Get the most from Joker Razgu in video poker

Oct 6, 2009 5:09 PM
Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome |

Last week, I kicked off the discussion of "Razgu" hands. These are hands that are so bad they warrant throwing out all five cards and taking your shot with a new hand.

In Jacks or better, these hands will occur about 3% of the time. In Joker Wild versions of video poker, they are FAR more frequent. Roughly speaking, they will occur in the 10-11% range. This is what makes this version of the game so much streakier than just about any other.

In the A-K version (pays on pair of Kings/Aces), all the hands that contain only Jacks and Queens (1 or 2 high cards) quickly become Razgu hands. Four-card inside straights are still not playable, so essentially the end result is to turn a large number of one- and two-high card hands into complete discards.

In this version of the game, the frequency of Razgu is a whopping 11.18% or about one in nine hands. As I discussed briefly last week, trying to make something out of less than nothing by not discarding all five will simply eat away at your bankroll at an unbelievable pace.

In a sort of strange twist, the two pair version of Joker’s Wild, which only pays on two pair or better actually has a slightly LOWER frequency of Razgus (just a smidge over 10%).

You might think that you would get even more as you eliminate entirely the value of a high card. However, the paytable for this version makes 3-card flushes, 3-card straights and even some 2-card straight flushes playable and together these two hands add up to more than 15% of all the playable hands.

Enough of these hands would otherwise be Razgus, so the net result is an overall reduction, albeit small, in the number of Razgus. The flip-side of this is that the Razgu has an expected value of 0.33 in A-K and an expected value of 0.25 in two pair Joker Poker.

In Joker Wild (A-K), there is another type of Razgu that needs to be considered as well. The natural reaction when you see the Joker appear on the deal is to jump for joy and assume you’ve got a winning hand.

Well, on average you do have a hand that has an expected value of 1.0 or greater. But that doesn’t necessarily make the specific hand you’re dealt an instant winner. About half of the hands containing a Joker will be a winner. The rest of the hands will require some help on the draw to become winners.

Some of these hands will require a lot of help – in the form of discarding EVERYTHING but the Joker! About 11% of hands that include the Joker will be ‘Joker Razgus’ in which we draw four new cards to the Joker.

The good news is that even this hand has an expected value of 1.43, so it is a long-term winner. However, if you start holding 3-card straights, 3-card flushes, 2-card straight flushes or even randomly picking one additional card so that you’re holding a low pair, you’re going to chop the expected value down considerably.

Just like the case of the Razgu, it may seem unpleasant to hold just the Joker (and realize that you’ll only wind up a winner about 50% of the time), but this is still better than trying to make something where nothing exists. It might feel better, but it won’t be worth any more.

In the two pair version our Joker Razgu does not exist. In this version, you are better off picking a "mid-sized" card to hold with the Joker. You ideally want to hold a mid-card to maximize the chances of drawing a straight or straight flush. In this case, holding JUST the Joker would diminish the expected value and reduce the theoretical payback of the game.

As is always the case, the only way to learn these subtle nuances is to practice, practice, practice. One great way to do this is with computer software that will allow you to play numerous different paytables and alert you when you make a mistake. One of the best bargains in this case is Video Poker Strategy Pro which allows you to play the 60+ games from Lenny Frome’s Winning Strategies for Video Poker.

For this month, you can buy either for $12 (includes postage and handling) or both for $20. Send a check or money order to Compu-Flyers, P.O. Box 132, Bogota, NJ 07603

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Elliot Frome

You can try out your strategy by playing our video poker game.