Video poker - sometimes called poker slot machines or slot poker - is a popular American game that is usually based on five card draw poker. It is one of the few games in the casino where on at least some machines a skilled player can gain an advantage over the house.
A Brief History of Video Poker
The "thinking man's slot machine" wasn't a hit however when it first arrived in Las Vegas casinos in the late 1970's. The reason was simple; the first video poker games had a stingy paytable that paid only on two pairs or better. The result was a miserable 90% payback with expert play. Eventually the paytable was raised but the game remained relatively unpopular thanks to a low hit frequency (percentage of winning hands).
It wasn't until the paytable was changed to pay on a pair of jacks or better that video poker's popularity really started to take off. Players were hitting winning hands more frequently, bankrolls were lasting longer and even the hackers could tell it was a better gamble than the slot machines.
The statistical proof soon followed with David Sklansky's 1981 "Poker Machine Strategy" article that appeared in Casino and Sports magazine and R. Carl Cohen's book Beating the Poker Slot Machines. Their work showed that video poker machines were in fact worth playing and that a skilled player making the correct draw decisions could increase the payback.
The calculations were possible because the paytable and deck composition is visible on all video poker machines. Thanks to that information and a little help from modern computers all the statistics including hit frequency, payback and volatility (how streaky the game is) can be obtained.
It wasn't long after the success of jacks or better with its 99.54% RTP (return to player) that other games with liberal paytables started to flood the casinos. Here they are in order of appearance along with their respective paybacks:
- Jacks or Better - 99.5439%
- Progressive Royal Jackpot Machines - RTP depends on the size of the jackpot
- Tens or Better - 99.1388%
- Joker Wild (Joker Poker) - 100.6463%
- Deuces Wild - 100.7620%
- Deuces and Joker Wild - 99.0675%
Progressive royal jackpot machines and wild cards were the next big thing and video poker's popularity continued to grow. According to Lenny Frome in his book America's National Game of Chance: Video Poker, video poker machines actually outnumbered slots on the casino floor 3-2 by the early 1990's and by 1992 there were "at least 40 distinctive versions of the game in play".
Video poker is not as popular today as it was during the heyday of the 1980's and early 90's but it's still one of the best games to play in the casino. To be successful you must choose games with liberal paytables and then find the best version of those games - called full pay games. Equally important is learning to make expert draw decisions and starting out with an adequate bankroll. Forget the latter and you could become a victim of "gamblers ruin".
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