Ace Invaders

Ace Invaders

Ace Invaders is a good example of how video poker machine designers create new and unique VP games. This game from Leading Edge Design is obviously inspired by the arcade class, Space Invaders, where alien spaceships drop from the sky as you try to shoot them.

Ace Invaders is a 3-play video poker game, and the defining feature of the game is that the aces drop from the top hand if they improve your bottom hand.

This page covers the basics of how to play Ace Invaders, the pay tables and payback percentage for the game, and what strategy to use to get the best odds of winning.

The Basics of Ace Invaders Video Poker

Ace Invaders is a video poker game, so some understanding of how video poker in general works is the starting point for learning this game.

You can think of video poker as a combination of slot machines, draw poker, and solitaire. The games resemble slot machines physically, but they couldn't be more different.

Both slots and video poker involve getting random symbols from a computer program. Certain combinations result in certain payouts, as outlined in the pay table for the game.

On a slot machine, though, the symbols are arbitrary and related to the theme of the game. Traditionally, fruit symbols and bars are used.

But on a video poker game, the symbols are always based on the 52 cards in a standard deck of playing cards.

The pay table for a slot machine is also arbitrary, but the pay table for a video poker game is based on the standard ranking of hands in poker. The better your hand, the bigger the payout.

And unlike traditional poker, in video poker games like Ace Invaders, you're just competing against the computer.

The implication of the math behind video poker as opposed to the math behind slots is hard to overstate. When you're playing a slot machine, you have no way of knowing how high the house edge is. You know the payoffs for the various combinations of symbols, but you don't know the probability of getting one of those symbols.

In fact, slots are the only game in the casino where the odds are opaque rather than transparent.

Since the random number generator uses the same odds as a deck of playing cards, you can calculate the probability of getting various combinations.

If you combine the probability of winning with the payout for winning, you get the payback percentage for the game.

To play, you insert money into the Ace Invaders machine. Based on the denomination of the machine (usually 25 cents, a dollar, or $5), that money is converted into credits.

For example, insert $100 into a quarter machine, and you're awarded with 400 credits.

You then choose how many coins you want to bet on each hand. Almost all video poker games have the following options:

  • 1 coin
  • 2 coins
  • 3 coins
  • 4 coins
  • 5 coins

You should always bet 5 coins per hand in video poker. The payoff for the top hand in the game (the royal flush) increases dramatically when you bet 5 coins. A royal flush pays off at 800 for 1 if you bet 5 coins, but it only pays off at 250 for 1 if you bet less than that.

After you place your bet, you press the deal button, and the game deals you a 5-card hand. You then get to decide which cards to keep and which cards to discard. You can discard and replace any of or all the cards.

When you've finished making your choices, you press the deal button again. The game deals your replacement cards. You get paid off on the final poker hand ranking based on the game's pay table.

Even though the deals and draws are random, skill and strategy count. Your decisions about which cards to keep and which cards to throw away affect the payback percentage.

Here's An Absurd, But Illustrative, Example:

You're dealt a royal flush. All you need to do to collect your 4000-coin jackpot is hold all 5 cards. If you discard anything, you're guaranteed a lower-paying prize.

Jacks or Better is the most basic video poker game. It earned that name because the lowest-paying hand is a pair of jacks. Almost all other VP games are variations of Jacks or Better with different pay tables and/or the addition of wild cards.

The strategy/skill aspect is only one of the advantages video poker offers over slot machines. The other advantage is the higher payback percentage. Even the worst video poker games offer payback percentages of 95% or higher. Most slot machines have a maximum payback percentage of 95%--they go down from there.

We'll cover pay tables and payback percentages in more detail in the section below.

For Now, Let's Discuss How the Actual Gameplay of Ace Invaders Differs From Other Video Poker Games.

The game's algorithm uses 3 non-standard 53-card decks. The additional card is a 5th ace.

It's a 3-line game, so each line uses a separate deck and requires a separate bet. If you're betting 5 coins per line (and you should be), your total wager is 15 coins per deal.

The bottom line is a draw poker game, just like Jacks or Better. You're dealt a hand and have the option of keeping or discarding any of the cards on that line.

The 2 lines above that are stud poker games. In stud poker, you're not allowed to discard and replace cards.

You decide which cards on the bottom line you're going to hold. After you draw your replacement cards, the game deals the top 2 hands.

If you have an ace in the top line, it will duplicate itself and drop to the middle line, but only if doing so would improve your payoff on the middle line.

After that, any ace on the middle line that would improve your payoff on the bottom line does the same thing.

Ace Invaders always chooses the best paying option for you. You're not expected to figure out which combinations have the best payoffs.

Ace Invaders Pay Tables and Payback Percentages

Here's an example pay table for Ace Invaders video poker:

Hand Payoff
Royal flush 800 for 1
5 aces 500 for 1
Straight flush 50 for 1
4 aces 50 for 1
Any other 4 of a kind 25 for 1
Full house 10 for 1
Flush 6 for 1
Straight 4 for 1
3 of a kind 3 for 1
2 pair 2 for 1
A pair of jacks or higher 1 for 1

The Pay Table Above Assumes You're Wagering 5 Coins Per Hand. It Resembles the Pay Table For a Jacks or Better Game, But You'll Notice Several Differences:

  • A Jacks or Better game doesn't have a 5 aces possibility.
  • Ace Invaders offers a higher payoff for a 4 of a kind if it's made up of aces.

Like Jacks or Better, the Video Poker Game Designers Adjust the Payback Percentage For This Game By Lowering the Payoffs On 2 Hands:

  • 1The full house.
  • 2The flush.

On a full-pay Jacks or Better game, the payoff for these 2 hands are 9 for 1 and 6 for 1, respectively. That's called a 9/6 Jacks or Better game, and the payback percentage for that game is 99.54% when played with optimal strategy.

Here's An Explanation of Payback Percentage:

It's an average mathematical expected return on a game's average bet.

For example, if a game has a 99.54% payback percentage, you can expect to win $99.54 every time you bet $100. The implication of that is clear, too - you'll lose 46 cents every time you bet $100.

That 0.46% is the house edge, which is usually used to describe the odds on table games rather than machine games.

The thing to understand about the payback percentage and the house edge is that both numbers are long-term expectations. In the short run, of course you won't win $99.54 every time you wager $100.

But when you play thousands of hands, the actual results should start to resemble the predicted results. Since the casino is playing in the long run immediately, fielding bets for 100s or 1000s of players at a time, they're confident they'll be long-term winners.

In the short run, some players walk away as winners. This is called variance, and the casinos rely on this to keep customers gambling.

Calculating the payback percentage for Ace Invaders is more complicated than for other video poker games because of the 3 different hands being played with different rules for each hand.

Normally, you would just multiply the probability of getting each hand by the amount it pays off to figure the expected return for that possibility.

The pay table above is generous indeed. The payback percentage for the bottom line is 99.92%, making this one of the best bets in the casino. A house edge of 0.08% is absurdly low, in fact.

Other pay tables are available for Ace Invaders, though. We'll refer to these pay tables according to their payoffs for the full house and the flush.

We've Listed the Payback Percentages For Those Variations Below:
  • 9/6 Ace Invaders 98.86%
  • 8/6 Ace Invaders 97.71%
  • 8/5 Ace Invaders 96.55%
  • 7/5 Ace Invaders 95.4%
  • 6/5 Ace Invaders 94.25%

But those numbers don't account for the payoffs on the other 2 hands. We use for analysis of payback percentages, and he looks at the cumulative payback percentage for these variations there.

  • 10/6 Ace Invaders 100.29%
  • 9/6 Ace Invaders 99.56%
  • 8/6 Ace Invaders 98.84%
  • 8/5 Ace Invaders 98.34%
  • 7/5 Ace Invaders 97.61%
  • 6/5 Ace Invaders 96.89%

We always recommend sticking with VP games which offer at least a 99% return. Even if you can find a game with a 98.84% payback percentage, Ace Invaders is probably worth playing.

Of course, achieving the theoretical payback percentage means making the right decisions about which cards to hold and which cards to discard. We cover that in the next section.

Ace Invaders Strategy Advice

The premise behind any video poker strategy is that you need to make the decision with the highest expected return on every hand. In VP games, the expected return for a decision is based on the probable outcomes and the payoffs for those outcomes.

It's not enough to know that a royal flush pays off at 800 for 1 and a high pair pays off at 1 for 1. You need to know the probability of making each hand based on what's in your hand when you make the decision.

Let's suppose you have the jack, queen, king, and ace of diamonds. You also have the jack of hearts.

You have a pat hand - a pair of jacks. If you hang on those jacks, you have a 100% probability of getting at least even money. You also have varying probabilities of improving to other hands, like 3 of a kind, a full house, or 4 of a kind.

But you also have a 4-card draw to a royal flush. If you discard the jack of hearts, you have a roughly 2% chance of making that royal flush. The probability is 1 divided by 47.

Would you rather have a 2% chance of winning 800 credits, or a 100% chance of winning 1 credit.

The correct decision, mathematically, is to go for the 800 credits. 2% of 800 is 16, which is a higher expected value.

A video poker strategy chart lists the cards you should hold in varying situations in descending order of preference. You start at the top of the chart and stop when you get to the hand that most closely resembles your hand. Those are the cards you keep.

Since the top 2 hands of Ace Invaders are basically stud games, you don't have any strategy decisions to make with them. You just play the bottom row of cards as best you can. Following the strategy for regular Jacks or Better is close to optimal, although you need to play aces more aggressively.

Here's an example of a basic strategy table for Jacks or Better:

  • 1Hold any of the following pat hands: 5 aces, royal flush, 4 of a kind, or a straight flush. If you're dealt any of these, you hold all your cards, discarding nothing.
  • 24 cards to a royal flush. If you have 4 of a kind, you won't have a 4 of a kind, so there's no decision between the 2. But if you have a straight or a flush that might improve to a royal flush, you should go for it. For example, if you have the ace, king, queen, and jack of diamonds along with the 10 of hearts, you would discard the 10 of hearts. Yes, you're giving up a pat hand, but the big payoff for the royal flush makes it worth it.
  • 3Hold any of the following pat hands: 3 of a kind, straight, flush, or a full house.
  • 4Hold 4 cards to a straight flush. This isn't as exciting as a draw to a royal flush, but it's still a stronger EV move than drawing to a single pair.
  • 5Hold either of the following pat hands: a high pair or 2 pairs. The only time you'll discard a high pair is if you're drawing to a straight flush or a royal flush.
  • 63 cards to a royal flush. This is a real longshot, but it's the right move.
  • 74 cards to a flush. This is less of a longshot, but the payoff isn't nearly as impressive.
  • 8Low pair. You hold a low pair hoping to hit 3 or 4 of a kind, or of hitting a full house.
  • 94 cards to an outside straight draw. In this case, we're talking about an outside straight draw. An example is 4567. You can fill the straight with a 3 or an 8, which are both on the "outside" of those cards.
  • 10Any 2 suited high cards. Another real longshot, but you have lots of possibilities. The most likely is that you'll hit a high pair, but you might also hit a royal flush, a straight flush, a flush, or a straight. You might also hit 3 of a kind or 4 of a kind.
  • 11Any 3 cards to a straight flush.
  • 12Any 2 high cards that aren't suited. You're trying for that high pair.
  • 13Any high card. You have a better chance of getting a big pair if you already have a big card.

This is based on a simplified basic strategy table from Michael Shackleford's site. He estimates that it only costs 0.08% in payback percentage to use this strategy instead of the expert strategy, which is much more complicated.

Our assumption is that this strategy will get you close to the optimal payback percentage on Ace Invaders, too.

Find Ace Invaders Video Poker Online or Off, for Free or for Real Money

The manufacturer's site has a free demo version of the game you can play if you have Shockwave installed on your computer.

, only one casino in the country offers this game now. Look for it at in Henderson, Nevada.

We don't know of any online casinos offering Ace Invaders video poker for real money.


Ace Invaders is an unusual video poker game that combines an arcade game theme (Space Invaders) with a slot machine feature (cascading symbols). It also combines draw poker, solitaire, and stud poker. It's worth playing just for novelty's sake.

Ace Invaders isn't the best game for low rollers, as you need to bet 15 coins every time you play. Even on a quarter machine, that's $3.75 per hand. If you played a standard single-play game, you'd only have to risk $1.25 per hand. That doesn't sound like much of a difference, but multiply it by 600 hands per hour, and you're looking at the difference between $750/hour in action and $2250/hour in action.

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