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Online Video Poker
Lovers of the classic card game turn to the online version, video poker.
Video Poker is a computerized casino game originally based on five-card draw poker. Although it is based on what is essentially a centuries-old activity (poker), Video Poker's invention could be seen as the very first step in the path toward online gambling, as it was the first successful game to combined casino games with new video technology.
The story began in the mid-1970s, when computers were almost as big as houses and cost about as much. The idea of owning a personal computer was only in its infant stages, and gambling software manufacturers were reluctant to take a gamble on the new technology.
Thank goodness for pioneers like William (Si) Redd, who was plying his trade as a distributor for US gambling firm Bally. Redd was influential in the selection of new slot machines, but company executives rejected his pitch for a game called Video Poker, perhaps because they considered it too risky.
Bally still exists, but Video Poker is the one that got away. Like all great inventors, Redd displayed perseverance and managed to convince his superiors to let him have the patent on Video Poker. Within only a few months he signed an agreement with Reno-based Fortune Coin Company and formed his own business under the name "Sircoma" (Si Redd's Coin Machines). As you would expect, it took a few years for Video Poker to catch on, but by the time the 1980s had come round Video Poker had become a regular fixture at many leading land-based casinos.
The earlier form of Video Poker was based on Draw Poker, where the lowest possible hand was a two-pair. Later, this was changed to a pair of jacks, which helped boost Video Poker's appeal as players had a higher chance of winning. As you would expect, the original machines were much like the TVs at the time - today you would more likely find them on a scrapheap than in a casino or someone's lounge. At the time, however, they were at the cutting edge of technology.
As Si Redd's Video Poker invention took off, Sircoma changed its name to one that still stands today - International Game Technology (IGT). His machines took over casino floors in the 1980s, and many other variations were introduced including Spin Poker, Multi-Strike Poker and other forms of poker that were suitable for video technology.
Jacks or Better, the game that sparked Video Poker's growth, remains one of the most popular forms of the game. It can be found at most land-based casino establishments in the United States, and has received a boost in worldwide popularity thanks to its presence at most of the leading online casinos.
Just think: If Si Redd had listen to the Bally executives and continued in his day job, we would never have had Video Poker, and the online casino world would be poorer without it.
Like all casino games, Video Poker has its own special terminology. Many of the words come from regular poker, while others are unique to Video Poker itself.
Action: The total amount of money a player wagers.
Bet Max: The Maximum Bet on a particular game, which on a standard machine is usually five coins per hand.
Cycle: The average number of hands it takes for the machine to hit a jackpot. The jackpot is usually won with a royal flush, which happens at a rate of around once every 40,000 hands.
Discard: A card you decide to throw away.
Flush: Five-card hand in which all cards are of the same suit.
Four of a Kind: A hand where four cards have the same value, and a fifth has no effect.
Full House: Hand containing three of a king and a pair.
Full Pay: The best possible pay table for a particular game. A full-pay version of a game of Jacks or Better usually has a nine-coin win for full house and six-coin win for flush.
Hand: The five cards dealt on your video poker screen.
Hold: Keeping a card rather than discarding it.
Jackpot: The maximum bonus, usually for hitting the royal flush.
Pair: Two cards of the exact same value, such as two queens or two 4s.
Pat Hand: A hand that cannot be improved upon after the initial deal. This could be a royal flush, straight, four of a kind or a full house.
Pay Back: Expected return on game after millions of hands.
Payout: The amount a Video Poker machine pays the player for any specific hand.
Pay Table: List of possible payouts, which is displayed on the front of the machine or online game. The Pay Table gives an indication of the Pay Back you will receive for each possible scenario.
RNG -Random Number Generator: A computer program that generates random numbers, ensuring that each hand you receive will be completely random and different from the one before and after it.
Royal Flush: The best possible hand, consisting of an Ace-high flush of the same suit.
Straight: Five consecutive numbers, such as 4-8 or 8-King.
Straight Flush: A straight in which all five cards are from the same suit.
Wild Card: Any card that can substitute for all other cards.
Winning Hand: A hand that pays a winning combination.
Most video poker games are played with a standard 52-card deck, with the exception of Joker Wild games which include jokers. Once you make a wager, press "Deal" and the game will randomly deliver you five cards from the deck. Choose which cards to discard and which to hold. The machine replaces your discarded cards with randomly chosen cards from the remaining deck. You are then paid out according to the value of your hand. Unlike other casino games, there is no specific House advantage.
The rules above apply to all forms of Video Poker. What varies between the different forms is the card ranks and the payout odds (seen on the Pay Table in each game).
In Jacks or Better, the most popular form of online video poker, cards are ranked from highest to lowest. Card combinations are paid out as follows:
Royal Flush - 800:1
Straight Flush - 50:1
Four of a Kind - 40:1
Full House - 10:1
Flush - 7:1
Straight - 5:1
Three of a Kind - 3:1
Two Pair - 2:1
One Pair of Jacks or Better (hence the name) - 1:1
All other combinations see your money go to the House.
Jacks or Better is a pretty straightforward game with a fairly straightforward basic strategy. This is not a game of skill in the same way as Texas Hold'em, in which you compete against real opponents and look for signs of bluffing. This is a game against a machine in which cards come out randomly. Having said that, there is a basic strategy you should follow when it comes to deciding which cards to discard and which to hold. This strategy maximizes your odds of winning.
Here is an explanation of that strategy. On the left hand side of the colon is the type of initial hand, and on the right hand side is the strategy you should adopt in those circumstances.
Royal Flush or Straight Flush: Hold all cards. You will receive the maximum possible payout for a Straight Flush, and in some cases receive an extra progressive jackpot for hitting the rarely sighted royal flush.
Four of a Kind: Hold all cards. This is the second-best combination possible, and you cannot improve on it by discarding cards.
Full House: Hold all cards. This is the third-best combo and cannot be improved on by discarding cards.
Flush: Hold all cards, for same reasons to those given above.
Straight: Hold all cards, for same reasons.
Three of a Kind: Keep the three of a kind and discard the other two cards in the hope that you can form a better combination with two new cards.
Two Pairs: Keep the two pairs and discard the other card. Who knows, you might end up with a full house?
Jacks or Better: Hold the pat pair and discard the rest of the cards.
Other Cards: Obviously, if you are dealt anything lower than a Jacks or Better you don't qualify for a payout. In the case that you don't qualify for a payout, consider discarding your cards for better cards, or holding on to a Face Card (Jacks, Queen, King) or Ace if you have one.
- Learn how to play actual poker before you start spending money on a video poker machine. Once you have the hang of general poker rules and have enjoyed playing against real opponents, Video Poker will feel a hell of a lot easier.
- Try playing Video Poker without real money. Most online casinos allow you to play Jacks or Better or other Video Poker variants for play money, giving you the chance to put in as many hours of practice as you need before trying the real thing.
- While playing for play money, try out as many different types of Video Poker as possible. Some online casinos only provide Jacks or Better, but some provide a whole range of similar games with the rules but different Pay Tables.
- Read the Pay Table before you begin. This shows you what the payout is each for each combination of cards, and will help you form your strategy. Choose a machine with a good paytable - some machines will pay out as high as 99.5% and more, while others will only pay out at around 97%. This can make a big difference in the scheme of things if you are planning to play for a long time.
- If you are holding the minimum winning hand, do not discard all five cards. You could potentially improve your winning hand by discarding one, two or three cards, but why give away all your cards if you're already guaranteed a win?
- If you receive a straight draw (a hand that contains the potential for a straight), discard the cards you need to in an attempt to secure the straight. However, if you receive a flush draw, don't go for it as you are going against the initial cards you were dealt.
- Play the Max Bet of five coins to keep yourself in the running for Royal Flush jackpot. If you can't afford the maximum bet, switch to a lower-denomination game. Trust us - you don't want to be in the position where you draw that once in a lifetime Royal Flush and don't receive the progressive jackpot because you decided to save a couple of coins on your bet.
- Like all forms of online gambling, the most important thing about Video Poker is to have fun. You could potentially win and potentially lose, but remember to keep smiling and enjoying yourself.
- Don't get emotional. As a general rule, poker, video poker and other card games are best played when you are cool, calm and collected. If you play angry, you're more likely to make bad decisions and lose more money.
- And most important of all, remember that the game is completely random. It might feel like you're on a winning streak (which is great) or a losing streak (not so great), but one hand has no bearing on the one before it or the one after it.