Full Pay Jacks or Better Video Poker
The Full Pay Jacks or Better is part of the base of video poker’s overall family tree. Standard Jacks or Better provides the foundation on which almost all other styles are formed.
More than 35 years have passed since the first Jacks or Better machines were placed in a few Las Vegas casinos, but in that time, the classic version of video poker has become a standard offering in gambling establishments all across the planet. And even with a multitude of new video poker variants to choose from, standard Jacks or Better remains one of the most popular entries ever introduced.
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Our Guide to Full Pay Jacks or Better
This page was written to provide beginners with a comprehensive introduction to full pay Jacks or Better video poker. An overview of Full Pay Jacks or Better historical origins, basic information on rules, game-play setup, and operating a video poker machine will be covered. From there, you’ll find a lesson on the role of pay tables, along with the impact made by slight adjustments made to the most common pay tables. Finally, a primer on the optimal play and basic strategy for Jacks or Better can be found, including a chart used by advanced players to decide between the closest decisions.
How to Play Full Pay Jacks or Better
To begin a game of Full Pay Jacks or Better video poker, the first step is to deposit funds, whether in the form of cash, coin, or casino credit voucher ticket.
The machines found in brick and mortar casinos run on coin denominations starting with $0.25, bet you’ll also find $1.00, $5.00, and even bigger machines in the high stakes area. Players utilizing a smaller bankroll can also hunt down machines with a $0.05 price point, but for the most part video poker games begin at quarter stakes.
Online casinos have more freedom in terms of customizing their configurations, so video poker players enjoying the game via the internet are able to play with coin denominations of any size, as most sites even allow adjustable stakes.
You’ll begin by depositing your preferred stake for the game, and for this example page, we’ll be using a $100 bankroll on a $1 coin level machine to make the math easier. Cash, coins, or casino ticket vouchers are all acceptable deposit methods. Now you’ll need to select your wager amount.
Above the main game screen where the cards are displayed will be a table or a chart, consisting of the poker hand ranking list (two pairs, three of a kind, etc.) to the far left, followed by five columns filled with numbers. This is known as the “pay table,” and much more detailed information on how pay tables work will be presented in the next section, but for now, this tool allows you to select your wager for each hand. Simply think of each column, from left to right, as representing an additional coin being bet.
The default position for any video poker machine is to have the left-most column selected, which puts the betting at the minimum level. With five columns to choose from, however, players can toggle between each column to up their wager by an additional coin. On the $1 machine used in our example, moving by one column from left to right would increase the bet to $2, $3, $4, or the maximum of $5. The same principle holds true for all coin denominations, so on the quarter machines betting ranges between $0.25, $0.50, $0.75, $1.00, and $1.25.
To adjust your wager size, tap appropriate column on the touch screen, or use the buttons located underneath each column.
More information on the importance of this concept is coming up in the next two sections, but experienced video poker players know to bet the maximum on a Full Pay Jacks or Better machine at all times. Doing so offers you the most favorable odds, the lowest house edge, and the highest payout for making the game’s best hand.
After selecting your preferred wager by toggling through the pay tables, you can begin the game by pressing the “DEAL” button. This will prompt the virtual deal to randomly distribute five playing card graphics from a standard 52 card deck. With these first five cards on the screen, players then assess the relative strength of their current hand, before deciding which cards to hold and which cards to discard.
You can elect to hold any combination of the five cards, with the rest being discarded. To do so, use the touch screen and tap the graphic to hold a particular card, or press the “HOLD” button underneath that card’s place on the screen. With your cards now held, pressing “DEAL” once again activates the draw, so your discards will be removed and replacement cards will be dealt out. This completes your final five-card hand, and the game then distributes payouts based on the strength of your hand.
General Hand Rankings
Full Pay Jacks or Better operates according to the traditional hand hierarchy used in the majority of poker games. The minimum qualifying hand needed to earn the basic even money payout is one pair of jacks or higher, hence the game’s name. If you need a refresher on poker hand rankings, a full list of the hands used in Full Pay Jacks or Better has been compiled below, 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.
The objective of Jacks or Better, and all associated video poker games is to complete the highest hand possible. Players must choose between holding pat low hands, or chasing draws to higher hands.
After your payout has been awarded, or your credit has been deducted, pressing the “DEAL” button again repeats the process. You can always opt to remove your credits and step away from the game by pressing the “CASH OUT” button.
Full Pay Jacks or Better Pay Table
Perhaps the most important item of information needed to play Full Pay Jacks or Better video poker at a high level is the pay table. Before diving into the details of pay table differentials, it’s necessary to begin with an introduction to the most advantageous pay table found on any Jacks or Better machine, also known as the “9 / 6” or “full pay” game.
Review the 9 / 6 pay table below to determine the payouts for all of the possible hand rankings:
|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|
Pay Table Breakdown
Beginning with the left most column, which describes the payouts when making the minimum wager, the first four payouts are all quite basic. A single pair of full pay jacks or better pays out even money or 1 credit. Two pair is good for 2 credits, three of a kind returns 3 credits, and a straight pays back 4 credits.
Falling back on the example used earlier, let’s imagine we’ve loaded the $1 machine with $100, and despite the strategic importance of betting the maximum (more on this to come), we’ve decided to bet $1 to make the math easier. On the first two spins, we make no qualifying hands, so our credit meter is reduced to $98 ($100 $1 $1 = $98).
Then, on our third hand, we receive the 7s 8c 9h 10d 2h and decide to hold the first four cards for an open-ended straight draw (four cards to a straight, with two cards that can complete the draw). After discarding the deuce, the Jc arrives on the screen to complete the straight draw, and our credit meter rises to $101 with the 4 credit win ($98 $1 + $4 = $101).
On the very next deal, we receive the Qh Qs 6s 4d 2h combination, and after holding the pair of queens and discarding the other three cards we receive the Qd, the 9h, and the Ac. With three of a kind, our credit meter increases to $103 with the 3 credit payout ($101 $1 + $3 = $103). We will provide an extended analysis below, but if you would like to understand these pay tables from a different perspective, visit the Wizard of Odds.
Payout Increases to Watch For
The first pay jumps to take note of concern the flush, which pays out 6 credits, and the full house, which pays out 9 credits. These pivotal payouts give the 9 / 6 full pay table its name, and as you’ll soon discover, any adjustments to these key numbers can significantly alter the odds produced by a particular pay table.
After that, the payouts increase drastically, up to 25 credits for four of a kind and 50 credits for a straight flush.
For every rung on the pay table ladder described so far, you’ll notice that the payouts follow an incremental pattern. Doubling the coin denomination doubles the payout for one pair from 1 credit to 2 credits while a straight doubles from 4 credits to 8 credits. Bump the wager up to four coins, and the payout for one pair quadruples from 1 credit to 4 credits while the payout for a straight quadruples from 4 credits to 16 credits.
In this respect, everything is relative when it comes to these payouts – except for the game’s most important hand.
The top hand on the pay table, the crown jewel of Full Pay Jacks or Better, is the royal flush. The mother of all poker hands pays out 250 credits when playing at minimum coin denomination. And just like the other hands, this payout increases incrementally along the pay table – through the first four columns. That is, betting anywhere between one and four coins on a Full Pay Jacks or Better machine won’t change anything about the payouts in terms of relative value.
However, as indicated in the top right figure in the table, the payout for a royal flush when betting the maximum of five coins jumps drastically. What should be a payout of 1,250 credits has been increased to 4,000 credits at the five coin wager level.
This is a major development, perhaps the second most important aspect of proper video poker play behind the 9 / 6 full pay table because your odds against making a royal flush in standard Jacks or Better are always the same at 40,390 to 1 against. This probability never changes, no matter how many coins you’re betting, so the huge payout awarded only to maximum bettors makes the biggest bet the best play in terms of overall expected value.
Full Pay Jacks or Better Expected Return
Mathematicians and game theorists have long since analyzed the expected return rates for any video poker pay table, and you can review this crucial piece of data in the bottom row of each column. Of course, the number listed here assumes that players are employing optimal strategy – but you’ll be able to do just that after finishing the strategy section which concludes this page.
The terms “expected return” and “house edge” are often used to describe the same concept – a player’s odds against in a casino game – but both metrics cover the opposite end of the spectrum. When assessing expected return rates, the final figure is based on calculating what the player should bring back after wagering $100 an infinite number of times. In the game of Jacks or Better with a full pay 9 / 6 pay table in place, the expected return rate stands at 98.37 percent when betting between one and four coins. This means that an infinite number of $100 sessions should theoretically result in an average return of $98.37.
Put another way, the casino’s house edge in Full Pay Jacks or Better, when players are betting less than the maximum, is 1.63 percent. This figure can always be calculated quite simply, by subtracting the expected return rate from 100, so (100 – 98.37 = 1.63). For the sake of comparison, the house edge for roulette when a double zero wheel is used stands at 5.26 percent, games like keno can rise to 20 percent and higher while blackjack played correctly drops down to under 0.50 percent.
When examining the expected return rates listed beneath each pay table column above, you’ll notice that the figure jumps from 98.37 percent to 99.54 percent when betting the maximum of five coins. This is a statistically significant increase, one which definitely favors the player by reducing the house edge down to just 0.46 percent. The reason for this change is the juiced payout for the royal flush, a “jackpot” setup which makes maximum bets the correct play in Full Pay Jacks or Better over the long run.
Why Picking the Right Game Version is Important
With the full pay 9 / 6 pay table thoroughly covered, you may wonder why players would ever sit down at a lesser machine, but casino operators make their living by playing the odds. Even the slightest of adjustments to the standard 9 / 6 pay table can significantly reduce the player’s expected return rate, thus increasing the house edge on which all casinos survive.
In usually subtle fashion, casino managers and game manufacturers decided to keep most of the payouts identical on their updated versions of the Jacks or Better machine. By changing only two numbers, the higher ups realized that most casual gamblers would never even notice that the odds against them had jumped in a major way.
The two numbers that give the full pay 9 / 6 table its name are for the respective payouts for the full house and the flush. By changing either one, or both, of these key numbers, the odds you’ll face in Full Pay Jacks or Better are drastically altered – and never in the player’s favor. You’ll find games in which the full house pays out 8 credits rather than 9 credits, versions that pay 5 credits rather than 6 credits for a flush, and vice versa. The adjustments may not seem like they matter all that much, but the casinos are counting on players to fall into that trap.
Different Pay Tables You May Encounter
Take a moment to review the following grid, which lists the most commonly used alternative pay tables for Full Pay Jacks or Better video poker. Pay attention to the # / # heading at the top of each column, as these numbers represent the revised payouts for a full house and a flush. The numbers below assume a maximum wager of five coins has been made, but the payouts have been divided by five to their base number. You can simply multiply any credit amount by five to calculate the amount you’ll actually receive when wagering five coins. These machines aren’t full pay machines and should be avoided.
|Alternate Pay Tables|
|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|
As you can see by examining the bottom row of each column, this grid has been ordered by expected return rate, with the pay table offering the highest percentage at the far left.
The 9 / 5 pay table is exactly the same as the 9 / 6, except for the slight reduction from 6 credits to 5 credits for making a flush. This change, which the vast majority of recreational gamblers never notice, reduces the player’s expected return from 99.54 percent to 98.44 percent. When it comes to statistical probability, a reduction of 1.1 percent is extremely meaningful over the long run.
The next pay table to watch for is the 8 / 6 version, which keeps the payout for a flush at 6 credits, but lowers the payout for a full house to 8 credits. This reduces the player’s expected return rate to 98.39 percent, so an 8 / 6 pay table rather than a full pay 9 / 6 setup increases the house edge against you from 0.46 percent to 1.61 percent.
Several other alternative versions of the Jacks or Better pay table are quite common nowadays, including the 8 / 5, 7 / 5, and 6 / 5 games. Each of these pay tables offers significantly worse odds from the player’s perspective, as you can see by comparing the expected return rates to that found on a full pay 9 / 6 machine. The game of 6 / 5 Jacks or Better, for example, sees the player’s expected return fall from 99.54 percent to 94.99 percent – turning a skill game into a gamble on par with double zero roulette.
As we transition to the strategic elements of Full Pay Jacks or Better, you should take note that the most important aspect of playing this game properly has already been discussed. By limiting your action to full pay 9 / 6 machines, or at the very worst the 9 / 5 or 8 / 6 varieties, you’ll automatically have a much higher chance of breaking even (every gambler’s true optimal outcome) over long sessions, all while chasing the big score of a max bet royal flush. Simply sitting down at a video poker machine offering an inferior pay table instantly increases the house edge against you, and even with optimal strategy guiding your decision making, the game will already be too disadvantageous to overcome. To see more pay table information, visit VPFree.
Video poker is a skill-based game in which the outcome is influenced by player decisions. Much like online blackjack and other decision oriented games, probability and game theory analysis has determined the most profitable play over the long run given any possible scenario.
When playing blackjack, skilled players rely on memory to sort through the available decisions after assessing their cards and the dealer’s card. No matter which cards the player holds, and which card the dealer is showing, a mathematically correct play can be determined. In online video poker, the same holds true, and no matter which combination of five cards you happen to hold, an optimal decision regarding which ones to hold and which to discard can be made.
Making the Simple Decisions
The beauty of standard Jacks or Better video poker is that, by and large, the majority of your decisions will be simple and straightforward. You’ll either have a single pat hand or a high card to hold, or you’ll drop all five cards and draw a new hand. When you see three of a kind on the screen, in a hand like 7d 7h 7s Ad Qc for example, holding the three sevens and collecting the sure 3 credit payout, while drawing two more cards with a chance to improve, is obviously the right play. Conversely, when you see something like 2s 5c 6h 9h 10d – nothing at all, no pairs, no draws, and no high cards – throwing the hand away and drawing five new cards is a clear choice.
Full Pay Strategy Example
Of course, the best games are never that simple, and invariably you’ll be faced with tough situations in which you hold two or more possible hands at the same time. As an example, let’s consider the following five card deal: Kd Qd Jd Kh 9d
With these five cards, you have three viable choices to work with:
- Collect the sure win and hold the pair of kings
- Draw to the four cards straight flush draw
- Go for the tempting royal flush on a two card draw.
Believe it or not, many players take the first option by habit and go with the sure thing, others try to fill in their four cards straight flush draw, and some even try to score the royal flush.
With three options on the table, decisions like this (and the hundreds of other close calls you’ll face) make Full Pay Jacks or Better video poker a challenging mental exercise. Just like real poker, you need to have a good card sense and grasp on the odds of drawing in order to succeed. And like blackjack, the power of your pivotal decision plays a big role in determining whether or not your cards are winners or losers.
Full Pay Jacks or Better Optimal Decisions Strategy Table
Navigating through five card combinations like the example hand above can be difficult at first, but fortunately, an optimal strategy chart has been created to help players make the correct decisions at all times.
|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|
|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|
|*With three unsuited high cards, hold lowest two.|
To read the chart and properly apply optimal strategy given any five card combination in Full Pay Jacks or Better, you’ll rely on a simple three-step process is used. First, check out your hand to see which combinations you currently hold. Second, scan the chart and locate the positions of each hand. Third, hold the hand which is ranked highest on the chart and employ the appropriate hold / discard actions.
Back to Earlier Example
Returning to the Kd Qd Jd Kh 9d example, we can follow the three step process to see it in action. Step one was described above, so we’ve determined that these five cards give you either one pair of kings, a four card straight flush draw, or a three card royal flush draw. Moving on to the second step, we can see that a three card royal flush draw sits in 7th position, one high pair is ranked in 6th position, and a four card straight flush draw holds the 4th position. Step three recommends holding on to the highest ranked hand, so we should always hold the Kd Qd Jd 9d combination and discarding the Kh, before drawing one card.
Risk averse readers may be hesitant to follow this course of action, thinking that a draw at hitting only one card in the deck, the 10d for a straight flush, is unwise. And this would be correct because more often than not, you’ll find yourself swinging and missing on the straight flush draw.
Of course, your possibilities when holding the Kd Qd Jd 9d combination are not limited to the straight flush draw. You can always fall back on hitting any of the other three 10s in the deck to make a basic straight while any of the nine diamonds left in play will complete a flush. You also have three high cards, so any J, Q, or K that arrives will give you one pair for an even money save. When all of these possibilities and their corresponding payouts are examined as a whole, holding the four card straight flush draw becomes the most profitable play over the long run.
Making optimal decisions at every possible juncture is the only way to realize the extremely favorable expected return rate promised by the full pay 9 / 6 table.
Applying the Strategy Chart
Applying the Strategy Chart
- Other intriguing revelations can be gleaned from studying the chart. Consider, for example, that two suited high cards (12th position) is ranked as the better hand when compared to a three card draw to a straight flush. So something like Qh Jh 9h 3d 2s might seem appealing at first glance, with the thought being to shoot for a straight flush (with other draws to fall back on). But as the optimal strategy chart dictates, the correct play in this scenario is to hold the Qh and Jh only, because this draw offers a much higher chance of making one pair or better. Often, the more conservative play is actually correct, which can seem counter-intuitive before you commit the optimal strategy chart to memory.
- Check out the 13th position as well, which describes situations when you have unsuited high cards. With a hand like A Q J 6 3, for example, many players opt to hold the A and the Q, with their instinct and force of habit combining to keep the two highest cards. But as the chart suggests, the best play here is to hold the Q and the J instead.The reasoning to justify this play is quite simple, but surprisingly, it can elude many players until they’ve been exposed to optimal strategy. Remember, the payouts for making either one pair or two pairs remain fixed no matter the rank of the cards, so aces, kings, queens, or jacks will all produce the same payout. Keeping the highest cards may seem like the right idea, but doing so won’t increase your payout, so there’s really no point.Instead, try to keep in mind the more remote drawing possibilities. By holding the A and the Q your possibilities for drawing to a straight are quite limited: you’ll have to find a K, a J, and a 10 on the next three cards. But when you hold the Q and the J, the amount of “outs” available in the deck automatically grows larger, and now you can complete the straight draw by catching any of the following combinations: A K 10, K 10 9, or 10 9 8.
Deceptively simple adjustments like this instantly triple your chances of earning 4 credits in this example, which is why consulting the optimal strategy chart for Full Pay Jacks or Better video poker is always advisable.
History of the Game
The origins of video poker begin with William “Si” Redd, the pioneering slot machine and casino equipment distributor who founded Si Redd Coin Machines (SIRCOMA) in 1975.
You can learn more about the inspiration behind video poker, and Redd’s creative process, by heading over to the video poker book page.
After retaining the rights to his original video gambling concept, Redd released the first “Draw Poker” machine through SIRCOMA in 1979. This was the prototype for modern video poker models, combining a slot machine cabinet with a television screen to present players with the world’s first video version of five-card draw poker.
Video poker expanded on the slot machine experience by integrating the one on one game-play of casino games like blackjack, which pits players against an unseen “dealer” during every hand, as well as the concept of a player decision which partially determines the outcome.
Playing on the Draw Poker Machine
In order to operate a Draw Poker machine, players simply deposited their preferred amount of coins to purchase game credits and pressed “DEAL” to receive a hand comprised of five playing card graphics. Based on the relative strength of these five cards, using the traditional poker hand rankings, players decided which cards to hold and which to discard, before drawing replacement cards to complete their hand. The strength of that final five card hand determined the resulting payout, with players looking to make the highest hands possible.
During the first year or two after Draw Poker was launched, casino players regularly passed by the new game. At the time, the first Draw Poker machines set a minimum hand strength of two pairs or better, meaning players must make a hand of two pairs or higher in order to receive even the base payout of even money. This threshold proved to be quite steep, and players routinely walked away from their first video poker experience feeling unsatisfied by the lack of winning hands.
That all changed in 1981, however, when Redd and the SIRCOMA team introduced a slight adjustment to their original model, responding to player feedback by lowering the minimum hand requirement to just one pair. In the new and improved version of video poker, players needed to make one pair of at least jacks or higher in order to receive an even money payout. The resulting Jacks or Better video poker machines proved to be an immediate hit and players throughout Las Vegas, and eventually, all of America, began gravitating toward the new game.
Now needing just a single pair to claim the minimum payout of one credit, players could extend their sessions by landing easy hands, all while chasing the game’s huge payouts for the highest hands like four of a kind, the straight flush, and the royal flush.
Becoming an Icon on the Casino Floor
For seasoned gamblers who knew the score, Jacks or Better video poker represented a rare addition to the selection of skill based games found in casinos. Like blackjack and other casino games in which a player’s decision-making ability influences the outcome of their wager, video poker allowed savvy gamblers to improve their odds by coming to the correct decision. As the gambling community would soon discover, Jacks or Better video poker created some of the most favorable conditions for players found on any casino floor, offering extremely low house edges to those employing even the most basic strategies.
As the 1980s progressed into the 1990s and beyond, Jacks or Better became a staple of the casino environment everywhere, and today the game can be played in tiny video poker parlors, local casinos, cruise ships, mega resorts, and even private residences. Video poker has also been successfully adapted by online casinos, giving players the chance to enjoy Jacks or Better and dozens of variations through any internet connected device.