Think about how normal video poker play goes. After depositing your initial amount, you start playing hand after hand. Most often you lose your bet. The next most frequent occurrence is to simply get your bet returned by hitting a high pair (or sometimes two pairs) that returns 1 for 1. You will also hit other higher paying but less frequent hands. In each case, however, unless you hit a royal flush or other very high paying hand such as four aces with a kicker, the amount you win is not enough to cash out and be considered a good win for the day. Instead, all of these lesser wins are really just extra money that allows you to play a few more hands in order to try to win the jackpot sized hand(s).
That's a pretty lengthy list for a beginner, but it can be shortened considerably by taking all those three card straight flushes -- open, inside, double inside, with high cards, without high cards -- and lumping them together just below four high cards. That'll cost you a few tenths of a percent, but when you're comfortable with the rest of the strategy, you can start breaking down the categories for more expert play.
You will also learn the layout and importance of the pay table, as well as how to properly bet while playing video poker. You will learn and understand payback, return, house (and player) edge. You will learn about the implications of variance, sometimes called volatility. You will also learn what the term random really means when playing video poker.
Here's where our strategy list comes in. Notice that a low pair is #9, while four to an outside straight is #10. The low pair is higher on the list, so we hold the pair. In fact, you almost always hold pairs in Jacks or Better. We'll discuss exceptions below, but in general, always lunge for a pair, and then do a quick check to see if you have anything better, since you probably won't.
Break up a flush or a straight only when you have four cards to a royal flush. That is, if you have ace-king-queen-jack-9, all of clubs, discard the 9 to take a chance at the big payoff for the 10 of clubs. That still leaves open the possibility of a flush with any other club, a straight with any other 10, and a pair of jacks or better with any ace, king, queen, or jack.
Those machines are hard to find. Casinos don't like to put games on the floor that potentially lose money. Your best bet for finding these games is in downtown Vegas (not on the Strip) and at locals casinos, which have to be more competitive than Strip casinos in order to lure customers there away from the Strip. Here again, VPFree2 can help you find good-paying machines.
In the right circumstances, however, the player sometimes will break up a flush, a straight, or a pair of jacks or better. If you do not have one of the "always keep" hands, use the following list. Possible predraw hands are listed in order. Find the highest listing that fits your predraw hand, and discard any cards that do not fit the hand. For example, if your hand includes jack of spades, jack of diamonds, 10 of diamonds, 9 of diamonds, and 8 of diamonds, you have four cards to an open straight flush in diamonds, and you also have a pair of jacks or better. The four-card open straight flush is higher on the list than the pair of jacks or better, so you would discard the jack of spades and draw to the four-card straight flush. You are giving up the certain 1-for-1 payoff for a pair of jacks, but you have a chance at a straight flush with either a queen or 7 of diamonds, could draw a flush with any other diamond, or still could finish with a pair of jacks by drawing the jack of either clubs or hearts.
So it really pays to hunt out the good machines! But it's actually pretty easy, because the readers of a website called VPFree2 scout out the best machines and post their locations on the site. Using that site you can see that you can there are 9/6 Jacks or Better machines on the Strip at Cosmopolitan, New York New York, Riviera, Treasure Island, and others. And in downtown and off-strip casinos, the good games are more common, and available at lower denominations.