Everyone's a Joker!

            I’m continuing last week’s column by continuing the discussion of Joker Wild video poker.  This game is still available in numerous casinos around Las Vegas and offers a 100.65% payback.  As always, of course, it offers this payback ONLY if you find the full-pay paytable.  You should be looking for the following:

Royal Flush (Natural)
Five of a Kind
Royal Flush (Joker)
Straight Flush
Four of a Kind
Full House
Three of a Kind
Two Pair
High Pair (K’s or A’s)
* With Max-Coin play

            There are a total of 50 entries on the strategy table for this version of Joker Wild.  However, they are split up between Joker hands (23) and non-Joker hands (27).  When thought of this way, the process of learning the strategy table becomes much simpler.  First let’s focus on the non-Joker hands which make up almost 90% of the total hands.

            The top half of the non-Joker strategy table has few surprises.  Most of the hands are the pat hands for which there is little to decide.  One key point is that you will discard a Straight to go for any 4-Card Straight Flush.  You do NOT break up a Flush, however, for these cases.  A 3-Card Royal ranks above a High Pair, but below Two Pair and 4-Card Straight Flushes. 

            The bottom half of the non-Joker strategy table contains the hands with an expected value less than 1 so these are the messier partial Straights, Flushes and Straight Flushes.  The key points here are NO 3-Card Straights are playable and NO 3-Card Flushes are playable.  3-Card Straight Flushes, however, are quite playable, but generally below a Low Pair (except for a non-inside 3-Card Straight Flush), but ABOVE the equivalent 4-Card Straight.  So, if you have a 3-Card Straight Flush that is also a 4-Card Straight, you stick with the 3-Card Straight Flush most of the time.  The payout of only 3 on the Straight makes a significant difference for these hands.  If you have a 2-Card Royal that is A-K, K-Q, K-J or K-10, it will outrank holding only the single High Card.  However, it is preferable to hold a single A or K over a 2-Card Royal of 10-J-Q (2 of the three).  A 2-card Royal consisting of an Ace but not a King is not playable.

            It probably is no surprise that on the non-Joker half of things, 3 hand types make up about 70% of all our hands dealt – Low Pair, 1 High Card and Razgu.  This last hand – where we throw all 5 occurs about 12.5% of the time for hands without a Joker, which is 4 times more frequent than in jacks or better.

            On the Joker side of things, we find that the lowest playable hands are 4-Card Straights and 4-Card Flushes.  If after accounting for the Joker you still have an Inside 4-Card Straight, you do NOT play this (i.e. 4-5-JKR-8-Q).  As in non-Joker hands, a 3-card Straight Flush is played over a 4-Card Straight.  Since every hand with a Joker is by its very definition at least a Pair, which one of the 4 remaining cards to you decide to keep if dealt nothing much but the Joker?  You don’t!  Over 10% of our Joker hands will result in a Joker Razgu where we throw the other four cards.  There is no Joker Low Pair hand in Joker Wild.

            There are three secrets to winning at Joker Wild video poker.  The first is to find the right game to play.  There are a lot of different paytables out there and even a variation of Joker Wild that pays beginning at Two Pair, albeit harder to find and not nearly as lucrative.  The second secret is learning the strategy.  It’s really not that hard of a strategy to learn, but if you go in trying to adapt your jacks or better of your Bonus Poker strategy to Joker Wild, you’re going to get killed.  Last, but not least, you need to get your fair share of Jokers.  The payback is all in the Joker hands and if you don’t get your fair share of them, you’re not likely to have a winning session.  The good news is that the payback is above 100%, so you only need your fair share.  If you happen to get even more – all the better for you.