Not too long ago I was heading for my favorite bank of video poker (VP) machines when my friend asked why I didn’t play “real poker” in the card room. This, of course, wasn’t the first time a nose was subtly turned up regarding the felt game’s “superiority” to step-daughter, video poker. I honestly feel no need to get defensive about VP, but must say they are very different games and neither one is entitled to #special bragging rights.

That’s because, regardless of which poker version suits you, your legitimate game pride is derived from your skill level in your game of choice. There are, of course, many differences between the two and understanding them will be beneficial to players in both genres as well as switch hitters; those who play LP (live poker) and VP.

Poker Face: It’s crystal-clear that you’re not going to bluff or have “tells” (inadvertent gestures, like a raised eyebrow) that clue others as to what’s in your hand if your game is video poker. Obviously, it’s an important part of live poker and the best players, say Phil Ivey, will reveal nothing helpful about their cards during play. That’s why Phil Laak, aka “Unabomber”, wears a hoodie and dark glasses throughout the game.

Live Poker: The best poker players excel in both the analytical and psychological aspects of the game. There’s a large cadre of professional players whose skills are akin to those of world-class chess players. (Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Antonio Esfandiari to name a few. What, you were expecting Toby Maguire, Ben Affleck and Michael Phelps? They’re not in the same league.)

How about John Doe players in local or unfamiliar casinos? Therein lies the problem. If you don’t have a clue as to their skills or even if they’re playing “teams” (signaling to others at the table), then you’re at a big disadvantage.

Video Poker: Only you will know whether you made the correct holds during play and that’s assuming you know compute- perfect strategy per tutorial software. You may be playing with close to 100% accuracy and still lose money during your session. On the positive side, you will know your odds of winning in advance based solely on your skill and the pay schedule that appears on the display glass or by pushing the “see pays” button on the device. Over time (called the long run) skilled players will have an advantage if they choose a positive game. For example, if you play 9/6 Jacks or Better (9/6 JOB, ER 99.5439%)and get 0.50% slot card cash (this is possible, especially on multiple points days) your game’s ER is 100.0439%. You’ll also earn comps, bounceback cash and often promotional event entries. It’s certainly not a killing, but definitely better than any table game of poker, especially when you factor in the casino’s rake. Keep in mind that if you’ve selected a big house advantage game, say 7/5JOB (ER, 96.1472%), the casino will eventually make a profit; you won’t outrun the odds forever.

Choosing Your Game: So, which is the better choice, video poker or live poker? Is VP truly an ugly step-sister to the beautiful princess, LP? There’s no correct response without more information.

Live Poker: In addition to your poker skills, both analytical in evaluating your cards and psychological in evaluating other players you must consider the house’s rake. That’s the casino’s commission for operating the game and will vary from 2.5% to 10% of the pot, up to a pre-determined maximum, although some houses use a different system. If you choose a casino with a high rake, even if you’re a low-roller, poker can become an expensive pastime.

Video Poker: VP isn’t a slam dunk either in terms of positivity. You must select a game with a reasonable ER (theoretical return, assuming accurate play). Experts may argue about what’s acceptable, but it’s really an individual choice for each player. Smart gamblers will always have practiced on tutorial software at home and know the theoretical return before making a decision.

Final Thoughts: There is no peer glory in playing VP according to Zamzow (Dean Zamzow wrote WinPoker software) since nobody but you and your wallet will know the accuracy of your holds. Even with perfect play, you may have only lint in your pockets on your way home from the casino. But it’s also true that you can be Phil Ivey and get eliminated playing tournament poker by Bob or Betty Beercan. As Amarillo Slim said, “Nobody is always a winner, and anybody who says he is, is either a liar or doesn’t play poker”. The best you can do is carefully consider your skills and the game’s ER for VP and your ability, the rake and your familiarity with other players if you’re choosing table poker.


Linda Boyd, a long-time table game player before turning to video poker, writes for “Southern Gaming and Destinations”, “Arizona Player” and the latest edition of “American Casino Guide”. You can see her videos on YouTube or view them on American Casino Guide’s web site and her radio interviews are on iTunes. Boyd’s book, “The Video Poker Edge”, includes free removable pay schedules and her free strategy cards for the most popular games. The latest edition is available from, Square One Publishers and book stores. Kindle edition now available.