I write about a variety of different games in my weekly column. When I first started writing it was almost exclusively about video poker. I followed in my father's footsteps and essentially continued his column from a new vantage point. As my work in the industry took me more into table games, I've devoted a larger percent of my columns to those very same games. It is an interesting mix. I realize, however, that a relatively small number of Players out there have a tendency to cross over with their play. Generally speaking, there are Slot Players, Video Poker players and Table Game Players. Then there are those just starting out who probably haven't decided yet which one they are.
When I write a beginner column on video poker, I'm targeting two groups of people. These are the people who have identified themselves as Video Poker Players, but who are still playing by the seat of their pants and those who have yet to decide. I suppose there's still a part of me that is also targeting those Slot Players, hoping I can convince them to go for the higher payouts of video poker.
If you've decided that you like video poker, but have been playing by gut, then you are already used to the notion that playing video poker takes a bit more effort than slot machines. With a slot, you pull the handle (or press the button) and it takes care of most everything else. With some of the modern bonus rounds, you might have to do a bit more, but there isn't a lot of deep thinking going on. Some people prefer this when they are playing. Video poker takes a great deal more effort to play, yet alone master.
While I've often explained the hows and whys of mastering video poker, it is just as important to know the what as well. What do you need to do to get started playing video poker at an Expert level? Yes, you need to learn the strategy. In the last couple of weeks, I've explained the basics of how strategy is formulated and how you use it. But for the beginner this can still seem quite daunting. There are dozens of varieties of video poker out there. If you decide you want to play blackjack, there is only one game to play (for the moment, we'll exclude the handful of newer variants - which technically are not blackjack). If you want to play video poker, almost every casino will have at least a dozen varieties on the floor. You'll find Bonus Poker, Double Bonus Poker, Double Double Bonus Poker, Deuces Wild, Joker Wild and a host of others.
With slot machines, you can pick whichever one tickles your fancy. If you're in a Wonder Woman mood, play a Wonder Woman machine. There's nothing to learn. Titanic is your favorite movie? You'll find that on the floor. Wheel of Fortune is your favorite game show. You know you'll find those all over the place. There are things to like and not like about the specifics of each one of these, but these are extremely subjective. With a video poker machine, you're not picking a theme for the game, you're picking the paytable, the volatility and the complexity of strategy when you pick a particular game. So, what game should you play?
My answer to that is always start at the original game - jacks or better. It is not necessarily the game with the highest payback. Ironically, it isn't the one with the easiest strategy either. But, it is found in abundance in every jurisdiction. It usually has a competitive payback (relative to the others in the same casino). It is also a relatively low volatility game. This is a nice way of saying that your bankroll is likely to last a big longer as the high and low swings will tend to be less intense.
Start with a nickel game. Play five nickels. You can play pennies if you can find them, but I think that you'll likely get very bored at this level. You might play for weeks on $5 and never be up more than $5 either. Almost hard to call it gambling.
Most importantly, you DO need to learn the strategy for jacks or better. Very few can just look at a strategy table, memorize it and have it mastered. It will take practice. You can either pull out a real deck of cards and practice that way or you can get some video poker software (or app). There are countless ones out there. I've always been partial to Masque's Video Poker Strategy Pro. My father did the strategy tables for that one. The program is probably about 15-20 years old, but it still gets the job done and has most of the popular games in it. It also has my father's strategy tables built in. This is a key feature that separates it from most other software/apps. It will tell you when you make a mistake. If you use a different program and it ignores your errors, then it may wind up reinforcing your mistake and make it a regular part of your strategy. The software can be ordered directly from Masque (www.masque.com). I believe it sells for $10-$13.
It is essential that you practice before you head to a casino to play with real money. Training software can be a very low cost and effective way to help you become an Expert Player. I'm very certain it will pay for itself very quickly.