8 Problems with Video Poker

by Michael Stevens
on August 27, 2017

Video poker is one of the games offered by casinos that give you a great deal of control. You can learn to use proper strategy to reduce the house edge, find machines that offer good pay tables, and play as fast or as slow as you want.

You can even find machines at different coin values so you can play for low, medium, or high stakes.

But video poker players also face some challenges. Here’s a list of 8 problems with video poker and a few things you can do to avoid or deal with them.

1 – Learning the Perfect Strategy

Every video poker game has an expected return percentage and it changes by the strategy you use. Sometimes the best strategy is easy to see but often it’s not simple.

If you plan to play video poker you should always use the best strategy. You can print out strategy charts or find strategy cards that you can use while playing or memorize the best way to play.

It can be confusing to play two or more different video poker variations, so it’s best to pick a game to concentrate on until you master the best strategy. Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild are both good options, because they are the most popular versions, casinos almost always offer them, and proper strategy is easily available. They also are usually available with a low house edge.

The easiest way to learn strategy is to print out a chart and start playing. You can sign up for a free account at any of the online casinos listed on this site and practice video poker for free.

Simply refer to your strategy chart on every play and you’ll quickly learn the best plays. As you gain more experience you’ll find that you need to reference your chart less. Eventually you’ll have the entire strategy memorized.

Jack or Better strategy is easier to learn than Deuces Wild so it’s a good place to start.

Once you learn how to play your chosen game perfectly there’s one more thing that’s important to consider. You need to combine the best strategy with the best pay tables. You’re going to learn more about pay tables in the next section and in the section about confusing pay tables.

2 – Finding Full Pay Games

Full pay video poker is a term that is used differently by different people. Generally when you see something about a full pay game it simply means that it’s the best available version. But sometimes it means a game that offers a payout expectation of at least 100% with perfect strategy.

But casinos aren’t in the business of offering games where they don’t make money, so a few machines exist in the world that offer 100% or higher pay back, but most of us will never find one.

Deuces Wild has a version that pays out 100.76% with perfect strategy, but the best machine in most places only pays out 99.73%

Jacks or Better has a pay table that pays out an even 100% with perfect strategy, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve never seen the top paying Deuces Wild machines either, but a few exist. The best common Jacks or Better machine pays out 99.54%

Other available video poker games that offer high pay back percentages are as follows:

  • Pick’em Poker – 99.95%
  • 10 / 8 Triple Deuces Wild Poker – 99.92%
  • Full Pay Bonus Deuces Wild – 99.86%
  • Multi Strike Poker 9 / 6 Bonus Poker Deluxe – 99.86%
  • Double Bonus Deuce Wild – 99.81%
  • 9 / 5 Triple Bonus Poker – 99.80%
  • 10 / 6 Bonus Deluxe Super Triple Play – 99.77%
  • Super Double Bonus Poker – 99.69%
  • 9 / 6 Bonus Poker Deluxe – 99.64%
Most of these machines are difficult to find and they all use different strategies.

It’s a challenge to find the best pay tables and some casinos don’t even offer the 99.73% Deuces Wild or 99.54% Jack or Better machines. If you’re going to be a serious video poker player you need to find the best machines and only play on them.

Most online casinos offer the Deuces Wild and Jacks or Better machines that pay back over 99.5% with perfect strategy. Learn which pay tables pay back these percentages in the section on confusing pay tables.

3 – Sticky Buttons

When you play video poker online you only need to worry about your mouse, but when you live at a land based casino you always need to watch for sticky buttons.

Once you receive your original hand you choose which cards to hold. You usually press a button that tells the machine which cards to hold and sometimes these buttons get dirty or sticky and don’t always work correctly.

This costs you money every time a button stick or doesn’t operate correctly. If you’re playing Jack or Better and get dealt a pair of queens and one of the buttons sticks so you only hold one of them it costs you money.

Pay attention when you play and make sure the machine is working correctly. If you find a machine that has sticky buttons you should immediately find another machine. It’s also a good idea to inform a slot attendant or floor person so they can get the machine fixed.

4 – Confusing Pay Tables

The casinos use every trick they can think of to extract more money from gamblers. One of the ways they do this in video poker is by offering a wide range of pay tables on their machines.

Here’s an example:

Following are several different pay tables for Deuces Wild video poker. Can you tell which one is the best by just looking at them?

Natural Royal Flush Four Deuces Wild Royal Flush 5 of a Kind Straight Flush 4 of a Kind Full House Flush Straight 3 of a Kind
800 200 25 15 9 5 3 2 2 1
800 200 25 16 10 4 4 3 2 1
800 300 20 12 10 4 4 3 2 1
800 200 25 15 10 4 4 3 2 1
800 200 25 16 9 4 4 3 2 1
800 200 20 12 9 5 3 2 2 1

Just by looking at the listed pay tables it’s almost impossible to determine which one is better than another. The first table pays more for a 4 of a kind, and less for a straight flush, full house, and flush than the second table, but the first table is actually better overall.

Here’s the expected return for each table listed above using perfect strategy.

  • 100.76%
  • 99.96%
  • 99.73%
  • 99.51%
  • 99.72%
  • 99.23%
  • 98.94%

The best pay table you can usually find in casinos today is the third one listed with an expected return of 99.73%. It the Deuces Wild version often called Not So Ugly Ducks, or NSUD.

If you don’t learn which pay tables offer the best return before you start playing then it’s almost impossible to find the best machines.

Jacks or Better is a little easier to see which pay tables are better.

Here’s an example:

Royal Flush Straight Flush 4 of a Kind Full House Flush Straight 3 of a Kind Two Pair Pair of Jacks or Better Return
800 50 25 9 6 4 3 2 1 99.54%
800 50 25 9 5 4 3 2 1 98.45%
800 50 25 8 6 4 3 2 1 98.39%
800 50 25 8 5 4 3 2 1 97.30%
800 50 25 7 5 4 3 2 1 96.15%
800 50 25 6 5 4 3 2 1 95.00%
1000 125 30 9 6 4 2 2 1 94.78%

The first table listed is the best machine you can find in casinos, called 9 / 6 Jacks or Better. The 9 / 6 comes from the pay outs for the full house and flush.

But notice that the last pay table is also a 9 / 6 and looks like it offers better pay outs. But the lesser return on the 3 of a kind makes a huge difference and lowers the overall return by almost 5%.

Your best bet is to decide which game you plan to play, learn the best strategy for the game, and memorize the best pay tables or take a list with you when you play so you can make sure to only play on the best machines offered.

5 – The House Edge

The house edge is built into almost every game the casino offers, including video poker. You’ve already learned the best ways to reduce the edge as much as possible. The best ways are to play on machines with the best pay tables and use perfect strategy.

But casinos are designed to make money so every time you play video poker you’re fighting the house edge. The only exception while playing video poker is if you can find a machine that offers over 100% pay back, and these are almost impossible to find.

The other thing that can help reduce the house edge is to receive comps when you play video poker. You’ll learn more about comps in the next section.

Here’s how the house edge works and this illustrates how quickly you can lose money playing video poker even if you play on a machine with a good pay table and use perfect strategy.

If you play 300 hands per hour of NSUD Deuces Wild at $5 per spin, which is $1 per coin, you’re expected loss is as follows.

300 X $5 X 99.73% = $1,495.95 Return
$1,500 wagers – $1,495.95 return = $4.05 expected loss

This might not seem like much, but your actual loss per hour will be higher until you hit a natural royal flush. The expected return percentage includes hitting the top pay out, which usually only happens once in tens of thousands of hands played.

If you play the same amount and number of hands on a 9 / 6 Jacks or Better machine produces the following expectation.

300 X $5 X 99.54% = $1,493.10
$1,500 – $1,493.10 = $6.90 expected loss

Even when you lay close to the expected loss amounts per hour they add up. Playing 20 hours of Jacks or Better on a trip creates an expected loss of $138, and this is only if you never make a strategy mistake.

Even if you can find a Deuces Wild machine that pays out at 100.76% and you play perfect strategy you’ll lose in most sessions. The only way the actual return of money gets pushed over 100% is when you hit a natural royal flush. Until you hit one you’ll be playing a game where the house wins. And when you do hit the royal it pushes the expected win rate per hour using the same bets in the previous two examples to $11.40 per hour.

You should always bet the maximum amount, which is usually five coins, to trigger the bonus pay out for the top hands. If you don’t bet the maximum coins the house edge is almost always higher. If you want to bet less you should find a machine that offers a lower per coin mount instead of betting less than five coins.

A $5 machine has a $25 max bet, a $1 machine has a $5 max bet, a quarter machine has a $1.25 max bet and a nickel machine has a 25 cents max bet.

Video poker usually isn’t one of the games where you can play with an edge against the house. You can find a few games where an edge is possible, but it’s not easy. If you want to learn how to play with an edge consider regular poker, sports betting, or blackjack.

6 – Finding Good Comps

Most casinos offer a player’s reward club of some kind. Sometimes this is called the slot’s club or player’s club.

When you join the club you can earn rewards in the form of comps for your play. You can earn free meals, bonuses, cash back, free play, hotel rooms, and a wide range of other things.

Everything you earn in comps is something that you don’t have to pay for and it offsets your losses. This reduces the house edge somewhat.

But one of the problems with comps is it’s hard to find casinos that offer a good comp system. This is a challenge because most casinos won’t tell you how much you earn based on your play.

The only way to determine how much you get in return for your play is to closely track all of your play and compare it to comps you receive.

Just like everything else in the casino, the comp system isn’t designed to help you make money. It’s designed to get you to play more and lose money in the long run.

If you play 9 / 6 Jacks or Better the expected return is 99.54%. The casino determines the expected loss rate for each game and bases their comps on this number, giving back a percentage of the expected losses.

Not everyone who plays video poker uses perfect strategy so the casinos expected return is higher than the best possible return, but they also know the expected return with perfect strategy and will consider this when determining comps.

All of this means that the best comps percentage on a 9 / 6 video poker machine is probably somewhere around  a quarter percent, or .25%.

Notice that is you add .25% to the 99.54% expected return with perfect strategy that you’re still under 100%. 99.54% plus .25% is 99.79%.

Here’s an example:

If you use the same 300 hands per hour at $5 per hand as we used above and you get .25% comps this only works out to $3.75in comps per hour.

It never hurts to ask the casino how they determine your comps, but most of them won’t tell you.

You should track all of your play and all of your comps everywhere you play so you can get an idea of where you should play more. It’s possible to find a situation where you might be able to break even with comps and perfect strategy and if you can find this you should only play where it’s available.

To break even playing 9 / 6 Jacks or Better you need to receive comps of .46% and to break even playing NSUD Deuces Wild you need to receive .27%. Remember that you also need to play perfect strategy and eventually hit a natural royal flush to break even. Until you hit a natural you’ll still be playing behind even with the break even comp percentages listed above.

7 – Too Many Hands Per Hour

Video poker is designed so you can play hundreds of hands per hour. The casino knows that the more hands you play the more they make so they design the games to operate as quickly as you can push the buttons.

Even if you’re using the best strategy once you memorize all of the plays it’s easy to play 300 or more hands per hour.

It’s also boring to play fewer hands per hour for some people, but it’s one of the few things you can do to reduce the expected loss per hour.

Here’s a chart showing your expected loss per hour playing 400, 300, 200, and 100 hands per hour for 9 / 6 Jacks or Better and NSUD. The chart uses $5 per hand, which is $1 per coin and the results are for using perfect strategy.

Game Hands Per Hour Expected Loss Per Hour
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 400 $9.20
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 300 $6.90
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 200 $4.60
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 100 $2.30
NSUD 400 $5.40
NSUD 300 $4.05
NSUD 200 $2.70
NSUD 100 $1.35

As the table clearly shows, if you reduce the number of hands per hour you play it reduces your expected loss rate per hour.

If you combine a lower number of hands per hour with playing a lower per coin amount it reduces your expected loss rate again.

If you play $1.25, or a quarter coin amount, instead of $5 your loss rate is as follows.

Game Hands Per Hour Expected Loss Per Hour
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 400 $2.30
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 300 $1.73
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 200 $1.15
9 / 6 Jacks or Better 100 $.58
NSUD 400 $1.35
NSUD 300 $1.01
NSUD 200 $0.68
NSUD 100 $0.34

Start playing fewer hands per hour and / or at lower limits and you’ll be able to play longer on the same bankroll and won’t need as much to play.

8 – Poor Pay Tables at Low Limits

The last problem with video poker is many casinos only offer the best pay tables on machines with higher minimum bets. You might be able to easily find a $5 or $1 per coin 9 / 6 Jacks or Better or NSUD machine, but if you want to play for a quarter or nickel per coin you’ll be forced to play on a worse pay table.

The easiest way around this is to play online. Most online casinos offer good pay tables at the nickel and quarter limits.

One thing to watch for playing online is that some places offer the best pay tables on single hand machines but if you switch to a multi hand machine the pay table changes. You might be able to play single hand 9 / 6 Jacks or Better, but once you switch to a 3, 10, 25, 50, or 100 hand machine the pay table is 9 / 5 or 8 / 5.

You should always be aware of the pay table and play within your budget. But if you have the choice between playing a poor pay table or betting more per coin than you want you should find another place to play or play a different game.

Conclusion

Video poker is a good game to play in the casino as long as you can find good pay tables and use the best strategy. But it has a few problems.

Use the information on this page about 8 problems with video poker to learn how to avoid them and how to improve your chances to win.
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