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How to prepare for video poker play

By Jerry “Stickman” Stich


Most slot machines require absolutely no skill to improve your odds of bringing home a win. You put in your money, select the number of coins and possibly number of lines to play and hit the spin button.

That is it. The results are all luck.

Video Poker play is different from other gaming machine play, however. After you put in your money, select the number of coins and hit the draw button, you have a choice to make. Which of the five cards you see should be saved and which discarded to give you the best chance of winning the most? This choice happens in each and every hand you are dealt.

Many video poker players like to play hunches. Some like to “feel” the flow of the game and try to bet into that flow. Others like to go for higher-paying four-of-a-kinds, straight flushes or royal flushes at the expense of lower-paying hands. Still others like to play what they think is the best way—based on their real-world experience and knowledge.

If you are the type of player who doesn’t like to think a lot about what you are doing and don’t like to spend time preparing to be the best that you can be at a game, you are losing more money at video poker than is necessary. Because video poker is a game of skill, video poker players should work at honing that skill.

So, how does one prepare to do battle with video poker machines? The first task is to determine the exact game or games you will be playing. I know this might be difficult—especially if you have never been to the casino before. But at least try picking a general game such as Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker or Double Bonus Poker. You should also determine the pay table for the game at the casino you are visiting. The optimal playing strategy is based on the type of game and the pay table and matching the playing strategy to them is critical to maximize your return.

Once you have determined game and pay table, search the web for a playing strategy for that game and pay table. There are several sites that have playing strategies for the most popular games available at no cost.

If surfing the web is not for you, an alternative is to buy a video poker book that includes playing strategy. The book Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker presents dozens of video poker games and strategies for multiple pay tables for those games to help the player obtain maximum returns.

A strategy chart is simply a list of possible hands listed starting with the most powerful hand. The strongest hands are at the top with progressively weaker hands appearing as you move down the chart. To determine what to save, start at the top of the chart, check to see if the dealt hand is described by that strategy line. If so, do what the line says. If not, move down a line at a time until you find the dealt hand or you reach the bottom of the chart. In that case, don’t hold anything—simply redraw all five cards of the hand.

Study the strategy chart until you are very familiar with it. If you wish, you can make a copy of the chart to take with you into the casino to reference if you are unsure of the play. Make sure you are reasonably familiar with the chart, however, so that you aren’t referencing your “cheat sheet” every hand.

The problem with simply studying the chart and trying to memorize it is you really don’t know how well you will perform in live casino play. To do that, you need to practice playing the actual game. Buy a video poker playing program or app that will let you set up your game of choice and its pay table and play simulated games. The program or app will give a warning if you make the wrong choice and show you the correct choice. Most also show you how much the mistake will cost you over time.

Practice playing using the program or app until you make very few and very inexpensive mistakes. Then you know you are ready to tackle the games in live casino play.

You can still bring your “cheat sheet.” for help when you are unsure, but by practicing you can be confident you will get things almost perfect.

If all that effort and studying seem like too much, that is okay. Because video poker is a game of skill, you will get out of it what you put in. The better you play, the less you will lose or the more you will win. If you simply want to play for the “fun of it” that is your choice. It is your money at risk. Spend it as you see fit. But if you want the most value for your time playing, learning and practicing the playing strategy is the only way to go.


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