Tens or Better Video Poker Strategy

Tens or Better is a popular variation of video poker that has two main advantages. First, it gets a higher hit-rate for winning hands than virtually any other title. Second, Tens or Better strategy is fairly straightforward, even for players who want to learn to play it perfectly.

Introduction to Tens or Better Video Poker Strategy

Generally speaking, Tens or Better video poker is one of the first games we like to recommend to players who want to try something a little different in the strategic casino games realm without getting “too far outside of the box.” The main reason for this is that the volatility is lower since you get more wins on average.

Overall, the hit-rate of wins in this title is greater than any other video poker game.

While this does smooth out the volatility a bit, it also complicates the involved strategies somewhat. For the most part, this comes down to a ten being counted as a “high card” for the sake of making pairs. That seems like a small matter, but it actually matters a lot in this game.

If you’re coming from a traditional strategy background of titles like Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker, you’ll need to make some adjustments as well. Otherwise, you won’t be getting the best payout rates available at these online video poker machines.

Payouts and Game Selection

We’re going to assume that you know how to play video poker as we get into the following. If you don’t, follow the link to read about the rules and to get familiar with the genre. From there, you’ll be able to come back here and get an idea of how to get the best payouts from this particular game.

With that said, the discussion of payouts in Tens or Better online is pretty important. That’s because you can find two main pay tables, one of which is much worse than the other. Here we’ll break down the pay table to look for and the one to avoid.

The Full Pay Tens or Better Pay Table

The following is a list of the payouts you should look for in a full pay machine. Overall, you can end up with a payout rate just over 99.1 percent with correct play. However, you’ll lose quite a bit of value if you play with the sub-par table.

Here we’ll list out the hand, the multiple of your bet size (assuming five coins are wagered) and what the payout looks like on a machine with five coins enabled. Note that we suggest playing with five coins because your RTP percentage is lower if you play with four or fewer due to a smaller proportionate win for a royal flush.

  • Royal Flush – 800x (4,000x)
  • Straight Flush – 50x (250x)
  • Four of a Kind – 25x (125x)
  • Full House – 6x (30x)
  • Flush – 5x (25x)
  • Straight – 4x (20x)
  • Three of a Kind – 3x (15x)
  • Two Pair – 2x (10x)
  • Tens or Better – 1x (5x)

Most non-wild video poker games are categorized based on the wins available for a full house and a flush. For example, this game is called a 6/5 table sometimes. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story for this particular game.

Avoiding the Worse Pay Table

Instead of looking for the 6/5 proportions, you need to look at the four of a kind payout instead. In the full pay version, it’s 25x (125x). You can find this pay table with software providers like Microgaming and Betsoft.

However, some providers will have a 20x (100x) payout for four of a kind instead. This drops your best possible payout all the way down to about 97.96 percent. For example, the Playtech version of this game uses this pay table.

When you go from a house edge of 0.86 percent to one of 2.04 percent, that’s an increase of almost two and a half times the house advantage. As such, you can see why it’s so important that you pay attention to the four of a kind prize.

But with that said, that’s the main thing to look for on game selection. Now we can jump in to actually learning to play some hands.

The Best Strategies for Tens or Better Video Poker Machines

We’re going to break this guide up into a few sections based on different types of decisions. These are the most common difficult decisions that you can run into in this game. While we will not be covering every single possible scenario, what we will be doing is covering virtually every scenario that’s difficult to play because it’s hard to tell which way is best between a few close options.

However, this is the best way to learn, and if you focus on these scenarios, you’ll play close to perfectly.

High Pairs, Flush Draws and Royal Draws

Let’s start with an example hand of AQQT4 where four of the cards are the same suit. Here you have to choose between a high pair and a flush draw. However, what many people miss is that you have a three-card royal draw here as well. When you look at your average return for playing this hand in all three ways, you can see why that’s so important:

  • High Pair (QQ) – 1.506x
  • Royal Draw (AQT) – 1.315x
  • Flush Draw (AQT4) – 1.128x

This hand tells us a lot about how to play high pairs with respect to various draws. Additionally, it shows us how three-card royal flush draws compare to four-card flush attempts.

  • High pairs are worth more than three-card royal draws or four-card flush draws.
  • Subsequently, they’re also worth more than four-card straight draws.
  • If you have a four-card flush draw, you should break it to go for a three-card royal draw if you have one available.

As an aside, we also want to point out that a four-card straight flush draw (and therefore a four-card royal draw) is much, much better than a high pair. This is a similar dynamic where a lot of people don’t realize that is the case. However, once you know what to look for, it’s much harder for that value to slip past you.

Low Pairs and Straight Draws

In Tens or Better, if you have a hand with a low pair and a straight draw, you can run into a whole lot of difficult situations. That’s because you won’t always have a straightforward analysis of which is always better. Instead, it depends on how many high cards you have in the straight draw.

Consider the hand JT998 with no available flush draws as an example. Let’s look at the two main ways to play the hand here:

  • Open-ended Straight Draw (JT98) – 0.809x
  • Low Pair (99) – 0.793x

As you can see, the open-ended straight draw with two high cards beats the low pair. However, if we drop that down so that it’s T9987 we’re playing instead, the story is different:

  • Low Pair (99) – 0.793x
  • Open-ended Straight Draw (T987) – 0.744x

You can see a clear difference in how much a single high card in the draw makes. Subsequently, the rule here is as follows:

Open-ended straight draws are better than low pairs when they have at least two high cards. With one high card or fewer, the low pair is superior.

Along these lines, we should note that you never have a situation where a high pair is beaten by a straight draw.

How to Handle High Card Hands

High card hands are difficult to play in most forms of video poker. However, they become even trickier in Tens or Better because of the extra high card. Let’s look at a quick example to show how anti-intuitive it can be with a few possible ways to play AQT84 with no flush draws:

  • QT-high – 0.506x
  • T-high – 0.480x
  • A-high – 0.459x

If you aren’t familiar with how these low-value hands typically function, this can be a bit confusing. As a result, we’ll break it down into a few simple starting rules:

  • With only one high card in the hand, keep that high card, and draw four.
  • With two high cards in the hand, keep both and draw three.
  • If you have three high cards, if all three are suited, keep all three. However, if only two are suited, keep the two suited cards.
  • With three high cards in all different suits, keep the lowest two only unless they’re the KQJ or QJT combination, which you should keep instead.

As you can see, things can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. However, since you’re dealing with small fractions of percentages in many cases, you won’t be punished very much for making mistakes with some of these finer details.

How to Beat Tens or Better Video Poker

In the long run, the house edge for this game is 0.86 percent assuming you’re on the full pay version. This is pretty small, and if you play correctly and chip away at it with promotions and loyalty program offers, you can make it effectively smaller.

However, to have the best chances to win at Tens or Better, you really need to focus on the three areas of strategy listed above. These are where you’ll be the most likely to make costly mistakes.


The strategy for Tens or Better video poker machines is a bit different in some cases than other titles. Because of this, if you are already familiar with general strategy, you need to make sure to adjust properly. Without those correct adjustments, based on the rules and guidelines we have outlined up above, you’ll run into a lot of problems that will drop your average payout rate quite substantially.