Video poker is among the most popular casino games. One reason is that the game has among the lowest house edges of any game in the casino.

Unlike standard slot machines, video poker allows the player to make decisions that affect the outcome of play. But, in order to gain the greatest advantage, players must make the proper choices.

While many players use intuition and hunches to make their decisions about which cards to hold, only the mathematically proven choices will provide the best return over time. The best way for video poker players to make certain they are making the proper choices is to practice playing the proper strategy.

1. Why practice?

Arnold Palmer, the golfing legend, once stated, “It’s a funny thing. The more I practice, the luckier I get.” That is certainly true – not only in golf but in most human endeavors.

Ivan Lendl, the tennis great, once said, “If I don’t practice the way I should, then I won’t play the way I know I can.”

Andre Agassi, another legendary tennis player stated it more directly. “If you don’t practice, you don’t deserve to win.”

Practice is not only necessary to win at sports, it is also necessary to achieve the best results in any activity requiring human input. 

Practice is vital to making the most of your video poker play.

2. Even highly experienced video poker players need practice

Several years ago, a good friend of mine, a fellow seasoned video poker player, and I were discussing our casino play. We both keep detailed records of our play. We do this to support our gambling wins and losses when filing our taxes each year.

But we also keep track of additional information to help in analyzing our play. We track video poker machine ID, number of hands played, number of full house hands, number and rank of four-of-a-kind hands, number of straight flushes, and number and suit of royal flushes. 

We originally started gathering this information to verify that no video poker machine was biased (neither of us found any evidence of bias).

Video Poker

However, the information is also useful to help understand our play. Although the actual number varies by game and pay table, over time, the occurrences of these tracked hands should average out very closely to the mathematical probability.

His statistics for straight flushes and royal flushes were quite different from the statistical average. Variance could account for the anomaly, but further research would uncover a problem in play.

We both play video poker a few times each month. We average more than 18,000 hands per month or approximately 220,000 hands per year.

With so much regular play, neither of us spent any time practicing at home.

Because of the lack of straight flush and royal flush hands, we decided to play some practice hands on my video poker practice software. With the number of hands played in the casino and my comfort level with the game, I felt confident playing for 90 minutes error-free would be no problem.

Not very far into the practice session, I was jolted by some warnings about improper holds. 

  • I missed some low pairs when I had a face card or two.
  • I also missed three cards of a straight flush on occasion.

3. Staying sharp

There it was – glaring proof that playing in the casino alone is not enough to stay sharp and make all the proper plays. Casino play will reinforce whatever holds are made – and these are not necessarily the correct ones.

Even though I have a strategy card with me when playing in the casino, I only reference it with a close hand. It turned out that I was making mistakes on hands that were not very close.

The words of Vince Lombardi, coach of the first super bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, hit me. “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

My practice was far from perfect. In fact, the more I played, the more my mistakes became fixed in my play.

Video Poker

4. Perfect practice

So, what is perfect practice? How can video poker players make sure they are doing it properly?

Ego and hubris are the downfall of many. The same is true with video poker practice. I felt I was too good for the standard practice routines. I was playing thousands of hands per month. I certainly knew what I was doing – or so I thought.

No matter how much time or how many hands are played in a casino, they cannot substitute for a formal practice regimen.

There is good reason to purchase and use video poker practice software. Before each visit to the casino, it is very important to practice for a few hours. Bad habits have a way of creeping into our video poker play. Using video poker practice software is the only way to make sure mistakes are not made.

We must examine every card of every hand to choose the proper hold. We must make sure we see the low pair as well as a face card or two. The only way to guarantee the proper hold is to practice and practice often. 

5. Summary 

  • In order to achieve the best return from casino video poker play, we must practice. 
  • Simply playing in the casino is not enough.
  • Mistakes can creep into our play and casino play merely reinforces those mistakes.
  • Mistakes can be costly in terms of reduced straight flushes and royal flushes.
  • Only “perfect practice” – practice using video poker practice software can produce perfect play.
  • By practicing perfectly, video poker players will become “luckier” in their video poker play.

Don’t make the same mistakes I made. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t leave home without it.

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.