Bullet Bob's Best Shot! Casino Game Strategies

Jacks or Better Video Poker

In the casinos and other places where video poker is legally offered to the public, you will usually find several different kinds of video poker games to play. These can be Jacks or Better, Jokers Wild, Deuces Wild, Tens or Better, and several other poker game formats. Jacks or Better was the first popular video poker game and is still the most played of all the varieties. It can be found at practically every place that has video poker.

The purpose of this book is to show both the experienced and the beginning poker player how to play expert video poker in a short period of time. The best way to do this is to concentrate on one game and learn to play it well. The game that is as easy as any to learn and most available to play is Jacks or Better.

Differences Between Draw Poker and Video Poker Playing Strategies

There are some very basic differences between regular poker and video poker games besides the obvious that you are not playing against a ring of several other players, but against a machine. The machine isn't really playing poker against you, but is simply testing and rewarding your skill at drawing to new hands. This makes the drawing strategies very different.

In a poker game, the players have many things to consider when they draw to their hands that don't concern the video players. Some of the considerations are his or her betting position at the table relative to the dealer, the opener's position, how the other players bet their hands, how many cards the players ahead in the betting order have drawn, other players' game habits, etc. These can be clues as to what cards are already out of the deck and what type of hand will probably have to be beaten. All this, along with the amount of chips in the pot, can affect the way a poker player draws to his hand and plays his cards. The expert video poker player has it much easier. He or she plays each hand in a certain predetermined way and wins money every time the draw is successful.

This is not the case in real poker because a player can have a very strong hand, call a bunch of bets and raises and be beaten by another player with an even stronger hand.

Most starting hands that are dealt in regular poker games don't have a very good chance of winning and are usually too costly to play. Even though a poker player has already invested some money in the pot, he will more often than not, fold his hand and not continue to play. . . . . (I should have said a good player.)

Video players always play every hand.

Jacks or Better - High and Low Cards

The payout format in video Jacks or Better has the effect of changing the deck from thirteen denominations of different strengths into two basic groups. These two groups are high cards and low cards.

High Cards are Jack through Ace.
Low Cards are 2 through 10.

High Card Strategy Values in Video Poker

Even though the high cards all have the same payout value there are some differences in their strategic values. A pair of Jacks pays the same as a pair of Aces. Four Queens pays the same as four Kings, etc. However, there will be draw decisions in the game when, with all final hand opportunities being equal, we have to decide which high cards to keep and which to discard. In this case, here's how the high cards rank.

Jack - The Best Keeper
Queen - The Second Best Keeper
King - The Third Best Keeper
Ace - The Worst High Card to Keep

Jack is "King"

Why is a Jack a better card to hold than an Ace, King or Queen?

A Jack is part of more combinations of Straights and Straight Flushes than any of the other high cards. A Queen is better than a King or an Ace for the same reason. This is why, in the final "Best Shot" Strategy at the end of the book, you will notice that several of the draw hand options involving high cards specify "No ACE".

Even though some low card denominations will occur in more Straight Flush and Straight combinations than other, in the final strategy, they are all equal in value.

Never Hold a Kicker

In a Five Card Draw poker game, players that have been dealt a pair sometimes hold a single high card as a "kicker". This is usually an Ace. A player that is dealt a pair of Kings with an Ace might, instead of drawing three cards to the Kings, hold his Kings and the Ace kicker and draw only two cards. The strategy is this: if he draws another King he will have improved his hand to three of a kind and won't need the Ace kicker. However, his chances of drawing another Ace are much better than drawing another King because there are three Aces among the unseen cards and only two Kings. If he happens to draw another Ace, it will take at least Three of a Kind to beat him. If he doesn't improve his hand by drawing an Ace or a King, and if another player also ends up with a pair of Kings, it is very unlikely that the other player will also have an Ace side card to back them up.

In video poker you never hold a kicker to a pair or anything else. The play has no strategic value whatsoever, and it greatly reduces your chances of making Three of a Kind and other better hands.

Draw Hand Values and Payouts

In order to make comparisons and judgments about which draw options the video player should take for the best possible return, we have to consider the payouts. In other words, which hands the machines pay and how much they pay for each of them. The payout tables shown below are commonly offered for Jacks or Better. It's worth noting that games with a payoff of 9-for-1 on full houses and 6-for-1 on flushes may or may not be full pay depending on the rest of the paytable.

Payouts are in multiples of the amount bet. For example, a player who bets a quarter and ends up with a Straight, will get four quarters back. Most machines are set up to allow bets of one to five coins. In this quarter machine example, if our player had bet five quarters instead of just one, he would have received twenty quarters back (five times the four coin payout for a Straight).

Most machines give you a reward for playing the maximum five coins. If you play the maximum five coins and make a Royal Flush, your reward is usually 4000 coins instead of the regular 1250 coins (five times the single coin payout). The extra bonus applies to the royal flush only. Although it is usually better to play with five coins, for your reference the payout tables to follow show the payoff and overall payback for one and five coins.

Typical Payouts Per Coin Wagered

These are some of the payout schedules that are most commonly found on the Jacks or Better machines. Many times (not always) the differences between the pay tables are the payoffs for a Full House and the payoffs for a Flush. The full pay 9-6 machine, perfectly played with five coins, eliminates the house advantage completely (except for a fraction of one percent). The 8-5 machines only make the house advantage about 2.5% with perfect play. Both are good machines to play, but of course the 9-6 is best and these can usually be found where competition for your play is strong.

Jacks or Better Pay Tables w/Overall Payback % for 5 Coins Played
Royal Flush800*800*800*800*800*
Straight Flush5050505050
Four of a Kind2525252525
Full House99876
Flush65555
Straight44444
Three of a Kind33333
Two Pair22222
Pair of Jacks or Better11111
Payback (%)99.54**98.4597.2996.1594.99

* Payoff shown is with five coins played
** Full Payout

Jacks or Better Pay Tables w/Overall Payback % for 1 Coin Played
Royal Flush250250250250250
Straight Flush5050505050
Four of a Kind2525252525
Full House99876
Flush65555
Straight44444
Three of a Kind33333
Two Pair22222
Pair of Jacks or Better11111
Payback (%)98.3797.2296.0694.9193.76

Progressive machines are each part of a bank of machines that feed and increase the Royal Flush jackpot with each play until someone hits it. When that happens, the jackpot starts back at $1,000.00 (on quarter machines), which is 4,000 quarters, or the 800 for 1 payoff shown in the five coin pay table.

Some less competitive places will have 8 - 5 machines without the progressive feature. These are not bad machines to play, but look around for a 9 - 6 full payout or an 8 - 5 progressive game to play instead.

Playing The Video Poker Machines

Most video poker games are quarter machines. Let's take a look at what they are like and how they are played.

Depending on your bankroll and the games available it is usually better to play five coins but for the sake of discussion, let's assume that we're playing one quarter at a time at a regular Jacks or Better machine.

When you first sit down to the machine you will notice five cards prominently displayed on the screen and illuminated payout tables for each bet from one to five coins. You will also notice a "HOLD/CANCEL" button under each of the five cards and some other game control buttons.

Instructions in large letters on the screen will be telling you to insert one to five coins. After you have put your one quarter in the machine, the payouts for a one coin bet will be highlighted.

The machine waits for you to play more coins or press the "DEAL/DRAW" button. Since we're playing only one coin at a time, press Deal/Draw and the machine will deal you five cards from a complete fifty-two card, electronically shuffled deck.

Here they come, one a time, from left to right . . .

Pair of Kings, 8, 10 and 3

(Some machines "plink" and some don't, but you get the picture.)

Let's play this hand together.

We see a pair of Kings. This is not a bad hand. Our strategy, at the end of the book, tells us to hold the Kings and draw three new cards. Since the payout for a pair of Jacks to Aces is one coin for each coin bet, we know that this play will at least get your money back, and maybe turn into a higher paying hand. Now is when we use those Hold/Cancel buttons that are directly under each card on the screen.

Now hold the pair with the buttons under the two Kings. If you accidentally press the wrong Hold/Cancel button, you can press the button again and the hold will be canceled out.

OK, now the two Kings are held (Hold cards are shown here in blocks).

Pair of Kings that are held, 8, 10 and 3

To draw three new cards to the Kings, press Deal/Draw again.

The un-held draw cards are now replaced with new ones, one at a time. Suppose we improve our hand to two pair - Kings and Nines.

Two Pair - Kings and Nines

The machine display shows that you just got two pair and won two coins. If we had been playing five coins instead of just one, the display would show a ten coin win.

All video poker machines have a small "Credits" window. Your two coin win will not be paid out in coins, but will be shown on the screen as 2 credits. If you want the coins just press the "CASH OUT" button and you will be paid. If instead you want to play one quarter again, press the "BET/ONE" button and hit Deal/Draw. You can use the Bet/One button to play as many coins as you have credits, up to the maximum five coins bet. If you decide to play five coins at a time, you can play against your credits by pressing the "MAX BET" (or "BET 5") button. When you use this button, you don't have to press Deal/Draw because the machine automatically deals a new hand.

Now that you have a fairly good idea how the Jacks or Better machines work, we need to consider our draw hand options, and how we determine which are the best.

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