Jacks or Better

Video Poker Machine PhotoJacks or Better, commonly called “Draw Poker”, is the oldest video poker variation out there, and as such, attracts the most play and interest on behalf of fans of the game which poses as a great combination of skill and chance. Also, the rules of play in Jacks or Better have laid the foundations for other well-known video poker games, such as Tens or Better and Bonus Poker.

One of the biggest advantages of this particular video poker variant is the low house edge players can potentially benefit from, provided they differentiate between full-pay and short-pay Jacks or Better games and perfect basic strategy is at hand. The rules of the game are certainly not difficult to learn since most of them are borrowed from five-card draw poker.

The following article discusses in further details the basics and gameplay of Jacks or Better, its paytable, and the ranking of the qualifying hands. It will also provide video poker rookies with valuable insights into basic strategy that would greatly improve their chances of ending their betting sessions as winners.

The Basics of Jacks or Better Video Poker

If you are new to poker in general, you will be greatly relieved to find that video poker games, based on the five-card draw, are exceptionally simple to learn and even to master, with a little discipline and persistence on behalf of players. Unlike actual poker, however, in Jacks or Better players are not competing against each other and the betting structure is much simpler as there is no raising, checking, or calling.

Instead, players make a single bet before the deal, with the option to stake anywhere between one and five coins of their preferred denomination – some of the most commonly available coin values include 0.01, 0.02, 0.05, 0.10, 0.25, 0.50 and 1.00. Of course, there may be fluctuations in coin values of different Jacks or Better variants depending on the software provider which has developed the games.

Playing the maximum number of credits per hand is recommended because of the max-bet payouts for the highest ranking hand, the Royal Flush, are rather substantial and will certainly help you balance out any previous losses you have experienced. We will touch on that in further detail in the next section.

When players have modified the size of their bets per hand, all that is left to do is click on the Deal button to start the round. You receive five random cards on the initial deal which constitute your opening hand. The goal is simple – you evaluate the strength of your starting hand and decide which cards you should keep and which ones you should discard in an attempt to form a higher ranking hand. To hold the cards, players simply need to click on them and then press the Deal button again to receive their replacements. If the hand you form after the draw qualifies for a payout, it will get illuminated in the paytable along with its respective pay.

The name of the game itself suggests the lowest ranking hand qualifying for a payout is a pair of Jacks or other high cards like Kings, Queens, or Aces. Most Jacks or Better variations come with an additional feature – the Double Up. If players qualify for a pay-off, they will be asked whether they wish to collect their profits on the last hand or try to double them. Provided they accept the challenge, they will be dealt five more cards, the first one of which is face-up because it is the house card. Players are then required to pick one of the remaining four cards and if it is of a higher rank than that of the house, the profits will be doubled. If not, the player loses their winnings on the last hand. Provided the player and the house push, i.e. their two cards coincide in rank, the player can choose to either collect his/her profits or draw five more cards at random and try to double up again.

Jacks or Better screenshot
Jacks or Better by NetEnt

Paytable and Hand Rankings in Jacks or Better Video Poker

The ProsThe Cons
The game is suitable for players with smaller bankrolls due to its low variance.High-ranking hands occur rarely.
Most online casinos offer it.Playing can become monotonous and boring after a while because of the low variance.
The correct strategy is simple and easy to learn.Not all online casinos offer the full-pay version.

It is simple to get a grasp of how the paytable and the hand rankings in Jacks or Better work largely due to the fact the qualifying hands conform with those in table poker. As mentioned above, payouts in this variation start with a pair of Jacks or higher, such as pairs of Queens, Kings and Aces. Such high pairs pay even money or 1 to 1 – the amount won coincides with the size of the original bet.

The paytable is divided into six columns, the first one containing the qualifying hands that result in a payout. These are always enumerated in descending order, from the highest to the lowest, as follows – Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind, Full House, Flush, Straight, Three of a Kind, Two Pair, and a Pair of Jacks or Better. The remaining five columns contain the number of credits players receive per each credit they have wagered.

The payouts for most hands are sequential, which is to say they increase with the same number of units for two, three, four and five-credit bets. An example would be the Straight Flush, which pays 20, 80, 120, 160 and 200 credits for one, two, three, four and five-credit bets, respectively. In other words, each additional coin you wager will increase your potential profit with 40 units.

Royal Flush is an exception to this rule where the jackpot is not sequential since there is a substantial discrepancy between the payouts for four and five-credit bets. Royal Flushes pay 4,000 credits if you bet the maximum of five coins (instead of 1,250) while four coins will net you 1,000 credits only. This discrepancy is precisely what gives players who bet the maximum a substantial advantage over the long term.

Jacks or Better Paytable
Royal Flush25050075010004000
Straight Flush50100150200250
Four of a Kind255075100125
Full House918273645
Three of a Kind3691215
Two Pair246810
Jacks or Better12345

Full-Pay and Short-Pay Jacks or Better

The key factor that can help players determine whether a given Jacks or Better game is worth their time and money is the paytable, and the payouts it renders on two hands, in particular, the Full House and the Flush. It is common sense that “full-pay” games would offer players higher value. Such variants pay 9 to 1 for a Full House and 6 to 1 for a Flush (for one-credit bets), which is why they are frequently referred to as 9/6 games.

This is normally the standard in the industry and players can rarely find Jacks or Better variations which offer higher payouts for these two hand combinations. The 9/6 payout and the flat jackpot of 4,000 credits for Royal Flushes result in a very low house advantage of less than 0.50%. This translates into an overall theoretical return of 99.54% over the long run provided that players incorporate a correct strategy during their betting sessions. When combined with reasonable bankroll management, this can certainly boost players’ chances of beating the house.

Occasionally, you may come across Jacks or Better variants where you will be offered less generous payouts that would respectively lead to a greater tilt in favour of the house over the long term. One example is a 8/5 or “short-pay” game where the payouts for the Full House and the Flush are reduced with one credit.

At first, this will strike you as insignificant but in truth, this reduction substantially affects your chances of emerging a winner over the long run. The short-pay on these two hand combinations causes the house edge to swell to 2.70%, which is just as bad as some table games based on pure chance, such as European roulette, for instance. These machines are to be avoided because they offer poor prospects at winning but there is one exception to this rule, when the 8/5 payouts are compensated for with higher prizes for Four of a Kind or a progressive jackpot. In such cases, the reduction is more acceptable since players who trigger the jackpot with the Royal Flush, will collect even greater amounts of money. Other than that, it would be best to hunt for full-pay Jacks or Better games.

Another 8/5 Jacks or Better option that can actually be a good game to play is Bonus Poker Deluxe Jacks or Better. Despite its name, this variation is far from being too complicated. This is due to the fact that the only bonus payout that it will award is for Four of a Kind. Unlike other video poker options, however, it will provide the same bonus payout no matter the rank of the cards that form the Four of a Kind hand. In this case, even if Full House and Flush pay respectively 8 to 1 and 5 to 1, you can still enjoy an expected return of 97.40%.

Basic Strategy for Jacks or Better

Similarly to blackjack, video poker also falls into the category of casino games where it is possible for players to gain a significant edge over their main adversary, the house, as long as they utilise a perfect strategy throughout their gameplay. This is so because video poker is not subject to independent tries and players’ decisions after the initial deal do influence the outcome.

Since the game is played with 52 cards and no jokers, the number of possible hand combinations is roughly 2.6 million. These combinations can be grouped into around thirty basic hand categories in descending order on the basis of the potential return they offer.

The basic strategy for Jacks or Better is simple to learn and is usually available in table form online. Needless to say, if you are dealt a made Royal Flush (a suited Ace-high Straight Flush), you hold all five cards. The same applies to made Straight Flushes, in which case you again hold all five cards. The next hand in strength is the Four of a Kind, where you should keep the four cards of equal rank and replace the fifth, irrelevant card. If you are only one card away from forming a Royal Flush or a Flush, discard it.

With a made Full House, a made Flush or a made Straight, you should also keep all five cards you have received on the original deal. A made Three of a Kind hand calls for players discarding the two irrelevant cards that are not part of the set. The right decision to make with a hand of unsuited 10, Jack, Queen and King is to get rid of the irrelevant card and attempt to draw to either an Ace-high or a King-high Straight.

Basic Strategy for Jacks or Better

When being dealt opening hands of low pairs consisting of ranks 2 through 10, players are recommended to keep the pair and discard the three irrelevant cards. With starting hands with off-suit 8, 9, 10 and Jack or off-suit 9, 10, Jack and Queen, the proper course of action would be to remove the fifth, irrelevant card. With opening hands of suited 9, Jack and Queen, one should discard the other two cards in an attempt to draw to a Flush or at least, to a Straight. The same applies to starting hands with suited 10, Jack and Queen.

The general rule of thumb with Jack or Better is to keep high cards (King, Queen, Jack and Ace), but there is one exception when you are dealt a three-card Straight Flush along with two high cards, in which case you should replace the high cards. With off-suit Jack, Queen, King and Ace at the initial deal, basic strategy dictates to hold the four high cards and replace the remaining card. When you receive two high cards of the same suit and consecutive rank, like King and Queen of spades, hold the King and Queen and discard the rest. A four-card Straight should be held and only the remaining fifth card should be replaced.

If you are dealt four cards to an Outside Straight (the Straight can be completed on either side, e.g 7, 8, 9, 10), you should keep the four cards and discard the fifth one. When players receive three suited cards of consecutive rank, they should hold them even if they are not high in ranking. Then again, off-suit King, Jack and Queen should also be kept in the hand and only the other two cards should be replaced. For opening hands containing a 10 and a high card, the strategy calls for keeping these two as you might end up hitting the Royal Flush. Two off-suit high cards are also worth holding. Even if you receive only one high card, you should keep that and discard all the rest. Sometimes it happens so that players receive an exceptionally poor opening hand on the deal, which consists of low cards only – the right course of action in such cases is to discard everything and hope for the better after the draw.

Jacks or Better novices are advised to practice this basic strategy until they master it to the extent it becomes their second nature. Only then can they progress towards the intermediate and more advanced strategies that are applicable to Jacks or Better.

According to the basic Jacks or Better strategy, the hands are ranked in the following order:

  1. Made Royal Flush, Straight Flush, Four of a Kind
  2. Four to a Royal Flush
  3. Three of a Kind. Straight, Flush, Full House
  4. Four to a Straight Flush
  5. Two Pair
  6. High Pair
  7. Three to a Royal Flush
  8. Four to a Flush
  9. Low Pair
  10. Four to an Outside Straight
  11. Two suited high cards
  12. Three to a Straight Flush
  13. Two unsuited high cards (if there are more than 2, pick the lowest 2)
  14. Suited 10 and J, 10 and Q or 10 and K
  15. One high card
  16. No winning hands