A Guide to Video Poker – How to Play Video Poker?

Video poker is a popular casino game that is based on variants of traditional poker, most commonly five-card draw.

Unlike most other casino games, like slots and roulette, we can describe video poker as a game of skill, at least partially. Players can influence the game's outcome by choosing which cards to hold and exchange to get the maximum Return to Player (RTP).

This guide aims to give you a detailed insight into the electronic version of the famous card game. It will cover the story behind video poker, the different types you can play, and which strategies are worth following.

Who knows? If you're a beginner, you may want to try for yourself after reading it, which you can do without spending money by playing free video poker games.

What is video poker?

When we talk about poker, we should see it as a family of card games rather than just one. Video poker is an electronic version of Five-Card Draw, a poker variant that many people consider to be the simplest to play.

We can then break down video poker into several variations, like Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild, which we will cover later. Whichever version you play, the objective is always similar: to get the best possible combination of cards. However, while you play against other players in traditional poker, in video poker you take on the casino.

Video poker has been around for longer than you might think. The earliest games appeared around the same time as the first PCs back in the mid-1970s. This was when developers could combine a central processing unit (CPU) with a TV-like monitor for the first time, and players could use this computing power to play rudimentary versions of the game.

As basic as they were, they were enough to convince US entrepreneur William 'Si' Redd to become the 'rightsholder' for a commercial game of video poker. Under his company's name SIRCOMA, the first casino games hit the market, starting with Draw Poker in 1979. The game was quick and easy-to-play, which made it popular with casino-goers, and it soon spread to Las Vegas in the 1980s – a time known as a golden period for 'Vice City'.

As the years passed by, the game developed more variants, taking on new styles and features. The internet allowed people to play video poker at home in online casinos or on in free-to-play mode on various websites. Game technology evolved that improved the playing experience, with sharper graphics and better sound effects. Many games had features such as progressive jackpots and multi-hand mode, which helped to increase their appeal.

While not the most popular online casino game – we should probably give slots or roulette that honor – you'll find video poker in almost any online casino nowadays. Not bad for a game that even Si Redd himself once called a 'novelty' all those years ago.

How is video poker different to regular poker?

Video poker has become so popular because it gives computer users the chance to play one of the most popular games in the world – poker – without the need for other players. However, there are certain differences that mark it out from the original.

Video poker is programmed to make a profit in the long run

Perhaps the most important difference of all: video poker is a casino game and is programmed to generate a profit for the casino in the long term, known as the house edge.

Unlike regular poker, where you can make money if you're a skilled player, video poker gives you fixed odds for each hand. This means that even if you get every decision correct, you will eventually lose money.

It's faster

Many video poker players like the fact that they don't have to wait for their opponent to 'um and ah' over their cards – something that holds up even super high-level games.

Instead, the computer's instant dealing and response means you get to dictate the pace of the game just by how frequently you click 'deal' or 'bet', and so on.

Note: Playing games quickly might also drain our balance quickly when playing for money, so it's good to keep an eye on that, too.

It's better for beginners

Video poker tends not to be as refined as physical table games. Five-card draw is the most common type – an ideal game for beginners, who can pick up its simple rules easily.

That's not to say there aren't simple physical games, but video poker doesn't have another person getting annoyed at the time you take to make a move. Instead, you can take as much time as you want — a computer has all the patience in the world.

It's not as sociable

Playing at home, or on the way to work, is super convenient, of course, but does it beat the thrill of playing against fellow humans? I don't want to speak for everyone, but probably not. This is why many poker games try to recreate the atmosphere of a casino table, and many modern games come close to achieving that, but, for many people, it's not quite the same.

It can include better features

With improving game technology, some video poker games include popular themes, such as a Wild West setting, which is so often the scene of poker games in books and movies. Others build progressive jackpots into the gameplay that you wouldn't get in a physical game.

Extras such as this help boost the appeal of video poker and, with tech improving all the time, we may start to see even more advanced and immersive video poker games in the future.

How are video poker games played?

Take a look through my list of free video poker games, and you'll see an assortment of titles and themes. Modern video poker shouldn't be too difficult to play, but there are a few things to look out for.

Regular video poker is the most common type. This game is pretty simple, making it popular with beginners.

Here's a quick summary:

  1. You put down your stake.
  2. You get five cards: you choose how many of them you want to exchange, or if you want to keep them all. If you want to discard two of them, for example, you get two replacements.
  3. The game automatically calculates if you have a winning combination. If you do, you get the relevant prize amount; if you don't, you win nothing and lose your stake.

Note: You may come across a few variations on this format. Pick'em Poker, for example, reduces the dealt cards down to two. You then get another pair, which you can only choose one from. Once you have these three in hand, you get two more to make your five-card hand.

Our database has several other types of video poker: in each case, it's important to read the rules and have some kind of strategy to improve the Return to Player (RTP).

The next sections will explore the poker hands and strategies that will be useful when trying out a game of video poker.

What are the different video poker hands and what do they mean?

If you've never played video poker before, then it's essential to know the values of the different winning combinations. Even players with a little experience may not know all of them, so if you're one of those then it's good to brush up your knowledge.

The table below shows these combos in order of strength, ranking from lowest to highest:

Name of combination Explanation Example
Pair Two cards of the same value a pair of Jacks
Two pairs Two distinct pairs a pair of Jacks and a pair of 7s
Three-of-a-kind Three cards of the same value three Jacks
Straight Five cards in order 5,6,7,8,9
Flush Five cards of the same suit 3, 7, 9, Jack and King of Clubs
Full House Three-of-a-kind and a pair three Jacks and a pair of 5s
Four-of-a-kind Four cards of the same value four Jacks
Straight Flush A straight where all cards share the same suit 5,6,7,8,9 of hearts
Royal Flush A straight flush with an Ace high Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10 of hearts

Note: These are not all the hands you can get as some games add to these. However, they are the most common, and knowing them will give you a basic knowledge of most poker games.

Are there any video poker strategies I should know?

Poker is a well-known game of skill, and the most talented players often make careers out of it. While video poker isn't quite so refined – you are playing against a simple computer algorithm, after all – there are steps you can take to improve your chances of winning a hand, and your RTP as a result.

Here's an outline:

Know the value of your hands

As mentioned previously, you should know when you have a valuable combo, like a Straight Flush, for example, and its ranking compared to other winning hands, as this will determine which cards you exchange.

Have a rough idea of the maths

Most of us don't play games to memorize mathematical probabilities, but the more you can remember the more chance you have of winning. Knowing the odds of getting certain hands will help you make tough decisions, like keeping a pair of Kings or ditching one of them to try and make a straight with the rest of the hand.

Use strategy tables

Technology makes it easy for us to figure out the huge array of outcomes in Video Poker and summarize them in an easy-to-read format.

Strategy tables act as a guide by telling us what to do with each hand to maximize our Return to Player (RTP). They're a confirmation of the maths mentioned above, which help you learn the correct decisions to make without doing the calculations yourself.

Note: While it's good to know the odds in your head for quick decisions, the tables are there as a back-up, just in case.

Stick to safe gambling principles

Many people forget that betting sensibly is the best way to keep your balance as high as possible. Knowing when to stop, treating the game as entertainment rather than a money-making exercise, and never betting with borrowed money are just three principles that we should always stick to.

What will video poker look like in the future?

Video poker is popular because of its simplicity, but tech advances mean that we may be able to play it in new ways over the coming years.

Increasing internet capability using 5G connection speeds will see more complex games, with sharper graphics and a wider array of gaming modes.

The tech might not always benefit the player, either. It's well-known that skilful players can increase their RTP when playing against the dealer. However, advanced analytics, made possible by Artificial Intelligence (AI), can assess each player's ability level, and allow the casino to know which poker games to market to which players. An example would be reducing the amount of high RTP games available to talented players to save the casino money. Moves like this would be very unfair on players and could merit regulation change to avoid it from taking advantage of casino customers.

Whatever the changes may bring, the simple truth is that video poker will always be popular because of its basic aims: to make the best hand possible and to experience the simple joy of playing cards. If you can achieve those two things, then cutting-edge technology or not, you'll have cracked the game of video poker.

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