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Welcome to Jacks or Better: How to win

Welcome to Jacks or Better: How to win

Welcome to Jacks or Better: How to win


Given the number of different video poker games that are currently available online, it’s no surprise to learn that the popularity of Jacks or Better has declined due to increased competition. That’s a shame, because this is a thoroughly entertaining game that also offers some fantastic payouts in the bargain. In many ways, this is the original poker game, with its rules steeped in the history and the origins of poker, unlike many other modern takes on the game that have taken it in new directions.

The aim of Jacks or Better is simple – to build the best possible poker hand from five cards, with a pair of jacks being the minimum requirement. However, as is often the case in many casino table games, there are plenty of strategies that go into compiling that winning hand.

The Rules of Jacks or Better

Initially, you will be dealt five cards. The rules here are the same as five-card draw – you can hold as many or as few of your cards as you want, with those discarded replaced by a second deal. At that point, you will need to have created a winning hand of (a pair of) Jacks or Better.

For reference, here’s a guide to the winning combinations you should be looking out for, and their payouts on the traditional “full-pay” table:


What Makes It


Jacks or Better

A pair of jacks at least


Two Pairs

Any two numerical value pairs


Three of a Kind

Three cards of the same number



Five connected cards, such as 2-3-4-5-6



Five cards that are all the same suit


Full House

Three cards of one numerical value, two of another


Four of a Kind

Four cards of the same number


Straight Flush

Five connected cards of the same suit


Royal Flush

The five “royal” cards – A, K, Q, J, 10 – of the same suit


The RTP of full-pay Jacks or Better is 99.45%, which means that – theoretically speaking – the average player will only lose 46 cents on a dollar, making it one of the most risk-averse casino games around. As you can see from the paytable above, you can win some lucrative prizes.

Jacks or Better strategy

As is the case with most card games, understanding probability will really help you to enhance your ability when playing Jacks or Better. Fundamentally, it’s about understanding which cards to hold and which to fold, which isn’t rocket science but does require a certain comprehension of maths. Here’s an idea of what to do in each scenario.

If you are dealt no/one high card. Ultimately, you must get at least a pair of jacks to get a return on your investment. Therefore, if you don’t have a high card – and all five in your hand are of differing values – then you’re in trouble. In this instance, you must draw five new cards. If you have a single high card (a jack, queen, king or ace), hold that card and draw four new ones. That way, you have four chances to draw a pair from the 47 cards that remain in the deck.

If you are dealt a pair. If you receive a pair on the first draw, your chances of increasing your payout increase exponentially, even if those two cards are lower in value than a jack. Two pairs, three or four of a kind and a full house all become possibilities, and so the smart thing to do is to hold your pair and draw three new cards.

If you are dealt three good cards. Sometimes, you will be dealt a trio of good cards that have some relationship to one another. You might have three of a kind already or be a third of the way towards a straight, a flush or even a straight/royal flush. Naturally, in this scenario, the smart move is to draw two new cards and leave the trio of goodies intact.

If you are dealt a useful four-way combination. If you are dealt a four of a kind in Jacks or Better, guess what – it’s your lucky day! In this case, there is nothing you can do to improve your hand, so instead sit back and enjoy your 25:1 payout.

You might be dealt two pairs in your original hand. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll enjoy a steady 2:1 payout, so draw a new card and try to hit a full house, which will boost your return even further.

Also, you might get dealt four cards that enhance your chances of landing one of the big fishes, such a straight, a flush or even better. Basically, understanding what to do in all scenarios is the secret to success in Jacks or Better.

The Low Pair Conundrum

As you know, the name of the game is to get your hands on a pair of jacks at the very least. So, what is the smart play should you be dealt a low pair, say 2-2 or 4-4? There are different strategies for this, and to be honest, the way you should proceed may just be governed by your personality type: the more speculative person will be thinking of possibly getting three of a kind or two pair, while more conservative types may be tempted to fold their small pair in the knowledge that this may not be enough to yield a return. It depends on the entire make-up of your hand as to how you should proceed but consider the following options.

If you have four cards of a straight, three of a flush or two of a royal flush, keep the pair! You might be thinking that’s crazy, but the laws of probability dictate that the pair is more likely to deliver a positive outcome than those other combinations.

If you are four into a flush or three into a royal flush, discard the pair! Think about it: the flush doesn’t require sequential numbering, so your odds of winning are increased, while three out of five as far as the royal flush are concerned cannot be missed!

Tips for improving your Jacks or Better game

There are some basic concepts that will help you to improve your Jacks or Better play. Remember, much of what unfolds will be down to luck, but you can enhance your win rate by following the hold/draw instructions outlined above and by adhering to these tips.

Understand +ve expectancy. If you play an infinite number of Jacks or Better hands, there are some scenarios where you can minimise your losses while maximising your chances of winning. These are known as +ve expectancy situations, and it is essential to make the most of these.

For example, a royal flush occurs roughly once in every 40,000 hands. Is that something you want to build into your hold/draw strategy?

Of course, the potential for a huge payout gets most players excited, but the key to long-term success in Jacks or Better building is your bankroll via lower variance returns.

Keep things in perspective. While every session of Jacks or Better is different, there are some common rules that are observed thanks to the laws of probability.

Did you know that 21% of winning hands are pairs?

Did you know that small hands, from standard pairs and two pair to three of a kind, make up 70% of all wins in the game?

Did you know that theoretically at least, in 55% of hands you won’t land a winning combination?

There are 2.5 million possible decisions to make based on all potential deals and card outcomes, so playing the perfect Jacks or Better strategy is difficult for card sharps of any ability. So, another golden rule is to keep everything in perspective – you can’t win them all!

Money management. As previously mentioned, roughly half of all Jacks or Better games end in defeat. That’s the statistical perspective anyway; perhaps you will do better than that, perhaps a bit worse. That explains why effective bankroll management is so important, as there will be losses among the good times.

Everyone would like to score that royal flush, but it is foolhardy to base your gaming strategy around this eventuality. Instead, think about accumulating smaller wins from the bread-and-butter hands, and look to capture a return on your investment – no matter how small – using the strategies outlined earlier in this guide.

Do it right. Remember, unless you are enjoying one of our free-play games, your hard-earned cash is on the line, so why would you play in a manner that is going to jeopardise your bankroll? Manage your finances like you would in any other walk of life, with clever budgeting and knowing when to walk away from the table.

Avoid those common pitfalls that can befall bettors of all persuasions. Don’t up your stakes after a losing streak, don’t chase your losses and don’t lose sight of the target you should have set for yourself before starting to play your favourite title.

Luck is still a factor

As we know, Jacks or Better is a game where luck is the key ingredient for successful players. Yes, there are elements of skill and strategy to it, and you will do well to remember the tactical think-points outlined in this article.

Here at Bitcasino, you can try all manner of video poker games, including Jacks or Better, and don’t forget many have a demonstration-mode option available. Here, you can put your new-found skills to the test without spending a penny, so why not register for a new player account today!

Words: Sean McNulty

Images: Shutterstock and Bitcasino