Jacks or Better Video Poker

Jacks or Better is the original video poker game, and it remains the favourite video poker machine for most gamblers. This is the default game, the classic version, and the beginners’ entryway into the world of video poker.

How Jacks or Better Works

Jacks or Better video poker works on the principle of 5-card draw poker. Most people learned poker by playing five-card draw around their kitchen table with friends and family, so it’s no surprise that most video poker machines use the mechanics of 5-card draw.

When the game (or spin) starts, the video poker machine deals you five cards from a standard 52-card deck. You have the option to keep some, all, or none of the cards, redrawing those which you’ve discarded. In asking for more cards, you’re getting rid of those card ranks that have little chance of improving your hand, while you keep those with the highest likelihood of giving you a big combination.

Video Poker Jacks or Better

Video Poker Jacks or Better


You’re dealt one replacement set of cards, at which the hand is over, and you have to reveal your cards (after making the appropriate bets). The game is a little different in video poker. You don’t have an opponent. You don’t even have a dealer opponent. Instead, you are playing against a pay table, trying to build a winning hand that either wins or loses.

The paytable has an ascending set of payouts for all the many hands of poker you’ve come to know. Since the lowest hand possible that pays is a pair of Jacks, the name of the game is “Jacks or Better video poker”.

Jacks or Better Strategy

Jacks or Better strategy is more intricate than you would imagine. For those entirely new to video poker, I’ll point out that video poker is not like slots–you have a real chance to improve your odds with a good strategy. Any rational person (not trying to sell books or e-books) can see that slot machines offer no real strategy options. You make decisions in video poker, which means you can improve or hurt your chances of winning depending on those decisions.

One more distinction between the slots and video poker machines is that slots have terrible odds for the player, where video poker machines offer some of the best odds in the casino, comparable to what you’ll get on blackjack. That last statement only applies if you’re smart, though.

To win at Jacks or Better, you have to study perfect strategy and what you do with any given hand. As smart men like Dan Paymar have pointed out, though players who play perfect have a positive expectation on certain video poker machines, most, if not all, human beings can’t play perfectly. So you learn the strategies and try to accomplish optimal play. Luckily, you’ll find dozens of books, websites, and columns to help you achieve that.

Jacks or Better Tips

One key strategy is to find the machines which offer the best odds. You won’t see just one version of Jacks or Better. With all the electronics in casinos these days, casinos can tweak the payouts on a video poker machine (from day-to-day, not minute-to-minute or hand-to-hand). So you’ll find machines that offer different payoffs on a full house or a flush. Those with the best odds are called “full pay” video poker machines. Every video poker game has them, and so does Jacks or Better video poker.

9/6 Jacks or Better Video Poker

The best Jacks or Better video poker machine you can hope to find these days are the 9/6 Jacks or Better games. At one time, you could find 10/6 Jacks or Better, but you’d probably need a time machine to find those these days. I’ll show you a chart for the 9/6 video poker machine here in a minute, which should help you see why games use number designations.

The 9/6 designation refers to the payouts you’ll get when you hit on a full house or a flush. You get 9-to-1 odds on a full house and 6-to-1 odds on a flush–thus 9/6 Jacks or Better. The chart below assumes you’re betting five coins. I’ll discuss why below the chart.

HandPays outx original bet
Royal flush4000 coins800x
Straight flush250 coins50x
Four of a kind125 coins25x
Full house45 coins9x
Flush30 coins6x
Straight20 coins4x
Three of a kind15 coins3x
Two pair10 coins2x
A pair of jacks or better5 coins1x

The pay rate is the same for all hands from the Straight Flush down, no matter what denomination your use. That is, if you bet one coin or 5 coins, you’ll get the same pay rate on a Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, and so on. That is not the case with the Royal Flush. Let’s take a close look.

When you bet one coin, and you hit the Royal Flush on 9/6 Jacks or Better, you get 250 coins. When you bet two coins, three coins, and four coins, you get 500 coins, 750 coins, and 1000 coins, respectively. But when you bet five coins, you are paid back 4000 coins, four times the other pay rate, on Jacks or Better. Always bet the 5-coin bet or “Max Bet” on Jacks or Better, or you’ll end up kicking yourself when you hit the straight flush.

If you can’t afford to place 5-coin bets on the video poker machine you’re at, find the same game at a lower bet size or switch to a smaller bet on the machine you’re using. But always bet five coins.

Jacks or Better Payouts

You won’t always find the 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker, but it pays to walk the casino floor looking for them (looking at the payout charts, paying attention to the full house and flush). To see why let’s compare the payouts and expectation for each version of Jacks or Better.

If you play 9/6 Jacks or Better, the house advantage is only 0.46%. Your expectation is 99.54%, which is an excellent betting proposition. But if you play on another machine you’re likely to find, the 8/5 Jacks or Better, the house edge balloons to 2.7%. Play on a 7/5 machine and the house’s advantage moves to 3.85%. And if you play on the awful 6/5 Jacks or Better machine, the house edge jumps all the way to 5%. It pays to find the 9/6 machine if it’s in the house.

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