Read this guide and you will soon master the Jacks or Better strategy! If you’ve ever wanted to turn the tables on this variant, my tactics and methods will help you with that.
I will take you on a learning journey, revealing my discoveries and experience that will have you chasing those royal flushes and straights with confidence. Here’s what you will learn:
Let’s get to work!
Jacks or Better is a fun and beginner-friendly twist on the classic video poker casino game.
In a nutshell, you enjoy the traditional gameplay of standard video poker, meaning you are dealt five cards and have to make the best possible combination that represents a winning hand.
The twist here is that, as the name suggests, the minimum qualifying hand is a pair of Jacks or better.
With this in mind, let’s explore the ins and outs of this variant and dive deeper into the jacks or better strategy.
Playing video poker is not rocket science, and neither is Jacks or Better.
This variant retains the core similarities of its siblings, save for its hand rankings and strategies. Playing Jacks or Better is as straightforward as counting to seven:
Begin by selecting the denomination of the coins you want to bet.
You’ll typically find options like $0.25, $1, or $5, depending on the machine or casino. Now, I am going to assume you’ve studied the paytable and picked the machine with the best return.
Choose the number of coins you want to bet per hand.
You can usually bet from 1 to 5 coins per hand. Betting the maximum of 5 coins is a good idea to maximize potential payouts, especially for the Royal Flush, and the reason is simple:
Press the "Deal" button to start the game. You’ll be dealt 5 face-up cards from a standard 52-card deck. Now it’s showtime.
Study your initial hand and decide which cards to keep (hold) and which to discard. The objective is to create the best possible hand, and this is why I stress the importance of knowing the game’s rules and mechanics.
Decide on the cards you want to keep.
These will typically be highlighted or marked to indicate your selection. You can choose to hold none, some, or all of your initial cards.
Once you've made your selections, press the "Draw" button. The cards you didn’t hold will be replaced with new cards from the deck.
Your final hand will consist of the five cards you held and the new cards drawn from the deck. The machine or software will automatically evaluate your hand based on this game variant’s hand rankings.
If your final hand matches one of the qualifying hand rankings (e.g., Jacks or Better, Two Pair, etc.), you’ll receive a payout based on your original bet and the strength of your hand.
The payout will be displayed on the machine’s payout chart.
After collecting your winnings (if any), you can choose to continue playing by repeating the process or cash out your credits.
Just… Try not to go broke or lose your cool
Play the game for fun and for the satisfaction of devising clever strategies, have good bankroll management and you’ll run the game longer, but safely.
Understanding the hand rankings in Jacks or Better is a crucial aspect of improving your memory, decision-making skills, and risk assessment.
Here are the hand rankings, listed from the highest to lowest, along with examples:
Royal Flush: A, K, Q, J, 10, all of the same suit (e.g., A♥ K♥ Q♥ J♥ 10♥).
Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit (e.g., 7♠ 8♠ 9♠ 10♠ J♠).
Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank (e.g., 4♦ 4♠ 4♣ 4♥ 7♠).
Full House: Three cards of one rank and two cards of another rank (e.g., 8♣ 8♠ 8♦ 3♥ 3♠).
Flush: Five cards of the same suit, not in sequence (e.g., 2♠ 5♠ 7♠ 9♠ K♠).
Straight: Five consecutive cards of different suits (e.g., 3♠ 4♦ 5♥ 6♣ 7♠).
Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank (e.g., 9♦ 9♠ 9♥ Q♣ 2♠).
Two Pair: Two sets of pairs (e.g., J♣ J♠ 4♥ 4♠ 7♦).
Jacks or Better: A pair of Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces (e.g., Q♦ Q♠ 4♣ 10♠ 2♥).
The payout chart in Jacks or Better video poker outlines the potential winnings for each qualifying hand based on the number of coins you bet.
The payouts are typically displayed in a table format and can vary slightly from one casino or video poker machine to another.
The following is a standard example of a payout chart for a typical Jacks or Better game and how it scales when you bet the maximum amount of coins
Betting the maximum number of coins (usually 5) is known as "max bet" or "max coin" play.
Betting the maximum often unlocks the best possible payout for the Royal Flush, which is a significant advantage for players.
If you don’t bet the maximum, you may receive a lower payout for the Royal Flush, which can significantly impact your long-term winnings.
I know you are eager to start playing and get showered in little golden coins and hear that satisfying sound when you hit a winning hand. If you want to hear it more often, I encourage you to take some time to learn the ins and outs of the game and learn how to play strategically.
As a quick reference, let me share with you a couple of decision-making tips that will give you a little push in the right direction. Mind that we will further discuss basic and advanced strategies shortly, so take some time to go through them as well.
It’s time to put on your grown-up pants and get to work studying Jacks or Better video poker strategy.
Before diving in, please keep in mind two things
Strategical play in Jacks or Better is simply a set of decisions you make based on the initial hand; thinking about which cards to hold and which to toss, and being able to decide which winning hand is worth pursuing.
Can you follow me? Great, now, don’t get discouraged. Strategy in video poker Jacks or Better is a game in itself, it’s like playing with Legos or struggling to assemble Ikea furniture. It’s equally demanding and entertaining.
Now, I’ve decided to split this chapter into two sections: Beginner and Advanced
The first section is some sort of a straightforward and to-the-point introduction to how the game can be played effectively.
The second adds a bit more depth and extra tips to use when you’ve become more confident and developed a more critical approach to Jacks or Better.
Nevertheless, feel free to analyze and combine them as you wish, as long as you remember the key idea: think carefully and make the best decisions in whichever situation you are in.
Here’s the thing. Even if video poker is still a game of chance, once you get used to it, you will know how to deal with different scenarios.
Now, you won’t be Nostradamus and acquire video poker prescience, but you will encounter certain situations that automatically imply certain decisions.
The cool thing about that is, that once you get the hang of the strategy basics, you will easily know what to do in such situations.
Let me paint a clearer picture with a couple of important scenarios.
If You Already Got a Hand That Pays Out
I mean, that’s a no-brainer. If your initial hand already forms a winning combination, hold all of those cards and do not draw any new cards.
Let’s assume you are dealt 9♠ 10♠ J♠ Q♠ K♠
That’s a nice Straight Flush, a really strong hand. Obviously, in this scenario, you should hold all five cards. The payouts for Straight Flushes are handsome, and you’re in great luck if you are dealt one right from the start
If you’re two cards away from a Straight Flush
I want to build up on the example in the previous scenario. If your initial hand contains three cards with the potential of forming a Straight, you should naturally keep the three lucky ones and redraw two cards.
Chances are you will hit the winning combination. And if not, there are still chances you’ll get to craft winning pairs of threes of a kind (3OAK), for example.
When you have three cards to a Royal Flush
Now, that’s an exciting predicament. Here you need to focus on the potential of forming a Royal Flush (Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and 10 of the same suit) which is the highest-paying hand in the game.
For instance, if you are dealt 10♥ J♥ Q♥ 4♣ 7♠, keep the hearts - 10♥, J♥, Q♥ - and discard the others - 4♣ and 7♠. If you are lucky enough, Drawing the Ace and King of hearts would complete the Royal Flush.
When you have four cards to a Royal Flush
Four cards to a Royal is an even more interesting situation.
The idea here is that, even though it is really tempting to keep the fifth card and form a lower-paying hand for the purpose of certainty.
This tactic focuses on what matters most: crafting a Royal Flush, even if it means breaking up a lesser-paying hand.
For instance, in an initial hand - A♣ K♣ Q♣ J♣ 5♦ - the clubs need one more card to make up a Royal.
The strategy advises you to prioritize the Royal Flush opportunity. Thus, you should hold the clubs and discard the 5♦.
By doing this, you increase the likelihood of drawing the 10♣, which would complete the Royal Flush.
This should also be an indication that in video poker, Jacks or Better included, the risk is real, and you need to know how to dance with it. But that makes it fun and engaging if you keep it in moderation.
When you have four cards to a Straight or a Flush
Another instance where you are very close to forming a potentially winning hand.
Four Cards to a Straight means you have four consecutive cards that are one card away from completing a Straight (e.g., 4♠ 5♦ 6♣ 7♠, where drawing a 3♦ or 8♥ would complete the Straight).
Four Cards to a Flush means you have four cards of the same suit, and you need one more card of that suit to complete a Flush (e.g., 2♣ 4♣ 7♣ 9♣, where drawing another club completes the Flush).
In both cases, it’s usually wise to hold all four of the cards needed for a Straight or a Flush and discard only one card. Now, you’ll have more chances of completing the Straight or the Flush.
In the above situations, we examined how one should prioritize the three or four cards to a Royal Flush.
A similar approach can also be made when it comes to crafting a Flush (e.g. 2♠ 5♠ 7♠ 9♠ K♠)
But here, things get interesting. The initial hand will also give you food for thought if you get a pair in it. I’ll explain, but first, let’s consider these situations:
Your initial hand consists of a Pair - e.g. two Jacks or two Fours that also make up for:
Four Cards to a Flush, OR Three Cards to a Royal Flush.
In most cases, when you have a pair in your initial hand, it's advisable to prioritize the pair and hold it. A pair in Jacks or Better is a winning hand, and the objective is to secure at least that payout.
Consequently, if you’re faced with the choice between holding a pair, four cards to a flush, or three cards to a royal flush, prioritize the pair. Discard the other cards and keep the pair.
To add more context: let’s assume you get: J♦ J♠ 4♣ 8♦ 9♦
In this situation, you have a pair of Jacks (J♦, J♠). The remaining cards (4♣, 8♦, 9♦) include four cards to a flush (diamonds) and one unrelated card.
Following the strategy, you should prioritize the pair of Jacks and hold them. Discard the other cards (4♣, 8♦, 9♦).
By holding the pair of Jacks, you automatically secure One Pair, which guarantees a payout in Jacks or Better. While the potential for a flush or royal flush exists in the discarded cards, it's generally more rewarding in the long run to prioritize the pair when you initially have one.
The lesson here is that any strategy is volatile and adaptable, simply because video poker itself is volatile and rather unpredictable.
Three of a kind in your initial hand
In this situation, we will be focusing on maximizing our chances of achieving a Four of a Kind while still keeping open the possibility of forming a Full House, another strong hand.
When you are dealt three cards of the same rank in Jacks or Better, you are already holding a winning hand, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for a stronger hand like a Four of a Kind.
If you get, like 8♦ 8♠ 8♣ Q♦ 2♠ initially, you should hold the three 8s and discard the other two cards (Q♦ 2♠).
Think about it for a couple of seconds…
Yes, you are right! By holding the three 8s, you aim to draw another 8, completing a Four of a Kind(4OAK).
Achieving a 4OAK would result in a stronger hand and a higher payout compared to the Three of a Kind. However, if you don’t draw the fourth 8, there is still a chance to form a Full House by drawing another pair (e.g., two Qs or two 2s).
When you have no matching cards
There will clearly be rounds where your initial hand won’t have any matching hands, so no pairs or any significant combinations.
Here, you need to prioritize holding higher-value cards, specifically those that are Jacks or higher (Queens, Kings, or Aces) to boost your chances of forming any winning combination.
For instance, a mediocre 3♠ 7♦ 9♣ Q♠ K♥.
Following the strategy, you should focus on holding higher-value cards. In this case, you have a Queen (Q♠) and a King (K♥), both of which are equal to or higher in value than Jacks.
Therefore, you should hold onto both the Queen and the King and discard the other three cards (3♠, 7♦, 9♣).
By holding the Queen and King, you prioritize these higher-value cards, increasing the potential for forming combinations like One Pair (if you draw another Queen or King), Two Pair (if you draw a pair of Queens and a pair of Kings), Three of a Kind - 3OAK - (if you draw two more Kings or Queens), or even a Full House (if you draw a pair and Three of a Kind).
When your starting hand is drier than the Sahara desert.
No combinations, no Jacks or higher, nothing. Death stranding incarnate. Don’t despair, the solution is criminally simple: discard the entire hand and draw five new cards.
It can’t be worse than what you’ve started with. Chances are you will eventually get at least a Pair, 3OAK, or a Straight, among others. It’s your safest approach when you are dealt an initial hand with no apparent winning elements.
Earlier we saw how pairs are sometimes more valuable than pursuing hands of higher rank.
A Pair is already a winning hand, and if you hold one, you already have won the round. With the basics met, your next objective is to simply improve your hand further.
If you hold a Pair (like, I don’t know, two 9s), you aim to draw three more cards that could potentially improve your hand to Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Full House, or Four of a Kind. This approach significantly minimizes loss risks, and it’s a good tactic for most beginners.
However, this method is not always the optimal tactic.
There are situations where holding a pair is not really the best strategy.
For example, if you have a pair of low-value cards (e.g., a pair of 2s) and the other three cards do not provide the potential for a high-ranking hand, you might consider different strategies based on the specific hand and payout table.
When you have other strong combinations in your initial hand, such as four cards to a Straight, Flush, or a potential Royal Flush, you might prioritize those combinations over a pair.
Basically, it’s up to you to assess your hands and come up with the most suitable decision in the given context. Always consider factors such as the potential for high-ranking hands or other useful card combinations.
Prioritizing a pair over a high card like a Jack, Queen, King, or Ace is rooted in the fact that a pair is already a winning hand in Jacks or Better, while a high card alone does not guarantee a winning combination.
By holding a high card, you are essentially banking on the chance that you might draw more high cards to form a higher-ranking hand, such as One Pair or Two Pair, but this outcome is not guaranteed, so you are needlessly risking more.
Your initial hand is: 7♠ 7♦ J♣ Q♠ K♥
In this scenario, you have a pair of 7s (7♠, 7♦) and high cards (J♣, Q♠, K♥). The strategy advises you to prioritize the pair of 7s and hold them. Discard the high cards (J♣, Q♠, K♥).
While you have high cards in your initial hand, they don't form a winning combination on their own, and it’s generally more prudent to secure a guaranteed win with the pair.
In Jacks or Better video poker, the strategy of distinguishing between low pairs and high pairs plays a crucial role in making informed decisions during the game.
Usually, you will want to hold the high pairs over the low pairs. Let me explain.
Low pairs consist of pairs of Tens or lower. On the other hand, High pairs include pairs of Jacks, Queens, Kings, or Aces. These are considered high-value cards in Jacks or Better.
So, when you are dealt a hand that includes a high pair i.e a pair of Kings, you should hold onto that pair.
That’s because high pairs already make up a winning hand, and you’re more likely to craft even better combinations if you are lucky enough on the redraw for Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Full House, or even Four of a Kind. Low pairs, on the other hand, have a lower potential for improvement and may not result in as significant a payout.
However, there are still situations where you should probably not overlook low pairs either, and for that, let’s discuss this dilemma from both sides.
Here are the situations where you need to prioritize the high pairs in your hand:
When you have four to a Flush
Here, you aim to preserve the strong starting point of a high pair while seeking opportunities to complete a Flush or achieve other valuable combinations.
For example: J♠ J♦ 4♠ 7♠ 9♠
A pair of Jacks and four cards of the same suit, meaning four (4♠, 7♠, 9♠) to a Flush in spades. I know it’s a tough move, but hold the Jacks and discard the other three cards.
By holding the pair, you already secure a winning hand from the start. Moreover, you draw three new cards to complete the Flush or improve your hand further. This is a solid starting position that can increase your hand’s overall value.
When you have four to a Straight
Another instance when keeping the pairs and discarding the rest is advisable. The idea stays the same: maintaining a strong starting point thanks to the high pair while drawing three new cards to possibly improve your hand.
It’s the exact same principle. You draw three new cards to potentially form hands like Two Pair, Three of a Kind, Full House, or Four of a Kind, which can lead to higher payouts.
Three to a Straight Flush? Welp, again, keep the pair
This situation offers two promising options: holding the high pair or aiming for a Straight Flush by holding the three consecutive suited cards.
However, it’s more beneficial to focus on the pairs. This will produce better results over time, since aiming for a Straight Flush is riskier and may not pay off as often. Here, it’s about stable and immediate win.
So if you have something like J♠ J♦ 10♠ J♥ Q♠
Even if you could potentially form a Straight Flush in spades, keep the Jacks (J♠, J♦) and discard the other three cards (10♠, J♥, Q♠).
When to Hold the Low Pairs
Even a puny low pair can sometimes bring value to your hand in certain situations. In fact, different pro players often recommend you keep all the low pairs you receive, but again, it all depends on your starting hand and how good you are at estimating risks.
When you have four to a Straight
It’s a great idea to keep the pair that you got. If you start with something like 6-6-7-8-9, hold the sixes and toss 7-8-9.
The reason behind this is that having a consistent approach in this scenario will help minimize the risk associated with aiming for a Straight.
When you have three to a Straight Flush
Even if the three suited cards in consecutive order seem tempting for a Straight Flush, try and play it safely and steadily by discarding these and keeping the low pairs.
So, for instance, in 2♠ 3♠ 4♠ 6♦ 6♠, you should prioritize holding the low pair of 6s (6♦, 6♠) and discard the 2♠ 3♠ 4♠.
When you also have two cards that could result in a Royal Flush
Catching that elusive Royal Flush is one of the most arduous ambitions in video poker. If you know StarCraft leagues in Korea, then you probably know the feeling.
Let me put this straight. It is possible to get a Royal Flush, and in some instances you are likely to secure it, BUT those occurrences are rare and you almost never should pursue it and toss other advantageous hand combinations. If you have something like four cards to a Royal, well, sometimes it’s worth the shot.
But in most cases, particularly when you already have a low pair and two cards that could form a Royal Flush, you should really hold the pair.
Consider this scenario: 3♣ 3♠ 10♦ J♦ 9♥
You have a low pair of 3s (3♣, 3♠) and two cards (10♦, J♦) that are part of the same suit and could potentially be used to form a Royal Flush in diamonds.
If you hold the pair, you get a chance to draw another pair which qualifies for Two Pairs, or another 3 to form 3OAK, so a payout.
While the two cards could potentially contribute to a Royal Flush, aiming for such a rare and high-value hand is riskier compared to guaranteeing a payout from other combinations.
You should, by now, be able to understand that your choices need to be smart and flexible. Even if you cannot guarantee a certain win, you significantly improve the chances.
Once you memorize these patterns and act wisely, you will discover that Jacks or Better really deserves its name as one of the best video poker games.
Phase two of the boss fight. Other particular situations where you need to do a bit of a 180-degree shift as opposed to what you’ve learned in the Beginner’s chapter.
Yes, there can be slightly more risks associated with each decision you make, but the key is to be aware of how willing you are to push things while still keeping the flow of the game relatively safe and consistent.
When you have four cards to a Flush and a low pair, go for the Flush
Wielding five cards of the same suit is like leveling up your sword to do more damage. It’s strong, it’s valuable, but it still takes a bit of polish.
The best thing about this situation is that you only need to draw one more card. Chances to draw exactly what you’re aiming for, so it’s worth trying to pursue the Flush.
Break up those pairs and hope for a lucky redraw.
When you have three cards to a Royal Flush and a low pair, prioritize the Royal Flush
As opposed to keeping the low pairs and attempting to build two pairs or 3OAK or 4OAK, the probability of hitting Royal once you redraw is worthwhile. Some may even say it’s a waste not to discard the low pairs.
If you get 10♠ J♠ Q♠ 3♦ 3♠, you only need the Ace and King of spades instead of those 3s. And if you are playing Jacks or Better video poker with five coins, the potential payout is simply gargantuan.
Four cards to a Straight Flush? Keep Them!
Even if you’ve got some high pairs up your sleeve or think about breaking up our hand, keep the Straight Flush elements and try for the last piece of the puzzle.
Straight Flush is a solid hand, and its potential for a significant payout makes it more attractive than a pair of Jacks or Better.
Four cards to a Flush and a high pair? Go for the Flush!
While holding onto a pair of Jacks or better is a wise option for an optimal playthrough, the Flush ranks a lot higher and the rewards are fitting.
In this case, if your hand would look something like J♠J♥4♥6♥9♥, toss the Jack of Spades and redraw one card. Aim for that Flush of Hearts because the probability of getting it is quite high, the combination is not that rare, and you’re open to alternatives.
As we saw above, tactics need to be adapted and optimized for every scenario you may encounter. Optimal strategy allows you flexibility while still watching your back. Of course, unpredictability is bound to occur sooner or later, but that’s the fun of video poker. You cannot escape it, but you can delay it to further increase your winning chances.
Or, who knows, that unpredictability could be the missing card to a Royal Flush. It’s up to your wisdom and skills to play responsibly and have a blast with Jacks or Better. Remember that it’s all about being aware of the probabilities as well, so give my other guide on improving video poker odds as well.
It’s not enough to learn strategy charts by heart. Sure, you can read tons of interesting material, lots of studies and so on, but do not overlook the importance of the other factors.
Here, I will give you some great tips that will aid your gaming journey. So, now that you’ve grown accustomed to Jacks or Better strategy essentials, it’s time to find out how to make the most out of it:
This one is some sort of a combo. Assuming you are confident enough to play video poker for real money using the optimal strategy, hitting the right video poker console with maximum coins will be a very, very profitable encounter.
Let me elaborate. In the world of video poker, different machines have different RTPs (return to player). So, the higher the RTP, the more you win back from your initial bet. A 9/6 Jacks or Better machine - also known as Full Pay - is the best one because it has the highest payout percentage: 99.54%.
This is the reason why you should always play with five coins, so the maximum amount. Not only does the payouts increase exponentially and hitting a Royal Flush is like knocking on Heaven’s door, but you also mitigate losses to a certain extent over time.
Also, remember that video poker has one of the lowest house edges in casino gaming, so it’s a shame not to flex your mind muscles and play strategically. Always use your best judgement when you take on the house!
You will need money to stay in the game (duuh). What are you doing? Stop! Don’t spend it all at once!
Good lord, man, haven’t you heard of bankroll management? Okay, let me clue you in. When you decide to play any casino game, it’s important to set a certain gambling budget and stick to it. Do not exceed it, and do not spend it too fast.
Divide the budget into smaller betting units and make wise choices. I know I said you should play Jacks or Better with max coins, but as long as you know what you are doing and stick to the plan, you’ll be fine and you’ll extend your play time significantly.
The golden rule is to stick with that budget and don’t lose your cool.
Every casino should have some sort of a bonus or a promotion, be it a welcoming package or something similar.
Use them to your advantage. Chances are you will be rewarded for your play time and this means more coins for longer winning sessions. Just try not to have too long of a sitting and go see the sunlight, please.
Also, be aware of the terms and conditions associated with each bonus.
It’s important to know about the fine print and understand the casino’s special conditions.
Before venturing into the real money video poker realm, I strongly recommend you practice Jacks or Better strategies with free demos.
We have a wide selection of different Jacks or Better games - even multi-hand - on our dedicated Free Video Poker Games page, so don’t hesitate to try your hand at a couple of demos and practice what you’ve learned.
It’s the safest way to improve your video poker skills without depositing or losing any real money. Plus, it’s fun, relaxing, and you are not anxious about winning or losing.
When you are ready, choose a reliable and high-rated casino, aim for the bucks at a real money online video poker game and have a look at this video poker bonus codes list to see if you find something useful.
Jacks or Better is an amazing video poker game that’s a nice fit for beginner players. It’s easy to learn, and once you have the optimal decisions and strategies cemented into your memory, aiming for high-rank hands will become less and less difficult.
In every video poker game, the strategy basics revolve around making the best decisions for any given hand. Knowing what to keep and what to discard is an important aspect in Jacks or Better as well.
The game has great potential for nice wins as long as you play optimally and gamble within means. I, for one, had great fun playing it, and I kept playing it while writing this guide. You’re more than welcome to sit back and enjoy some free rounds until you’ve mastered the Jacks or Better strategy, because practice makes perfect.
Remember to keep it cool and moderate, study intensely, learn from your mistakes, and don’t get discouraged if things don’t always go your way. Jacks or Better is about having fun. And if you ever want to try other video poker variants, keep your eyes on my other (and future) guides on the Video Poker Academy!