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How to Play Jacks or Better Video Poker

Jacks or better has been around from almost the beginning of video poker. Even though hundreds of other variations have been introduced, jacks or better continues to be among the most popular game variations in both traditional as well as online casinos.

The games popularity is well deserved. The returns are high compared to other varieties of video poker. It also has a low variance. The pay table has only nine lines meaning there are only nine different possible paying hands. This makes the playing strategy fairly straightforward. Combine all the attributes and you have the basis for a very popular casino game.

When video poker was initially introduced, each of the different video poker games was a very decent-paying game. They were often very near or even over 100 percent return. As the games became more popular, casinos wanted to get more money from the games so the pay tables were slowly degraded. The initial high paying versions of a video poker game became known as “full-pay” games.

With this in mind, let’s look at the jacks or better full-pay game.

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Full-pay Jacks or Better

First a note to new video poker players. You must play the maximum of five credits per hand in order to get the 800 for one return for a royal flush rather than the 250 for one return when playing less than five credits. Because of this, the pay table show only the five-credit column.

Full-pay jacks or better games are still quite common in downtown Las Vegas or other local’s casinos. This game can also be found in most other gaming jurisdictions at moderate to low end casinos as well as most online casinos. This full-pay game is also commonly available in higher end casinos in the high limit area and possibly even on the main casino floor.

Many video poker game’s titles include two or three numbers following the game description. They identify lines from the game’s one-credit column of the pay table. For jacks or better games, the only two pays that are usually changed are those for the full house and the flush. The full-pay game pays 9-for-1 for a full house and 6-for-1 for a flush.

The full-pay (9/6) version of jacks or better has the following pay table:

Video poker paytable

As the header information shows, the return for this game is 99.54 percent. This means that for every 100 dollars played, $99.54 will be returned to the player. The house edge for this game is only 46 cents per 100 dollars played.

Keep in mind that this return is the average return. There will be periods where the return will be lower and other periods will the return will be higher. But with more and more play, the return will be closer and closer to 99.54 percent.

Also, keep in mind that this average return is accomplished only by playing the “perfect” strategy. Perfect means that for each initial hand dealt, those cards that give the highest average return are held.

The jacks or better game has only one jackpot-sized pay – the royal flush. Most of the total return is from the higher frequency, lower paying hands with only about two percent of the total return coming from the royal flush.

Because of this, the variance is low and the strategy is fairly simple. This makes jacks or better a perfect game for a novice player or for someone with a somewhat limited bankroll. Its low variance also makes it a great game for players who do not want to endure huge bankroll swings that occur in high variance games for either financial or emotional reasons.

The strategy chart for full-pay (9/6) jacks or better follows:

Video poker - list of strategy types

For those readers who are not familiar with using strategy charts, here is a brief description.

The strategy chart is a list of hands or partial hands that are initially dealt for each hand played. The chart is sequenced with the most favorable (returns the most on average) hold at the top. Each subsequent line in the strategy has an equal or lower return than the preceding strategy line.

To use the strategy chart -

  • Start at the top of the strategy chart.
  • Compare your dealt hand to this line.
  • If your dealt hand includes the cards specified in the strategy line, hold just those cards and hit the “Deal / Draw” button
  • If your dealt hand does not contain the cards specified in this line of the strategy chart, move to the next lower line and check if your dealt hand contains these cards.
  • Continue doing this until your hand contains the cards shown in the strategy chart line.
  • If you reach the end of the strategy chart, do not hold any of the cards in your dealt hand and simply hit the “Deal / Draw” button to get a completely new hand.

As you can see, using the strategy chart is quite simple in theory. In practice, however, it can be very easy to miss a small pair or three card straight flush that contains an ace. To make sure you are properly applying the playing strategy, it is an excellent idea to purchase a video poker computer program or smartphone / tablet app.

These programs / apps allow you to tailor the games played on it to match almost any game you might play. Once the proper game and pay table is set up, you can play that game and the video poker program / app will let you know each time you make a mistake in strategy. Let me tell you for a fact, having a large red “ERROR” pops up on the screen while you playing is quite a jolting experience. It really helps you remember the proper play the next time that same situation presents itself. The cost of $50 or so for the app is quickly recovered by playing the game properly.

Short-pay Jacks or Better

Full-pay jacks or better is becoming scarcer. Any pay table that reduces the pay for any of the hands from the originally introduced video poker game is considered a “short-pay” pay table. The most common short pay Jacks or Better pay table reduces the pays for a full house and flush to 8-for-1 and 5-for-1 from 9-for-1 and 6-for-1 respectively. All the other pays on the game usually remain the same. Other common short pay tables are 9/5 and 8/6.

Each one credit reduction in pay for a hand reduces the overall return by about 1.2 percent.

  • The 9/5 game returns 98.45 percent.
  • The 8/6 game returns 98.39 percent.
  • The 8/5 game return 97.30 percent.

The variance of all these games is similar as is the playing strategy. For maximum return, find the highest-return game available.

Try Video Poker Strategies in Top Canadian Online Casinos

Summary

Jacks or better is a well-paying, low-variance video poker game with a straightforward playing strategy. It is commonly available and ideal for video poker playing beginners as well as those players who want the best return for their play. It may not have as many exciting high-paying hands, but it requires one of the lowest bankrolls to play.

For these reasons, jacks or better video poker is one of the all-time favorite video poker games.

Dmitry Rogalchuk
With over 5 years of experience in iGaming, Dmitry Rogalchuk leads a content team at CasinoCanada, ensuring that every article on the CasinoCanada website is informative and engaging for our readers.
Head of Content
The University of British Columbia
The University of British Columbia & McGill University degrees, strategic marketing & content leadership expertise, sales strategies development
Expert in:
  • Content Management
  • Latest News in iGaming
  • Gambling Industry Knowledge
Last updated on: 20.02.2024

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