Jacks or Better Video Poker

Perhaps the most popular form of video poker in the world is Jacks or Better Video Poker. In this version of the game, the player is given five cards, and can choose to keep as many of these cards as they like. Any card they discard will be replaced by a new card. After discarding and getting these replacement cards, the player’s hand is paid off based on what five-card poker hand they’ve made. If the player makes a pair of Jacks or any stronger hand, they win!

The first thing that every good Jacks of Better Video Poker player must look for when they find a machine is the pay table. Not every machine pays back the same amount for each type of hand you can make, and some tables are much better for the player than others! The best, “full pay” table for Jacks or Better Video Poker has a return of 99.5%, making it nearly an even bet between the player and the casino. Here’s the table you’re looking for:

Royal Flush: 800
Straight Flush: 50
Four of a Kind: 25
Full House: 9
Flush: 6
Straight: 4
Three of a Kind: 3
Two Pair: 2
Pair (Jacks or Higher): 1

This pay table is known as the 9/6 table, based on the number of coins paid on a full house and a flush. One important thing to remember is that this pay table will likely only pay 800 per coin on a royal flush when you play the maximum number of coins for your machine (usually five). If you play fewer coins, your odds get much worse, because the payoff for a royal flush is cut significantly. For instance, at four coins, a royal flush will often pay 1000 coins (250 per coin you put in), but at five coins, you’ll get the full 4000 (800 per coin).

Once you’ve found a full pay Jacks or Better Video Poker machine, you’re ready to start using video poker strategy to get the maximum returns possible. Playing optimal Video Poker Strategy on any machine is very difficult, but luckily, there are some fairly simple strategies that come very close to the optimal return. For instance, the strategy we’ll outline here – which is based on a strategy developed by Michael Shackleford, better known as The Wizard of Odds – comes within 0.1% of the optimal strategy, and you only need to follow a few simple rules to play it!

The basic Jacks or Better Video Poker Strategy requires you to look at your starting five card hand, figure out what the best hand you can keep is, and discard the proper cards. The only thing you need to learn is what constitutes the “best hand” in each situation. The following instructions start with the hands you’d most like to keep, and wind down to the weakest hands.

If you have a royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house or three of a kind, you should keep that hand (discarding the loose cards on a three of a kind, since you can hope to improve to a four of a kind or full house). The next best hand you can keep is a four-card royal flush draw. You should keep four cards that nearly make a royal flush even if you already hold a flush or a straight.

However, straights and flushes without a four to a royal flush should be held. If you don’t have one of these big hands, you should keep four to a straight flush if you have it. Without a huge hand or a draw that’s only one card away from a straight flush, keeping two pair or a high pair (jacks or better, i.e., a winning pair) is your best play.

Now it gets more complicated. What happens if you don’t have a huge draw or a hand that already wins? The next best hand you can hold is three to a royal flush – yes, it would need two cards to come in to make the royal, but it’s also a flush draw and has a couple of high cards that could make pairs. Next comes a four card flush draw. After those relatively strong draws, you should keep a low pair if you have one. If you can’t make any pairs, an open-ended straight draw is your best bet.

Now we’re down to the weakest hands. If you have two suited high cards, keep those; if not, three cards to a straight flush is the next best bet. Next on the list is keeping any two high cards (jacks or higher). If you have none of these hands, keep a ten and a face card if they’re of the same suit. Finally, if you have just one high card, keep it; if you don’t even have that, discard everything.

And that’s it! By keeping the right hands every time and following proper strategy, you’ll get the maximum return from Jacks or Better Video Poker.