This poker’s no joke

Jan 15, 2007 4:04 AM

Joker Wild Video Poker is a classic example of what is both good and bad about video poker. The Kings or Better full-pay version offers a 100.6% payback. It can be found in about a dozen Las Vegas casinos. It can be found at low denominations. That was the good news. Now the bad news. The strategy is very complex and the casinos where it exists won’t be found on the Strip. You won’t likely find it playing at a denomination above a quarter.

Without even looking at the strategy for the game, there is so much to learn just from the very existence of this game. It shows how with virtually every game in the casino, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. If you do everything right, you’ll have the opportunity to play a positive game and can do quite well doing so. If, however, you lose discipline and give in, you can lose your bankroll quickly.

The first rule of Expert Strategy is to know which game to play. Based on the 100.6% payback, Joker Wild is clearly a game to target. But, if you’re vacationing in Las Vegas and start to play it at your favorite Strip casino, you’re not going to be playing the 100.6% version. To find the right paytable, you’re going to have to go where the locals play, which is where you frequently find the best paytables. Someone’s got to pay for all the light bulbs on the strip. In order to draw people into the casinos not on the strip, the casinos tend to offer better paytables across the board. You still need to be careful, however, because many casinos still love to offer numerous paytables for the same game. Be careful when you switch machines that you haven’t accidentally moved to a lower paying game.

Even once you’ve found the local casinos, you have to watch what denomination you decide to play. It is much harder to find $1 machines with paybacks as high as 100%. They can be found, but not as easily. As I covered a few weeks ago, $1 (and up) positive machines are magnets for the professionals, so they’ve become far more rare. It’s tough to make a living from a 25 cent 100.6% machine, so they’re willing to let some folks try. In an era of multi-denomination machines, DO NOT assume that the paytable in use for any one denomination applies to all of them. Before changing your wager, make sure the paytable is still what it is supposed to be.

The second rule of Expert Strategy is to use the right strategy for the game you are playing. So, now you’ve found the full-pay machine you’ve been searching for and you’re prepared to play for a quarter or less and you sit down to play.

The problem is that you’ve never really learned the strategy for full-pay Joker’s Wild (K’s or Better) and you find that you’re pretty much guessing at what to do on many hands. You’re not a bad guesser, but you’re still losing a good 2-3% based on the strategy you are actually losing. You would’ve done about the same on that 8/5 jacks or better machine back at Caesar’s, but saved all that time trying to find the positive machine. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go in search of these machines. It means before you do, make sure that when you find, you know the right way to play it!

The third rule of Expert Strategy is to know what to expect. This is always the toughest rule to deal with because it is less concrete than the others. You can find your positive machine. You can play it for a quarter. You can use the right strategy. This doesn’t mean you’re going to win every time!

If you’re running through a cold streak and you decide to alter your strategy because you think playing a positive game means winning all the time, you’re just going to be playing into the hands of the casinos. They know that if a player plays the wrong machines OR uses the wrong strategy OR doesn’t know what to expect, that they won’t get to that theoretical payback. That means more money for the casinos and less money for the Player.

The last aspect of Expert Strategy, which I added to my father’s original three rules is that you need to ENJOY the game you are playing. It is great that the game is 100.6% and that you’re comfortable playing for a quarter and that you’re playing in a casino you want to play in. BUT, if you don’t enjoy playing Joker Wild video poker, what’s the point?

Besides the fact that for most people, gambling is supposed to be entertainment, the likelihood of you following the right strategy if you’re not having fun is greatly reduced. If you had a choice of being paid $5 to see Ishtar 2 (Ishtar generally regarded as one of the worst major movies ever made) or paying $5 to see Spiderman 3 before general release, which one are you going to pick? Sometimes, the entertainment value has to outweigh even the expected value!