The Poker-matic machine introduced video poker to the casinos. Since then video poker has grown and become hugely popular.

Video poker has been around for decades. Live poker (played with a 52-card deck) has been around for nearly two centuries. It, too, has become extremely popular – especially after the World Series of Poker began in 1970.

While video poker is based on live poker, the two games are drastically different.

Table of Contents

1. Video poker

Video poker is a machine-based, one player per machine game. The total bet for each hand is made before any play begins. Each game has several winning hands ranked like live poker. Each hand is assigned an amount that is paid when that hand appears including:

  • The lowest paying hand is usually a pair of jacks or higher.
  • The highest paying hand is usually a royal flush.

Each winning hand is paid according to that game’s pay table. This amount paid varies among games and pay tables, but amount never varies for one game and its associated pay table.

Progressive games are the exception. The amount paid for certain high-paying hands (usually the royal flush) increases as play continues until someone hits that hand. The value is then reset to its initial value. Other things to remember:

  • Players play against the house.
  • Players can calculate the total average win rate with the information displayed on the game’s pay table and some knowledge of probability.
  • Armed with this information, a playing strategy can be developed to gain the maximum return from the game.
  • Players who play mathematically-correct strategy will do the best in the long run.
  • Hands are played quickly. Some skilled players can play well over 1,000 hands per hour.

2. Live poker

Live poker pits two or more players against each other at a table. Each player makes an initial standard bet (ante) in order to be dealt a hand.

Cards are dealt to each player one at a time in a clockwise direction. One player starts betting. The specific player depends on the game being played. 

The other players can then bet in a clockwise direction. In order to stay in the game, the player must at least match the total bet from the player(s) before him. Betting is over when no player increases the bet.

The player with the highest-ranked hand wins the entire amount bet by all players.

  • There is a hierarchy to the winning hand. It is usually the same as the hands in video poker. The amount won is whatever is in the pot.
  • Players play against each other, not the house. The house gets its profit by taking a portion of the pot.
  • Strategies for live poker also consider the odds of hands appearing. This is helpful but much more is required to play successfully.
  • Each hand in live poker can take a significant amount of time to complete.
  • There are several rounds of betting.

3. Highlighting the differences

There are similarities and there are differences between video poker and live poker. Many of the differences are significant. Here are some of the most significant:

  • Video poker is player against machine (house), live poker is player against players.
    • Playing a strictly math-based strategy works for video poker, it does not work for live poker.
    • Live poker requires not only math skills but also observational skills – people reading skills. Just because a player raises a bet does not mean he has a good hand. They could be bluffing.
  • In video poker, each hand has a specific amount paid when the player gets the hand. In live poker there is no guarantee of the amount the winning hand receives. It is totally dependent on the size of the pot.
    • A royal flush is usually paid 4,000-for-5 in video poker and a straight flush paid 250-for-1. Other winning hands are paid less – usually down to a pair of jacks or higher paying 1-for-1.
  • In live poker, a royal flush, straight flush, four-of-a-kind, full house, flush, straight, three-of-a-kind, two pairs, high pair, high card and even nothing but garbage could all win – and win whatever is in the pot.
  • Because pay tables in video poker automatically have a built-in casino edge, most casinos don’t care if players ask for advice from other players. This is strictly forbidden in live poker because players are playing against each other. Giving advice to a live poker player is considered collusion.
Video Poker
  • As indicated earlier, live poker has an element not present in video poker – the human element. This is a huge difference.
    • The most skilled video poker player could be devastated playing live poker by being unskilled in people reading skills.
    • Playing strategy is very different – rather than strictly math-based, it is math and people based. This makes playing live poker more difficult to play.
  • Video poker has fixed amounts that can be won. Live poker does not. Skillful players can manipulate more money into the pot with clever maneuvers.
  • Video poker allows for quickly played hands. Live poker hands can be several minutes each. They can be tedious. Players must calculate whether their hand is worth betting up as well as trying to figure out what each other player has.

4. Summary 

While both video poker and live poker are based on the same game, they play very differently.

  • Video poker is a private game, live poker is highly social in nature.
  • Video poker plays quickly, live poker takes a significant amount of time to complete each hand.
  • Video poker requires math to succeed, live poker requires math and people reading skills.
  • Unskilled video poker players will lose more than skilled players, but win something. Unskilled live poker players could get their figurative heads handed to them.

Video poker and live poker attract very different types of players. Make sure you have the proper demeanor and skills to play your chosen game.

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.