Video poker, a close relative of poker machines (also known as “pokies”), is one of the most popular ways to gamble. Electronic gambling machines take up the bulk of casino floors. The two most common forms of machine gambling are pokies (known as slots or fruit machines outside of Australia) and variations of video poker.
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The phrase refers to a wide variety of electronic games with video screens that base their rules on traditional poker card games. Video poker is so popular, it is one of the few games of chance or skill that can be found outside of casinos, in bars, nightclubs, and even convenience stores or petrol stations.
Though these games are closely related to pokies, they are different in one important way. A player’s skill set or knowledge of strategy has an effect on the outcome; video poker is a game of skill. It is because of this skill element that some countries allow the games to be played in non-casino settings.
The skill element is also responsible for the fact that some versions have the best odds in the casino. With practice, knowledge of game strategy, and by playing versions of the game that have the most lucrative pay tables, you can reduce the house edge to well below one per cent.
The most important part of the game for the gambler is the decision about which cards to keep and which to replace. The idea, as in any card game, is to build a more valuable hand according to the game’s pay table and rules. Once the discards are replaced, the player is paid off if their hand is a winner. Values of winning hands are described on the machine’s pay table.
A game’s pay table gives out a lot of information – experienced gamblers can tell a lot by looking at the pay tables. These tables, like the tables on pokies, are posted on the case or as part of the video screen. The information on that table is sufficient to determine if it offers particularly good odds or not, provided a player knows what to look for.
Many variations exist, as do varieties of pay tables, but most games share some features in common. For example, the set of cards used in these games is usually a standard 52-card deck. Some versions use jokers or other wild cards, a feature reflected in the names of variants like Deuces Wild (see our article about Jackpot Deuces) and Joker Poker. But for the most part, learning to play on one machine makes a gambler familiar enough to easily adapt to a different variant.
Pokies and video poker have a common ancestor. The first poker machines appeared in the US near the end of the 19th century. In fact, the slang word “pokies” is a nod to the fact that the earliest mechanical poker machines were simple hybrids of the rules of poker and the rules of what we now call poker machines.
The earliest machines that are ancestors of both pokies and video poker games had a pay table based on the traditional hierarchy of poker hands – these rudimentary pokies had five reels (for the five cards used in most poker games) each of which was able to display one of ten cards. Pulling a lever set the reels spinning; the cards displayed when the reels stopped made up the player’s hand. Different hands paid out different rewards – for example, a high pair was less valuable than a straight flush, etc.
Charles Fey, credited with inventing the first “slot machines” (as Americans call them) was also the inventor of a game known as Skill Draw, what had rules very close to the rules of video poker. Skill Draw players could choose to re-spin any number of the reels after their first hand, even replacing each of their five cards if their first hand was bad enough to warrant it.
Because Fey’s other invention, the original poker machine known as Liberty Bell, caught on bigger than Skill Draw, it wasn’t until the 1970s that what we’d recognize today as video poker would make another appearance in casinos. These modern games came with pay table structures designed to attract the growing crowds of pokies players to a different type of machine-based game.
Once casino profits from machine games based on the rules of poker increased, game designers started producing new variations and gamblers reacted by increasing the amount of time and money they spent playing titles like Jacks or Better and Aces and Faces. The popularity of these new machine games grew to the point that casino management had to dedicate big chunks of the gaming floor to them; setting them up alongside the similar (and massively-popular) pokie machines of the day just made sense. It took nearly a century, but these two distant relatives (pokies and video-style poker games) now stand side-by-side in casinos.
Video poker lends itself to all sorts of formats. The majority of the game takes place on a video screen or some other small interface; it’s an ideal fit for online casinos, gaming consoles, personal computers, and screens on airplanes and in retail spaces. Since pushing buttons on the screen of a game in a casino isn’t all that different from clicking a mouse or pressing a button on a handheld console, the game was an easy fit for online casinos, handheld home games powered by battery, and in play-money distractions designed for laptops and smartphones.
Ultimately, the fact that these games involve an element of skill makes them appealing to pokies players looking for a bigger challenge or a smaller house advantage. Originally conceived and invented by the same man, the two games are still going strong even 125 years after they first showed up in saloons in frontier America.