Introduction

Video poker is among the most popular casino games – both online and in a real casino. This is because the games have a very low house edge. In fact, sometimes the player has the edge. 

It is also one of the very few electronic casino games where the player has an impact on the results. However, in order to achieve the low house edge (or player edge) the video poker player must use the proper playing strategy. Strategy charts can help a player play perfectly.

Table of Contents

1. What is Video Poker Playing Strategy?

Simply put, video poker playing strategy is a set of rules determining which cards to hold and which to discard from the originally dealt hand to maximize the return.

It might seem obvious that the strategy for playing each different video poker game would be different. What might not be obvious is a different strategy could be required for each different pay table for each different game. 

There are a lot of different video poker game types available today, both online and in the casinos. Within all those game types there are also several pay table variations, each possibly requiring a different playing strategy.

By following the proper video poker playing strategy, the player can maximize the return from video poker play.

2. How the Optimal Video Poker Strategy is Determined

Determining video poker playing strategy is a complex process. It is very difficult to do without the aid of computers.

In order to determine the optimal video poker playing strategy:

  • Each possible initial hand is examined. There are 2,598,960 possible initially dealt hands.
  • Each possible hold for that hand is determined. There are 32 possible holds.
    • No cards – 1 possible hold
    • One card – 5 possible holds
    • Two cards – 10 possible holds
    • Three cards – 10 possible holds
    • Four cards – 5 possible holds
    • All five cards – 1 possible hold 

The return for each possible result from each possible hold is then calculated based on the pay table. The results for each possible hold are sequenced with the highest return at the top of the list.

Equal holds (for example a high pair) are combined into a single entry. The hold with the highest average return is deemed the optimal hold and is put at the top of the list. The hold with the next highest average return is next on the list and so on.

3. Video Poker Strategy Charts

A strategy chart is simply a list of the specific cards to hold (if any) from the initially dealt hand starting with the hold having the highest return.

A chart is a printed summary of all the information gathered by the computer program. It can be used by the player to help determine the hold that produces the maximum average return.

Strategy charts can be found in books, online, and in computer- and smartphone-based video poker apps. Strategy charts are sometimes sold in casino gift shops.

Video Poker

4. Using Strategy Charts

Using a video poker strategy chart is straightforward. Here’s how they work.

  1. Hit the Deal button to deal the initial hand.
  2. Look at the first line of the strategy chart.
  3. Compare the dealt hand to the hand listed in that line of the strategy chart.
  4. If it defines the dealt hand, hold the cards shown on that line of the strategy chart and hit the Draw button.
  5. If it is not a match, look at the next line in the strategy chart.
  6. Go to step c). 
  7. If you reach the end of the strategy chart, hit the Draw button without holding any of the cards in the dealt hand.

That’ s all there is to it. For more details on video poker strategy, strategy charts, and their use, visit the Video Poker Strategy (with Charts & the Basics) (888casino.com)

5. Is Using a Strategy Chart Illegal?

If you’re playing video poker online, you could play perfectly without using a strategy chart. However, to do so would require a video poker strategy app on your computer or smartphone.

Here is how it could work.

  • From the online video poker site, deal a hand.
  • Switch to the video poker strategy app and enter the hand that was dealt.
  • Have the app calculate the best hold.
  • Return to the online video poker site.
  • Hold the cards specified by the video poker strategy app.
  • Move on to the next hand.

Obviously, this would dramatically slow the playing speed, but it would produce the highest possible return.

After a while many of the proper holds for certain hands (royal flush, straight flush queen high or lower, etc.) become obvious. The app would only need to be referenced for the less obvious hands. To be absolutely certain, however, the app should be referenced for each hand played.

Playing in a casino is quite a different matter. Devices that are used as an aid in playing casino games are highly illegal in almost all gaming jurisdictions. Making use of such a device while playing in a casino could very likely mean arrest and possibly jail time.

In virtually all gaming jurisdictions, a strategy chart is not considered a “device.” That classification is reserved for mechanical (before the advent of electronics) or electronic devices such as computers or smartphones.

There is a difference between using a device and using a strategy chart. 

Casinos consider the “use of a device” when the player inputs the hand that was dealt into a device. The device also determines the proper play and a player holds the cards specified by the device.

However, when using a strategy chart a player looks at the cards that are dealt and simply scans the strategy chart looking for the line that defines the dealt hand.

Do you see the difference? A player has to use his or her skills to find the proper line on the strategy chart. The chart does not automatically give you the proper hold and players can, and will, make mistakes while a device does not.

It’s not illegal for a player to use his or her skills in casino play. For example, card counters playing blackjack are despised by casino management. It is not illegal, however.

Casino management can eject them and ban them from ever re-entering their casino. They cannot have them arrested simply for counting cards, however.

Taking the blackjack example a bit further, most casino gift shops actually sell blackjack strategy cards. They allow players to openly use them while playing blackjack.

The reason this is allowed is because even though the players are using a card to keep the casino edge lower, the casino still gets their share. Card counters can get an edge over the casino, strategy card users do not.

The same thing is true for video poker strategy charts. The player can get no more than the machine’s programming allows. The pay table determines the house edge.

Some casino gift shops even sell video poker strategy charts for certain games. Would they do that if using them was illegal? For more on the legality of video poker strategy charts, go here:
Strategy Chart: Video Poker Cheat Sheets are Legal (888casino.com)

Video Poker

 
 

6. Why You Should Avoid Using a Strategy Chart

If it's not illegal to use a strategy chart, is there any reason to avoid using one? That is a rather rhetorical question. Of course, there are reasons. No, they are not illegal.

Yes, most casinos allow blackjack players to use strategy cards while playing blackjack. Yes, some casinos sell video poker strategy charts for some video poker games. All these statements are true. 

Like all businesses, casinos are in business to make money. In fact, if they did not make money, there would be no casinos.

Casinos may like an occasional big winner so they can sell the public that their casino is a great place to win. They have little patience, however, for a consistent winner.

We all know that casinos monitor the casino floor at all times. The famous quote by Sam “Ace” Rothstein from the movie Casino is true.

“In Vegas, everybody's gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all.”

Casinos watch blackjack players for signs that they are counting cards. Out of the ordinary acts like drastically changing bet sizes or playing the same hand differently at different times, are strong indications the player is a card counter.

There are no inherent indications of a skilled video poker player. More specifically, there are no indications if the player does not use a strategy chart.

Casinos that have programmed the video poker pay tables to produce a house edge of around two percent or higher, probably don’t care that much about skilled players. The house edge is similar to other casino games where the player has no control over the game.

Most skilled video poker players look for very low house edge games to play. Using a strategy card while playing those low or negative house edge games is like a flashing red light to casino management. This is not something a skilled player wants.

To avoid this attention, learn the strategy thoroughly. Practice until you have it perfected – and leave the strategy chart at home, in the hotel room, or permanently in your pocket while in the casino.

7. Summary

  • Video poker strategy charts allow the player to determine the hold cards that will maximize the return on their play. 
  • Developing a strategy chart is a very complex process that requires the use of a computer.
  • To use a strategy chart: 
    • Compare the dealt hand on the game to the lines on the chart starting from the top.
    • When you come to the line the contains the cards in the dealt hand, hold those specified cards
    • If the dealt hand is not described in the chart, discard the entire hand.
  • Using a strategy chart is not illegal because it is not a mechanical or electronic device.
  • Even though strategy charts are legal, it is a good idea to forego using them in a casino.

The use of video poker strategy charts in a casino is a controversial topic. It is best to memorize the chart and practice playing at home. Practice until your play is perfect – or nearly so. 

By following the advice given here, you will make the most of your casino video poker play. Isn’t that what you really want?

About the Author
By

Jerry “Stickman” has been involved in casino gambling for nearly 30 years. He is an expert in blackjack, craps, video poker and advantage slot machine play. He started playing blackjack in the late ‘80s, learned several card counting systems and used these skills to become an advantage blackjack player and overall winner of this game. He also acquired the skills necessary to become an overall winner in the game of craps, accomplishing this by a combination of throwing skill and proper betting techniques. Stich is also an overall winner playing video poker.