Is Video Poker a Slot Game, Online Poker, or Both?


Poker is a game with many versions, each using a unique set of rules that differentiate it from the others. Compare Texas hold’em with five-card draw: in hold’em, each player receives two hole cards and combines them with three of five community cards to make a hand; in draw, each player gets five private cards, swaps some out for new cards, then reveals their hand after the last round of betting.

Numerous iterations of poker have exclusive elements, but all include a core set of principles that define them as forms of one game, rather than a set of unrelated ones. For instance, every version of poker uses the same hierarchy of hands, from royal flush down to high card. Even games with a “low” quality, in which the worst hand wins, use the hierarchy, albeit inverted.

Another characteristic shared among the majority of poker games is that players compete against one another. Most versions also include multiple rounds of betting, and give players the option to opt out (fold), match a bet (call) or increase the stakes (bet/raise).

These typical features of gameplay are strongly associated with poker, and are present in the majority of versions. But there are some outliers that eschew these principles. Take, for example, Caribbean Stud.

Caribbean Stud uses the poker hand hierarchy and includes multiple rounds of betting, but rather than competing against one another, players show down with the dealer. Caribbean Stud also denies players the option to build a hand with community cards, or by drawing new ones – each player gets five cards to start, and that’s the hand they end with.

Another divergent variation of poker is online play. Though the rules mimic whichever version is being played – online Omaha is the same as offline Omaha – the human element of the game is removed. Whereas reading an opponent’s physical tells is a traditional and often romanticized element of poker, the online setting is a faceless encounter that shifts the focus onto other strategical elements, like assessing pot odds, monitoring betting patterns and adhering to astute situational play.

Though traditionalists often begrudge the online forum as an impure variation of the game, many players prefer it over a physical table. Automated dealing allows for an unparalleled pace of play, while partaking from home (or anywhere you have WiFi) offers comfort few casinos can match.

Video poker is comparable to online poker in this sense. It’s played on a screen rather than a table, and can be enjoyed anywhere there’s an internet connection. But unlike online poker, which is a virtual interpretation of traditional versions, video poker is an entirely different game.

What is the difference between poker and video poker? It starts with the competition.

Video poker is unique in that players don’t compete against…anyone. Rather than comparing hands with other players or a dealer, players win or lose based on an absolute scoring system that awards a value to every hand in the hierarchy.

If, for example, you have three of a kind, there’s no need to worry that another player (or dealer) will show a full house. Every online casino provides a chart that assigns a payout to each hand – three of a kind often pays 3-1, for example, while a royal flush yields a grander payout, often in the neighborhood of 1,000-1. There are many different options to play online video poker, and the odds vary slightly between games, as do table themes and visual graphics.

If an emphasis on theme and design sounds more like a slot machine than a poker room, that’s because video poker is heavily influenced by slots. While video poker appropriates the hand values from poker, the gameplay is greatly condensed and automated. There is no folding, no bluffing, no opponent.

But video poker isn’t just pulling levers or pushing buttons. The skill component of poker remains firmly integrated into the game.

Most video poker games are similar to five-card draw. After receiving a hand, players have the option to replace any number of cards in an attempt to improve its strength. Players with knowledge of poker probabilities have a distinct edge over players without – what are the odds that third 5 will come? Is it worth chasing, or should you forfeit your pair to chase the two diamonds you need for a flush? Video poker usually requires a player’s hand be a pair of jacks or better before paying out, so it’s crucial to know the risk and potential reward of chasing big hands at the expense of sacrificing a middling pair.

So while video poker is comparable to slot machines in some ways, it possesses a definitive strategical quality that is characteristic of traditional poker games. Even so, many traditionalists decry its existence, viewing it as an even less authentic experience than most online games.

Online players may find the transition to video poker more comfortable. It’s even quicker than regular computer poker and offers the same premium on smart, odds-based play. Unlike a slot machine that rewards players randomly, video poker doles out payments based on the same mix of luck and skill as the timeless card game.

So what do you think? Is video poker a poker-themed slot, a unique version of the traditional game or a hybrid of the two?

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