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A Beginner’s Guide to Jacks or Better

If you are new to the game of Jacks or Better take a look at our simple guide to help you understand how to play the game.

Jacks or Better is the most popular video poker game. It is the original video poker game and can provide you with hours of fun. The aim of the game is to build the best possible poker hand. The game is won if the player's hand contains at least a pair of jacks (hence the game’s name). At first you are dealt five cards, you then choose which to hold on to before discarding and replacing the others. You are then paid depending on the strength of your hand. Before you begin playing the game, you must first understand what all of the different hands are. Here is a quick guide:

  • Two/Three of a Kind –This is a hand that contains either two matching cards or three matching cards. For example, two or three 2s.
  • Two Pair –This is hand containing two pairs, for example two 2s and two 4s.
  • Full House –This is a pair together with three of a kind, for example two tens and three kings. It doesn’t matter what suit the cards are, as long as they have the same value.
  • Flush– This is a hand where all the cards are the same suit, for example, 4, 5, 7, K and A of clubs.
  • Straight– This is a hand with five cards in sequence, for example 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Once again it doesn’t matter what the suit is and the Ace can be used at either the beginning or end of a sequence.
  • Outside Straight– This is a set of cards that can be made into a straight with another card on either end. For example, 9, 7, 10, 8, 3 is an outside straight because either a 6 on the low end or a Jack on the high end will turn it into a straight.
  • Inside Straight– This is a would-be straight with a hole in the middle. 9, 2, 10, 8, 6 is an inside straight because only a 7 will turn it into a straight.  It is important to know the difference between inside and outside straights as when playing Jacks or Better you would never bet on an inside straight becoming a straight as you only have one chance of completing the straight.
  • Straight Flush– This is a hand that is both a straight and a flush. For example, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 of diamonds.
  • Royal Flush– This is a straight flush composed of the highest cards, such as 10, J, Q, K, A.  This is the strongest hand in video poker and if you see it then you know you are in for a big payout.

Game Play

The basic idea of playing Jacks or Better is knowing to play he highest hand that matches your cards. The list shows which cards to hold depending on what you are dealt. Below the list there are some worked examples.

  1. Full house or better
  2. 4 to a royal flush
  3. Straight, three of a kind, or flush
  4. 4 to a straight flush
  5. Two pair
  6. High pair
  7. 3 to a royal flush
  8. 4 to a flush
  9. Low pair
  10. 4 to an outside straight
  11. 2 suited high cards
  12. 3 to a straight flush
  13. 2 unsuited high cards (if more than 2 pick the lowest 2).
  14. Suited 10/J, 10/Q or 10/K
  15. One high card
  16. Discard everything

Now lets look at some examples.

Scenario 1 You are dealt: 9 Clubs, 7 Hearts, Jack Spades, 3 Diamonds, 2 Clubs. If you cross-reference this with the list above, you will see that the best you have is number 15, one high card. The minimum hand you need to win is a pair of Jacks. As a result, you will immediately hold the Jack in the hope of drawing another one. With a bit of luck you could even draw two jacks and form a three of a kind hard, or even four of a kind.

Scenario 2 You are dealt: 9 Clubs, 8 Clubs, 4 Diamonds, 5 Spades, Queen Hearts Just as in the previous scenario, all you have here is one high card, the queen of hearts, so you will hold it.

Scenario 3 You are dealt: Queen Spades, 8 Hearts, Jack Diamonds, 5 Clubs, 2 Clubs Here you have two high cards, the Queen of Spades and the Jack of Diamonds. You need to hold them both as you can form a pair by drawing either a Jack or a Queen. Your odds are good for making a pair and if you are really lucky you may even get a Full House. If you look at the list above this corresponds to number 13, 2 unsuited high cards.

Scenario 4 You are dealt: Queen Spades, 8 Hearts, Jack Diamonds, Ace Clubs, 2 Clubs Here you have three high cards, the Queen of Spades, the Jack of Diamonds and the Ace of Clubs. However, you don’t want to hold all three as if you did it would be impossible to get a Full House. Instead you hold the Jack and the Queen, once again this corresponds to number 13 on the list.

Scenario 5 You are dealt: 8 Hearts, Jack Clubs, Queen Diamonds, Ace Clubs, 2 Diamonds Once again you have three high cards but there is a big difference to last time, two of them are the same suit (The Jack and Ace). As a result, these are the ones that you need to hold as they can turn into a Flush, or even a Royal Flush. This corresponds to number 11 on the list, 2 suited high cards.

Scenario 6 You are dealt: 5 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 5 Spades, 5 Hearts, 2 Diamonds Here it is immediately clear what to do, you have been dealt a winning hand of three of a kind. Hold them and hope that you draw another 5 for four of a kind.

Scenario 7 You are dealt: 5 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 5 Hearts, 2 Hearts, 3 Spades This isn’t quite as good as the last hand, you have a pair of fives but this isn’t enough to win. However, you would hold the fives and hope to draw another to form a winning hand. This corresponds to number 9 on the list, low pair.

Scenario 8 You are dealt: 5 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 8 Clubs, 2 Hearts, 6 Hearts Here you have four to an outside straight – 5, 6, 7, 8. Receiving either a four or a nine will turn it into a straight. As a result, you hold all cards but the two and hope to draw a four or a nine. This is number 10 on the list.

Scenario 9 You are dealt: 5 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 8 Clubs, 2 Hearts, 4 Hearts This is an inside straight, 4, 5, 7, 8. You need a six to complete the straight but as mentioned above, in Jacks or Better you would never draw to an inside straight. In this scenario there is nothing you can do, the hand doesn’t even contain the minimum requirement of a high card as specified by the list. All you can do here is replace all five cards and hope for the best.

Scenario 10 You are dealt: 9 Hearts, 7 Hearts, 5 Clubs, 2 Hearts, 4 Hearts This may look useless at first, but you should notice that four of the cards are of the same suit (hearts). This means that you have four to a flush, discard the five and hope for a heart. This is number eight on the list.

Scenario 11 You are dealt: 9 Spades, 6 Spades, 3 Hearts, 5 Spades, 8 Diamonds Once again, you have cards that at first look useless but you actually have three to a straight flush, the 5, 6 and 9. You hold these cards and hope to draw the 7 and 8 of Spades. A straight flush offers a huge payout so while you wouldn’t draw to an inside straight, you would to a straight flush.

Scenario 12 You are dealt: 4 Clubs, 5 Spades, 6 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 7 Hearts Here you have two choices, you can hold the four to an outside straight or hold the two 7s and go for three of a kind or four of a kind. Given that a low pair is number 9 while four to an outside straight is number 10. The low pair is higher on the list so you hold the pair.

Scenario 13 You are dealt: 4 Clubs, Queen Clubs, 6 Clubs, 7 Clubs, 7 Hearts This is a case where something beats a pair, four to a flush. Hold the four Clubs cards and try to form a flush. A good rule to remember is that a pair beats a would-be straight, but not a would-be flush.

Scenario 14 You are dealt: 4 Clubs, 4 Diamonds, Queen Clubs, King Clubs, 7 Spades Here you decide between going with the pair or the high card. As mentioned, we should always go for the pair, number nine on the list, rather than number 11 for the two suited high cards.

Scenario 15 You are dealt: 10 Clubs, Jack Clubs, Queen Clubs, King Hearts, King Diamonds Here you have three choices, do you go for the straight (10, J, Q, K), the high pair (K, K) or the three to a royal flush (10, J, Q). If you look at the list above you will see that a high pair is highest, number six, while three to a royal flush is seven and four to an outside straight is 10.

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