Today I look at the strategy for playing in a Video Poker tournament, including variations to consider and how it differs from playing basic strategy.

A VP tournament is a lot of fun and excitement galore. Many tournaments only allow five or ten minutes for the contestants to apply their strategies, and hopefully score enough points to win some money. In this short span of time, few hands can be played. A very fast player in a tournament that allows 20 minutes of play to determine a winner will only be able to play about 500 hands.
A different strategy is needed for tournament play when playing in a VP tournament. Unlike a slots tournament, when you just “smack” the button over and over with no skill at all, Video Poker has a skill aspect to it, with correct strategy for each game. However , perfect strategy is not necessarily the way to go in a tournament situation. The highest scoring totals are usually fueled by 4-of-a-kinds with a kicker, or Royal Flushes. This means most players must tweak their strategy for those hands and play a little outside the basic strategy box to win.

1)“Favor a Royal Flush” strategy

According to Jerry “Stickman” Stich of CASINO PLAYER magazine, one approach (extreme, but believable) is the “Favor a Royal Flush” strategy. He says, “The thought behind this strategy is that hitting a royal means you have a great chance of winning at least something in the tournament. By only saving cards that could lead to a royal, you improve the chances of hitting a royal to about 1 in 23,000 from the 1 in 40,000 with optimum play….Playing 500 hands in a tournament, you could expect a “Royal” every 46 times.”

Royal Flush


How do you play a royals only strategy? If the hand doesn’t have any cards that will make a royal, discard the entire hand. Only keep cards that could make a royal. Sounds drastic, but it does offer a chance for more Royals.

2) Specific VP Games and Changes in Strategy for Tournament play

If the game is Double Double Bonus VP which has a pay table that pays higher for quads, especially 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s with a kicker, basic DDB strategy would work, but other factors must be considered. If it is JOB (Jacks or Better), the best strategy might be a Royal Flush or nothing approach is as stated above – Double Double & Triple Double Bonus not so much.  

3) Consider Minutes is Each Flight or Session

If it’s a length of 20 minutes per flight, you may have time enough to play perfect strategy if your play is close to perfect and fast – at least 600 hands per hour on the average – to get enough chances for that Royal Flush.  But this tournament was only 10 minutes per play, so it’s definitely time for Royal or nothing!  Ten minutes might be a situation for “all or nothing” with any VP game or pay tableable, with the exception of Deuces Wild.

4) Increase Your Speed

Most players should play faster, even though it may increase mistakes.  Remember, in a VP tourney, you want to increase the number hands played for the best chance for high paying hands.  If you are only a recreational player, stick to the strategy and speed o give you the best optimal play.

5) Practice, Practice, Practice – Use Both Hands

Another useful tip to be noted is when one participates in a speed tournament, he/she should consider playing with both hands instead of one finger only. The touch screen should not be used, as it is far too slow. If one practices playing with both hands before the tournament, he/she will manage to develop the mental and motor skills required to play more swiftly. In tournaments players with vast experience have a huge edge, because a key factor in fast play is to discern patterns and make timely decisions.

6) Time Limit vs. Hand Limit

According to, “The main difference between tournaments is if they are limiting play based on total hands, or based on total time on the machine. For example, one tournament … allowed each player 200 hands on the machine, and whoever had the most credits at the end of 200 hands was the winner…….some tournaments allot each player a certain amount of time on the machine. For example, allowing each player 45 total minutes on the machine, in three 15 minute sessions.  Although time vs. total hands may seem like a small factor, it actually is very important when determining your strategy. If you have as long as you want to play your hands, you can take your time and always make the mathematically correct decision. However, if the tournament has a time limit, then you need to hustle up and make sure you play as many hands as possible.”

If you find a tournament near you, take advantage.  Sometimes they offer snacks, drinks, and a chance to chill before and after.  All in all, it can be very fulfilling, especially for the experienced player.