Jacks or Better Video Poker Strategy Guide

Jacks or Better Video Poker      One of the most popular games to line the gaming floor, Video Poker is a fast-paced, intelligent game for those who prefer a bit more substance for their gaming enjoyment. It is a unique Poker-type variation based on 5-card draw that rewards strategy over random luck by allowing players to decide which cards they should hold or discard on any given hand. And with the Chess and Poker Dot Com Video Poker strategy guide below, you'll be able to master the intricate plays and strategy ideas required to succeed in this exciting game.

Jacks or Better, Full Pay
Hand Payout
Royal Flush800x
Straight Flush50x
Four of a Kind25x
Full House9x
Straight 4x
Three of a Kind3x
Two Pair2x
JJ, QQ, KK, AA1x
None of the aboveNone

      The most widely-played version is called Jacks or Better Video Poker. In this game obtaining a pair of Jacks or any higher ranking Poker hand nets the player an increasingly larger payout based on both the quality of the hand and the number of credits wagered. The payout scales vary from machine to machine, and are classified by the ratio of payout between the Full House and Flush hands. A "Full Pay" Jacks or better machine offers returns as detailed in the chart to the right, known as the 9/6 chart. As stated, this is because a Full House will payout 9x the initial wager, and a Flush will payout 6x, giving a 9/6 Full House to Flush payout ratio. Use our chart to determine if the machine you'll be playing on is offering you the correct odds for play. The 9/6 payout schedule is the basis for our strategy guide and is the only machine you should play. Even a 9/5 is significantly inferior.

      Numerous charts have been constructed for the game, from super-advanced versions down to the bare-bones basic variety, with most having the effect of confusing the prospective player more than helping them. Multiple if-then situations and chart entries caused many players to incorrectly assume that the optimal strategy of the game was beyond their reach. The ChessandPoker.com Jacks or Better strategy guide, however, was developed to break down these advanced concepts and package them into a more manageable system, while retaining the strength and accuracy of the more complicated presentations. We've refined the starting hands into easily identifiable segments, reducing the time and brain-power exhausted by the player. The chart to follow details the correct strategy for all plays, and should be used on a 9/6 machine playing MAXIMUM CREDITS at all times.

Video Poker Strategy : The Six Primary Starting Hands

      The Jacks or Better strategy guide is based on identifying the card combinations in your initial hand that will offer the best chance at ending up with the highest paying combination of cards after the redraw. The hands are listed from the strongest hand (A) to the weakest (F) at the bottom. They consist of all hands pairs or higher, along with non-pair hands classified by the number of Pay cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces) contained in the hand. The draws below each bold entry are also listed top-down in importance, with #1 being the preferred option and so on. It's important to note that ANY draw listed below a primary lettered option should be kept instead of that option.

A. Two Pair or Better

  1. Four Royal Flush Cards

B. Pay Pair (JJ, QQ, KK, AA)

  1. Four Royal Flush Cards
  2. Four Straight Flush Cards

C. Non-Pay Pair (22 through TT)

  1. Any Four Flush Cards
  2. Three Royal Flush Cards

D. Lowest Two Pay Cards
(with two suited preferred)

  1. Any Four Flush Cards
  2. Three Royal Flush Cards
  3. Open-Ended Straight Draw
  4. Three Straight Flush Cards

E. Only One Pay Card

  1. Any Four Flush Cards
  2. Open-Ended Straight Draw
  3. Three Straight Flush Cards
  4. Ten-Paint suited

F. No Pay Cards, DISCARD ALL

  1. Any Four Flush Cards
  2. Open-Ended Straight Draw
  3. Three Straight Flush Cards

A. Two Pair or Better: The first thing you should look for when your hand is dealt is whether or not it already qualifies for a payout (pair of Jacks or better). If you are fortunate enough to discover a Poker hand of Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush or Royal Flush, you would reference the topmost entry "A. Two Pair or higher" to make your playing decision. You would hold these portions of your starting hand (or the entire hand if applicable) before redrawing, unless you also held the draw listed below the main bold entry (four cards to a Royal Flush). The draws, which are always held instead of the main entry above them, will be explained after the main categories are discussed.

B. Pay Pair: The next most favorable holding is the payout-qualifying listing "B. Pay Pair". Pay Pairs are two Jacks, Queens, Kings or Aces. Of course, if your hand also contains another pair you would instead use the previous "A. Two Pair or Better" section above. Understandably, Pay Pairs may improve to an even more profitable payout after the redraw.

C. Non-Pay Pair: The third most favorable starting hands contain Non-Paying pairs. Non-Paying pairs are all pairs 2's through 10's that, while already paired, do not yet qualify for a payout since they rank below a pair of Jacks. Of course, should a player draw to an improved hand such as two-pair or three-of-a-kind, the hand will then qualify for a payout.

D. Lowest Two Pay Cards (suited preferred): Pay cards are any Jack, Queen, King or Ace. They are termed as such because pairing, or otherwise improving your hand with, any of these cards will result in a payout. Pay Card hands occur when you hold two or more Pay cards that are not already paired. Of course, you would also not have any other pair or better combination in the hand. Otherwise you'd refer to the previous chart entries described above. Hands like K-J-8-6-2 would be an example of a Pay Card hand. You hold two Pay cards, the King and the Jack, and neither are paired.

      When you have two or more Pay Cards, the chart advises to keep the lowest two of the bunch. Furthermore, it recommends that the lowest two suited Pay Cards are preferred over the lowest two unsuited Pay Cards. Suited Pays are Pay cards that share the same suit, such as two Spades or two Hearts. Suited Pays rank higher than unsuited Pays since they have a better chance of paying off with their increased flush potential. If you do not have two suited Pay Cards, you'll want to keep the lowest two unsuited Pays instead. The only issue you'll have to remember is when you have a mixture of suited and unsuited Pays. With the hand Ks-Qh-Js-7h-3h, you would keep the King and Jack combo since they are the lowest two suited Pays. Even though there is a lower unsuited Pay card combination (QJ), any two suited Pays will always be preferred to any two unsuited Pays.

E. and F. One Pay or No Pays: You'll often be dealt a hand that contains only one Pay Card. Sometimes, your hand will not contain any Pays. In the situation of only having one Pay Card, it's still the preferred option unless one of the draws listed below it is available. But whenever you have no Pays at all, you're advised to discard all cards and redraw to an entirely fresh new hand. Of course, if you have any of the draws listed below this entry you'd retain them instead of discarding all of your cards. Now that we've taken a look at the Pay Card and Pair or Better holdings, it's time to understand what each of the draws encompass so you'll know how to spot them quickly.

Video Poker Strategy : The Draws

      As we stated previously, all of the preceding hand portions are generally what you'll be holding hand-to-hand. However, under each listing there are (several) draws that are to be kept instead of the headline recommendation. Once the primary Pair+ or Pay card combinations have been identified and referenced appropriately, the hand must further be scanned for any of the overriding draws listed immediately below them. If a player holds ANY of the specific draws, listed top-down in order from the best (#1) to the worst, they must keep the draw instead. Any of the draws listed below the global headers are more powerful for that specific holding and are mathematically more likely to result in a payout. Here's a rundown of each type of draw you'll encounter in Jacks or Better Video Poker:

Four Royal Flush Cards: A Four-card Royal Flush draw is the combination of any of the four cards necessary to make a Royal Flush. A Royal Flush is the best hand you can make in the game, receiving the highest payout available, and occurs whenever you make the sequence A-K-Q-J-T (the highest straight) that is also a flush (all cards are the same suit). An example would be AsuitKsuitQsuitJsuitTsuit. So if you are dealt any four cards that can form a part of a Royal Flush, such as a TsuitQsuitKsuitAsuit, then you have a Four-card Royal Flush draw. Note that it doesn't matter if they are in exact sequence at the moment. They must only be four cards Ten or above that are all flush with each other, needing only one final card to complete the Royal Flush.

Four Straight Flush Cards: Similar to the Four-card Royal Flush draw above, a Four-card Straight Flush follows the same criteria with the only exception being that the flush cards involved do not have to be a part of the absolute highest straight. A standard Straight Flush is still a premium hand, but is considered a step-below the Royal Flush on the payout scale. An example of a made standard Straight Flush would be 4suit5suit6suit7suit8suit. If the hand contained four of the cards need to make this Straight Flush you would have a Four-card Straight Flush draw.

Any Four Flush Cards: A much more common flush draw is the regular four card flush draw, which only requires that ANY four cards in your hand are flush with each other. The four flush cards don't have to be straight (if they were, you'd be focusing on the straight flush explanation). This type of four-card flush draw will be encountered with a higher frequency than any of the more stringent flush draws previously discussed.

Three Royal Flush or Straight Flush Cards: The three-card Royal or Straight Flush draw falls under the same criteria as the four-card versions above except of course that they only involve three of the necessary cards for potentially making a straight flush. A clear example of a 3-card Straight Flush would be a hand portion of 3suit4suit5suit. However, sometimes a three-card straight flush draw will contain holes (sometimes called gaps). The holding of 6suit9suitTsuit is a three-card straight flush draw with two gaps, the 7suit and 8suit that would complete the straight flush. In fact, any three suited cards that need only two cards to fill up for either a straight or flush, even if they are widely spaced out such as 2suit4suit6suit, would qualify as a three-card straight flush draw.

Open-Ended Straight Draws: An open-ended straight draw (OES) occurs when you have four cards in sequence that can make a straight at either end. Examples of this sort of holding would be 4-5-6-7 or 6-7-8-9 where all of the cards are not flush with each other (regardless of whether or not a few are indeed suited). With a hand of 4-5-6-7 either a 3 (which would make a 3-4-5-6-7 straight) or an 8 (a 4-5-6-7-8 straight) would net the player a nice payout. Keep in mind that an OES doesn't include gutshot (one card) straight draws. A gutshot straight draw would look like 4-5-7-8 where the four cards are not in exact sequence with one another and only one card, the 6, can complete the dry (unsuited) straight instead of two cards as with a true open-ended straight draw.

Ten-Paint Suited: A two-card suited combination of TJ, TQ or TK is known as Ten-Paint suited. This hand combination is only of value when a player has just one Pay card in their hand and none of the other stronger portions. Typically, we're only advised to hold two Pay cards and the Ten does not qualify as a Pay card under any circumstances. However, in this specific situation holding the Pay card with the suited Ten gives the player a mathematically better chance at a payout than simply holding the Pay itself. Of course, if any of the higher draws listed were present they would be held instead.

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