Video poker is a game 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, video poker simply pits you against the cards.
These games can be found in almost every casino in the US and many around the world, and can also be found in online casinos. The only difference in the games is whether you're seeing the screen on your computer, or encased in a flashy plastic case reminiscent of a slot machine or video game.
Wherever you find video poker, you'll see some very common features. The screen will show 5 cards face down. There will be at least 4 “buttons” under the cards; one labeled “Bet One,” another labeled “Bet Max,” one marked “Deal” and a final button saying “Cash Out.”
dditionally, 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.
There are three common variations of video poker; Jacks or Better, Joker's Wild, and Deuces Wild . We'll talk about the most popular, Jacks or Better in this article, but be aware that the basic rules of play are the same for all of them, and the only differences will be in a few of the hand rankings and payoffs, and those will be described on the machine.
First, you want to put some money in the machine. Most video poker machines these days take bills, and some may accept credit or debit cards. Or, you can insert coins to play. Some older machines only offer one level of play, for example, 25 cent bets.
Most newer machines are “multi-denominational,” which means you can insert, say, a $20 dollar bill and choose whether you want to bet in increments of 5 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar, or 5 dollars.
Once you've selected a baseline bet, you need to decide how many units to bet. Let's say we pick 25 cents for our basic bet. This means that the computer has divided our $20 dollar bill into 80 “virtual quarters” – a display on the screen will tell us how many of these we have left.
Most machines will allow you to bet 1 to 5 of your chosen units, in this case, quarters. This means we can choose whether to bet 25 cents or up to $1.25 on every hand.
Let's go ahead and bet $1.25. There are two ways to do this. The easiest is to choose the “Bet Max” button. Or we can press the “Bet One” five times in a row. Casino games will have touch-sensitive screens; if you're playing online, you'll use the cursor and mouse-click to accomplish this.
When we make our bet, we'll see our “balance” go down by 5, from 80 to 75. And we'll see our “Bet” is now equal to five.
Now we want to hit the “Deal” button. At this point those face-down cards are going to flip face-up, as the computer gives us 5 cards randomly drawn from a 52 card deck.
Let's say we see the following cards displayed. 7-7-A-7-4.
Reading the chart of winning hands, we already see that we have a winner; 3-of-a-kind, of seven's… But we can still do better.
We're going to press or click each of our 7's and notice that the words “Hold” should appear just above or below each card. Once we've marked all our 7's to hold, we're going to press “Deal” one more time.
What's going to happen now is the computer will take away the Ace and the 4, and deal us two new cards. We're hoping that one of those will be another 7 (or a wild-card if we're playing Jokers or Deuces Wild) to give us a 4-of-a-kind.
Instead, here's what we get: 7-7-5-7-K. So, our hand didn't get any better; but we did pretty well with 3-of-a-kind; it pays 3:1, which means our 5 coins ($1.25) won us 15 coins ($3.75)
Now our balance should show 95 virtual quarters, and we're ready to bet again, or cash out. So, now you know the basics of playing video poker. Let's get serious now and talk about how the casino makes their money off this game, and how you can best play to increase your odds of winning big.
Like almost every casino game, video poker 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 early, 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 video poker 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 video poker; 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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