Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

author's picture

Video poker is more skill than luck

7 April 2003

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark,
Outside of putting coins in a slot machine and pulling the handle, I am lost in a casino. Others have recommended that I try video poker. Before I try video poker, could you please share some tips and strategies? Devin F.

In slots, no matter how adroitly you insert a coin and how expertly you pull the handle--the outcome is dumb chance, blind and underpaid. In video poker, however, your well-honed skill it into a game of proficiency. Besides which--ho-ho--the pay is better. Certain video poker machines are even programmed to pay out, in theory, up to 100% when played at the expert level; slots typically return far less.

The reason the casino can be philanthropic in the video parlor is because the vast majority of players don't play anywhere near the expert level required for a win, nor do most players have the slightest idea how to distinguish a good machine from a bad one.

For the standard game of Jacks-or-better, strategy step # 1 is to pick the game with the best payout table. How? By learning to distinguish between the "decents" and the "dogs." The higher the pay-outs, Devin, the greater the return. For example, on a Jacks-or-Better machine:

Machine Return Machine Payback (with expert play)
9 for a full house / 6 for a flush 99.5%
8 for a full house / 5 for a flush 97.4%
7 for a full house / 5 for a flush 96.3%
6 for a full house / 5 for a flush 95.2%

Here are a few more tips to sharpen your play to expert level and improve your chances of winning.

o If you decide to play a progressive video poker machine that pays 8 coins for a full house and 5 for a flush, play on a progressive where the jackpot is more than $250 on a nickel machine, $2,500 on a quarter, and $10,000 for the dollar.

o Payout schedules are attached to the every machine. Pick the right one.

o Always play the maximum number of coins in order to be eligible for the bonus payout for a royal flush.

o As long as you feel like a novice, Devin, play on the lowest denomination machine, then, as your skill develops, let it drive you upstairs.

o If your favorite casino offers it, use a casino slot card to get credit for your play. You might as well accept comp benefits for your play on their video poker machines. Be sure to ask how many points you receive per dollar played, and then find out what those points are worth in comps.

o Take your time to study every hand. You are playing against a machine, that won't get irritable or intimidating if your play is too slow.

o In video poker, only 21% of the hands dealt are winning hands of jacks or better, and 79% are downright dogs. And herein lies the difference between the winning and the losing players: grooming those dogs--nearly four out of five -- into winning greyhounds.

Below, Devin, are some playing strategies for those doggoned hands.

Never keep a kicker card (a high-value card to be used along with a pair) with any pair. Holding a kicker to any pair reduces your return by 5%.
Never draw four cards if you can draw three to a royal flush.
Never break a straight to draw to a straight flush.
Don't draw to an inside straight (where you have four cards and need one in the middle to fill a straight).
Always keep five-card winning pat hands with one exception: if you can, draw one card to a royal.
Always keep a low pair vs. holding one high card.
Always keep a high pair vs. a four-card open straight, a four-card flush or a three-card royal.
Don't be timid to draw five cards when you have zippo.
Still with me? There will be a quiz.

Gambling quote of the week: "Comps are the Marxist dialectic of casino play. The haves lord it over the have-nots, and the have-nots want what the haves have." Frank Scoblete

Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.