How to Play Video Poker

Video poker is one of the most widespread types of casino games. Inspired by the most basic form of poker — five-card draw — it can be much less daunting than actual table games. Canadian players can find many iterations of the genre in both online casinos and as real-life game terminals in brick-and-mortar gambling venues.

While the gameplay may seem similar to slots, playing video poker online does feature an element of skill. This makes it especially attractive to players as they can use optimal strategy to improve their odds. On top of that, this is one of the easiest casino games to play and learn, making it a solid choice for all kinds of players. With this video poker guide, we’ll cover the following:

  • Video poker basics
  • Winning hands and the most popular game variants
  • How to play and win

How video poker works

A typical video poker game works with a standard 52-card deck. Players make their bets and click the deal button, prompting the game to deal them five cards. Then, they decide which cards they want to hold (keep) and which ones to discard (give up, replace).

Players can hold all cards or discard up to five of them, depending on the game variant. A click on the draw button deals additional cards that replace any discarded ones from the initial hand. The game then evaluates the final hand based on the appropriate paytable, and players receive any winnings accordingly.

A step-by-step guide to playing video poker

Unlike some other casino games, video poker is straightforward to learn, even for a total novice. You can start playing video poker online in just a few steps:

  1. Select your bet size — Before initiating the game round, you need to choose the denomination and the number of coins (one to five) to play with.
  2. Receive the first cards — Click on the deal button, and the game will deal you five cards from the deck.
  3. Take action — Evaluate your hand and decide which cards you’d like to hold (keep) and which ones you’d like to discard. To hold a card, you usually need to click on it. The hold tag will appear somewhere on top of it, marking your choice.
  4. Receive additional cards — Click the draw button for the second card draw. You will receive additional cards that replace the ones you decided to discard.
  5. Wait for the outcome and payout — After the second draw, the game assesses your final hand. Any winning combinations receive payments according to the paytable. Different video poker variations can offer different payouts for the same winning hands, but more on that below.

Winning hands in video poker

After the draw, the cards you have in your hand decide the game’s outcome. Take a look at the winning hands in Jacks or Better (the most common video poker variant) and their most common payouts:

  • Royal flush — A ten, a jack, a queen, a king and an ace of the same suit. This combination usually pays 800:1.
  • Straight flush — Five consecutive cards of the same suit. It pays 40:1.
  • Four of a kind — Four cards featuring the same number — or the same face card — of any suit. Pays 20:1.
  • Full house — Three of a kind plus an additional pair. The cards don’t have to be of the same suit. It pays 9:1.
  • Flush — Five cards of the same suit, regardless of their numbers. The usual payout for this combination is 6:1.
  • Straight — Five consecutive cards that don’t have to be the same suit. The combination brings a payout of 6:1.
  • Three of a kind — Three of the same card rank, with a payout of 3:1.
  • Two pair — The cards in each of the pairs need to be of the same rank but can have a different suit. The most common payout is 2:1.
  • Jacks or better — A pair of jacks or better. This combination brings an even payout (1:1).

Differences between video poker and online poker

We can safely say that one of the main differences between video poker and online poker is in the complexity. Online poker is an elaborate casino game that takes a lot of skill and knowledge to play. On top of that, online poker sessions can last for a long time.

On the other hand, video poker is the most basic poker variant, making it very easy to learn and play. These games don’t require much knowledge and skill, and the rounds are quite quick.

What’s more, betting on video poker is much simpler and gives players much better control over their gambling budget. In contrast, betting in online poker can sometimes be quite hectic and lead to large losses in a short amount of time.

Another difference is that the lower complexity of video poker makes it a lot easier to apply a specific strategy than playing online poker. In online poker, many more variables are at play, most notably other players.

Common video poker variants

A lot has changed since the primitive video poker machines from the ’70s and ’80s. Not only has video poker advanced technologically, but we’ve also seen a rise in the number of variations it inspired. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of video poker in Canadian casinos.

Jacks or Better

This game variation is where it all started. It is the original video poker variant, paying for any winning combination that contains a pair of jacks or higher. It features one drawing round and a return-to-player percentage of 99.54% if played using the optimal strategy.

Deuces Wild

As the name of this video poker variant suggests, the deuces (two-value cards) from the deck are also wild cards that can replace any other card to create a winning hand. This brings a much higher likelihood of scoring a win, but the payouts can be lower than Jacks or Better and some other variants. Still, Deuces Wild video poker is a variant with one of the highest average RTPs — 100.76%.

Bonus Poker

Bonus Poker games usually offer greater prizes for higher-ranking winning hands while paying less for weaker hands. The payouts commonly start with a pair of jacks, just like in the game’s original version. A typical RTP for Bonus Poker is around 99.17%.

Double Bonus Poker

This video poker variant features enlarged payouts for certain winning combinations. This includes four of a kind, with especially high payouts for four aces. The RTP differs depending on the title, with an average of 100%. However, we should note that Double Bonus Poker has a high variance, meaning it can bring huge wins and huge losses.

Ultimate X Poker

Ultimate X Poker puts a spin on traditional video poker by adding multipliers to the players’ winning hands. If you choose to play with the Ultimate X bonus, you must double your bet. Depending on the winning hand you form (if any), this may multiply any winnings accordingly. The RTP for Ultimate X Poker can range from 95.90% to 99.70%, depending on the paytable.

Joker Poker

The Joker Poker variant uses a 53-card deck with the joker card as an addition. The purpose of this card is to substitute for any other card to complete a winning hand. The lowest winning hand in Joker Poker is a pair of kings. The return-to-player rate for this variant ranges from 95.6% to 99.4%.

How to play and win

These games may be no-brainers if you understand the basics. However, it doesn’t hurt to learn a few tricks you can use to increase your chances of winning at video poker. Here are some of the most important rules to play by:

  • Always play max coins — You should always play at the maximum number of coins, usually five in most video poker titles. This is because the royal flush payout is notably higher for five coins than for four, giving you a marked advantage over the house.
  • Understand the ranking system for your variant — Not all video poker variants pay for the same card combinations. In the same vein, certain games can give boosted payouts for certain combinations and smaller prizes for others. Knowing a specific game’s ranking system helps you decide which cards to hold or discard and which strategy to apply if any.
  • Always check the paytable — One of the most crucial parts of playing video poker is knowledge of the game’s payouts. These are conveniently available in every title’s paytable, letting you know how much you can win for each of the winning hands. Knowing the paytable well can help you keep track of your wins and losses.
  • Play a game with the best odds — Different video poker titles can offer different odds even if they are of the same variant. To assess how rewarding a specific game is, look at the payouts for flush and full house combinations. Only choose games with a 9/6 payout — 9:1 odds for a full house and 6:1 odds for a flush. These games generally have the best RTPs.
  • Beginners should always play free games — If you are totally new to online poker, you should stick to free video poker games until you learn how to play and what the best strategy is. You can quickly lose money if you don’t know what you’re doing, especially in some higher-volatility video poker variants.


Is there a strategy for video poker?

Yes, there is. Video poker isn’t a luck-based game, and you can learn a simple optimal strategy that can help increase your advantage.

What cards should you hold in video poker?

If you initially receive a pair in a Jacks or Better game, the general rule is to hold both cards unless you have four cards to a royal flush or straight flush. You should also keep pairs lower than a pair of jacks.

In case you’re not dealt pairs, you should keep any high cards, especially if they are of the same suit. And, if you play a game with a wild card, always keep it in your hand until the end of the game round.

Is video poker better than slots?

Yes, it generally is. While slots can be engaging, they are games of pure chance, and there is no way to influence the outcome. On the other hand, playing video poker allows you to use strategy to decrease the house edge.

How often can you get a royal flush in video poker?

The royal flush is the highest-paying video poker combination because it is the rarest. The probability of landing this winning hand is 649,739:1.

What is the average payout percentage for video poker?

It depends on the variant, but a typical game of Jacks or Better, with 9/6 payouts for full houses and flushes, will have an RTP of 99.54% if you play using the proper strategy.

Which video poker machine has the best odds of winning?

While it’s easy to get drawn in by a high RTP (such as the one usually featured in Deuces Wild and Double Bonus Poker), you should also look at the game’s paytable. Video poker machines with the best odds feature a 9/6 payout (9:1 odds for a full house and 6:1 odds for a flush).

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