All casino games are based on a random event to determine the results. Standard slot machines are an excellent example of games where winning or losing relies totally on luck. 

A few games on the casino floor can be influenced by the player, however. Video poker, blackjack, and craps are some examples.

This article explores the role of luck and skill in video poker. 

1. Where luck plays the strongest role

The cards dealt for each initial hand and for draw cards are selected randomly based on the results of the game’s Random Number Generator (or RNG for short).

The RNG runs constantly. It cycles through a thousand or so numbers every second.

When the player hits the Deal or Draw button, five numbers are selected. On the deal, they are translated into the initial five cards. For draws, the number of cards discarded by the player are selected and translated into a card for each slot created by a discarded card.

This method of selecting cards has changed over the years. Originally, 10 numbers were selected when the Deal button was hit – the original hand along with a replacement card for each original card. This was called the parallel method. Later, five numbers were selected for the original hands along with five numbers to replace any discards starting with the sixth and continuing through the 10th, if needed.

Notice that every card selected for play is randomly selected – or “pseudo-randomly” - as randomly as a software routine can do it. Even though the trigger for selecting numbers from the RNG relies on action by the player, there is no amount of skill that can be applied to favor any cards. These numbers change every millisecond or so which is far too often to skillfully improve results.

Because no amount of player skill can influence the results in any meaningful manner (there is no way to improve the results), luck is 100% involved in the cards that are selected.

2. Where skill enters the picture

Even though there is no skill involved in the cards that the random number generator selects, skill is involved in successful video poker play.

Since all cards are dealt (pseudo) randomly, the laws of probability can be applied to determine how often the various hands will occur. Knowing this information allows discard (playing) strategies to be developed that will maximize the return of every possible initially dealt hand.

The playing strategies are based on:

  • The number and type of winning hands in the pay table (game type). Some examples are:
  • The amount paid for each of the winning hands. These can vary from machine to machine, or by denomination even for the exact same game.

A skillful video poker player will know the game and pay table and have the proper playing strategy to extract every last credit possible from his or her play. This is where skill enters the picture.

3. The ever-changing luck/skill balance

As seen above, video poker has elements of luck and elements of skill.

Bankrolls will sometimes expand. Bankrolls will sometimes be drained. This is the luck aspect of video poker.

video poker playing

Even players who play perfect strategy for the specific game and pay table being played (the skill aspect), will not have consistent results. There will be periods where they win hand after hand. There will also be periods where they lose many hands in a row.

There is a balance between luck and skill.

At the beginning, luck will be the major factor with skill coming in a distant second. A funny thing happens, however. As more hands are played properly, the average return will approach the mathematical return. After tens of thousands of hands of proper play, results should be very close to the mathematical return.

4. How to tilt play to favor skill versus luck

Obviously, most players would like to get the best returns possible. This requires skill. Skill requires work.

Here are the steps players can take to fully tilt results in their favor:

  • Scout the video poker games and pay tables that are available in their casino.
  • Determine which games and pay tables are worth playing. Higher returns are favored.
  • Find (or generate using an app) the proper playing strategy for the game/pay table combination. If the playing strategy is too complicated, consider playing a different game.
  • Practice the playing strategy at home until it can be played (nearly) perfectly. The closer to perfect, the better the results.
  • While playing the game either in the land-based casino or online casino, make sure to maintain control:
    • Bring an adequate, discretionary bankroll. Concern about running out of money can cause mistakes in play.
    • Refrain from drinking alcohol.
    • Only play when alert. Take a break when tired or lacking focus.
    • Do not play when under stress. Take a break.
    • Maintain a low-key attitude while playing. If a losing streak is affecting play, take a break.

5. Summary

  • Video poker play is a mixture of luck and skill.
  • Luck is involved in the actual cards that are dealt or drawn.
  • Skill is involved in:
    • Determining and selecting the best video poker game to play.
    • Having the proper playing strategy for the game(s) and pay table(s) being played.
    • Practicing the playing strategy at home until adept at it.
    • Having an adequate bankroll.
    • Maintaining alertness while playing – no alcohol, take a break when tired.
    • Maintaining composure while playing – take a break when stressed.

Follow these guidelines and your video poker results will be the best that they can be.

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.