Take a wild ride with Joker Poker

Feb 10, 2009 5:05 PM
by Lenny Frome, GT Archives |

For players who never, ever seem to hit a royal flush, Joker Poker is the right game to play. With the proper pay tables, Joker Poker has a very high payback percentage and the 5-of-a-kind payoff is a nice mini-jackpot, much like catching four deuces in deuces wild games (and the odds are about the same).

Of course, the odds are a little higher in catching a royal flush because there are 53 cards in the deck instead of 52, but the liberal pay tables compensate for that small deficiency.

One of the problems is the casinos have tightened the pay tables over the years. Thus it is not easy to find one that pays, for example, 100 coins for a four-of-a-kind, since many machines nowadays only pay back 85. But some things we just have to live with.

When you find a joker A-K game offers this pay table given on a per-coin basis for five-coin play, it is too good to be passed by:

Royal Flush 1,000

Five-of-a-Kind 200

Joker Royal 50

Straight Flush 50

Four-of-a-Kind 20

Full House 8

Flush 7

Straight 6

Three-of-a-Kind 2

Two Pairs 1

Kings/Aces 1

The payback on this game is close to 102 percent but there are several caveats. First is that the hit frequency, i.e., the percentage of hands that return something (even a push), is extremely low at 30 percent. This is about as low as they come in video poker. In other words, nothing comes back in 70 percent of the games played which spells long cold streaks. The pay table causes a warping of the distribution of winning hands, which causes the game to function more like a slot machine. The frequency of winners are:

Two Pairs 7 in 10

3-of-a-Kind 1 in 10

Straight 1 in 8

Flush 1 in 30

Full House 1 in 45

4-of-a-Kind 1 in 125

Straight Flush 1 in 1,800

Joker Royal 1 in 16,000

Five-of-a-Kind 1 in 11,000

Royal Flush 1 in 52,000

Which shows that 92 percent of the hands are paying zero, one, or two bet units.

To make matters worse, the strategy for this game like all Joker games is comparatively complex but we will try to help you on that score by showing you the highlight of expert play. Like all wild card games, the strategy is best learned by segregating hands with no joker (90 percent) from joker hands (10 percent). With no joker, we are forced to hold some pretty rag-tag hands, simply because a complete throw away has very little expected value. Some simple rules for these hands are:

(A) Never hold a single "royal card" but hold all two-card royals. The same applies to all two-card straight flushes even with three inside cards missing.

(B) Hold two-card straights if wide open at both ends and any three-card inside straight.

Hands with jokers never draw more than three cards since we always keep some card with the joker. Preference is for a 10, but if we have none and we don’t have an inside three-card straight, we keep something between a five and a nine. Here the preference is to keep the card which is least damaged by the discards. Only as a last resort do we hold any other "pair," again keeping the preference for the undamaged.

If you have been very observing, you may have noticed that one need never hit a natural royal to stay at 100 percent payback. So for those who are sure that they are never meant to get a royal, the extra effort it takes to learn this version offers a way out of their dilemma – assuming the plugs have not been pulled on this challenging game by the time you read this and get there.