Video Poker – How to play

Raise your hands if you think you know it. If you said “a slot machine is a game of luck and video poker is a game of skill” then you are correct! When you play a slot machine there is no decision you can make which will affect the outcome of the game. You put in your money; pull the handle; and hope for the best. In video poker, however, it is your skill in playing the cards which definitely affects the outcome of the game.

Okay, who knows the other major difference between video poker and slot machines? Well, you’re right again if you said “you never know what percentage a slot machine is set to pay back, but you can tell a video poker machine’s payback percentage just by looking at it.” Of course if you knew that answer then you also knew that video poker machines almost always offer you better returns than slot machines (provided you make the right playing decisions).

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Now for those of you who didn’t know the answers to those two questions, please read on. You others can skip the rest of this story as I am sure you’re eager to get back to your favorite video poker machine.

First, let’s cover the basics. Video poker has virtually the same rules as a game of five card draw poker. The only difference is that you have no opponent to beat and you can’t lose more than your initial bet. First, you deposit from one to five coins in the machine to make your bet. You are then shown five cards on the video screen and your goal is to try to make the best poker hand possible from those cards. Since it is a draw game, you are given one opportunity to improve your hand. This is done by allowing you to discard from one, up to all five cards from your original hand. Of course, you don’t have to discard any if you don’t want to. After choosing which cards you want to keep (by pushing the button below each card), you then push the deal button and the machine will replace all of the other cards with new cards. Based on the resulting final hand the machine will then pay you according to the pay schedule posted on the machine. Naturally, the better your hand, the higher the amount the machine will pay you back.

That’s pretty much how a video poker machine works from the outside, but what about the inside? Well, I had three specific questions about that so I contacted International Game Technology, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of video poker machines (as well as slot machines), to see if they could provide some answers. Here’s what they said:

 Are the cards dealt to you on a random basis?

IGT: Gaming regulations require that gaming devices must have random outcomes of game play results. In order to satisfy this requirement, games of all types use a random number generator (RNG) software algorithm to determine game outcome. While the game is in the idle state, i.e. waiting for someone to deposit a coin or push a play credit button, the RNG algorithm is called hundreds of times every second. The RNG has approximately 16,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible outcomes and, depending on the game type, there will be many billions of outcomes that map into any set of cards, or keno balls, or slot machine symbols. This ensures that all IGT games are completely random, just as if the cards were dealt from a perfectly shuffled deck.

When does the shuffling actually stop?

IGT: On all game types, when the start, deal or bet button is pushed, the randomly selected outcome is determined. This result is determined solely by the RNG and is not dependent on any factors of game play, such as how many coins are bet, or on what happened in the last game played or on how many seconds you wait before deciding what cards to draw.

Is there a draw card assigned to each dealt card?

IGT: No, IGT games operate as follows: the first five cards dealt are displayed and additional cards are taken from the top of the deck as needed. So, if you discard one card it doesn’t matter which card you discard, the draw card will be the same.

According to IGT’s first answer we know that all of the hands are generated randomly. Some people believe that the machine knows what cards it initially deals you and then it gives you bad draw cards so you won’t have a winning hand. This isn’t true. The deck is shuffled randomly and then all cards are dealt and drawn in order. By the way, the number with all the zeros is 16 quintillion. Don’t feel ignorant if you didn’t know it because neither did I. Of course, when our national debt gets that high, we’ll all be familiar with it!

One other point must be made here regarding random outcomes in video poker machines. Please notice that the above answer stated gaming regulations require that the machines must have random outcomes. You should be aware that there are casinos operating in places that do not have gaming regulations. Examples are cruise ships which operate in international waters and some Indian reservations that are not subject to state regulations. You should also be aware that the technology exists for machines to be set so they do not act randomly. These machines are actually programmed to avoid giving the players better hands and they wind up giving the house a much bigger advantage. These machines are illegal in Nevada, New Jersey, Colorado and all other states that pattern their gaming regulations after those states. You may, however, come across them in unregulated casinos.

With the second answer we know that the RNG stops when you deposit the first coin, or when you push the bet or deal button. This means that the results will be the same whether we deposit one coin or the maximum coins. Some people think that the outcome will be different depending on how many coins are deposited. This is not true. If you put in one coin and get a royal flush, you would have gotten that same royal flush if you had put in five coins.