One of the most important elements of video poker strategy is choosing the right machine. This means not only the proper stakes level for your bankroll but also finding the right variation at the right pay table. The ‘right’ variation is a subjective term–more often than not you’ll want to play the game variation where you have the best grasp of strategy. Playing proper strategy on a machine is crucial and a topic we’ll look at in depth elsewhere on this site. While some variations may have a more favorable pay table than others you’re still better off playing a game where you’re adept at the proper strategy than one with a ‘better’ pay table that you’re less familiar with.
Video poker was first introduced in the late 1970’s and changed very little over the next two or three decades. Only a few variations were introduced in the early days of video poker and the ones that were introduced were simple, familiar and introduced very slowly. They didn’t catch on with the gaming public overnight. For a long time the prevailing wisdom was that anything other than a straight Jacks or Better game was a ‘sucker bet’. That’s not the case now nor was it the case then but that was the mindset of the gambling customer of the era.
In the past 15 years that has changed dramatically and there are now dozens of video poker variations. Changing player tastes are one reason for this, another reason is that improved technology has made multi-game machines highly practical. Today, online casinos offer countless video poker variations and most land based casinos have a number of ‘Game King’ or other multigame devices.
In this article we’ll look at the most common video poker variations which also happen to be the most ‘traditional’ forms of the game. In subsequent articles, we’ll look at some of the more recent variations:
JACKS OR BETTER
The first popular video poker machine was released in 1979 by a company called SIRCOMA that later rebranded to International Gaming Technology (IGT). The name of that machine was ‘Draw Poker’ and to this day it provides the basic prototype for every video poker machine. Players are dealt from a 52 card deck and any hand with a pair of Jacks or Better is a winner. Full pay Jacks or Better (often abbreviated JoB) games offer 99.5% payback with proper play.
As the name suggests, players are dealt from a 52 card deck with all four deuces wild. On balance, full pay Deuces Wild is the most popular game among ‘sharp’ video poker players . A full pay Deuces Wild (DW) machine has a payback of around 100.7%. How is that possible? The operative term here is ‘proper play’. Most recreational players don’t know how to play DW properly as there are a number of counterintuitive plays involved in optimal strategy.
The Jokers Wild (JW) gameplay is simple enough. Players are dealt from a 54 card deck—52 cards plus two jokers—with both ‘jokers wild’. The Jokers Wild have never been as popular as Deuces Wild. Recreational players that want a greater degree of ‘action’ can find more recent vintage variations that are more to their liking. ‘Sharp’ players dismiss the game due to the low payout for expert play (98.6%).
ALL AMERICAN POKER
One of the first of the ‘new wave’ of video poker variations that modified payouts for certain hands without including wild cards. All American Poker boosts the payouts on the ‘middle hands’–straight, flush, four of a kind and straight flush pay higher than usual returns. The trade-off is that the return for a full house and two pair is lower than usual. Several different manufacturers produce this variation with a payout percentage ranging from 98.5% to 99.5%.
There are many different permutations of Bonus Poker including Double Bonus Poker, Triple Bonus Poker, Bonus Bonus Poker, etc. You’ll also see the bonus poker pay table combined with other games like Bonus Deuces Wild Poker, Bonus Jokers Wild Poker, etc. Bonus Poker uses a similar concept to All American Poker boosting payouts on certain hands and lowering the return on others. For example, on Bonus Poker four aces pays 400 coins, four of a kind (2,3,or 4) pays out 200 and every other four of a kind the usual 125. The trade-off is a reduction on payouts for straights, flushes and full houses.