Comprehensive Guide to Video Poker: Basics, Strategies, and More

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Welcome to COC, where the shimmer of virtual cards meets the rich history of Canadian gaming passion. Dive into the realm of video poker, a game that seamlessly blends traditional poker thrill with modern-day technology. As your Canadian experts on online gambling, we’re here to take you on a nostalgic journey through the annals of video poker, leading up to its present-day adoration in the Great White North.

A Brief History of Video Poker in Canada

When the earliest video poker machines emerged in the 1970s, they were met with intrigue and skepticism. These machines combined the familiarity of poker with the instant gratification of slot machines, making them an instant hit in casinos across the United States.

However, it wasn’t long before video poker’s allure danced its way across the border. By the early 1980s, Canadian casinos started introducing video poker machines, capitalizing on the country’s love for card games and innovation. Cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto witnessed a burgeoning trend, where local pubs, gaming parlors, and even select restaurants showcased these machines, offering both seasoned and novice players a new way to test their poker skills.

The arrival of the digital age only intensified Canada’s relationship with video poker. Online platforms emerged, providing Canadians the opportunity to experience video poker from the comfort of their homes, amidst the snow-clad terrains or bustling city life. Today, Canada stands as a stronghold for video poker enthusiasts, with a rich tapestry of stories, winnings, and, of course, the sheer thrill of the draw.

Video Poker vs. Traditional Poker: Spotting the Differences

At a glance, video poker might appear like a sibling to traditional poker. But as we delve deeper, distinct characteristics emerge:

  1. Solo vs. Social: Traditional poker is a social game, often played around a table filled with competitors, each trying to outwit the others. Video poker, on the other hand, is a solo pursuit. It’s just you against the machine, making it a more introspective challenge.
  2. Speed & Control: While traditional poker can span hours with its strategic pauses and lengthy deliberations, video poker is swift. Players decide which cards to hold or discard, and the game progresses at their pace.
  3. Strategy Complexity: Both versions require strategy, but traditional poker often demands a deeper understanding of opponents, bluffing, and game dynamics. In contrast, video poker revolves around mathematical odds, with strategies tailored to different machine types.
  4. Consistency: Traditional poker can be unpredictable, with outcomes swayed by opponents’ strategies and decisions. Video poker machines operate on Random Number Generators (RNGs), ensuring consistent and fair gameplay.

In essence, while both forms of poker offer unparalleled excitement, they cater to different moods and settings. One offers the thrill of social interaction and deep strategy, while the other provides a quick, personal challenge against the odds.

Basics of Video Poker

Video poker, with its amalgamation of luck, strategy, and rapid gameplay, has captured the hearts of countless players worldwide. For our Canadian gaming community keen on mastering this digital card game, understanding the basic components and nuances is the first step. Here’s your complete guide:

Overview: Game Dynamics, Objectives, and Rules

How the Game is Played:

  1. Start: Deposit credits or coins into the video poker machine. Decide on the amount you wish to wager.
  2. Initial Deal: Press the “Deal” button, and you’ll be dealt five cards from a standard 52-card deck (53 if Jokers are included).
  3. Decision Time: Evaluate your hand and decide which cards to hold and which to discard. Depending on the game variant, certain strategies might guide this decision.
  4. Draw: Click on the “Draw” button. The discarded cards will be replaced by new ones from the same deck.
  5. Outcome: If your final hand matches one of the winning combinations, you’re rewarded based on the game’s paytable. The better the hand, the bigger the payout.

Main Objective: The primary aim in video poker is to form the best possible five-card hand. The challenge lies in deciding which cards to retain and which to discard to increase your odds of creating a winning combination.

Basic Rules:

  • Most video poker games utilize the standard hand rankings of traditional poker.
  • The payout depends on the strength of your hand. It’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the machine’s paytable.
  • Always check the machine’s minimum and maximum bets.

Equipment and Layout: Understanding the Video Poker Machine

A video poker machine, whether physical or virtual, typically sports the following features:

  1. Screen/Display: This displays your cards, as well as information like your total bet, remaining credits, and payout tables.
  2. Buttons:
    • Deal/Draw: Starts the game and replaces discarded cards.
    • Hold: Used to select the cards you wish to retain.
    • Bet One/Bet Max: Determines the amount you want to wager. ‘Bet Max’ instantly places the highest possible bet.
    • Cash Out: Converts your remaining credits into tangible winnings.
  3. Paytable: Located above or beside the main screen, this table clearly defines the payouts for each winning hand combination. It’s vital to consult this before playing, as payouts can vary between machines.
  4. Coin Slot & Bill Acceptor: For physical machines, these allow players to deposit money. In online variants, there will be a digital interface to deposit credits.

Hand Rankings: From High Card to Royal Flush

While it’s advised to always consult the specific machine’s paytable, here’s a general breakdown of typical poker hand rankings:

  1. High Card: No specific hand pattern, just the highest card. E.g., if you have a King as your highest card and no other winning combination, the King is your high card.
  2. Pair: Two cards of the same rank.
  3. Two Pair: Two different pairs in one hand.
  4. Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank.
  5. Straight: Five consecutive cards of different suits.
  6. Flush: Five cards of the same suit, not in sequence.
  7. Full House: A pair and a three of a kind.
  8. Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank.
  9. Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit.
  10. Royal Flush: A, K, Q, J, and 10, all of the same suit.

Types of Video Poker Games

Video poker, in all its thrilling forms, offers a diverse range of experiences to cater to different player preferences. As you navigate the vast world of online casinos, you’ll encounter a plethora of video poker variants.

1. Jacks or Better

Overview: Often hailed as the “grandfather” of video poker, Jacks or Better is the most straightforward and commonly played version.


  • The game uses a standard 52-card deck.
  • The lowest winning hand is a pair of Jacks, hence the name. Anything less than a pair of Jacks doesn’t grant a payout.

Strategy Tip:

  • Focus on keeping pairs of Jacks or higher. Also, always aim for a Royal Flush when you’re close, as the payout is generally the highest.

2. Deuces Wild

Overview: In this exciting twist, all 2s (Deuces) act as wild cards, making it easier to form winning hands.


  • Again, a standard 52-card deck is in play.
  • All 2s can substitute any card to form a winning hand.
  • Typically, the minimum paying hand is a three of a kind, given the increased probability due to the wild cards.

Strategy Tip:

  • Never discard a ‘2’. It’s your wildcard. Holding onto Deuces can open up more winning combinations.

3. Bonus Poker

Overview: A variant of Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker offers extra payouts for certain hand combinations.


  • Uses a 52-card deck.
  • The core gameplay is similar to Jacks or Better, but there are bonus payouts for specific four-of-a-kind hands.

Strategy Tip:

  • Always aim for the four-of-a-kind bonus hands. It’s where the game’s name derives its appeal!

4. Double Bonus

Overview: Building on Bonus Poker, Double Bonus provides even more enhanced payouts for specific four-of-a-kind combinations.


  • Played with a standard 52-card deck.
  • Basic gameplay resembles Jacks or Better, but with boosted payouts for select hands, especially four aces.

Strategy Tip:

  • If you’re close to securing four aces, prioritize this over other potential hands. The payout is usually very rewarding.

5. Joker Poker

Overview: As the name suggests, this variant introduces the Joker, which acts as a wildcard.


  • The game is played with 53 cards – the standard deck plus a Joker.
  • The Joker can replace any card to help form a winning combination.
  • Typically, the minimum paying hand is a pair of Kings due to the added wildcard.

Strategy Tip:

  • Like Deuces in Deuces Wild, never discard the Joker. It’s a valuable asset to craft winning hands.

… And Others

While the aforementioned are some of the most popular variants, video poker’s universe is vast. Some other noteworthy games include:

  • Triple Bonus: An extension of the bonus concept, offering three times the rewards for specific hand combinations.
  • Double Jackpot: Emphasizes payouts for specific four-of-a-kind hands, especially with face cards.
  • All American: A patriotic twist, where straight flushes typically receive higher payouts compared to other variants.
  • Tens or Better: Similar to Jacks or Better, but the minimum payout begins with a pair of tens.

Strategy Tip for All Games:

  • Always familiarize yourself with the specific game’s paytable. Each variant might have unique payout structures, and adjusting your strategy to target the highest payouts is crucial.

How to Play: Step-by-step Guide

Mastering video poker means understanding not just the game’s variants, but also the detailed steps involved in gameplay. Here, we present an in-depth, step-by-step guide to ensure you play with confidence, skill, and finesse.

Starting the Game: Inserting Money & Choosing the Bet Size

  1. Inserting Money:
    • Physical Machine: Insert your cash into the bill acceptor or coins into the coin slot. The machine will display the equivalent amount as credits.
    • Online Platform: Deposit funds into your casino account. Select video poker from the game list and open it. Your available balance will usually be displayed.
  2. Choosing the Bet Size:
    • Use the “Bet One” button to incrementally increase your wager or the “Bet Max” button to place the maximum allowable bet instantly.
    • In online versions, you can typically adjust your bet size with plus and minus symbols.
    • Always check the machine’s minimum and maximum betting limits.

The Deal: Card Dealing and Decision Process

  1. Initiating the Deal:
    • Once your bet is set, press the “Deal” button.
    • You’ll be dealt five cards from a standard deck, displayed face-up on the screen.
  2. Decision Process:
    • Evaluate the strength and potential of your initial hand.
    • Click or tap on the cards you want to “Hold” based on your strategy. Held cards will typically be indicated by a highlighted “Hold” sign or a graphic overlay.
    • Cards not selected will be discarded and replaced in the next step.

The Draw: Receiving New Cards & Final Hand Determination

  1. Drawing New Cards:
    • After selecting your cards to hold, press the “Draw” button.
    • The non-held cards will be replaced by new ones from the same deck, completing your final five-card hand.
  2. Final Hand:
    • Your final hand is now set and will be automatically compared against the machine’s paytable to determine any winnings.

Payouts: Determination Based on Hand Rankings

  1. Checking the Paytable:
    • Always consult the machine’s paytable (usually displayed above or adjacent to the main screen) before starting. It clearly outlines the payouts for each hand rank.
    • Each video poker variant may have a slightly different paytable.
  2. Winnings Calculation:
    • If your final hand corresponds to a winning combination on the paytable, the machine will automatically credit your winnings.
    • Payouts are typically multiplied by the number of coins/credits you bet. For example, if the payout for a specific hand is 5-to-1 and you bet 5 coins, you’d receive 25 coins.
  3. Collecting Winnings:
    • Physical Machine: Press the “Cash Out” button, and the machine will dispense a voucher or coins equivalent to your credit balance.
    • Online Platform: Winnings are automatically added to your casino account balance. From there, you can choose to withdraw or continue playing.

Strategies and Tips

The allure of video poker lies not just in the unpredictable turn of the cards, but also in the strategies players can employ to tilt the odds in their favor.

Basic Video Poker Strategies for Various Game Types

  1. Jacks or Better:
    • Always hold onto a high pair (Jacks or better) over a 4-card flush or a 4-card straight.
    • If dealt with three cards of a Royal Flush, keep them and discard the others.
  2. Deuces Wild:
    • Given the wild nature of deuces, never discard them.
    • Holding onto any pair (without a deuce) can increase the probability of creating a three-of-a-kind or better.
  3. Bonus Poker:
    • Focus on four-of-a-kind hands as they have enhanced payouts. Prioritize keeping 4-card combinations that lean toward this outcome.
    • Like Jacks or Better, high pairs should be retained.
  4. Double Bonus:
    • Four aces have an incredibly high payout; prioritize combinations that lean towards this.
    • High pairs and 4-card flushes are also valuable.
  5. Joker Poker:
    • The Joker, much like deuces in Deuces Wild, is invaluable. Always keep it.
    • If dealt with only one high card and the Joker, hold onto the high card and aim for a high pair or better.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Not Studying the Paytable: Each machine or online variant can have different payouts for hand combinations. Always familiarize yourself with the specific game’s paytable before playing.
  2. Overvaluing Low Pairs: While low pairs can be valuable in some situations, holding onto them blindly can prevent you from drawing into higher-paying hands.
  3. Discarding Wildcards: In games with wildcards, always ensure you’re not mistakenly discarding them.
  4. Playing without a Budget: Always set a clear budget before you start playing to avoid overspending.
  5. Chasing Losses: If you’re on a losing streak, take a break. Chasing losses often leads to poor decision-making.

Tips for Maximizing Your Chances of Winning

  1. Practice with Free Games: Many online platforms offer free versions of video poker games. Utilize these to hone your skills without risking real money.
  2. Bankroll Management: Set a budget for each session and stick to it. This ensures prolonged gameplay and minimizes the risk of significant losses.
  3. Bet Max: When comfortable, consider betting the maximum number of coins. This ensures you qualify for the highest payouts, especially in games where the Royal Flush payout is significantly higher for max bets.
  4. Stay Informed: Strategies can evolve, and updates in game variants might introduce new tactics. Stay updated by visiting forums, reading articles, and engaging with fellow video poker enthusiasts.
  5. Know When to Quit: Whether you’re winning big or hitting a cold streak, recognize when it’s time to step away. This keeps the game enjoyable and protects your bankroll.

Odds and Payouts

Video poker is unique in the casino world due to its combination of skill, strategy, and luck, giving players the chance to influence the outcome of their game. Understanding odds and payouts is a crucial aspect of maximizing your returns. Let’s dive into this essential knowledge.

Expected Return for Various Video Poker Games

  1. Jacks or Better:
    • With optimal strategy, the expected return can hover around 99.5%. This means that for every $100 played, the expected loss is just 50 cents over the long run.
  2. Deuces Wild:
    • When played perfectly, some full-pay Deuces Wild versions can offer over a 100% expected return, making it one of the most player-friendly games.
  3. Bonus Poker:
    • Depending on the specific paytable, the expected return can range from 99.1% to 99.4% with optimal strategy.
  4. Double Bonus:
    • Played optimally, the expected return on full-pay Double Bonus poker can be around 100.1%, offering a slight edge to the player.
  5. Joker Poker:
    • Given its wildcard, the expected return, when played with the best strategy, can be around 98.6% to 99.6%, depending on the paytable.

The Importance of Pay Tables and How to Read Them

  1. What is a Paytable?
    • The paytable is a chart displayed on video poker machines or online platforms, detailing the payouts for each hand combination.
  2. Reading Paytables:
    • Paytables list hand combinations vertically, usually starting from the highest (Royal Flush) to the lowest (Jacks or Better or a high card).
    • Next to each hand type, the payouts for betting 1 to 5 coins will be listed horizontally. For instance, a Royal Flush might pay 250 for a 1-coin bet but 4000 for a 5-coin bet.
  3. Why They Matter:
    • Different machines or game variants might offer slightly different payouts for the same hand combinations. A minor change in payouts can significantly impact the game’s expected return.
  4. Tip:
    • Always look for “full pay” games – these are versions of video poker games that offer the best paytables, translating to higher player returns.

Video Poker Bonuses & Promotions

A distinctive advantage of playing video poker online is the enticing range of bonuses and promotions casinos offer to attract and retain players. Here’s what you need to know.

Typical Bonuses Offered by Online Casinos for Video Poker Players

  1. Welcome Bonuses:
    • Many online casinos offer a match bonus on your first deposit. For example, a 100% match up to $200 would double your initial deposit up to a maximum of $200.
  2. Reload Bonuses:
    • Similar to welcome bonuses but for existing customers. Casinos might offer a 50% match on subsequent deposits, for instance.
  3. Free Play or No Deposit Bonuses:
    • Some casinos offer a small amount of free credits to try out their games without requiring an initial deposit.
  4. Loyalty Programs:
    • Regular players can earn points for every game they play, which can later be redeemed for cash, free plays, or other prizes.
  5. Game-Specific Promotions:
    • Occasionally, casinos might run promotions specifically for video poker players, offering increased points, cash back, or jackpot opportunities.

Wagering Requirements and Other Terms to be Aware Of

  1. Wagering Requirements:
    • This refers to the number of times you must bet the bonus amount before you can withdraw any winnings. For example, a $100 bonus with a 20x wagering requirement means you need to place bets totaling $2000 before cashing out any bonus-related wins.
  2. Game Contribution:
    • Not all games contribute equally to wagering requirements. While slots might contribute 100%, video poker might only contribute 10-20%.
  3. Time Limits:
    • Bonuses often come with an expiration date. Ensure you meet the wagering requirements before the bonus expires.
  4. Maximum Cashout:
    • Some bonuses might have a cap on the amount you can withdraw from bonus-related wins.


Every game has its unique jargon, and video poker is no exception. So, let’s decode some of the key terms used in the world of video poker:

  1. Action:
    • The total amount of money wagered by a player during a gaming session or within a specified period.
  2. Bankroll:
    • The total amount of money a player has set aside specifically for gambling.
  3. Credits:
    • The money balance currently available in a video poker machine. One credit usually corresponds to the denomination of the machine (e.g., a $0.25 machine means each credit is worth 25 cents).
  4. Discard:
    • Cards that a player chooses to throw away after the initial deal, hoping to draw better ones.
  5. Face Card:
    • Any king, queen, or jack in a standard deck of cards.
  6. Full Pay:
    • A video poker machine or game variant that offers the best possible paytable for that version. Full pay games offer the highest expected returns to the player.
  7. House Edge:
    • The advantage the casino holds over the player, expressed as a percentage. The lower the house edge, the better the game is for the player in terms of odds.
  8. Multi-hand:
    • A version of video poker where players can play multiple hands at once, increasing action and potential winnings but also increasing the overall wager.
  9. Paytable:
    • The chart displayed on a video poker machine or game that shows the payouts for each winning hand combination.
  10. Wild Card:
  • A card that can be used as any other card to complete a winning hand. In video poker, this could be a joker or a deuce, depending on the game variant.


  1. Is video poker purely luck, or can strategy really make a difference?
    • While there’s an element of luck in the draw of the cards, strategy plays a significant role in video poker. Using optimal strategies can drastically reduce the house edge and increase your chances of winning.
  2. Why do some video poker games have over 100% expected return?
    • Some “full pay” video poker variants, when played perfectly with optimal strategy, can offer returns of slightly over 100%. However, achieving this requires consistent optimal play and is based on long-term averages.
  3. Can I play video poker for free online?
    • Yes, many online casinos and gaming websites offer free versions of video poker games for practice or entertainment.
  4. What’s the difference between video poker and slot machines?
    • While both are machine-based games, video poker requires decision-making and strategy, whereas slot machines are mostly about luck.
  5. Are video poker machines rigged?
    • Licensed and regulated casinos use video poker machines that are tested for fairness. The outcomes are generated using random number generators (RNGs) to ensure random and fair play.
  6. How important is it to bet the maximum number of coins in video poker?
    • Betting the maximum often unlocks higher payout ratios, especially for top hands like the Royal Flush. It’s essential to check the paytable to understand the benefits of betting max coins.
  7. Can I count cards in video poker like in blackjack?
    • No, card counting isn’t applicable to video poker because the cards are dealt from a virtual deck, and each deal is independent of the previous one.
  8. Do video poker machines have cycles of winning and losing?
    • No, each hand is independent due to the RNGs used in the machines. There aren’t cycles of hot or cold periods.
  9. Why is it called “Jacks or Better”?
    • The name “Jacks or Better” stems from the fact that the lowest winning hand is a pair of jacks or any higher-ranking hand.
  10. Is it worth holding onto a kicker when I have a high pair?
  • Generally, it’s not recommended. Holding onto a kicker reduces your chances of improving the high pair to a three-of-a-kind or four-of-a-kind.


The allure of video poker is undeniable. It beautifully merges the randomness of slot machines with the strategic depth of traditional poker. However, like any casino game, diving in without a proper understanding can lead to missed opportunities and, more importantly, missed fun!

At COC, we believe that the true essence of gaming lies not just in winning but in the richness of the experience. The thrill of strategizing, the anticipation during the draw, the satisfaction of a well-played hand – these are the moments that make video poker a classic.

Understanding the intricacies of the game, from its varied versions to the nuances of each paytable, empowers you as a player. Strategy isn’t just about boosting your chances; it’s about feeling engaged, making decisions, and shaping the outcome of each session.

Moreover, the platform you choose amplifies this experience. A trustworthy, player-friendly casino doesn’t just provide fair gameplay but also offers resources, bonuses, and support, enriching your video poker journey.

To sum it up, video poker is more than a game of chance; it’s a dance of decisions, risks, rewards, and, most importantly, enjoyment. Equip yourself with knowledge, pick the right place, and let the cards guide your adventure!

Resources & Further Reading

For those looking to delve deeper into the world of video poker, here’s a curated list of resources:

  1. Books:
  2. Websites:
    • A dedicated platform with free games, tutorials, and an active community.
    • Wizard of Odds: Renowned for its exhaustive casino game strategies, including video poker.
  3. Articles:
    • The Mathematics of Video Poker: An article that breaks down the mathematical aspects of the game, helping players understand odds and returns.
  4. Tutorials:
    • Video Poker Strategy Charts: Available on many poker forums and strategy websites, these charts offer hand-by-hand breakdowns of optimal decisions for various game variants.
  5. Online Forums:
      • TwoPlusTwo Forums: An extensive online poker community where many seasoned players discuss strategies, share experiences, and provide tips specific to video poker.

As you navigate these resources, always remember to approach every game with enthusiasm, curiosity, and respect for the odds. Happy learning and playing!

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