Beginning a Guide to Correct Play in Video Poker

By Ben Hamill - July 01 2016

We often hear that one of the biggest advantages of gaming at an online casino as opposed to a land-based casino, is that in the games that require thought and strategic decision-making, such as blackjack and video poker, you can bring a strategy card to the "table", something you would never be allowed to do at a land-based casino.

It is rightly said that correct play at these two games reduces the house's edge to near zero. The big if in this analysis is how do we know what is correct play?

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Video Poker Dealer Makes No Decisions

In this session I will begin to explain correct play in video poker. I've chosen to begin with video poker for three reasons. One, the dealer makes no decisions in video poker; only the player must decide. Thus, the player's only decision is how many cards and which cards to discard after the initial deal.

Two, video poker naturally carries the highest payout percentages at most online casinos. This means that even without correct play you'll come close to breaking even at many sessions.

Three, because of these two conditions it is much easier to learn correct play in video poker than in blackjack. Having said this, however, it must also be said that correct play is not as simple as it might look.

Aces are Less Valuable in Video Poker than in Friday Night Poker Games

Video poker uses all the standard poker hands from royal flush on down. The weakest hand that can win is a pair of tens. Many new players, who have played poker since they were young, hold onto cards that don't help them because they are used to going for the high-card hand.

Payouts vary based on the minimum hand needed to win that particular version of video poker.

Each Hand Presents Interesting Possibilities

When you're dealt your initial hand you have to decide which cards to hold and which to discard. The strategy here is to hold cards from this specific hand that most furthers a win or a large payout.

Go For a Royal Flush

One of the biggest mistakes video poker players make is not playing for a royal flush or a straight flush. No one ever goes for these rare hands before the cards are dealt but it is often the best play to go for such hands after the cards are dealt.

Some Hands are Holy; Never Break Them Up

There are a few hands that you must never break up: royal flush, straight flush, and four of a kind are obvious ones.

You should also never discard from three of a kind or from two pair. With two pair, you are clearly hoping to get a full house so you discard the unpaired card.

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Common Strategic Missteps

With three of a kind, many players choose to hold one unpaired card hoping for the full house. It is much better to discard both unpaired cards leaving better chances for four of a kind and reduced chances for a full house.

The payout for four of a kind is so high that it's worth bucking the odds in this way.

The next set of common mistakes is that many players never break up a flush or straight. If you have a flush with four of the five cards needed for a royal flush, by all means discard the odd card and go for the royal flush. Your odds are 46-1 but the payout is so good for a royal flush that you should make this play. And if you do so, you still can fill the straight normally, get a flush anyway, and a winning pair.

The same thinking applies to breaking up a straight with four to a royal flush.

If you have a winning pair but also have four to a royal or straight flush, you should break up the pair and go for the bigger payout.

Many players discard a low pair and keep a single high card hoping for the winning pair. It is better to hold the low pair. In this case, you can win with three or four of a kind and two pair.

Most players discard rather than try for an inside straight. This is good strategy unless three of the cards in the straight are high cards. When that situation arises, you should go for the inside straight because you might alternatively pair one of the winning high cards.

Next time I'll expand the discussion to evaluating all other hands.

Online Casinos Provide Many Gaming Benefits

For now, I would like to talk about gambling at online casinos. Online casinos offer much more variety than any land-based casino can offer. The cost of space online is miniscule compared to the cost of space on land. Online casinos may offer up to 50 different variations of video poker. Land based casinos may have a large bank of video poker games but they cannot accommodate everyone who wants to play one specific game. If someone is playing your game, you simply have to wait.

You never have to wait at an online casino.

Online Players Learn on Their Own Time

The result of finding a video poker game that you know well being occupied means that many players at a land-based casino end up playing games that they are unfamiliar with. In the case of video poker, it might not mean much since the basic payout rate is so high but in other games such as blackjack, the difference between correct play and incorrect play may be several percentage points.

Take a Break if You Like

Another big advantage to gaming online is that you never have to give up your seat. If you need a bathroom break or want to grab something to eat, you will lose your seat at a land-based casino but on your PC or mobile screen, you never have to give up your seat.

Summing up, online casinos offer more games and more variety within games, no waiting, the guarantee that you can always play the game you know best, and a permanent place at the table. Online casinos can also pay more than land-based casinos because they have far less overhead.

Save Money By Playing at an Online Casino

Online gaming also saves a lot of money: the cost of travel, lodging, and food. This leaves more money to play with or, as so many online gamers do, it helps you budget your gaming money better for more gaming fun.

All in all, online gaming has many benefits that land-based casinos cannot possibly match!

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