Poker has benefited hugely from its growing profile in recent years, thanks in large part to the rise in prominence of the professional poker scene. At the same time, online poker rooms have been drawing in record crowds, thanks to the combination of greater market penetration and an ongoing and growing interest in the game.
Of course, as any poker aficionado would be quick to point out, poker isn’t one game, but several. There are countless different varieties of poker, and while the broad idea is generally the same, the rules vary widely between different versions. At its most basic, for example, some games have bet limits, some games have no limits – and this radically alters how you should approach the game, with a bearing on every element of your strategy.
Video poker is another degree of distinction again, and rests in the nexus somewhere between online poker and slots. It’s a version of the game that predates the online poker boom by several decades, having become popular with the first mass production of TV monitors across casino resorts, arcades and bars worldwide.
So is there much of a crossover between poker and video poker, and are the games interchangeable amongst the same players, or are they too distinct to be judged as similar?
Video poker is in itself a genre of games, rather than a catch-all. While these games do have their own unique and distinct rules, the general idea remains consistent across them all. Video poker is a game played head to head against the computer. In fact, there’s not even an AI component here – you’re playing with the cards you’re dealt, and you’re paid a fixed amount according to the value of your hand and the paytable.
Players are dealt a hand face up, and they are tasked with selecting which, if any, of their cards they want to switch. After the switch, players are paid on the value of the hand they hold according to the paytable.
Betting works by establishing a number of coins per hand, and they always range from 1 to 5 coins. In video poker, there is always an odds premium for playing at five coins, which manifests as an extra bonus for the highest ranking hands. This translates into the slimmest house edge, which means you actually gain an advantage from playing for maximum stakes. For this reason, it’s often more profitable to play on a lower stakes machine at maximum coins than it is to play for lower coins on a higher stakes machine.
There’s none of the head to head elements of regular poker, and there’s no need for a showdown. In fact, some video poker games even display the relevant odds on screen when you’re deciding which cards to hold and which cards to replace, which makes it even easier to make the most sensible plays. You can read more in our how to play guide.
The one main element of poker that lends video poker its name is the hand rankings, which determine whether you score a payout against the paytable. If you ignore the card format for a second, it’s helpful to think about the game as a single line slot, with the traditional icons replaced by card symbols. Instead of combinations, you’re trying to create hands. In this sense, there is a clear crossover between the two that veteran poker players will enjoy – particularly with online games, which make it even easier to switch between different game versions or to speculatively give it a try.
Much of the features of regular poker are absent from video poker. You don’t really choose your stakes, or up the ante as the game wears on, and you don’t have the element of other players to worry about. In this sense, they are very different games. Video poker is arguably less of an event, and more of a quick chance to win money at fixed odds. It has a basic strategy that’s relatively straightforward to understand and memorise, and there is still decent money to be won.
While it’s a more limited version of the game than full blown poker, video poker is the kind of game that is enjoyed by beginner poker players, and more experienced hands alike. While it fits a somewhat different gaming urge, it’s still a good way to put your knowledge of hand rankings to the test, and a quick way to squeeze in some light poker play when the mood strikes.
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