Jacks or Better video poker offers some of the best odds in the casino. The best version of Jacks or Better, the 9/6 variant, has a payback percentage of 99.5%, which is better for the player than just about any other game in the casino. Even 8/5 Jacks or Better has a payout percentage of 97.3%, which is far worse than a full pay but still far better than most bets on most other casino games.
But in order to enjoy the high payback percentage, you have to play using expert strategy. The casinos and the manufacturers estimate that players who don’t use an expert strategy are giving up between 2% and 4%, which is a significant amount of money.
Consider the average hourly loss of an expert player who’s running true to the mathematical expectation of a game. She’s making 600 wagers per hour at $1.25 per wager, so she’s putting $750 per hour into action. With a house edge of 0.5%, she can expect to lose $3.75 per hour. Assuming she gamblers for ten hours on her trip, she’s got lots of entertainment for just $37.50.
Then let’s take a look at her husband, who ignores expert strategy and just follows his hunches. (We’ll also assume that his hunches aren’t very good.) He’s losing 4.5% of his bets, which means that he’s losing nine times as much as his wife. At the end of the trip, he’s lost $337.50.
That’s a significant difference.
Computer programs can determine the expected value of any given hand. There are 32 different ways to play any given hand, but only one way has the best expectation for the player. The more often the player chooses to play her hand in that way, the lower the house edge becomes.
But since there are 2.5 million different possible starting hands in video poker, expert strategy groups hands according to types in order to make the process easier to learn. After all, memorizing 2.5 million different potential decisions is probably impossible, but memorizing several types of hands isn’t as hard.
When you consider that 55% of your hands will lose no matter what, you can see that strategy decisions can be narrowed down pretty fast. In fact, a pair of jacks or better will make up 21% of the number of winning hands you get. The small hands, including three of a kind, two pair, and a pair of jacks, make up 70% of the total return on the game.
All Jacks or Better strategy tables consist of a list of hands. The player starts at the top, which is the best possible hand, and then moves down until she finds the hand that she actually has. She then plays it according to the strategy instructions.
Different strategy charts offer somewhat different instructions. Below I’ve provided one Jacks or Better strategy that’s easy to learn. The house edge against someone using this strategy is only 0.8%, which isn’t as kind to the player as 0.5%, but it’s still considerably better than just about every other game in the casino. And of course, this assumes that you’re playing a full pay, 9/6 Jacks or Better game.
One of the main principles behind most video poker strategies is that you want the machine to deal you a winning hand. If you’re dealt a winning hand, you will very rarely discard any of those cards to draw to something else. The only exception is four cards to a royal flush, and that exception is only there because the payout on that hand is so large compared to the other hands.
In fact, you’ll notice that a lot of the strategy focuses on the royal flush. You’ll only see a royal flush once in every 40,000 or so hands, but the payout makes for a big part of your overall expectation. If you have four cards to a royal flush, you’ll always draw to it. If you have three cards to a royal flush, you’ll always draw to it UNLESS you have a winning combination, in which case you’ll keep the winning cards instead.
A four card flush draw is better than a low pair, but both of them are better than a straight draw. The reason, again, has to do with the differences in the payouts as compared to the possibility of finishing your hand.
This strategy requires memorizing 15 lines of rules/guidelines, but it’s far easier than a more advanced strategy. Once you’ve mastered this, you can easily move up to a more advanced strategy with about 21 lines or rules/guidelines, and then you can gain back that additional 0.3%.