Jacks or Better is the most popular variation of video poker, a game loosely based on the mechanics and rules of Five-Card Draw. It can be found in both land-based and online casinos.
It rewards payouts for many more combinations than the basic video poker game. This gives it a slightly improved edge for the Player.
Jacks or Better is a much more forgiving game, especially when one considers that many base video poker machines already demand that any Pairs are ranked Jack, Queen, King, or Ace for payout on Pair anyway.
How to Play Jacks or Better?
Jacks or Better is played using a video poker machine, or online. The game uses a digital deck of 52 cards in the Anglo-American deck pattern.
The objective of Jacks or Better, is to form the best possible five-card poker hand.
Exchange Cash for Credits
Players will exchange cash for “credits” to play the game. These credits are each associated with a real cash value, and can be freely re-exchanged for cash when one wishes to “walk away”.
Players often place many more credits into the machine than they would spend on a single game. Jacks or Better poker is intended to be played over multiple games.
Place a Bet
Once the Player has put their desired amount of money into the machine, they can make their bet.
- Most Jacks or Better kiosks give Players the option to bet between 1-5 credits at a time.
- There is also the “Max Bet” button.
Once the bet is made, Players press the “Deal” button and are presented with 5 random cards from the deck.
Players may hold all or none or any number of cards in between.
- Cards that are held will be maintained in the hand.
- Cards that are not held will be discarded and exchanged for new cards from the deck when the Player presses the “2nd Deal” button.
Players do not need to fuss with their cards in any way after the 2nd Deal. There is no further exchanging of cards, and the computer will automatically tabulate the value of a Player’s hand.
Payouts are given in credits, such that the Player need not cash out until they are ready to do so. The higher the quality of the Player’s hand, the higher their payout will be according to the pay table.
Jacks or Better offers many more payouts than can be found in standard video poker. These melds and are all explained in the “Hands and Pay Table” section immediately below.
Hands and Pay Table
Jacks or Better uses the standard poker hand rankings to form its pay table. However, many variations of the game offer special small payouts for nearly achieving various melds. These payouts vary depending on the place, but are usually a portion of a hand’s usual payout.
For example, if a Player has four components to a Flush in their hand after the 2nd Deal, and the Flush pays out 6x the bet on this particular machine, then Players could expect somewhere between 1-2x return on their bet, even though they did not achieve the Flush.
This means Players are less penalized for chasing Flushes, Straights, Royal Flushes, and Straight Flushes.
Furthermore, Players can receive a 1x payout for each non-melded face card in their hand. So, if you are dealt a junk hand that forms no meld, but has a Jack and Queen in it, then you can still receive a 2x payout.
Different Payout Tables
Aside from these special conditions, there is the regular pay table. Just like in video poker, each casino will adjust the payouts according to their specific profitability desires.
- This allows experienced players to play and make their money and generate good publicity for the casino with their winnings.
- Inexperienced players, meanwhile, essentially pay for the winnings of the experienced Players by playing machines with worse odds.
The best possible Jacks or Better machine offers what is known as a “9/6” payout. Most often, only two melds have different payouts on the different machines. An example is shown below:
|High Card/Jack or Better/Pair (Jack or Better)
The 9/6 offers a 9x payout on the Full House, and a 6x payout on the Flush. These are the best odds for the Player and result in an overall house edge of only 0.5%.
Experienced video poker players search the casino for these 9/6 machines, because they are the only ones worth playing. If you cannot find a 9/6 machine, you are opening yourself to more risk for no, or sometimes even less, benefit.
Jacks or Better Rules Summary
In terms of the rules, below are the key takeaways:
- Players must convert their cash into credits before playing, and then must bet using those credits and will then cash out when they are done playing.
- Players are given the chance to exchange cards of their choice before the 2nd Deal occurs. Players may exchange their entire hand if they wish, or simply some or none of their cards.
- Players receive payouts automatically after the 2nd deal, according to the Meld formed in their hand.
- Players can receive small payouts for partially completed five-card melds, and for each junk face-card that they have in their hand if unmelded.
Suppose the following cards are dealt to you in the first deal:
J♣ 9♣ 4♦ 9♦ 2♦
There are two logical choices to be made here, however, one offers more risk than the other.
This hand already has a payout built into it. The Jack high card will at least prevent the Player from outright losing the hand. As such, holding onto this Jack and discarding everything else would presumably be the safest option.
A Pair of 9s will not pay out. Only Pairs of face cards pay out. As such, discarding them is fine. They are essentially junk cards.
However, a risk-taking Player may realize that it is less punishing to chase Flushes in Jacks or Better as partial payouts are available.
As such, some Jacks or Better machines offer payouts for “Two to A Flush”, or a hand with three Flush components.
Therefore, the Player may still receive a payout if they exchange the J♣ and 9♣ in the hopes of one or two more ♦ cards. This is a riskier option, and may not be a guaranteed payout like the Jack depending on the table, but does offer the potential of greater reward.
Strategy and Tips
Always use the Max Bet button
Video poker, and Jacks or Better, is a game of statistical eventuality. Experienced Players understand that sometimes, they will need to play the game for hours before they receive a payout.
Essentially, Players are hoping that they win more times than is statistically likely, to achieve a higher return than expected. To achieve this higher return, Players must bet the maximum they are allowed. It is the optimal way to play.
Aim for the Royal Flush
This is the goal: A 250x payout. As a game of statistical eventuality, think of the smaller payouts as “Free Games.” You do not want to win 10x your money if you’ve already spent 18 max bets. You want the grand prize.
Take the total amount of money that you feel comfortable losing on video poker, and play using the full amount in one session until you either hit a Royal Flush, or lose that total starting money.
Seek out the 9/6 Machines
Playing at other kiosks is simply giving the house more money than necessary for the same game. As a game of statistical eventuality, the 9/6 machines allow you to play many more games for free than others.
Winning a Full House on a 9/6 machine gives you 9 more bets to try and achieve a high meld. An 8/6 machine would only give you 8 more free games.
9/5 is the next best option
The 9/5 has a house edge of 1.7%, which is about 3x the edge of the 9/6 machine. This means it’s a 3x worse game to play, but its odds are still better than other lower machines.