Playing video poker is very similar to playing five card draw, but for one major difference: In video poker, whether Jacks, Kings, or Three of a Kind, there is a cutoff between paid and unpaid hands. This is true whether you play video poker in a brick and mortar casino or an online casino.
When playing video poker, you almost never want to throw away a paying hand you are dealt in your opening 5 cards. I say almost because the number of times you should throw away a paying video poker hand is so small that there isn’t even a word to appropriately describe it.
Online Video Poker Strategy #1—When to throw away paying hands
The few situations in which you do want to throw away a paying hand is when you have four cards to a straight flush, or four cards of a royal flush. It is NOT worth it to throw away a pair of Jacks so that you can take a chance at a royal flush with three cards; nor is it right to throw away one of your paired Kings to try and hit a fifth diamond. The odds just don’t work that way.
Video Poker odds might work that way if the pair you keep won’t improve. Most times, however, it will. A pair can improve to two pair or three of a kind quite easily. It may even become a full house or four of a kind.
Online Video Poker Strategy #2—If your starting hand doesn't pay…
Now that we’ve established the few rare cases in which it’s acceptable to break up a paying hand, let’s talk about the kind of video poker strategies you can use when you don’t have a paying hand.
If you don’t start with a paying hand, you must look for the best chance of getting the highest paying hand you can. As discussed earlier, keep 4 cards to a royal or straight flush. The odds are even good enough that you want to keep 3 cards to a royal flush if you don’t have a paying hand.
But where do we go from there? Let’s work through each video poker hand. Any sort of draw that would give you an advantage towards going for four of a kind or a full house would be a paying hand already, so let’s skip down to flush.
- Four to a flush is the next best thing to keep, followed by an open-ended ended straight draw. If you are a Hold’em player, you know that an open-ended straight draw is four consecutive cards that can make a straight on either end. There are 9 cards remaining in the deck that can complete a flush and 8 that can complete an open-ended straight, which explains why they’re so close.
- This is where we break the order by sticking in a low pair (lower than Jacks). A pair is only a likely draw towards two pair and three of a kind, but also has slim chances of turning into a full house or four of a kind.
These combinations make the pair a pretty decent draw in video poker. In fact, in many situations the pair is a better draw than the open-ended straight draw. As a general rule, it’s wise to keep the straight draw if at least one of the cards in the straight is a Jack or better.
- From there we skip back to the royal flush, with a small exception. If you don’t have anything better than a pair, you can keep any two cards to a royal flush EXCEPT a ten. This means suited combinations of Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces. These cards are more valuable because they can pair to make a paying video poker hand.
- Then we go back to straight flushes (note the repetition), where any 3 cards that can make a straight flush should be kept.
After than, online video poker strategies is pretty simple. If you have them, keep two cards that are Jack or higher; if not, keep two cards to a royal flush INCLUDING the ten.
If you can’t meet any of these conditions, throw all your cards away. Put simply, it’s not worth keeping 4 cards to a straight or three cards to a flush when only one or two exact cards can complete either. The odds of pairing just aren’t high enough. It might be tough, but give them all away. Think about it this way: Five new cards mean a new possibility of a Royal Flush.
I’ll be the first to admit that these “Video Poker for Winners” guidelines are just basic common sense. All too often, however, players do not follow them. There are also certain mitigating circumstances that will call most of the above strategies for playing video poker into question. But given the multitude of variables that may arise within a single game, this is the best you can do.