Official Jacks or Better Poker Rules

Jacks or Better is a version of video poker played by a single person against a machine that displays the player's cards on a screen. Unlike live poker which is played against other players, Jacks or Better simply pits you against the cards. Five cards are dealt from a 52-card deck. The player tries to make the best possible poker hand, and may draw one time to try to improve their hand. Winning hands are paid according to a fixed payoff table, and the game continues.

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Winning Hands in Jacks or Better

Royal Flush:
10-J-Q-K-A - all of the same suit.
Straight Flush:
6-7-8-9-10 - five cards in sequence, all of the same suit.
Four of a Kind:
3-3-3-3-6 - four cards of the same number.
Full House:
2-2-2-5-5 - three cards of one number and two cards of another number.
6-Q-5-10-J - five cards all of the same suit.
3-4-5-6-7 - five cards in sequence of any suit.
Three of a Kind:
8-8-8-J-10 - three cards of the same number and two unmatched cards.
Two Pairs:
9-9-5-J-J – two cards of one number and two cards of another number.
Jacks or Better:
J-J-9-7-Q – One pair of either Jacks, Queens , Kings, or Aces


Like other video poker games, Jacks or Better gives you an edge over the other slot machines because you can calculate your odds of success, and employ a degree of strategy in determining the outcome of each hand. This makes the game more interactive and entertaining than just pulling the handle or pushing a button to spin the wheels of a standard slot machine.

If you've every played any sort of video poker, you'll see some very common features on a Jacks or Better game. The screen will show 5 cards face down. There will be four “buttons” under the cards; one labeled Bet One , another labeled Bet Max , one marked Deal and a final button saying Cash Out .

Additionally, most games will show a running “balance” (how many virtual coins you have left to bet, this will go down as you bet and lose, or up as you win.) Also, a list of the winning hands and their payoffs will be displayed.

When picking your game, look for a machine that is multi-denominational; that is, you can select the value of the virtual “coins” that you play with. Most games offer 5¢, 25¢, $1, and $5 coins.

Here's how to play:

  1. Put money into the machine (Let's start with $20.00)
  2. Select a coin value. (We'll pick 5¢, this gives us 400 virtual “5¢ coins” to bet)
  3. Press or click Bet Max . (I'll explain why you don't want to use Bet One later.)
  4. Your bet will be 25¢, and your virtual coin count will drop to 395.
  5. Your cards will automatically be dealt, appearing face-up on the screen.
  6. Let's say you see the following: 9-9-Q-9-2
  7. Choose which cards to keep by pressing or clicking the Hold button which appears on or below each card. In this case, we want to hold the three “9 's”
  8. Our hand is already a winner (3-of-a-kind) but we get one more draw to try and improve.
  9. Press or click the Deal button to throw away the Queen and the ‘2' and get new cards.
  10. The cards flip and we see 9-9-J-9-8 – Nothing better, but we still have 3-of-a-kind.
  11. The machine pays off our winning bet: 3-to-1, and we bet 5 coins, so we get 15 back.
  12. Now our virtual coin count is up to 415.
  13. Press the Cash Out button and we get our money back, 415 nickels, or $20.75


How the Casino Makes Money

Like almost every casino game, Jacks or Better is a game of negative expectations. That means that over time, you will lose money to the casino.

Here's why. Let's consider the same hand we won in the example above, 3-of-a-kind. The basic odds of getting dealt this hand on the first deal is 10.8% What that means is that a little more than 10% of the time, we'll be dealt that hand. Now, the actual odds are a little better, because remember, we get to throw away those cards that don't help us, like that Ace and 4. So let's say we only got two 7's on that first draw; we could discard 3 cards and have another 4.2% chance of drawing another 7 to get our 3-of-a-kind.

But, even in the best case, our odds are no more than 15% of getting any 3-of-a-kind.

The casino pays us at a rate of 3-to-1, which means over time, we're destined to lose. Let me show you what I mean.

Let's say that you have $100.00 and you're betting $1.00 per hand. This is enough to bet for 100 hands. We know the odds of you getting 3-of-a-kind are 15%, so out of those100 hands you should get 15 3-of-a-kinds. Now, since the payoff is 3-to-1, that means you'll win $45.00 off just those 15 hands. But you will have spent a total of $100.00 to win $45.00… And that's how the casino can afford to give you all those flashing lights and free drinks.

Now, the casino probably won't really make a whole $55.00 off you, because out of those hundred hands, you're going to get some other good cards besides your 3-of-a-kind; some

high pairs, like Q-Q or maybe even a straight 3-4-5-6-7 . But regardless, the payoff will have been calculated to ensure that you lose money over time.

Just to illustrate my point, if video poker was going to allow you to win money consistently, the payoff on that 3-of-a-kind would have to be 7-to-1.



Let's review. We know the basics of operating any Jacks or Better game, and are aware that all video poker games are negative expectation ; that is, if we play for long enough, the house will always win.

However, we've seen that by strategically picking which cards to hold and which to discard, and by making some occasional sacrifices of a guaranteed small hand for a chance at a big one, we can improve our odds of making money in the short run.

And that's the big key; we're going to try to make our money quickly in Jacks or Better ; once we've hit one big hand, or several mid-sized ones, we probably want to walk away from the machine with bulging pockets.

Otherwise, statistics tell us that we'll end up losing it all back and paying the casino for those “free” drinks.

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