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How are the Cards Dealt in Video Poker

Video poker isn’t so much a game as a category, just as slot machines are a category and poker-based table games are a category.

Double Double Bonus Poker is a different game with a different strategy than Jacks or Better. Bonus Poker Deluxe is a different game with a different strategy than Bonus Poker, no deluxe.

Together, they fill a popular niche for single-player games where strategy makes a difference on slot floors in live casinos as well as in online casinos.

There are common factors among the games such as how cards are dealt, how much you can bet, how much you can win and basic game play.

Every player should know these things before they play video poker.

The Game is Five-Card Draw

There have been attempts to put five-card stud poker games and even Texas Hold’em on video poker formats, but the games players flock to are based on five-card draw.

You’re dealt five cards and must decide which to hold and which to discard.  

How Cards are Dealt Can Vary, But Usually Cards are Shuffled Constantly

The pace setter here is International Game Technology. In live casinos in the United States, 95% of video poker machines are manufactured and distributed by IGT, which also has a commanding presence online.

Virtual cards are continually shuffled. When you hit a button, click or touch a screen to play, the first five cards are dealt and displayed on the screen. The remaining 47 cards then are shuffled continuously until you hit the draw button. 

When you choose which cards to hold, which to discard and hit the draw button, the shuffle stops. You then receive the cards off the top of the deck.

That method has evolved over the decades. Into the late 1980s, the first 10 cards were dealt at once: the hand you saw on the screen and a shadow hand underneath. Essentially, each card was a two-card pile. When you discarded a card, the replacement you received was the shadow card behind it.

Later, the method was changed so the first 10 cards were set at once, but the second five were not dealt as a shadow.

Instead, the first five cards were dealt face up on the screen and the second five were ordered on top of a remaining deck. Other cards were not ordered.

When you drew a card, you would receive the next card off the top of the deck. 

On individual hands, it made a difference. Imagine you were dealt an initial hand of 5♣, 5♦, 5♠, J♥ and 9♦, in that order. Now imagine the shadow hand was 5♥, 3♠, A♣, A♠ and Q♥.

The only way you could get the 5♥ was to discard the 5♣, so you couldn’t get four of a kind. If the 5♥ was at the top of the draw deck, then you could get it by discarding any card.

But sometimes the shadow hand gave opportunities the other method didn’t. Imagine 5♥ was set as the fourth card after the initial hand, putting it either behind the J♥ in the shadow and or fourth on the draw pile.

In that case, holding the 5♠ and discarding the Jack would give you the four of a kind with the shadow hand, but you’d have to discard at least four cards, including a couple of  5♠, to get to it drawing from the top of the deck.

All three methods described above are valid, random ways of dealing the cards and will yield the same odds and payback percentages.

The most common method today is the continuous shuffle described first, but games from manufacturers other than IGT may use other methods.

Video Poker

Your Hand Does Not Have to Outrank Other Players or a Dealer to Win

There are no other players. The object is to draw a hand that ranks high enough to be on a pay table.

Unless wild cards are involved, as in Deuces Wild or Joker’s Wild, the lowest-ranking winning hand usually is a pair of Jacks. The higher your hand ranks, the higher your payoff. In most games, a pair of Jacks or better will get your bet back, while a typical five-coin maximum bet will bring a 4,000-coin jackpot if you have a royal flush.

Other payoffs are in between, with quite a lot of variation between games. There’s even some variations within games of the same name. Some Double Double Bonus Poker games pay 9-for-1 on a full house, but some pay 8-for-1 or 7-for-1. Some Jacks or Better games pay 6-for-1 on flushes, but others pay 5-for-1.

Pay Tables Tell Us Which Games Have Higher Payback Percentages Than Others

Nevada requires games using representations of playing cards to offer fair video poker odds, and other states have followed suit. 

There are some exceptions for video lottery terminals and tribal casinos using Class II games where the real game is electronic bingo and slot reels or video poker cards are user-friendly representations of bingo draws. But basically, in licensed U.S. casinos each card must have an equal chance of being dealt on every hand.

That means odds, percentages and strategies can be calculated from the pay table.

A 9-6 Jacks or Better game, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 6-for-1, pays more than an 8-5 game, where full houses pay 8-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1. Expert strategy brings a 99.5% average return in the 9- 6 game and 97.3% in the 8-5 game.

In non-wild card games, full houses and flushes are the common hands where payoffs are changed to alter payback percentages. That’s the first place you should look when comparing games of the same type.

There are more differences between games. Jacks or Better and Bonus Poker pay 2-for-1 on two pairs, while most other games pay only 1-for-1. The tradeoff is that other games usually pay a lot more on four of a kind than Jacks or Better or Bonus Poker.

Comparing full house and flush paybacks on different games tells you little. There are too many other differences in pay tables. On 9-6 Jacks or Better, expert play brings an average return of 99.5%, but on 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, where four of a kind paybacks are much higher but two pairs pay half as much as Jacks or Better, the return with expert play is 98.98%. 

The value in comparing full houses and flushes comes when you see different versions of the same game. Each increase or decrease of one coin per coin wagered in full house or flush pays changes the overall return by a little more than 1%.

On Jacks or Better, starting with the 99.5% for a 9-6 pay table, returns with expert play decrease to 98.4% with a 9-5 pay table, 97.3% at 8-5 and 96.2% at 7-5. Double Double Bonus poker returns decline to 97.9% at 9-5, 96.8 percent at 8-5 and 94.7% at 6-5.

Other games, such as Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Super Aces and more, have their own benchmarks, but you get the idea. Within each game type, lower pays per hand lead to lower overall payback percentages.

That’s different than on slots, where a higher pay table can be offset by less frequent wins. You can’t tell at a glance which slot machine is the bigger payer, but you can tell on video poker games.

Video Poker Strategy

Video Poker Strategy Makes a Difference

Best strategies for every possible hand can be calculated. You can find strategy sheets for some games at, and strategy trainers that will alert you to mistakes are available in commercial software and in free websites.

The best software enables you to choose among different games and adjust the pay table to games you play.

Strategies differ, even on the same hand. For example, dealt Jack-Jack-8-8-5, your best move is to hold both pairs and take a shot at a full house on Jacks or Better, where two pairs pay 2-for-1.

However, on Double Double Bonus Poker, two pairs pay the same 1-for-1 as a pair of Jacks or better. In that game, you’re better off to hold the Jacks and discard the rest to give yourself a shot at three or four of a kind as well as full houses.

The Question Everyone Wants Answered is “How Do I Win?”

You give yourself the best shot by playing the games with the best pay tables and learning expert video poker strategy for the game.

You’ll find strategy articles on several games at 888 Casino Blog, and trainers are available to help learn almost any game. Another great resource to help identify high-paying games is It lists many pay tables for any video poker game, making it easy to look up the games available to you.

If you play in live casinos and 9-6 Jacks or Better is offered, drill yourself on strategy for that game using trainers that identify mistakes. If you play online, you can augment that by referring to a strategy sheet while you play.

Losing sessions are more frequent than winners even on the highest paying games, but a little knowledge, effort and practice yields your best shot to win.

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