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That Illusive Royal Flush

The ultimate goal of nearly every video poker player is hitting a royal flush. This is the highest-paying hand in the game. It is also quite rare.

This article presents some facts and tips regarding this seldom seen phenomenon.


  1. Typical player comments
  2. Just how often should a royal flush appear?
  3. How long is “never?”
  4. What does “on average” actually mean?
  5. Going 15 years without hitting a royal flush
  6. Some tips to help survive the long trip to the next (or first) royal flush
  7. Summary

1. Typical player comments

Typical comments about that illusive royal flush are very similar to this recently received email:

“I have been playing video poker for the last 15 years. During that time, I have never gotten a royal flush. I have never seen anyone else hit one either. Other video poker players I talked to say the same thing. I have played for hours and never came close. Just what are the odds of hitting a royal flush anyway?”

2. Just how often does a royal flush appear?

The answer is … it depends.

  • It depends on the game. 
    • In most jacks or better based games, the player will hit a royal flush once in about 40,000 to 50,000 hands – on average.
    • For some video poker games (such as Pick ‘em Poker or Pick a Pair Poker), the interval can be as long as about once every 325,000 hands – again, on average.
  • It depends on the playing strategy employed by the player.
    • The frequency stated above is based on “optimal” playing strategy. This video poker strategy holds cards based on the best overall average return.
    • If a player uses a strategy that always holds for a possible royal, the frequency of a royal flush increases. However, players using this strategy will lose more money overall since they throw away potential (and actual) winning hands.

3. How long is “never?”

As the saying goes, never is a very long time. Just how long does it take to play 40,000 hands?

  • The average video poker player plays somewhere between about 120 and 600 hands per hour. This is about two to 10 hands per minute.
  • Assuming bathroom breaks, chatting with fellow players, stopping to sip a drink, and other distractions, let’s assume the actual rate of play is 300 hands per hour.
  • At this rate, it takes about 135 hours to complete 40,000 hands.
  • A player who plays four hours per day takes over a month of daily play to achieve 40,000 hands.
Video Poker

4. What does “on average” actually mean?

There is no guarantee that you will hit a royal flush each time you play 40,000 hands. In fact, it is a near certainty that you won’t. 

The nature of random play means you cannot predict what will happen. Some examples from my actual play:

  • While I have never hit two royal flushes in a row as other players have, I have hit two of them with only one hand in between.
  • I have also gone more than 192,000 hands with nary a royal.
  • This is normal in a random game. The next royal flush may come quickly, or it may not happen for years. 

5. Going 15 years without hitting a royal flush

The reader who sent the email at the beginning of this article does not give any information to help determine how many hands he actually played during the 15 years without a royal flush.

He doesn’t say how often he plays, how long a normal session lasts, nor does he mention his approximate rate of play.

Let’s assume he plays about 300 hands per hour. Let’s further assume he plays the same number of hands each year. 

  • To play 40,000 hands (the approximate average number of hands between royals) in 15 years means he must average about 2,666 hands per year.
  • If he plays four times a year, he needs to average 667 hands each time.
  • An average of two to three hours of play each time would do the trick.

That does not seem like a lot of play, so he should have hit a royal, right? Not really.

It is not uncommon for players to go two, three or more times a royal flush cycle of about 40,000 hands without cashing in. 

6. Some tips to help survive the long trip to the next (or first) royal flush

Yes, it can take a very long time to hit a royal flush. Here are some tips to handle that journey.

Be patient. Most players overestimate their play. It is normal. It is human nature. To combat that, determine your actual rate of play. Here are a few methods:

  • One method is counting the number of hands played in 15 or 30 minutes. Multiply that number of hands by 4 for 15 minutes or 2 for 30 minutes. That is the rate per hour. Is it probably wise to lower the rate several hands per hour since there will be pauses during the session for bathroom breaks, etc.
  • Alternatively, determine the actual rate of play by using the number of player’s club points earned. Take the total points earned and multiply by number of dollars required for one point. Divide that number by the dollars bet per hand – $1.25 for a quarter game, $5 for a dollar game. This is the total hands played for the session. Divide that by the number of hours played that session to get your rate per hour.
  • Divide 40,000 by the rate of hands per hour to determine the number of hours to play 40,000 hands. Divide 60,000 to determine the number of hours to play 60,000 hands, etc. This number will probably surprise you.

Other tips:

  • Don’t focus on getting a royal flush. Focus instead on playing perfect strategy. This will keep you in the game longer.
  • Play only with money you can afford to lose. A royal flush will be much less important if it isn’t needed for your next mortgage payment.
  • Most importantly, have fun! If it isn’t fun, why play? Stop. Take a break – or head home. Chasing a royal flush is not worth the cost.

For more information about the video poker royal flush, check out: The Facts on Hitting a Royal Flush at Video Poker (

7. Summary 

  • A royal flush is a rare occurrence. It happens about once in every 40,000 hands or so, on average.
  • The actual timing of a particular royal flush could be as long as 200,000 and or more.
  • Players generally overestimate their rate of play.
  • Only play with money you can afford to lose.
  • Have fun playing. Eventually that illusive royal flush will appear.

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