How to Study Video Poker: From Beginner to Advanced
There’s a lot of discussion of video poker strategy online, but it’s difficult to find a breakdown of how to actually study and learn the game. Here we give you a complete curriculum along with tips for how to actually go about the studying of the game and improving over time with intentional practice.
The Art and Science of Studying Video Poker
Video poker is well-known for being one of the most strategic casino games in the entirety of what’s widely available to players. There’s no limit to the amount of strategic reference material and other information you can find about how to play specific hands or situations in different games correctly from a mathematical standpoint.
However, what is very much missing is information and methodology regarding actually learning this material in a way that makes sense to a human being.
What we aim to give you here is a guide on how to study video poker from the beginning as a new player up into intermediate levels and to then transition into other games to become a more well-rounded, advanced video poker player. This will cover how to attack the genre as a whole and the most efficient ways to go about it for individual games as well.
Learning First Principles and Basic Gameplay
There are a few initial ideas that you need to have in mind that form the foundation of all strategy in video poker. Here are some of them in no particular order. These are principles that you absolutely must learn before you get started playing in any serious capacity.
There are 32 ways (including discarding none) to play any discard with five cards in video poker. Your objective in any given hand is to figure out which of those combinations of discards will give you the best average payout based on the cards you receive from the remaining cards in the deck.
Every discard decision that you make in this game will be based on this one principle.
In the majority of video poker titles, you have the option to play with one to five coins per turn. You should almost always play with five coins on each hand because the upper-tier hands like royal flushes generally pay better in proportion to your bet size when you do so.
To put it plainly, if you bet with fewer than five coins, then you will have a lower payout rate and a higher house advantage. Since video poker strategy is about making the house edge as small as possible, playing with five coins per turn is clearly the superior options no matter what the size of those coins happens to be.
Pay Table Comparison
Even for one type of video poker, you can find several different types of pay tables. Each of these pay tables will have a different cap on the best payout rate you can get with perfect play, but even if you aren’t playing perfectly (which no human being can do 100 percent of the time), then you still want the most favorable pay table.
You can look these up online or check the help section in the software to see what the house advantage and payout rates are for each. Having correct pay table selection can be the difference between having a 1 percent house edge and a 3 percent house edge, even if you play the hands exactly the same in the same game, so it’s obviously something to pay attention to.
It’s not rare to see video poker games that allow you to play multiple draws for the same dealt cards. The idea is that you’ll get to see them play out some different number of ways the discards could be dealt back to the player.
While this does lower the volatility of video poker quite a bit, there’s usually a trade-off where you get a worse payout percentage due to a different pay table being used. A common scenario will have the single-hand version of a game have a better pay table than the multi-hand versions, and if you’ve read the section just before this, you can imagine how much of a bad idea that can be.
Bottom line, if you decide to play multi-hand games, check out the pay tables first instead of just jumping in and assuming that they’re the same as the single-hand versions of the same title.
Assessing Hands: Non-wild Card Games
Once you understand the foundations listed above, you have to learn how to actually systematically study the gameplay itself to build on those foundations in a functional sense. Put another way, your goal is to be able to look at a hand that you’re dealt and figure out which sets of cards need to be discarded.
The best game to start with when it comes to assessing hands is Jacks or Better. It is the most basic title that so many others are based on, and it is the fundamental non-wild video poker game.
What you want to learn in Jacks or Better is how to assess a given hand so that you know which category of hand you’re playing. For example, here is one way to divide up Jacks or Better hands into categories:
- Strong made hand scenarios
- Made hand vs. draw scenarios
- Pair vs. draw scenarios
- High card hand scenarios
For a game like this, there are only four or five categories depending on which way you decide to divide them up. The first step toward assessing a hand is to learn what those categories are for the game you’re playing (all non-wild card games are virtually the same with these categories; that’s why you should start with them).
From there, you’ll learn how to play correctly within those individual categories for the different types of situations you can get to. For example, in the third scenario for pair vs. draw scenarios, you’ll learn that a high pair is worth more than a flush draw but that a flush draw is worth more than a low pair.
Assessing Hands: Wild Card Games
When making the transition over to wild card games, things get a lot more complicated. Instead of initially dividing up your potential starting hands based on the type of scenario you find yourself in, you have to instead break them up based on how many wilds cards you have (or don’t have).
All hand assessment for wild card video poker games starts with the number of wild cards involved.
From that point, each number of wild cards (especially zero and one wilds in the hand) have its own categories of hands that the game is further broken down into. This is why it’s so much harder to learn to play wild card titles because then you have to further break those categories down into different rules, guidelines and situations.
Bottom Line: Your goal is to learn to assess hands first based on which category they belong in. You can only start to focus on which discards need to be made once you can identify their respective categories correctly.
Using a Notebook to Study Video Poker Systematically
Now that you know the foundations of the genre and what it is you’re trying to achieve from a strategic standpoint (ie: assessing hands based on category first and specifics second), it’s time to get into the more detailed aspects of playing individual hands.
The main tools that you’ll want to use for this are a notebook and a video poker hand value calculator. There are several of these calculator tools available for free online that are both web-based and a download (sometimes even an app for your phone or tablet), and they can be adjusted for different games and various pay tables.
These calculator apps will tell you the value of every way to play a video poker hand, which shows you exactly which ways to play are better than others and why.
So here’s what you do. Play through a session of video poker, and write down any hands that you aren’t sure about. You’ll want to include your five starting cards as well as the type of game you’re playing and the category that you put the hand into (ie: from the above).
After your sessions are over, you’ll go to the calculator app and put the hands in to see what it is that you missed or didn’t know that caused you to not know how to play the hand perfectly. Take any notes that you need to in that notebook while grouping notes based on game type and category of hand, and refer back to this before your sessions to make sure that the information you’re figuring out is fresh.
Repeat this process over time, and you’ll be systematically studying the game in a way that will push you toward getting better and better in a natural and organic way.
Making the System Work for You
The whole idea here is to set up a foundation that you can build on incrementally over time. Once you understand the basic structure of strategy and what it is you’re trying to accomplish, you can use this notebook and calculator combination to work through the game at your own pace so that you’re constantly getting better and improving.