Wild about jokers!

Jun 29, 2004 2:19 AM

Over the past few months, I’ve covered the basic concepts of expert strategy for video poker. The components of expert strategy include knowing what machines to play, knowing what strategy to play for each hand and knowing what to expect. There is really a fourth, frequently overlooked component. This is making sure you enjoy the game you are playing.

For me, I’ve never really enjoyed Joker’s Wild version of video poker. As a player, I can simply choose to ignore it. While few, if any, video poker players set out to lose, the reality is that most players play to have fun first. If they win, that’s great! Most are willing to accept a reasonable loss in exchange for the entertainment value. If you sit for a couple of hours and don’t have fun playing, something is missing!

As a video poker analyst, I can’t forget that many others enjoy Joker Wild video poker. Besides needing to know which paytables to play and what strategy to use, knowing what to expect becomes all the more important for these types of games. Wild card games tend to be much streakier than the standard jacks or better or even Bonus Poker variations.

There are basically two versions of Joker Wild video poker that can be found in most locales. The first pays on ace and king pairs and is generally designated as (A-K). The second pays on two pairs as the lowest paying hand and is designated as (2-pair). The paytables for the full-pay versions of each game are listed at left. With these paytables, the game can generate paybacks of 100.6 percent and 99.3 percent, respectively.

As you can see, Joker Wild video poker can be a very competitive version of the game when you can find these paytables.

Full-Pay Schedules for Joker Wild

(A-K)

(2-Pair)

Pair (K’s — A’s)

1

N/A

Two Pair

1

1

Three of a Kind

2

2

Straight

3

5

Flush

5

7

Full House

7

8

Four of a Kind

20

 20

Straight Flush

50

50

Royal Flush (Joker)

100

50

Five of a Kind

200

100

Royal Flush (Natural)*

800

1000

* max. 5-coin bet required for bonus payout

The key to achieving these paybacks, besides playing the proper strategy, is to get your fair share of hands with the joker. Of the 2,869,685 possible initial draws, 270,725 will contain the joker. This translates to about 9.5 percent of all hands, or just a little less than one out of 10 hands.

For the A-K version, initial hands without the joker have a payback of about 81 percent. Basically, this means that 90 percent of the time, you’re getting beaten pretty badly. The good news is that the payback of those remaining hands with the Joker is a whopping 286 percent. Once you are dealt a joker, every playable hand has an expected value (EV) greater than 1.0. Even the worst possible hand where you hold only the Joker has an EV of 1.43. The 2-pair version has similar numbers, with a payback without the Joker of just below 80 percent and a payback with the Joker of 287 percent.

It’s this "all or nothing" approach that I think has kept me from enjoying this game. The times I’ve played it, it seems like I’m not getting my fair share of jokers and that leads to the frustration and the lack of enjoyment. In reality, anything that should occur once in 10 times will frequently not occur for 15, 20 or even 25 or more hands in a row. Patience is required for this game, and I guess it’s just not one of my best traits!

But, for those of you who enjoy this version, here are some key points to remember when playing it:

In both versions, more than 10 percent of all hands will be a razgu (no hold cards), leaving the player to draw five new cards. This compares to 4 percent for jacks or better (JOB). The expected value for these hands is a paltry 0.33 in A-K and a miniscule 0.25 in 2-pair, which is considerably less than a Razgu in JOB. More than 10 percent of hands with a Joker will require that the player keep only the Joker and draw four new cards.

The most common hands in the A-K version are the low pair and the one high card, accounting for more than 50 percent of the non-joker hands. There are some unique points to realize with regard to these hands in order to maximize our payback. Low pairs are broken apart in favor of 3-card straight flushes. While the EV’s are close (0.74 vs. 0.73), the 3-card straight flush wins out. More important is that while most 2-card royals beat holding a single high card (remember that for this version, a single high card is an A or K), that 2-card royals lacking a king or ace rate below the single high card. So, if you have JD QD KC, you throw the J-Q and hold the single king. The single high card has an EV of 0.45 while the 2-card royal (J-Q) has an EV of only 0.34.

The 2-pair version of Joker Wild video poker brings some new twists. The most common hands are pairs (40 percent of non-joker hands), 3-card flushes (12.5 percent of non-joker hands) and razgus(12 percent of non-joker hands). All of these hands have EV’s well below 1.0. The 3-card flush is not even playable in most versions of video poker, but here it becomes one of the most common hands. We also find ourselves playing 3-card straights and even 2-card straight flushes rather than throwing all five cards.

Another key point for the 2-pair version is that we never keep just a joker. If a joker hand lacks a 4-vard glush, 3-card straight flush or 3- or 4-card straight, we still hold the joker and one mid-sized card. The EV of this hand is 1.26, whereas holding just the Joker rates an EV of only 1.16.

Joker Wild video poker has one of the longest strategy tables of any video poker game. Each of the variations has a strategy table of nearly 50 rankings, as compared to 30-plus for jacks or better. Not only does the order of the rankings change significantly from jacks or better, but hands that are quickly dismissed in other versions of the game now become quite playable. Both versions can be rewarding versions of the game, but you need to go in knowing the proper playing strategy and knowing what to expect.