IS JACKS OR BETTER THE BEST VIDEO POKER VARIANT?

When I was first ‘learning the ropes’ as a casino gambler I was frequently told that the only video poker machines worth playing were full pay Jacks or Better (JoB) machines. Keep in mind that this was in the early to mid-1980’s so the variety of games you’ll find in the modern casino just wasn’t there. Still, it wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.

So where did this misunderstanding begin? My guess is that in the pre-Internet era it wasn’t practical for ‘sharp‘ players to communicate with one another, let alone disseminate information to recreational and beginning players. Throw in the fundamental mistrust of a casino’s motives and it’s understandable where the perception that anything ‘new‘ is bad for the player came about. Players mistrusted video slot machines when they first appeared for the same reason and now they’re ubiquitous. For some reason, there was an assumption that the mechanical slot machines were ‘fair‘ and the video machines were ‘rigged‘. A similar misconception greeted Deuces Wild, Jokers Wild and other video poker variations at first—the old standby Jacks or Better were ‘fair‘ while the newer versions weren’t.

Some players took this to an extreme. In the 1990’s, many casinos in downtown Las Vegas were slow to replace old machines with newer units. Other properties did it piecemeal so you’d find a bank of faded old machines with runny video displays across from new, crystal clear CRT terminals. For a long time, the older machines were always in higher demand due to the perception that the newer machines were somehow less advantageous to the player. A similar dynamic existed when casinos started to phase out ‘coin in‘ machines for printed payout tickets. I never really understood this logic but there were plenty of ‘old timers’ that would swear that you couldn’t beat the ‘ticket payout‘ machines.

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The reality is that casinos have always had the best of it and will always have the best of it. In most jurisdictions, the games are fair and completely random. This applies to a faded, vintage 1970’s machine or a brand new unit right off the truck. Gambling is a huge business—it makes no sense for a company to risk devastating negative publicity and possibly the loss of their gambling license just to scrap a bit more money out of players that they already have a mathematical edge over.

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As it relates to Jacks or Better versus other video poker variations it just isn’t true that JoB is the ‘best‘ game. In fact, it offers lower payback with perfect play than full pay Deuces Wild and a number of other games. One advantage it does offer over most of the other video poker variations is less volatility. But that’s going to happen when you introduce wild cards into the mix. A tangentially related factor is that becoming an expert in Jacks or Better strategy is easier than other video poker variations due to a lower degree of complexity. This doesn’t make it better, however, just easier for a newcomer to assimilate. That’s why it’s the game that beginners usually start with—manageable volatility and a fairly straightforward strategy.

In the next section, we’ll start learning about Deuces Wild. Full pay Deuces Wild is among the best bets at any casino and with perfect play can return over 100%. All Deuces Wild (DW) games aren’t created equal, however, and one of the things we’ll cover is how to select a game. Off the top of my head, I can think of over a dozen variations on Deuces Wild with some being significantly better bets than others. The strategy is also somewhat counterintuitive compared to the ‘Jacks or Better‘ strategy we’ve already discussed. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have a firm grasp on JoB before you try to add Deuces Wild to your gaming ‘portfolio‘.

The bottom line is that there are some newer, unorthodox games that are much better bets than time-honored classics like Jacks or Better. That’s why it’s so important to understand as much as you can about the machines you’re playing and the strategies necessary to profit over the long term.