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The Last Guide to Video Poker Tournament Strategies You’ll Ever Need

Most gamblers are familiar with video poker, which is essentially draw poker with big prizes on the line.

Players already appreciate the draw poker aspect of this game. But video poker is even more exciting when considering the big prizes that you can win for a straight flush and royal flush.

Video poker tournaments differ in that you don’t play for big prizes in each hand. Instead, you pay an entry fee and compete for a prize pool.

Those who are accustomed to standard video poker often try tournaments for something new. It’s especially fun to play against human opponents, rather than the machine/house.

But it’s crucial to learn strategy if you hope to win money against your opponents. And I’m going to cover everything you need to know about video poker tournament strategy in this guide.

Choose Your Video Poker Tournaments Wisely

The first thing that you want to do before playing in a video poker tournament is figure out the rules and other details.

This is important because you must decide what kind of strategy is needed to reach the prize money. You must also figure out what tourneys best suit you.

Here are the standard types of video poker tournaments:

  • Buy-In Without a Fee – These events see 100% of players’ buy-ins go directly into the prize pool.
  • Buy-in with a Fee – The casino that’s hosting the tournament takes a small fee from each buy-in. In most cases, the fee includes an extra 5%-10% on top of the buy-in (e.g., $100 + $10).
  • Open Freeroll – A freeroll is aptly named, since you don’t have to pay anything to enter. The “open” aspect refers to how anybody at the casino can enter because there aren’t any requirements.
  • VIP Freeroll – These tournaments also don’t require players to pay an entry fee. The catch is that you have to be a certain VIP status to be invited.

You should use your specific situation to decide what type of events you’re willing to play.

A well-funded video poker player who wants to compete for big prize money will find open freerolls to be a waste of time.

This is because open freerolls can draw hundreds or thousands of players. And the prize pools are generally small, meaning a tiny percentage of the field will cash.

On the other hand, any gambler with a small bankroll should consider open freerolls because these offer a chance to win real money.

Another consideration comes in with VIP freerolls. Specifically, you want to decide whether the freeroll prize pools make it worth attaining a specific loyalty status.

You should also look at the other rewards being offered in the program to see if it’s worth meeting the VIP status requirements.

When it comes to buy-in tournaments, you obviously want to play in events where you don’t have to pay extra fees. But keep in mind that tourneys with house fees can be the most lucrative in terms of prize pools.

As for the rules, you need to know if a tourney has a time limit, credit limit, hand limit, or a combination of these. Here are different formats featured in video poker tournaments:

  • Timed – These tournaments last for a specific number of minutes (e.g., 20 minutes). The winner is the player with the highest score when the time is up.
  • Credit Limit – Entrants continue playing until their credits run out. The winner is determined by who has the most credits when everybody is finished playing their round.
  • Credit and Time Limit – Ends when the time limit is reached. But players can also run out of credits before the time limit.
  • Hand Limit – The tournament runs for a specific number of hands (e.g., 300 hands). The winner is the player who has the highest bankroll when the hands are finished.

Timed tournaments are the most common in video poker. These see you play as quickly as possible in hopes of winning the most credits.

For example, you may be given 30 minutes to rack up as many credits as possible. When the half hour is up, players’ scores are tallied, and a winner is determined.

You want to play as quickly as possible in any timed video poker tourney. This ensures that you give yourself the best possible chance to win lots of credits.

Hand limit events are also fairly common. An example would be a tournament that lasts for 500 hands.

You should take your time with these tourneys because there’s no pressure and you want to make the best decisions.

Bankroll Management for Video Poker Tournaments

Another part of choosing video poker tourneys involves knowing how to manage your bankroll. The first thing that you need to do in this regard is decide how much money you can put towards these events.

This is made easier when you already have a gambling bankroll separated from your finances. In this case, you merely need to decide what percentage of your bankroll to put towards video poker tourneys.

If you don’t have a gambling bankroll calculated already, then you’ll need to add up your income and expenses. You then subtract expenses from income to see how much free money is available.

I certainly don’t suggest that you put all of your free money into playing video poker tournaments. But you can put a safe amount towards playing these every week or month.

The next step is to break your bankroll down into buy-ins and decide what stakes to play. Texas hold’em tournament players often play stakes where they can cover between 75 and 200 buy-ins.

Here’s an example of how to do this for video poker tourneys:

  • You have a $1,000 bankroll
  • You want enough for 100 buy-ins
  • 1,000 / 100 = 10
  • You can afford to play $10 buy-in tournaments

The purpose of calculating your bankroll like this is to reduce your risk of ruin, or the chances that you’ll lose everything. Having 100 buy-ins will dramatically lower your risk of ruin.

The other point here is that skilled players can reduce short-term volatility with lots of buy-ins. In other words, skilled players want to maximize their chances of making long-term profits, rather than risk too much money in a single tournament.

Strategy for Video Poker Tournaments

Video poker strategy for tournaments breaks down into three schools:

  • Playing as quickly as you can (timed tournaments), with less emphasis on perfect strategy
  • Focusing on optimal strategy, while worrying about speed second
  • Concentrating on cards that can earn you a royal flush and other high payouts

Again, the style you use depends upon the tournament format. Speed is emphasized in timed tournaments that don’t limit your credits or number of hands.

But you want to slow down and concentrate on optimal strategy in tourneys with a hand or credit limit.

The most imbalanced strategy includes only playing for royal flushes.

Anybody who’s well-versed in video poker strategy knows that this is normally a bad idea. The reason why is because royal flushes only make up around 2% of total video poker payback.

But you might be surprised to know that focusing on royal flushes is sometimes the best tournament strategy. This is especially the case in large events where the winner needs a really high score.

Now I’m going to cover each of the aforementioned three video poker strategies in depth.

Strategy #1: Playing for Speed

You don’t have to know anything profound to use this strategy. Instead, you simply need to emphasize how quickly you’re playing hands.

The goal is to get as many hands in as possible before the time limit runs out. This is the best strategy for a timed video poker tournament, even when credit limits are involved.

The secondary aspect is that you also want to use smart strategy. It really helps you execute both parts of this plan if you’re used to playing quickly anyways.

This allows you to develop the skills of quickly making the best decisions possible. But even if you’re not great at rapidly figuring out strategy on the fly, you should still play quickly and try to improve your speed in timed events.

Strategy #2: Focusing on Perfect Strategy

Tournaments with hand and credit limits allow you to take your time and play each hand with optimal strategy.

These events are perfect for casual video poker players who don’t want to feel rushed in a tournament. But you should also be aware that there’s a greater deal of luck involved because the speed element is taken out of the equation.

This means that everybody gets a fair chance to play each hand perfectly, regardless of how slow or fast they are.

Nevertheless, you still need to be good at whatever video poker machine is being used in the tournament. For example, you should thoroughly know 8/5 Bonus Poker strategy if this is the game in question.

Tourney selection is key in non-timed video poker events because you don’t want to play a game that you’re not familiar with.

If your favorite casino keeps running video poker games that you don’t know the strategy for, then there are a couple of good ways to practice.

One way is to find a video poker strategy chart for the specific game featured in a tournament. Some of the main video poker variations, like Jacks or Better, Bonus Poker, and Deuces Wild, have strategy charts all over the internet.

Another way to practice is by using a training program, which points out correct and incorrect decisions as you play. You can find a number of free training programs for the most popular video poker games.

But if you can’t find either a trainer or strategy chart for a specific variation, then you’ll need to buy software. Although they cost upwards of $55, these programs are worth it for serious video poker players.

These training programs come preloaded with a larger number of video poker variations for you to practice. You’ll also be able to customize pay tables and practice specific strategy for any game you’ve created.

Strategy #3: Playing for Royal Flushes

The normal odds of getting a royal flush in video poker are around 40,000:1. But you can improve these odds to 23,000:1 by only keeping cards that’ll help you get a royal flush.

This is a bad strategy to use in regular video poker play because the bulk of your payouts come from non-royal hands. But this is often the only way you can win a big video poker tournament.

The other reason why you should consider a royal strategy is because you’re only risking a single buy-in to play the event. You either get a royal and win, or you don’t and probably lose your buy-in.

Here are tips on how you use the royal-only strategy:

  • Discard any non-royal cards (i.e., anything under 10 and/or non-suited)
  • This includes discarding made hands that don’t have royal cards
  • Keep all suited high cards together (i.e., anything 10 suited and above)

Earlier, I discussed how buying video poker training software lets you practice for games that aren’t available through free trainers. And the same programs are also good for practicing a royal flush strategy.

Purchasable software allows you to customize a royal-only strategy. This lets you learn how to continually keep the right royal cards through trial and error.

Also note that focusing on royal flushes doesn’t resign you to losing if you miss out on a royal. You also pick up other wins on the draw and potentially form big hands like a straight flush.

Video Poker Tournaments Are a Mix of Luck and Skill

One of the biggest things to understand about video poker tournaments is that even the best players will lose often.

This is because there’s a great deal of luck involved in these tourneys.

Using perfect strategy helps you win over the long term. But anything can happen in a tournament that lasts for 20 minutes or 500 hands.

A total beginner could have a royal flush and beat much more experienced players. Likewise, a video poker pro could have a really bad run of cards and finish at the bottom of the leaderboard.

The key is to keep practicing and improving your skills. The better you become at video poker tournaments, the higher your odds of capturing a payout.

How Video Poker Tournament Strategy Differs from Regular Play

If you play a lot of standard video poker, then you’ll want to note the differences in strategy when moving to tournaments.

Here are the key changes worth remembering in tourneys:

  • Buy-In vs. Numerous Bets – You only have to make a single buy-in to play in a video poker tournament. This is why a royal-only strategy can be effective in tourneys, because you don’t have to worry about losing lots of tiny bets.
  • Fixed Max Bet – One of the first video poker tips that many players learn is to make the max 5-coin bet. But beginners don’t have to worry about this in tourneys because they often feature fixed 5-coin wagers.
  • Multiple “Correct” Strategies – The optimal regular video poker strategy is using the correct plays for the game you’re playing. But the correct strategy in video poker tournaments is based on the format.
  • Prize Pool vs. Cash Payouts – A tournament sees you gun for the top of the leaderboard, where limited payouts await. But standard video poker offers the ability to win payouts on every hand.



Video poker tournaments have their pros and cons compared to regular play.

The benefits include that you only have to risk a single buy-in, skilled players can win long-term profits, and you get to enjoy quick action. It’s also nice that you can play in freerolls and have a chance at building your bankroll without spending anything.

The drawbacks to video poker tournaments include high volatility, frequent losing, and frenetic play.

Weighing the pros and cons, I definitely think that video poker enthusiasts should at least try tournaments. And if you do go this route, I also recommend using the strategies discussed above to improve your chances of winning.