Guide to video poker

Guide to video poker

There are two kinds of poker players in this world. First, there’s the kind that loves the steely-eyed, nerve-wracking tension of trying to out-bluff your opponent, watching the sweat bead on their brow as you try to figure out… is their hand really better than mine, or am I going to see this all the way through? And then there’s the player who revels in the purity of the numbers, who doesn’t care for all the psychological games, but prefers to let the cards speak for themselves.

If you love the thrill of a winning hand that needs no justification, beautiful flushes laid out before you like jewels spilled on baize, then video poker might just be the game for you.

Video poker, or at least what would become the beloved game, has been around for a surprisingly long time. Sittman and Pitt Company created the first poker machine back in 1891, soon followed by Charles Fey’s Skill Draw machine. In the 1970s, video poker made its debut, thanks to Dale Electronics’ Poker-Matic, although uptake was slow at first. Over the next couple of decades, the games became more sophisticated, with better odds and payouts, and video poker became the hottest game in town. Its popularity even helped increase interest in non-poker slot machines and other video casino games.

Today, video poker is just one of the many single-player games that gamblers can enjoy, both in a bricks and mortar casino and online. Even those online casinos that don’t offer live games or table games regularly offer video poker alongside their selection of slot games.

Game play

Video poker game play is very similar to most other slot and video games.

  • First, select a game style that you prefer
  • Next, set your bet and play a hand
  • Using the game’s prompts, choose the cards you want to hold, and those you wish to switch
  • Once you have drawn your new cards, all cards will be revealed and the round of play is resolved
  • If your hand is the winner, you will be paid out according to the game’s pay table


Video poker comes in many variants, some of which are based on standard poker types, and others that are exclusive to video. That said, they will generally follow the standard poker hand scoring:

  • Royal flush
  • Straight flush
  • Four of a kind
  • Full house
  • Flush
  • Straight
  • Three of a kind
  • Two pairs
  • A pair (in many video poker games, only jacks or better wins at this level)

Video poker is heavily based on standard poker, so if you are not familiar with the game, we recommend reading our guide to poker, which covers the rules, variations, game play and more.

While early poker machines only allowed for draw poker, today’s video poker options are widely varied. In general, however, video poker games can be classified into one of the following categories:

Jacks or better

In this version, the lowest possible winning hand that will pay out is a pair of jacks. The paytable for these games scores the winning hands in this descending order: royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pairs, a high pair of jacks or better.

Some of the types of games in this category are:

  • Bonus poker
  • Bonus poker deluxe
  • Double bonus
  • Double double bonus

Wild card

Wild card video poker games are very similar to Jacks or Better, except for one crucial difference: the appearance of Wild cards. This means that, in addition to the winning hands in Jacks or Better, players could draw five of a kind, or a wild royal flush. These games tend to have slightly lower payouts for winning hands, due to the added advantage that wild cards offer.

Some of the types of games in this category are:

  • Deuces wild
  • Joker poker

Pick a pair

Also known as Pick’em, this is a style of video poker that is rarely seen today. The player is asked to choose between two blind stacks of two cards to complete their hand. They do not see these cards until it is time to play their hand.

Multiple play

This style of video poker allows the player to play more than one hand at a time. Each hand is treated individually, so a player could win big and lose big in just one round of play. Other than that, it is a fairly standard poker game that follows the standard scoring. Always check the pay table to find out how various hands payout.

Progressive Poker

Much like progressive slots, progressive poker is played across multiple players who all contribute to the growing jackpot pool. The progressive jackpot will usually be associated with a specific hand, like a royal flush, although they may be split across more than one type of hand. For example, a game could pay out jackpot bonuses for a straight flush, four of a kind, or if there are wilds, five of a kind.

Tournament play

If you’re keen to try your video poker skills against other live players, you might enjoy tournament poker. Where video poker games usually pit you against the casino, tournament play allows players to play against each other and thereby rack up huge wins. Tournament rules are set by the organisers – usually the online casino or one of its partners. It is up to them to choose the style, pay table and other parameters of the game, so if you want to play tournament style, make sure you’re clear on the rules before you dive in!

Video poker, like other video-based games (slots, for example), are powered by a random number generator (RNG). This RNG ensures that the game play is completely fair and completely random, which makes it quite difficult to apply the kinds of strategies one would normally use for live poker. Instead, it pays to approach video poker in much the same way you approach slots.

  • Study the game: make sure you are familiar with the pay tables, variance, volatility, RTP, and other specs of the game
  • Plan your bets: based on the game’s specs, choose your betting strategy – high, medium or low bets
  • Set a budget and time limit: many online casinos allow you to set a spend or loss limit, or you can set your own budget and timer

There are, however, a couple of strategies you can employ to keep yourself on the winning end. In video poker, you are usually playing to find a winning hand, however big or small the win may be. Some variants may have the computer also drawing a hand, and paying out the higher of the two, but most games are just single hand. With that in mind:

  • Don’t give away a winning hand: even if you have the lowest possible winning hand (eg, two jacks), don’t be tempted to switch it out in hopes of a better hand. A win is a win, however small, and consistent small wins can add up quickly.
  • Set favourable variables: some video poker games allow you to set certain parameters in relation to winning hands. Try a few different permutations of these variables to find the most consistent wins.

Video poker doesn’t use most of the wide lexicon of poker terminology; instead, it sticks to just a few of the simplest terms. For the most part, that relates to the types of winning hands that exist. Other terms you might come across include:

  • Hold: this is the option you select to keep the cards
  • Deal/draw: choose this when you want to switch out un-held cards
  • Double up: some games allow you to try to double your win with another hand, or a side game

There’s always going to be some debate among serious poker players over whether or not video poker is a valid form of the original game. Some feel it takes away from the spirit of the game, while others believe it is a more pure, pared-down version that teaches you to focus on the cards, not the players. Whichever school of thought you fall into, there’s no arguing that spending some time playing the game is fun and exciting, even if you don’t take it seriously.

Video poker is also a great way for newcomers to the game to familiarise themselves with the rules and game play of poker, and a good stepping stone to playing against other players. Visit your favourite online casino and check out their selection of video poker games to find one suited to you.