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Traditional Jacks Or Better comes in “9/6” format, where a flush pays 6 for 1 and the full house 9 for 1. A very typical variant is 8/5 - those two hands are downgraded by one. These short pays have a quite devastating effect on the house edge. See the section on boosting the royal for more details, but these low pay versions are best avoided.

The strategy and charts on this page relate exlusively to the full pay 9/6 version.

The Jacks Or Better paytable

Below is the paytable for the Jacks Or Better 9/6 game:

Royal flush | 250 | 500 | 750 | 1000 | 4000 |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

Straight flush | 50 | 100 | 150 | 200 | 250 |

Four of a kind | 25 | 50 | 75 | 100 | 125 |

Full house | 9 | 18 | 27 | 36 | 45 |

Flush | 6 | 12 | 18 | 24 | 30 |

Straight | 4 | 8 | 12 | 16 | 20 |

Three of a kind | 3 | 6 | 9 | 12 | 15 |

Two pair | 2 | 4 | 6 | 8 | 10 |

Jacks or better | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

There are five columns representing the number of coins you can wager, from one through to five. If you look at the top right hand corner at the royal flush payout in the “five coins” column you'll see that that royal payout is larger, in relation to the other payouts in that column, than in any of the other four columns to the left. For instance, in the first four columns the royal pays five times more than the straight flush; in the “five coins” column it pays fully sixteen times more.

Jacks Or Better hand-rank table

The best way to learn accurate strategy is with a hand-rank chart (see below): look at your cards and decide if you have anything corresponding to the hands on the chart. If you have, hold the appropriate cards. If you have

For example, if you're dealt the following initial five cards...

...your 2D 2H pair corresponds to rank number 15, “low pair”, so hold the twos and discard the rest. If you're dealt...

...you have both a five card flush (6) and four to a royal flush (4); the four royal is higher, so discard the 5D and hold the four royal cards.

Jacks Or Better hand rank table | |
---|---|

1 | Pat royal flush |

2 | Pat straight flush |

3 | Pat four of a kind |

4 | 4 to a royal flush |

5 | Pat full house |

6 | Pat flush |

7 | 3 of a kind |

8 | Pat straight |

9 | 4 to a straight flush |

10 | Two pair |

11 | High pair |

12 | 3 to a royal flush |

13 | 4 to a flush |

14 | 4 to an outside straight with 3 high cards |

15 | Low pair |

16 | 4 to an outside straight with 0-2 high cards |

17 | 3 to a straight flush, spread 5, 2 high cards |

18 | 3 to a straight flush, spread 4, 1 high card |

19 | 3 to a straight flush, spread 3, 0 high cards |

20 | Suited jack and queen |

21 | 4 to an inside straight, 4 high cards |

22 | 2 suited high cards, king highest |

23 | 2 suited high cards, ace highest |

24 | 4 to an inside straight, 3 high cards |

25 | 3 to a straight flush, spread 5, 1 high card |

26 | 3 to a straight flush, spread 4, 0 high cards |

27 | Unsuited JQK |

28 | Unsuited JQ |

29 | Suited TJ |

30 | 2 unsuited high cards king highest |

31 | Suited TQ |

32 | 2 unsuited high cards ace highest |

33 | J only |

34 | Suited TK |

35 | Q only |

36 | K only |

37 | A only |

38 | 3 to a straight flush, spread 5, 0 high cards |

(There are some rare exceptions to the above chart which can be found on Michael Shakleford's Jacks Or Better video poker page.)

Hand-rank nomenclature

• “Spread 4” and “spread 5” - see hands 17 and 18 - means spanning four or five cards; for instance: 3D, 5D and 7D are three cards to a straight flush “spread 5”; 4D, 5D and 7D are the same but “spread 4”; these are also referred to as “double inside” and “inside” draws respectively.

• An “inside” straight - see hand 21 - is a four-card straight that requires just one specific card for completion; for instance: 4D, 5C, 6C and 8H requires a 7 to complete the hand. Equally, an ace, 2, 3 and 4 is also an “inside” draw, since it can only be completed on one side, with a 5 - as is jack, queen king and ace, which requires a 10.

• An “outside” straight - see hand 16 - is a four-card straight that can be completed on either side; for instance: 5C, 6H, 7D and 8H can be completed with either a 4 or a 9.

• A low pair in this game is any pair 10 or below.

• A high pair is any pair of jacks or higher.

• A high card is a jack, queen, king or ace.

Why learn Jacks Or Better?

I would recommend learning optimal Jacks Or Better strategy for the following reasons:

• It's the basic video poker game which spawned all the many variants that subsequently emerged; you need to start somewhere and this is as good a place as any.

• A machine that pays at least 4880 coins on the royal represents an overall payout of 100%, so if you can find such a "progressive" jackpot pushing the game above that level you'll be gambling with an advantage.

Hand frequencies and percentage returns

The payouts on the various hands increase in relation their relative infrequency in all video poker games: in Jacks Or Better, a pair of jacks, queens, kings or aces is the most common of the paying hands and therefore pays the least - just 1 for 1; the royal flush is the rarest hand and so pays the most - 800 for 1.

The exact frequency of each of the hands is listed in the chart below, along with the percentage amount that each hand contributes to the overall payout of the game:

Hands | Frequency | Percentage of return |
---|---|---|

Royal flush | 40391 | 1.98 |

Straight flush | 9148 | 0.55 |

Four of a kind | 423 | 5.91 |

Full house | 86.8 | 10.36 |

Flush | 90.8 | 6.61 |

Straight | 89 | 4.49 |

Three of a kind | 13 | 22.33 |

Two pair | 7.7 | 25.86 |

Jacks or better | 4.6 | 21.46 |

The numbers in the “frequency” column tell us the average occurance rate of each hand; straights occur once in every 89 hands, four of a kind every 423 hands, straight flushes every 9148, etc. The “percentage of return” column indicates the relative amount that each hand contributes to the overall payout. For example: four of a kind is listed as 5.91%, which means that of the overall 99.54% return of this game, the four of a kind hand contributes 5.91%. Remove that hand completely and you'd be left with an overall payout reduced to 93.63%.

You can see from the frequency column that jacks or better occurs once every 4.6 hands on average; the royal flush on the other hand puts in an appearance only once in every 40,391. Combining this with the percentage return figures, we can get an idea of the sort of payout you can expect over a relatively limited amount of play - which in the case of Jacks Or Better is pretty good: over the course of as little as just a hundred hands you can expect to see each hand at least once, except for the top three - four of a kind, the straight flush and the royal; subtracting those payouts from the total, 99.54 - 1.98 - 0.55 - 5.91, leaves 91.1%.

Extending the session to 500 hands we can now include four of a kind - since it hits every 423 hands on average - giving us a still very much short-term payout over those 500 hands of a creditable 97%. Take this a step further and factor out just the royal flush and we have an overall royal-less game of 97.54% - the straight flush contributes relatively little to the overall return. Although you should not approach your videopoker play from such a short term viewpoint - there are plenty of players who play upwards of a million hands over the course of their lives - what this does give you is an approximate idea of what you can expect over the course of an hour or so of play.

Boosting the royal jackpot

Leaving aside the frequencies and focusing exclusively on the percentage return column, with a little bit of fiddling with the figures we can work out by how much the royal flush payout needs to improve in order to push this 99.54% game up to and beyond 100% - both online and off there are banks of Jacks Or Better “progressive” games, in which the royal payout increases as a percentage of the players' combined wagering until someone hits the jackpot, at which point it resets to its starting value; it's vital to know the point at which the game hits 100% so that you can start playing as soon as you have the edge. So, let's take a look at the numbers:

The 4000-coin royal contributes 1.98% to the overall return of 99.54%. In order to get to 100% we need an extra 0.44%, and since 0.44 is 22.22% of 1.98 (0.44 / 1.98 × 100), we need to increase the royal payout by 22.23% to squeeze just over 100% - which means the royal needs to reach at least 4889 coins. On a quarter machine, we would reach a 100% return when the standard $1000 royal reaches $1,222.

We can apply the same calculations to any progressive game. As I mentioned in the opening comments, a very typical variant of the above scenario is Jacks Or Better with the flush payout cut to 5 and the full house to 8 - otherwise known as Jacks Or Better 8/5; if this game includes a progressive royal jackpot it will also eventually push the game over 100%, assuming it climbs high enough before someone hits it.

In order to work out just how high it needs to climb, we first need to reduce the flush and full house percentage returns relative to their reduction in the pay lines: flush 6.61 × 5/6 = 5.508, and full house 10.36 × 8/9 = 9.2. We can now add those two new figures together for a new “flush plus full house” total of 14.7%. Substituting that figure for the original total of 16.97% gives us an overall payout of 97.28%, leaving 2.72% to make up with the increased royal. 2.72 is 137% of 1.98, so we need to increase the 4000 coin royal payout by 137%, or 5480 coins, in order to achieve 100% return - and that gives us a required total of 9480 coins. Translated into dollars, that's $2370 on the $1.25 machine and $9480 on the $5 version.

...and so on and so forth; as long as you know the percentage return numbers, you can calculate the costs / advantages of any set of variations.

My recommendation for where to play Jacks Or Better:

♠

32Red has a wide variety of Jacks Or Better games available, from single line to ten-line games, and all in the full 9/6 format. They pay fast and have been generally acknowledged as the best casino on the internet for many years.

Other Jacks Or Better resources on the web

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Jacks or better simple strategy is a hand rank chart of just 16 entires - as opposed to the 38 entries of the full chart - which yields a total return of 99.46%, just 0.8% short of the full return. Given the ease of learning and the much reduced chance of making mistakes, this strategy makes a lot of sense.

Jacks or better intermediate strategy is a hand rank chart of 25 entries, again much less than the 38 of the optimal chart, and which yields fully 99.52%, or just 0.2% less than the optimal version. The slight complication is the categorisation of straight flushes, which takes a little getting used to.

Jacks or better optimal strategy is the same as the hand rank chart above, but two entries shorter - 36 rather than 38 - because of the way he catagorises straight flushes.

Jacks or better practice game, which includes a box you can tick to warn you if you make a sub-optimal strategy error.

Strategy trainer tells you if you've made the best play and allows for the correction of mistakes.

•

Jacks or better frequency and comparison chart includes a simple way of estimating the house edge for the various short pay versions of the game, such as 8/5 and 6/5.

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