Jacks or Better Video Poker Strategy Guide
Jacks or Better is the most common video poker style out there, and most non-wild video poker games are based around it in one way or another. Here we show you everything you need to know about learning to play this game on a high level so that you get the best payout rates possible.
Introduction to Jacks or Better Video Poker
In the mid-1970s, video poker games first started appearing in live casinos. The most popular game became a title called Draw Poker, which was an early version of what we now know as Jacks or Better video poker. While there were a ton of people playing table poker at the time, video poker caught on because of a big advantage:
A lot of players were too intimidated to sit down and play against other people, and video poker took that factor away from the situation.
These days, video poker is played a lot online to the point that it’s one of the most popular genres outside of slots, and Jacks or Better online video poker is the game that leads the pack in terms of popularity.
Between the strategic nature of this title, its wide availability and the applicability of strategies learned in this game to other styles of video poker, there are plenty of reasons to have it as a favorite.
House Advantage and Payout Rates
The best long-term payout rate that you can get in Jacks or Better is about 99.46 percent. This is up there with the best games in the entire casino, including other games with a heavy element of skill like certain styles of blackjack.
The strategies that we’re going to break down below are not 100 percent perfect, but they’re very close. As a result of using these strategies, you’ll give up around 0.08 percent of the payout rate to what will effectively be about 99.38 percent. However, the level of difficulty in learning how to play perfectly compared to playing according to what we’re going to lay out below is substantial.
Ultimately, it’s not really worth the time and effort to eek out that remaining 0.08 percent, but players are obviously free to learn how to play the game however they want.
Important Rules for Jacks or Better
The defining characteristic for this style of online video poker is that you need to make at least a pair of jacks to receive a payout. With that having been said, not all games of this style are the same.
Different Jacks or Better video poker games will actually have different pay tables if you aren’t careful, and if you aren’t playing on what’s called a “full pay” machine, then you’ll actually be cutting yourself off at the knees since you won’t be able to achieve that high payout rate that we mentioned above.
- Generally speaking, you’ll want to find what’s called a “9-6” pay table for Jacks or Better, which means the payout for a full house is 9x while the payout for a flush is 6x.
- For comparison, a “9-5” Jacks or Better game with a 5x payout for a flush instead only pays out 98.45 percent with correct play, which is a significant difference.
- Along similar lines, an “8-6” Jacks or Better video poker pay table gives players a maximum payout rate of 98.39 percent.
From a strategic standpoint, what you need to understand is that there are ultimately 32 ways that you can play each hand because there are 31 ways discards can be played combined with the one option to just stand pat. What you’re trying to do is figure out, which as high of a rate of accuracy as possible, what the best combination of discards (or the lack thereof) happens to be in terms of your average payout.
Strategies for Jacks or Better
There are two basic ways that you can play your hands. You can try to make a draw to a hand you haven’t completed yet, or you can go with a made hand like a pair or three of a kind, often with discards that try to improve your hand.
If you only have one clear way to play the hand, then Jacks or Better strategy is pretty easy. However, the tricky part comes into play when you have multiple draws or made hands that you can base your play around, and you need to know which of them is the best option. A lot of what follows centers around choosing which way to play in these types of situations.
It’s also difficult to intuitively know how to play hands that do not have a made hand or draw available, and getting the most from these low-value hands is a significant part of keeping your payout rate as high as possible.
In what follows, we’re going to give you a number of strategies to use in different types of situations that will ultimately combine to give you a complete guide to playing Jacks or Better video poker online or in a land-based capacity.
Strong Hands: Breaking Straights and Flushes
A small percentage of the time, you’ll just be dealt a very strong hand or a draw. While these don’t happen often, they’re usually pretty easy to play with a few exceptions. For example, if you have a royal flush, a straight flush, four of a kind or full house, you’ll just stand pat and enjoy your large payout.
However, if you’re dealt a flush or straight, you won’t always stand pat and keep your hand.
If you can make four cards to a royal flush, then you should break a straight or flush and go for the draw instead.
This can be a difficult play because you’re giving up a “sure thing” for a draw, but it’s what gives you the best average payout by far.
With that having been said, you should not break up a straight or flush just for having four cards to a regular straight flush. Instead, you should only break up these strong hands if you have four cards that are all ten or higher and that are of the same suit.
Mid-range Hands: Pairs and Draws
The majority of your difficult decisions will involve situations where you have some combination of a pair and a four-card draw to a flush or straight. What we have here is a simple list that simplifies which of the options will have a better payout rate compared to others. The higher the hand on the list, the higher priority it takes when deciding how to play your hand.
- Straight flush draws
- Paying pairs (jacks and above)
- Three-card royal flush draws
- Four-card flush draws
- Non-paying pairs (tens and below)
- Four-card straight draws (outside style)*
* Note: An outside style straight draw means four consecutive cards like 9876 as opposed to an inside style straight draw that would have a gap in the middle like 9865.
So for example, if you had a hand of AcJcTsTc4c, you would have three ways to play the hand that would make sense: a pair of tens, a three-card royal flush draw (AJT) and a four-card flush draw (AJT4). The pair of tens is a non-paying pair, so the three-card royal flush draw is the highest on the list, which makes it the best-paying option on average.
Low-level Hands: No Pairs or Draws
A significant portion of the time, you’re going to be dealt hands that you can’t really do much with. You may get lucky to have a single high card with these hands at times.
Here we offer a simple road map for what to look for with those types of hands. In the same style as the above list, we’ll offer a simple list of what to look for. The way to use this list is to pick out the way that you can play your cards that ranks the highest on the list:
- Four-card straight draws (outside style)
- Two suited high cards (jacks and above)
- Three-card straight flush draws
- Two high cards without matching suits (jacks and above)*
- Suited pairings of K-10, Q-10 or J-10
- One high card (jacks and above)
* Note: If you have three high cards with no matching suits, then you should only pick the two of them that are the lowest and discard the highest of the three for the best payout rate.
If you can’t make any of the above, and if you don’t have at least a single high card, then what you should do is just discard all five cards and hope for this best. This isn’t something that happens all that often, but it’s actually better than going for something like an inside straight draw (ie: 9865) in terms of what your average payout looks like.
The strategies for Jacks or Better video poker mostly break down into three sections of hands (high, mid-range and low) with specific characteristics for each. When you start off studying hands for this game, we strongly recommend keeping a notebook where you can write down hands that give you trouble while you play so that you can come back and analyze them afterward.
Overall, what you need to learn to play this game on a pretty high level isn’t that much compared to something like blackjack, and that’s another reason why it’s so popular among strategy-minded individual as well as more recreational players.