If you have even a passing interest in gambling, you have undoubtedly played normal table poker. You know the names of the hands and their ranks. You have developed a certain intuition about what to draw and what to hold in draw poker. You will be happy to hear that, for the most part, this intuition will serve you well in video poker. There are a few exceptions, however, and we will cover them here.
The first thing you need to know is the best card in the deck is not the ace. (I am assuming a game without wild cards now.) The best card is the lowest card that will make a winning pair–a jack in the jacks-or-better game or a ten in the tens-or-better game. The reason is simply that the lower cards have more possible straights they can participate in. And, of course, a pair of aces pays no more than a pair of jacks. Failure to realize this leads to a very common error: many players know (or guess) that if they have an ace-high hand with two other high cards all of different suits, the best play is to save only two of the three cards. However, they then wrongly save the two highest cards. The best play is to save the two lowest cards. There is a greater chance of drawing a straight that way.
The old saying, “never draw to an inside straight,” can also mislead the video poker player. In deuces wild, you always draw to an inside straight in preference to drawing five cards. And in jacks-or-better, there are certain inside straight hands (three or more high cards) where drawing to an inside straight is often the best play Asian2Bet.
One other big difference from the table game is the importance of two- and three-card royal flushes, and three-card straight flushes. These hands are of no consequence in regular poker, but learning to recognize them and play them correctly is the key to expert video poker play. Unfortunately, the rules for playing them correctly cannot be summed up in a single sentence; the different hands differ significantly in value based on a lot of factors. I will explain my “gap method” for evaluating three-card straight flushes later, but value of the two-card royal flushes can be pretty much understood by just remembering the principle that aces are not particularly good cards. Thus, the ace-king is actually a pretty bad two-card royal flush. The lowly jack-ten is has many more straights (and, of course, straight flushes) it can be part of. However, unless you are playing one of those rare machines that pay on a pair of tens, the ten is a liability; you are better off with the queen-jack, where either card can pair up to make a winner. In jacks-or-better, the absolute worst two-card royal flush is an ace-ten. In fact, you never save it, except in those few machines with the 4700 (rather than 4000) coin royal flush jackpot, and then only when there is absolutely nothing else to save in your hand.
How important is it to play correctly? Most hands have only one obvious correct play. My calculations suggest that any person with a normal ability to recognize poker hands and normal table-poker intuition would not suffer by more than 1% over a person playing perfectly. Yet, if you read annual reports from the larger casinos and game manufacturers, you gain the impression that the machines return about 2% more than what they would if everyone played perfectly. It is certainly true that people play the machines with wild cards more poorly than those without. This is the only reason that wild card machines can be found that are actually in the player’s favor when played optimally.