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Playing in Video Poker Tournaments

5 January 2013

By Jerry Stickman

Thousands of fans enjoy playing video poker. They appreciate the low house edge of most video poker games allowing them to play longer on their bankroll. They enjoy testing their skill in learning and playing proper game strategy. Most of all they enjoy hitting the big jackpots for a royal flush or specific four-of-a-kinds on certain games.

Like most casino games video poker pits the player against the casino. It is the player’s skill and luck against the casino, not against other players.

Video poker tournaments are different. They pit player against player.

Each video poker tournament can have its own particular set of rules thereby making every single tournament unique. In this article I will give some of the highlights and variants in common video poker tournaments. In the next few articles I will examine specific strategies to maximize your chances of finishing in the money.

Just what is a video poker tournament?

Video poker tournaments are different from regular video poker play because in a tournament you are playing with credits that are not directly tied to your bankroll. You pay a tournament buy-in which is a fixed fee for everyone entering the tournament. You are given a certain number of credits or a certain period of time to accumulate the most credits of everyone playing in the tournament. Depending on the tournament format, usually the top 10-25 percent of tournament participants win something.

There are two major categories of video poker tournaments; those limiting play based on number of hands (or credits) and those limiting play based on a timer on the machine. For example a tournament could be decided by who has the highest score after 200 hands are played. Other tournaments could allot 15 minutes per session to try to obtain the highest total score.
Other tournaments include both a hand limit and a time limit. For example, 20 minutes are put on the clock and 3000 credits are put on the meter. The tournament session is done when 20 minutes have expired or when 3000 credits have been played whichever occurs first.

While the difference between a timed format versus total hand format tournament may not at first glance seem like a big thing, it is really huge in determining strategy. If it is a total hands format, you can take your time playing, making sure each hand is played perfectly. If it is a timed format tournament, you will need to play as fast as you can in order to play as many hands as possible thereby improving your chances to accumulating a winning score. Each additional hand played is another shot at a royal flush which is well worth exchanging for a small error or two along the way. To help speed up play, many times when machines are set for tournament play the fastest speed is automatically selected.

Many tournaments have the machines set to automatically bet the five-coin max bet. But others allow the player to determine how many credits to play each hand. Generally it is best to always play max credits as a royal flush is paid at 250 for 1 when playing one to four credits, but soars to 800 for 1 when all five credits are played per hand.

When set for tournament play, most machines have a separate counter for credits to play and win accumulator. This way additional play will not diminish the win accumulator – it can only go up.
Sometimes tournament play includes inflated pays for various hands. The higher scores make the tournament more exciting, but can also mean play strategy could change.

So how should tournament strategy differ from normal video poker strategy?

Tournament strategy can vary dramatically among different player types. With only a short amount of time or a small number of hands to accomplish the task at hand, luck is a very large factor in any video poker tournament. The more luck is a factor, the less proper strategy matters. Those who enjoy risk taking might only save for a royal and discard all other hands or cards, since those players who get a royal will almost certainly end up in the money.

Normally you will want to use your standard play strategy for the game you are playing. However, since a royal can be the difference between winning and losing, you might want to “favor” a royal draw over smaller outcomes. For example, if you are dealt a high pair along with three cards of a royal, saving the three of a royal might be the hold you want to make.

As stated above, each tournament has its own unique rules and these rules can affect playing strategy. In future articles I will examine in detail some specific strategies for video poker tournament play along with the pluses and minuses of each.

For now, just remember that tournament play is mostly about luck. If it is a timed tournament, play as fast as you can to ensure you play as many hands (and chances for a royal) as possible. If it is a number of hands tournament, play as correctly as possible as this will give you the best chance for a high score.

May all your wins be swift and large and all your losses slow and tiny.

Jerry “Stickman”

Jerry “Stickman” is an expert in craps, blackjack and video poker and advantage slot machine play. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. You can contact Jerry “Stickman” at
Jerry Stickman
Jerry "Stickman" is an expert in dice control at craps, blackjack, advantage slots and video poker. He is a regular contributor to top gaming magazines. The "Stickman" is also a certified instructor for Golden Touch Craps dice control classes and Golden Touch Blackjack's advantage classes. He also teaches a course in advantage-play slots and video poker. For more information visit or or call 1-800-944-0406 for a free brochure. You can contact Jerry "Stickman" at

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