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Video Poker Strategy

Not all professional poker players play Texas Hold 'em. Some poker players earn a living playing video poker. You don't hear much about those folks, however, because there's no television coverage of their game. Also, there's no signature event--such as the World Series of Poker—to highlight video poker for the media and the public.

Nevertheless, playing video poker well can be as profitable as playing Texas Hold 'em well. In fact, with proper study, one can learn to always make the proper move in video poker for maximum profits.

The same can't be said for Texas Hold'em, Omaha, Stud or any other form of conventional poker.

So how do you play video poker?

The game is an automated version of five-card draw poker, with one basic difference:

In five-card draw, you play against other players, with the best hand winning. In video poker, you don't play against anyone else, not even the
"house" as in blackjack.

You simply play hands, one after another, and win when you form a good hand and lose when you form a bad hand. It's that simple, which is why it is one of the most popular games in casinos.

How do you play?

The rules are simple: After deciding how much you want to wager on a hand, you are dealt five cards from a 52-card deck.

You then decide which of the five cards, if any, you wish to keep and which you wish to discard.

The discarded cards are then replaced with new cards from the deck.

You are then paid based on the value of your five-card hand, the better the hand the better the payoff.

The lowest payoff is for a high pair, with the payoff increasing for two pair, three of a kind, a straight (five cards in consecutive order), a flush (five cards of the same suit), a full house (three of a kind and a pair), four of a kind, a straight flush (five cards in consecutive order of the same suit) and a royal flush (10, jack, queen, king and ace of the same suit).

There are many variations of video poker, with the most common being "Jacks or Better," so we'll focus on that.

"Jacks of Better" means you need "jacks or better" to win any money--your final hand must contain at least a pair of jacks to win and earn a payoff.

In other words, a pair of 2's, 3's, 4's, 5's, 6's, 7's, 8's, 9's or 10's is simply another losing hand, while a pair of jacks, queens, kings or aces is a winner.

In "Jacks or Better" video poker, a final hand containing a high pair---pair of jacks, queens, kings or aces, generally pays off at even money, meaning a $1 bet would win you $1.

Two pairs generally pays off at 2-1, meaning a $1 bet would win you $2.

Three of a kind generally pays off at 3-1, meaning a $1 bet would win you $3.

A straight generally pays off at 4-1, meaning a $1 bet would win you

A flush generally pays off at 5-1, meaning a $1 bet would win you $5.

A full house generally pays off at 8-1, meaning a $1 bet would win you $8.

Four of a kind generally pays off at 25-1, meaning a $1 bet would win
you $25.

A straight flush generally pays off at 50-1, meaning a $1 bet would win you $50.

A royal flush (also called a royal straight flush) generally pays off at 1,000-1 (or higher), so a $1 bet would win you $1,000 (or more).

The payoffs for all these hands, especially a royal flush, can vary widely, depending on where you're playing, so always check the payoff info on the machine if at a casino and on the website if online, and play where the payoffs are best.

One of the things that makes video poker so popular is that it can be beaten, if you consistently make the right decisions.

Since most people who play don't consistently make the right decisions, the casinos that offer video poker don't have to worry about losing money on the game. But if you're willing to take the time to learn what moves to make in what situations---meaning what cards to discard and when to discard them---you can win big money playing video poker.

Here's the basic strategy for playing winning video poker:

Always hold a royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, three of a kind, or two pair.

Since a royal or straight flush, four of a kind or full house can't be improved by drawing more cards, simply stand pat on these hands and collect your winnings.

However, with three of a kind, discard the remaining two cards for a chance at four of a kind or a full house.

With two pair, discard the fifth card for a chance at a full house.

You usually hold on to a flush or a straight, as it's already a winning

But because the payoff for a royal flush is so great, you take a shot at it when you're four-fifths of the way there.

In other words, you break up a flush or a straight when you have four cards to a royal flush.

For example, if you have an ace, king, queen, jack and 2, all of hearts, discard the 2 to take a chance at the big payoff for the 10 of hearts.

And even if you don't come up with the coveted royal flush, it still leaves the door open to the possibility of a flush with any other heart, a straight with any other 10 and a pair of jacks or better with any ace, king, queen, or jack.

In addition, break up a pair of jacks or better if you have four cards to a royal flush.

Other strategy tips include:

Keep a low pair instead of a single high card (jack, queen, king, or ace).

That means if you're dealt two 2's, a 4, a 7 and a jack---of various suits so there's no chance for a flush, take a shot at getting a higher-paying three of a kind or full house than a lower-paying high pair.

Do not draw to a four-card inside straight---one in which the missing card is in the middle rather than on either end, unless the hand includes at least three high cards (jack or better).

Then, if you don't complete the straight, you've still got a chance for a payoff for a high pair.

Draw to a four-card outside straight, one that has room open at either end to complete the straight---as in a hand of 4-5-6-7 which can use either a 3 or an 8 to complete the straight.

That's it for basic strategy--there is more complex strategy you can master once you get more experienced, but these basic tips will help you get started.

Finally, remember this: If a slot machine offers 98% payback, that's considered a pretty good percentage for the player.

It mean 98% of the money put in the machine will be returned in payouts for slot wins to the slot player.

The casino, however, still makes a guaranteed profit of 2% of everything put in the slot machine, and that can really add up, depending on how much the machine is played.

A video poker machine, on the other hand, will often offer a payback of
as much as 101% or even more.

How can a machine pay out more than it takes in, which a 101% payout would mean?

The 101% figure means: "If you play this video poker machine and play every hand perfectly--meaning correct strategy for maximum payoff—then this machine would have to pay out more than it takes in."

Casinos know, however, that maybe one out of a hundred people (if that)will play perfect strategy every time on a video poker machine, so the real payout percentage for most people is much lower than 101%.

So learn your craft and guarantee being a poker winner.

The chumps playing Hold 'em can't say that.