is 9 times your bet, and for the flush, it’s 6 times your bet. A 9/6 Jacks or Better game has an Expected Return of 99.54% if every hand is played accurately. An 8/5 JOB game has an ER of only 97.30%.This number designation is also used for other video poker games (e.g., 10/7 and 9/6 Double Bonus, 8/5 and 7/5 Bonus poker, etc.) Keep in mind that this method of designating different video poker games are only used by players, meaning you won’t find, say,“9/6 Jacks or Better” as a designated game on a video poker machine (it will just say Jacks or Better or perhaps Draw Poker).


What does “expected return” mean and how is it calculated?

Expected return (or ER) is the theoretical return you can expect from a video poker game if you play every hand perfectly over a long period of time. ER is usually expressed as a percentage. For example, 9/6 JOB has a 99.54% ER (meaning you can expect a return of 99.54% of all the money you bet in the long term). The ER can be calculated based on the payoffs and probability of occurrence for the winning hands. A game with an ER of 99.54% means the house edge is 0.46% (100.00-99.54%). The goal of skillful video poker players is to play games that have an ER close to (or slightly over) 100%.


When most video poker games return less than 100%, how can you win?

It’s true that the ERs of most video poker games are less than 100%,meaning long term you will lose money playing the game. However, you can get the monetary advantage for a video poker game with an ER of slightly under 100% by factoring the cashback, bounce back, and comps that you will get when playing. For example, the ER for NSU Deuces Wild is 99.73% when played perfectly. Suppose the casino gives players 0.3% in cash- back and another 0.3% in bounce back. The net return is the sum of the return on the game plus the cashback and the bounce back. (In our ex- ample, 99.54%+0.3%+0.3%=100.14%.) Your goal should be to play with an overall return of over 100% when you factor in the cashback, bounce back.


What does a “full pay” video poker game mean?

This is a game that has the best pay schedule that can be found in most (but not all) casinos. For example, 9/6 Jacks or Better is a full pay game; so is 8/5 Bonus Poker. If you were to play a 7/5 Bonus Poker game, you would be playing a “short pay” game. Every video poker game has full pay and short pay schedules. It behooves the player to know what the full pay schedule is for a particular game he or she wishes to play and only play the full pay schedule game.


How can I find out if my local casino has full pay video poker games?

One way is to use the data base on the site type in the game and the location (e.g., south, east, midwest, etc.), and it will give you a list of casinos and which full pay games they offer. For Las Vegas area casinos, you can also go to, and then Gambling Guide/Video Poker/Best Video Poker to see a list of the full pay games for each casino located in the Las Vegas area.

How can casinos offer video poker games that return close to a 100% return and still make a decent return?

That’s because most players don’t take the time and effort to learn the correct playing strategies to achieve the maximum expected return, and many don’t take advantage of special casino pro- motions that could boost their returns (e.g.,playing when multiple points are offered).


What is a “royal flush cycle?”

A royal flush cycle is the mathematically calculated average number of hands it takes to hit a royal flush with perfect playing strategy. The number of hands in a royal flush cycle varies slightly from game to game. (For example, it’s 40,391 hands for Jacks or Better, and 48,048 for Double Bonus.) Most players expect to hit one royal flush after playing roughly 40,000 hands; however, this is not necessarily the case. The math says on average you will hit a royal flush once in every 40,000 hands, which means for a whole bunch of sets of 40,000 hands, you’ll average one royal. In other words, in any given one set of 40,000 hands, you could wind up with more than one royal or, heaven forbid, possibly no royals per royal flush cycle.


What are “penalty cards?”

A penalty card is any card in your initially dealt hand that if you were to discard it, it would adversely affect the expected value of your draw. For example, look at this hand: Jh Ks 6d 5h 10h. The basic strategy play is to hold the J-10 of hearts and draw three new cards. However, the hand also contains the 5 of hearts, which if dis- carded would decrease your chance of getting a flush on the draw (because you discarded a card in the suit that you need in order to get a flush on the draw when you hold the suited J-10 of hearts). In other words, the presence of the flush penalty card decreases the value of hold- ing the J-10 of hearts just enough so that the un- suited J-K becomes a slightly better hold; therefore, the 5 of hearts is a flush penalty card to the J-10 of hearts. There are several other penalty card situations that can alter the strategy for particular hands.


Will one strategy work for all games?

No. Each video poker game and associated pay table has its own playing strategy. That’s why it’s important that you should focus on learning one (or at most two games) well and play only those games accurately in a casino. (Note: There are some games where you could use, say, the Jacks or Better playing strategy without too much loss in ER. But it’s best to play one or two games accurately rather than jumping from one game to another in the hopes that your ‘luck” will change.)


What determines the “variance” or volatility of a video poker game?

Volatility is a measure of the ups and down of your bankroll. Video poker games that pay even money for two pair (e.g., Double Bonus Poker) tend to be more volatile vs. a game that pays 2 for 1 for two pair (e.g., Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker). Most video poker textbooks and software programs include the variance of different video poker games. Keep this in mind: The greater the variance or volatility, the more bankroll you will need to prevent going broke.

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