For those of you who have read my column for years, you know that I'm not a big fan of video poker with Wild Cards. This is not a commentary on how good or bad the game is from a mathematical standpoint. It is merely my own personal opinion regarding how much I enjoy (or don't enjoy) playing these games. I do recognize that they have a rather strong following, however. I can't be certain of the reason for it, but it may have something to do with the fact that there are some version with some very high paybacks.
For the most part, there are two versions of video poker with Wild Cards. The first has a 53rd card in the deck that is a Joker that can be used as any card. Some of the pros of this version of video poker is the added high paying hands of Five of a Kind and a Wild Royal Flush. With a 53rd card, there are about 10% more possible hands vs. a standard 52-card deck. This means that getting a Natural Royal actually gets a smidge harder. But, getting Five of a Kind is significantly easier and there is the Wild Royal which will also hit far more often. Overall, there will be more high paying hands.
There are two significant cons to Joker Wild video poker. The first is that there will be a LOT of Razgus where you discard all 5 cards. About 11% of all hands will fall into this category. Another 1% will be hands where you discard 4 and keep only the Joker. This can lead to long stretches of really bad hands. The second con is that the strategy is quite complex. It is broken down into pre-draw hands With and Without the Joker. In total, there are 50 entries on our strategy table, which makes it about 40% longer than a standard jacks or better strategy table.
To wind up a winner in Joker Wild, you need to find the Joker. When you get dealt the Joker pre-draw, the expected value is 2.86. When you don't, it is a painful 0.81. The bad news is that less than 10% of the hands will have a Joker dealt to them on the first five cards.
The second common version of video poker with Wild Cards uses the Deuces as Wilds. This means that you are still using a 52-card deck but there are FOUR wild cards. The good news here is that you rarely get a bad hand. With all those wild cards, it is relatively easy to build Straights and Flushes. These usually only pay 2, so they are not the winners that they are in jacks or better.
Now, if jacks or better has a strategy table with 36 entries and one wild card creates a strategy table with 50 entries, how many entries do we have in Deuces Wild. It was a trick question. There are only 45 in total. The table is broken down by the number of wild cards and thus, the table is not nearly as complex as you would expect. We see some of the same hands over and over again but with a different number of Wild Cards. So, Four of a Kind actually appears four times (with 0 through 3 Wild Cards). The critical piece of information for learning the right strategy is learning when to hold ONLY the Wild Cards. As an example, with one deuce, the Player never chases a 4-Card Straight or a 4-Card Flush. You don't pick the highest card and hold a Pair. If you don't have at least a 3-Card Straight Flush, you hold only the Deuce.
What does add to the complexity is that if you are dealt NO Deuces then you would draw on a 4-Card Straight or a 4-Card Flush. In fact, even a 4-Card Inside Straight is in play. Helping the Player out is that there are no pays below Three of a Kind, which means High Cards have no inherent value as they do in Jacks or Better. As a result, the hand definitions are relatively simple and don't include breakdowns by the number of High Cards.
As is the case with any version of video poker, you have to learn the right strategy. Playing video poker with Wild Cards by the seat of your pants is a recipe for disaster. Playing it with anything resembling Jacks or Better strategy is about as bad (maybe worse!). If you want to learn more about Deuces Wild or Joker Wild (or some of the other wild card versions that are out there), you can check out our books at www.gambatria.com.