Gambling Tips >Video Poker Strategy


By Henry Tamburin

The following is a true story. Recently, I was playing video poker in a Mississippi casino and a man sat down and began playing a machine adjacent to me. He initiated some small talk while we played, and I gathered he was visiting the coast, this was his last day in town, he was in the red so far playing video poker, and he was hoping to hit a royal flush and at least break even.


We were both playing 9/6 Jacks-or-Better and periodically chatting, and to be frank, I wasn’t paying much attention to what he was doing, or whether he was winning or losing. Then he surprised me when he asked me this question: “How should I play this hand?”


Normally, I don’t offer playing advice to other players unless they ask. This fellow seemed nice so I stopped playing and glanced at his screen to see what he was dealt. He had the following hand:


.   .      .     .     .

His dilemma was whether to hold the four-card flush and draw one card (and hope it was another spade for a winning five-card flush), or hold the three-card royal flush and draw two cards (and hope he was dealt the queen and jack of spades for a paying royal flush … a 1 in 1081 shot).


I told him that the better play was to hold the three-card royal flush and draw two cards (even with the long odds). He seemed reluctant to do so but he followed my advice, held the three-card royal, and hit the draw button. I guess you probably know what happened next. That’s right; up popped the queen and king of spades for a $2000 royal flush (he was playing a 50-cent denomination machine). I was happy for him, and he was thankful for the advice I had given him to hold the three-card royal.


Let’s pause for a moment and play a “what if” game. What if I wasn’t playing next to him when he got that hand, do you think he would have decided to hold the three-card royal and gotten that $2000 royal flush? What if someone else was playing next to him, do you think that player would have given him the same playing advice? We’ll never know for sure what could have happened under these scenarios but think about this. If he would have had a strategy card with him, it wouldn’t have made any difference who was playing next to him (or even if nobody was next him), because he could have been able to quickly glance at the strategy card and knew that the right play was to hold the three-card royal. Get my point?


It’s unfortunate that so few video poker players carry video poker strategy cards with them when they play. In fact, the next time you go to a casino, glance down an aisle of video poker machines, and see how many players have strategy cards. I’ll bet you won’t find one. And why is that? Several years ago, I decided to find out for myself by randomly asking a dozen or so video poker players that question. This is what they told me.


  1. They didn’t know video poker strategy cards existed.
  2. They thought that strategy cards were illegal.
  3. They didn’t know how to use a strategy card.


Let me address these three points. First, pocketsize strategy cards for video poker players are commercially available for players (just check the ads in Strictly Slots). Secondly, I can unequivocally state that strategy cards are legal to use in all gambling jurisdictions. Therefore, that leaves the third excuse, namely, how to use a strategy card, which is what I am now going to address.


A video poker strategy card will show you the correct way to play every hand dealt to you. Think of it as a “cheat sheet,” an aid that you can (legally) use when you play video poker to help you make the correct play (meaning you will be keeping the cards that have the highest expected value).


Here’s how you use video poker strategy cards. The strategy cards contain a table of hand rankings with the hands at the top of the table having a higher rank than the hands below. By way of example, the table below shows the top five lines of strategy from a commercially available 9/6 Jacks-or-Better strategy card (by Bob Dancer and Liam Daily). All you do is look at your hand and determine whether you have any of the hands listed on the strategy card, and if you do, hold the hand that is closest to the top of the table.


Top Five Lines

9/6 Jacks-or-Better
Recreational Strategy Cards


TWO PAIR or higher paying combinations, except:
break a  FLUSH or STRAIGHT for a 4-card royal flush

Any 4-card straight flush


3-card royal flush

4-card flush


Remember the hand that the player had sitting next to me? If you start at the top of the table and go down, you’ll find the 3-card royal flush on line 4, and the four-card flush on line 5. The 3-card royal flush is higher to the top of the table then the 4-card flush; therefore, the correct way to play the hand is to hold the 3-card royal flush. Pretty simple, huh?


Look at the following hand. How would you play it on a 9/6 Jacks-or-Better machine?

.      .        .      .      .


The hand is a paying five-card straight, which many players would automatically hold for an instant payoff of four-times what you bet. However, there is a better play, namely, to give up the paying straight, and instead, hold the four-card royal flush (see it ... 10, Jack, Queen, and King of hearts). If you were not sure whether to hold the paying straight or the four-card royal and you had a handy strategy card with you, you would have instantly seen that the correct play is to hold the four-card royal (see line 1 in the strategy table, which reads: “break a flush or straight for a four-card royal flush”). (By the way, my late father-in-law was dealt this exact hand, and because he referred to his strategy card, he held the four-card royal and was dealt the ace of hearts for a royal flush.)


I hope I’ve convinced you to invest a few bucks, get a strategy card, and refer to it when you are not sure how to play to hand. It’s money well spent.