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Video Poker Basic Strategy

S. Stoynova (editor) |

Improve Your Odds with Basic Video Poker Strategy

If you have been reading the articles in our guide methodically, by now, you have certainly learned the basics, including the rules, the betting structure, and the characteristics of common variations like Jacks or Better. It is now time to take your game to a higher level by mastering basic video poker strategy. Learning the correct strategy plays for your chosen video poker variant will enable you to further reduce the house edge, improve your odds, and become a consistent winner.

The strategy covered in this article is simple to memorize and deploy in a real casino environment. Its straightforwardness renders it suitable for novice players looking to take their video poker game to the next level. The strategy basically tells you which cards from your starting hand you should discard and which ones you should keep to improve your chances of earning a payout. This knowledge will enable you to beat the game and become a winning player in the long run.

Once you master basic strategy, you can build on it by learning the intermediate and advanced strategies outlined in this guide. With this in mind, we should warn you that this basic strategy is intended mostly for Jacks or Better and similar variations that use the same payout structure. Strategy adjustments will be necessary for variants with wild cards or bonus payouts for specific hands.

Basic Strategy Overview

Video Poker Basic Strategy

Basic strategy is commonly implemented by less experienced video poker players. It works well and has proven to be highly efficient and reliable. Its simplicity renders it the perfect fit for video poker novices. Basic strategy is now more accessible than ever as you will encounter it in chart format on numerous gambling-focused websites. In brief, this strategy shows players the optimal moves to make, depending on the composition of their starting hands. It uses basic rules and principles that make it easy to grasp. It is also worth mentioning that basic strategy charts vary, depending on which video poker variation they are intended for.

How the Basic Strategy Works

Royal Flush Video PokerThe most important decision a video poker player must make is which cards to hold and which ones to replace. Basic strategy serves as a guide since it suggests the optimal moves in every possible situation. Players always receive five cards on the initial draw regardless of what variation they have chosen. They then have the option to replace all five cards or none of them. These decisions can be difficult to make without basic strategy due to the huge number of possible five-card combinations in video poker. In fact, there are nearly 2.6 million possible five-card combinations you can form when using a single 52-card deck.

Unless players are dealt the strongest hand, the Royal Flush, they are always required to discard at least one card. This rule inevitably gives rise to the question which cards should you hold and which ones should you replace. This is where the basic strategy comes into play. Let’s elaborate by looking at some of the fundamentals players should remember.

Video Poker Basic Strategy
Players’ HandDraw
4 card RoyalAKQJ51
3 card RoyalAKQ272
2 card Royal (with a 10)10A5283
2 card Royal (without a 10)AK2783
4 card FlushA37951
1 high cardA52794
2 high cardsKQ2583
3 high cards (J,Q,K)AJ10272
Three of a KindKKK722
Any 4 card Straight Flush6789K1
Any 3 card Straight Flush89102A2
4 card Straight5678Q1
Two PairJJ33K1
Low Pair772853
High Pair (Jacks or Better)JJ2673
No valuable cards257895

First of all, there are certain cards or combinations of cards that players should always keep in their hand. One of the most important rules of basic strategy is to keep cards that could result in a winning combination after the second draw. In many video poker variations, you need a pair of Jacks or better to earn a payout, although paired tens will also do the trick in some games. High cards are usually kept because they return your original wager if they pair up. However, there are cases when replacing high cards could prove beneficial, for instance, when you are a single card away from a Royal Flush. In such cases, it is a good idea to discard the card that does not belong to the combination and go for at least a Flush. The odds are against players and in most cases, they will lose. However, the risk might be worth taking as they can earn a larger payout if lucky.

Secondly, players should hold high cards in most cases. Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Full House, Royal Flush, and Two Pair are among the card combinations that are always held. If players obtain Three of a Kind, they should replace the two remaining cards to try and improve to a Full House or Four of a Kind. If they are dealt a hand with no winning combinations whatsoever, it is best to keep the high card, if you have one, as this could potentially result in at least a high pair. Players should usually keep high cards because they have a 1/13 chance of getting a matching high card to form a low-paying winning combination. In some variations, however, it is better to hold a low pair instead of keeping a single high card.

Another thing that players should keep in mind is that replacing all cards in their initial hand is a last resort. The rule of thumb dictates that whenever players have a card that can lead to a winning combination, they should always keep it. For instance, three cards that can turn into a Straight, two sequential cards, or any cards of the same denomination or suit are always held.

Players should discard everything only on condition they have no valuable cards in their starting hand.

Video Poker Straight DrawLast but not least, whenever players have a card that could contribute to a Straight, they should keep it. This is because the payouts for this winning combination are higher. However, it is worth mentioning the odds of getting a Straight are not high enough and in some cases, it is best to keep a pair instead of going for the Straight. Also, players should break a Straight only if they have four cards to a Royal Flush.

Another important thing to take into account is the difference between outside (open-ended) and inside Straight draw. An outside Straight is “open-ended” because it consists of four consecutive cards and can be completed by a card on either end. For example, a hand that consists of 4, 5, 6, and 7 is an open-ended Straight because it can be completed by drawing either a 3 or an 8. Conversely, inside (gutshot) Straights contain four non-consecutive cards that require an “inside” card to complete the hand. For example, a hand consisting of 4, 5, 7, and 8 is considered an inside Straight because only one card denomination, the 6, can complete it. Outside Straights are easier to complete and are therefore worth keeping.


Basic strategy is the simplest strategy video poker players can master to improve their game. It increases your advantage and helps you win more in the long term. The strategy is fairly easy to memorize which makes it suitable for players across the board, regardless of their experience level. Nowadays, players can find video poker in most landbased and online casinos, which makes it extremely easy to practice and improve their strategy. Most online casinos also offer demo versions of their video poker games, allowing you to hone your skills without risking any real money.