UNDERSTANDING VIDEO POKER PAY TABLES

Read any serious discussion of video poker theory and tactics and you’ll quickly come upon the term ‘pay tables’. Understanding what pay tables represent and how to compare one to another is an essential component of success at video poker. It’s also one of the primary advantages that a video poker player has over a slot machine player. There’s no accurate way of determining a slot machine’s payback percentage but by using video poker pay tables you can figure out hold percentage, return on investment, expected value and much more.

ONLINE VS. LAND BASED VIDEO POKER

As far as video poker pay table variations and strategy is concerned there’s no difference between playing the game online and playing at a land based casino. In fact, depending on where you live you might have an easier time finding a ‘player friendly’ rule set and pay table online than at nearby land based casinos. If you want to be successful in the long term at video poker you need to understand pay tables. Where you pay—at land based casinos or online—is completely irrelevant.

THE BASICS OF PAY TABLES

The definition of ‘pay table’ as it relates to video poker is fairly obvious: it’s the listing of the payouts for every coin and hand combination on a specific machine. You’ll find it on the back glass or screen of a video poker machine.

Now here’s where the fun begins—contrary to popular belief casinos can’t do anything to change the distribution of the cards. That’s the job of the random number generator—to simulate a shuffled deck of cards. It’s similar for a slot machine but the difference is that with video poker we have a finite number of possibilities. On a Jacks or Better machine we know there are 52 cards. These cards can combine to create 2,598,960 different hands. The casino can’t change these parameters. Furthermore, in Nevada and many other jurisdictions they’re prohibited by law from changing the odds that certain cards will be dealt.

What this means is that at a legitimate casino there’s only one way for ‘the house’ to change the payout odds of a video poker machine or to make it more ‘loose’ or ‘tight’–and that’s to change the pay table. There’s no magic switch they can flip, nothing that makes the machines run hot or cold, nor any of the other countless mythical ways that players think that casinos can manipulate payouts. The way that a casino can change the payout of a machine is by changing the pay table.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

At this point, you should be starting to realize the importance of understanding and comparing video poker pay tables. Professional video poker players all emphasize the importance of pay tables and selecting games with the proper payout level. Some go so far as to suggest that pay tables are THE single most important component of the game. A professional video poker player simply won’t play a game if the pay table indicates that the payout is too low. Neither should you. A serious player won’t touch anything offering less than 99% return but that might be a little ‘tight’ for a recreational player. Even so, there’s no reason to waste your money playing anything less than a 97% payout machine.

First, the bad news—every rule variation has a number of different pay tables. For every different video poker game you play you’ll need to evaluate and understand the payout percentage you’re looking for. The good news—there are many resources online that help you ‘do the math’ and evaluate which pay tables to play and which ones to avoid. Once you learn which pay tables are favorable it becomes a matter of just looking for them. There are also resources to help you with that covering both online casinos and land based casinos.

READING A PAY TABLE

To give you an example of what we’re looking for on video poker pay tables let’s take a look at a couple of Jacks or Better machines. Usually this type of machine will offer identical payouts for the lower hands and that won’t change from one pay table to another. So with 5 coins in the machine will return:

Jacks or Better 5 coins
Two Pair 10 coins
Three of a Kind 15 coins
Straight 20 coins

And while you main find different jackpot levels, most of the major hands will pay the same from one machine to another:

Four of a Kind 125 coins
Straight Flush 250 coins

The most common place for pay table adjustment is in the payout for a flush and full house. In fact, serious video poker players use the flush/full house payout points to refer to various pay tables—you’ll see tables referred to as 9/6 or 8/5.

For example, this is a 9/6 pay table.

96payout

and this is a very tight 6/5 pay table:

65payout

You might be thinking ‘but it’s just a couple of coins on a couple of hands—what difference does it make?’ It makes a HUGE difference. For example, with perfect strategy the 9/6 pay table machine has a 99.5% return. The 6/5 machine has a 95% return.

We’ll go in to some more advanced pay table comparison concepts when we discuss individual machine strategy.