Jacks or Better Video Poker
Within the realm of video poker, Jacks or Better casinos offer a game akin to seven card stud for traditional poker players, setting the standard from which most other video poker games have emerged.
For more than 35 years now, Jacks or Better casinos have been a staple of the gaming world, standing alongside slot machines and blackjack tables as the most commonly enjoyed industry offerings. The vast majority of casual casino goers invariably imagine Jacks or Better when video poker is mentioned.
This page is intended as an introduction to all things Jacks or Better, beginning with the game’s historical origins. Those unfamiliar with the concept can brush up on the basic rules and game-play information. Crucial differences between common pay tables are also covered, along with the impact that these differences exert on a player’s bottom line. Finally, we’ll explore advice on proper play and basic strategy at Jacks or Better casinos, providing the foundation for sound decision-making over the long run.
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How to Play Jacks or Better
To start a video poker session at a Jacks or Better casino, players begin by depositing funds, either in the form of cash, coin, or casino credit voucher ticket.
When playing live in a brick and mortar casino, you’ll typically be playing machines with a coin denomination beginning with $0.25, but the stakes can rise to $1, $5.00, and beyond in the high stakes area of the gaming floor. Conversely, low rollers can occasionally find machines offering play at a $0.05 price point, but most video poker players begin at the quarter level.
Online Jacks or Better casinos are more flexible with their settings, so online video poker players can usually locate games with coin denominations of all sizes, with some sites even allowing for customizable stakes.
After loading the machine with your desired bankroll (for the sake of this discussion, we’ll be using a $100 bankroll on a $1 machine to simplify the math), the next step is to select your wager amount. In an online setting, this involves making a casino deposit on your account.
Browse the games list of the Jacks or Better casino to find the game. The game screen will display a table in the top half, directly above the area where the cards are placed. This table consists of hand descriptors (such as two pair and straight), along with corresponding numbers arranged into five columns. Detailed information about these pay tables can be found in the sections below, but for now, simply think of these columns as representing additional coins that you’ll be wagering.
The game will always begin with the leftmost column selected. However, by using either the touch screen or buttons, you can select any of the other columns, increasing your wager incrementally as you do so. Using our example, you can elect to wager $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5.
As you’ll see in later sections about pay tables, selecting the right-most column, or the maximum wager, is always the optimal play at Jacks or Better casinos. So, we’ll click over to the right most column and lock in a wager amount of $5 per hand. At any point in the game, though, players can simply adjust their wager amount by toggling through the pay table columns, so you’re never bound to bet more than you’d like at any given moment.
Once the wager amount has been selected, the game begins when you press the “DEAL” button. Five randomized cards will be distributed from a standard 52 card deck of playing cards. From there, the player’s task is to assess the relative strength of their five-card combination, before selecting which cards to hold and which cards to discard.
You may decide to hold all five cards when a pat hand has been dealt, discard all five when you have nothing to work with, or choose any combination in between. After you select the cards you’d like to hold, the discarded cards will disappear and replacements will be issued. With your final five-card hand now completed, the game will distribute payouts based on the strength of your holding.
Jacks or Better Casino Hands
Jacks or Better video poker relies on the standard hand hierarchy used predominately in basic poker. As the title of the game suggests, you’ll need to make at least one pair, with that pair representing jacks or better, in order to earn a payout. For players unfamiliar with poker hand rankings, see the chart below for a full list of video poker hands in descending order of strength:
10 J Q K A, all in the same suit.
Any five card straight that are all in the same suit.
Four of a Kind
Four cards of the same rank.
Three of a Kind AND One Pair.
Any five cards all in the same suit.
Any string of five consecutive cards.
Three of a Kind
Three cards of the same rank.
Two different sets of two cards of the same rank.
One set of two cards of the same rank.
Jacks or Better Casinos Pay Table
One of the most important aspects of Jacks or Better video poker concerns the various pay tables available at the best online casinos. To begin, we’ll discuss the most favorable pay table in the industry, which is known as a “9 / 6” or “full pay” game.
Take a look at the pay table below to determine the payouts for each of the hand rankings listed above:
|Full Pay 9 / 6|
|1 Coin||2 Coins||3 Coins||4 Coins||5 Coins|
|Four of a Kind||25||50||75||100||125|
|Three of a Kind||3||6||9||12||15|
|Jacks or Better||1||2||3||4||5|
Returning to our $1 machine example, let’s imagine we’ve begun the game with a $100 bankroll and wagered the minimum of $1 per hand. On the first deal in Jacks or Better casinos, our credits drop from $100 to $99, but a five card straight hits the screen right off the bat. After holding all five cards and keeping the pat hand, we earn a 4 to 1 payout on our original wager or a $4 payout to bring our credits back to $103.
Winning Hand Payouts
The payouts are aligned as multiples across the pay table, so even by betting the maximum of $5, making a straight is still good for a 4 to 1 payout.Things get more interesting when we reach the stronger hands, as the payout jumps to:
- 6 credits for a flush
- 9 credits for a full house
- 25 credits for four of a kind
- 50 credits for a straight flush.
The odds against making these stronger hands are longer of course, which is why the payouts jump so significantly as we climb the pay table.
Finally, the crown jewel in Jacks or Better casinos, the royal flush, returns a payout of 250 credits at the minimum coin denomination level. The royal flush payout increases incrementally, just like the other hands, across the pay table until the maximum wager is reached. As you can see, the max bet payout for a royal flush should be 1,250 credits according to the established pattern of incremental increases, but instead, it balloons to a whopping 4,000 credits.
Max Bet Offers Greater Reward
Seeing as how the odds against drawing to a royal flush are always the same (40,390 to 1), no matter what coin denomination you select, the fact that the max bet payout for this hand is so much higher than it “should” be, makes betting big the optimal play in Jacks or Better casinos at all times.
Another clear reason to bet the maximum amount is illustrated by the bottom row of the 9 / 6 pay table, which lists the expected return percentage. To clarify, this percentage is contingent on playing the game according to optimal video poker strategy, but fortunately, a primer on the proper play has been compiled in the next section for your review.
Another way to interpret this crucial number in Jacks or Better casinos, is to imagine wagering $100 an infinite amount of times. As you can see, by betting the minimum amount (or any amount other than the maximum) your expected return would be 98.37 percent, so in other words, you’d wind up with $98.37 over the long run. However, by simply upping the ante to the maximum wager, your expected return increases to 99.54 percent or $99.54 for every $100 risked.
House Edge Explained
For players accustomed to the house edge construct, all you need to do in order to understand the numbers above is subtract the expected return percentage from 100 to arrive at the house edge. So for non-maximum wagers in Jacks or Better casinos, the house edge stands at 1.63 percent (100 – 98.37 = 1.63), which is still quite favorable when compared to chance based casino games like roulette and keno. On the other hand, the house edge against you drops all the way to 0.46 percent (100 – 99.54 = 0.46) when betting the maximum, clearly making this the most profitable play over the long run.
Alternate Pay Tables to Consider
You’ve now learned the ins and outs of the 9 / 6 full pay table in Jacks or Better casinos. However, casinos are notorious for complicating matters, especially when it affects their precious bottom line. By making slight adjustments to the standard 9 / 6 pay table, real money online casinos discovered that they could shave significant percentage points off the player’s expected return, padding their own house edge in the process.
Making matters even more difficult, Jacks or Better casinos realized that by keeping most of the payouts within a given table the same, and altering only two numbers, most casual players would never even notice the increased odds against them. The two hands and corresponding payouts to pay attention to are the full house and the flush, which pay out 9 and 6 credits respectively to give the 9 / 6 full table game its name. Some machines only pay out 5 credits for a flush and maintain the 9 credit payout for full houses, while others pay 8 credits for a full house and preserve the 6 credit payout for flushes. These slight tweaks to the pay table may not seem all that important at first glance, but in each instance, revising the 9 / 6 pay table increases the casino’s house edge and reduces the player’s expected return.
Below you’ll find a grid listing the most commonly used alternative pay tables in Jacks or Better casinos. As you can see, the # / # heading at the top of each column represents the payouts for a full house and a flush, and payout information is based on a maximum coin denomination wager.
|Alternate Pay Table|
|9 / 5||8 / 6||8 / 5||7 / 5||6 / 5|
|Four of a Kind||25||25||25||25||25|
|Three of a Kind||3||3||3||3||3|
|Jacks or Better||1||1||1||1||1|
Differences Between the Pay Tables
- 9 / 5Beginning with the common 9 / 5 pay table, the only payout being adjusted is for a flush, which now pays out 5 credits rather than 6. But this seemingly inconsequential alteration reduces the player’s expected return from 99.54 percent to 98.44 percent. When speaking in terms of statistical probability, this reduction of 1.1 percent becomes extremely significant over the long run.
- 8 / 6Moving to the right on the grid, the 8 / 6 pay table works in the casino’s favor, even more, reducing the player’s expected return by a fraction to 98.39 percent. In other words, by playing Jacks or Better using an 8 / 6 pay table rather than the 9 / 6 full pay scheme, the house edge against you instantly grows from 0.46 percent to 1.61 percent.
- 8 / 5
7 / 5
6 / 5Other pay tables you can expect to encounter during your next trip to the casino include the 8 / 5, 7 / 5, and 6 / 5 games, each of which decreases your expected return by an order of magnitude. For players unfamiliar with the intricacies of video poker, walking past a 9 / 6 machine and sitting down to play 6 / 5 Jacks or Better results in a severe reduction of your expected return, plummeting from 99.54 percent to 94.99 percent.
Before moving on to basic strategy for Jacks or Better, keep in mind that most productive strategic consideration of all is simply to play 9 / 6 full pay machines only. By limiting your action to the most favorable machines on the menu, you’ll instantly pad your expected return before ever playing a hand. Uninformed players who don’t take the time to check a machine’s pay table invariably lose more money over time than their savvier counterparts.
Under the same principle, if you can’t find a 9 / 6 Jacks or Better casino, play 9 / 5 machines before the 8 / 6 variety, and avoid all other pay tables without exception.
Jacks or Better Strategy
Like online blackjack and other skill based games which require players to make decisions, online video poker can be broken down mathematically to arrive at the optimal play for any given scenario.
Fortunately for players who are averse to memorization or mentally calculation, most of the decisions you’ll face in Jacks or Better casinos are simple and straightforward. When you’re dealt a pat five card hand – that is, a hand which is already made and will result in a payout – you’ll almost always be holding onto those cards and collecting the sure profit. On the other hand, when you have a slew of low, unconnected cards in front of you, drawing a new five card hand is only natural.
Making the Right Decisions
However, many situations exist which are much more marginal in terms of assessing the correct decision. For example, consider the common video poker conundrum posed by the following deal: Ad 9d 6d 3d 6c.
You hold two possibilities at the moment, with a small pair of 6s already made, along with four out of the five diamonds you need to form a flush.
- Some players hold onto the small pair in this spot, discarding the other three cards and hoping to land a third 6 for three of a kind.
- Others will always elect to hold the four flush and draw a single card, looking to spike the fifth diamond and make their flush.
While both options appear to be palatable, mathematical analysis has demonstrated that the most profitable play in this scenario is to draw for the flush. Again echoing the game of blackjack, knowing how to navigate these close edges successfully in Jacks or Better casinos is what separates the losing and break-even players from those who are capable of consistently generating profits.
Player Optimal Decision Table
The chart below can be used as a handy guide, similar to blackjack’s basic strategy chart, to help players determine the optimal play when faced with a tough decision which involves two or more possible hands or draws. In order to read the chart, players first assess the hands or draws they hold given the five card combination on the screen. From there, you’ll always want to select the option which is listed highest on the chart.
|RANK||PRE-DRAW HANDS||OPTIMAL DECISION|
|1.||Four of a Kind, Straight Flush, Royal Flush||Hold pat hand|
|2.||Four cards to a Royal Flush||Draw one card|
|3.||Three of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House||Hold pat hand|
|4.||Four cards to a Straight Flush||Draw one card|
|5.||Two Pair||Draw one card|
|6.||One high Pair (Jacks or Better)||Draw three cards|
|7.||Three cards to a Royal Flush||Draw two cards|
|8.||Four cards to a Flush||Draw one card|
|9.||One low Pair (Tens or lower)||Draw three cards|
|10.||Four cards to open ended Straight||Draw one card|
|11.||Two suited high cards (Jacks or Better)||Draw three cards|
|12.||Three cards to a Straight Flush||Draw two cards|
|13.||Two unsuited high cards*||Draw three cards|
|*With three unsuited high cards, hold lowest two.|
|14.||Suited J 10, Q 10, or K 10||Draw three cards|
|15.||One high card||Draw four cards|
|16.||Five unconnected low cards||Draw five cards|
When holding both a low pair and four cards to a flush, the chart shows the four flush ranked in the 8th position, just ahead of a single low pair. By picking the highest hand on the chart, in this case, the four flush, you’ll always be putting yourself on the right side of probability over the long run.
Specific Examples of Using the Strategy Table
- Among other interesting revelations from the chart, take note of the fact that two suited high cards (12th position) actually constitutes a better hand than three cards to a straight flush. When you hold a hand like Qh Jh 9h 3d 2s, it may seem tempting to go for the gusto, attempting to draw two perfect cards from the deck while shooting for a 50 credit payout, but in reality, the better play is to hold the Qh and Jh only. In Jacks or Better casinos you have a far better chance of making one pair drawing three cards than you do a straight flush when drawing two cards, and over the long run making the more conservative play will save you substantial sums.
- Another aspect of the chart to take note of concerns the 13th position, which covers instances when you hold unsuited high cards. With a hand like A Q J 7 2, for example, the majority of players relying on gut instinct will hold the A and the Q, falling back on the habit of holding the highest cards in their hand. But as the chart instructs, the optimal play in this scenario is to hold the two lowest high cards, which are the Q and the J in this hand.The reasoning behind this distinction is deceptively simple. The payouts for one pair and two pair hands don’t change when you hold aces rather than jacks, so shooting for high cards is irrelevant. But pair based hands aren’t the only possibilities when drawing in Jacks or Better, and you’ll sometimes be lucky enough to draw perfectly and make a straight.With the A and the Q held, the possibilities for drawing to a straight are simple to deduce: you need a K, a J, and a 10 to make the hand. When you hold the Q and the J, however, your arsenal of outs expands. You can now make a straight by catching the following combinations: A K 10, K 10 9, or 10 9 8.
Making this simple adjustment gives you triple the chance of making a straight under this scenario, and insights such as this are why consulting the basic strategy chart for Jacks or Better video poker is always a useful exercise.
History of Jacks or Better
Any historical account of a video poker variant must begin with William “Si” Redd, the innovative slot machine and casino equipment distributor who went on to found Si Redd Coin Machines (SIRCOMA) in 1975. For a full rundown of Redd’s crucial contributions to the industry, and the evolution of video poker from concept to creation, check out our video poker books page.
By 1979, Redd’s fledgling casino game manufacturing company released “Draw Poker,” the first video poker game ever devised, by fusing elements of traditional slot machine design with poker game-play and video technology. The original Draw Poker game simulated the common poker variant of five-card draw, presenting basic playing card graphics and animations within a standard slot machine cabinet equipped with a television screen.
The game was simple enough, with players depositing coins for credits, receiving a five card poker hand, and deciding which cards to hold while discarding the others. Following a single draw, the strength of the player’s final five card hand was then assessed, and payouts were awarded according to an escalating pay table.
Video Poker Became Popular
Initially, SIRCOMA’s Draw Poker game attracted little notice from casino visitors, but in just a few years’ time players began to appreciate the appeal of video poker. As a skill based game, one in which player decisions directly affect the outcome, video poker proved to be more challenging and mentally stimulating than “mindless” sessions on a slot machine. Poker players gravitated toward the modernized version of their favorite game while slot fans tentatively began exploring a new machine-based offering.
By 1981, video poker had become one of the most popular options on every casino floor, but it was the introduction of a simple gameplay adjustment took Redd’s idea to the next level.
When playing “Draw Poker,” players needed to meet a minimum threshold of two pairs or better in order to earn a payout. Of course, this resulted in extended runs of losing hands, decreasing the overall enjoyment for players. Redd and his SIRCOMA team decided to revise their payout scheme, setting a new minimum hand strength of one pair of jacks or better.
Jacks or Better Casinos Choice
The new “Jacks or Better” model for video poker proved to be an immediate hit with players and casino managers alike. Needing only a single pair to earn a minimum payout, players were able to extend their sessions by virtue of small wins while casino operators relished the increased foot traffic and spillover to other games created by the video poker craze.
Throughout the 1980’s and beyond, the now ubiquitous bank of Jacks or Better video poker machines became one of the most frequented destinations found in casinos all over the world. The game has also been successfully transitioned to the world of online gaming, and today Jacks or Better casinos are as popular as ever.
For more information on the history of video poker, check out the Wikipedia page.