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“Playing with Wild Cards” by Alan25main

April 15, 2020

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Ever wonder how wild cards affect the game of poker? Alan25main shares some interesting facts about formats that incorporate wilds, and how each of them affect the best hands you can make.

Depending on when and where you played poker in the pre-Hold’em era, chances are good you were playing Draw Poker.

If you played in California, it’s a near certainty you played with a Joker in the deck, but it likely wasn’t a fully wild wild-card. It was probably good only as a “fifth” Ace and was wild to fill straights or flushes. It was often referred to as the “Bluke,” or the “Blucher” (which is actually part of a shoe and is pronounced “blue-cur”), though that usage was more common in the Midwest.

Then, there’s the exception to the exception: if the game dealt was Deuces (or any other named card) Wild, then the Joker was also fully wild if it was in the deck.

So, in a legal California poker room in the 70s, Draw Poker with nothing wild was dealt from a 53-card deck with a Bluke, while a home game in Kansas City dealing Deuces Wild also dealt from the same 53-card deck had five wild cards, the four 2s and the Joker.

Do you suspect the addition of wild cards changed the odds of filling a draw? You’re right, it does. But, perhaps not as much as you suspect.

The Bluke really didn’t change the game much. Yes, there was an extra card to hit a straight or flush, but the biggest single advantage you’d get from it was holding it as a kicker to a pair. It improved your chances of making Aces up (two pair, Aces over) by about 40%.

Aces up is a fairly good hand at Draw – IF you hold the Bluke. That’s because if you have it, no one else can catch it for their straight or flush, or to match their Ace kicker. One of my favorite hands to draw to was three suited cards that included the Ace plus the Bluke. It could make a flush, trip Aces, or Aces up if it matched one of the other cards.

Looking at Deuces Wild (with or without the Bluke in the deck), the average winning hand changes from two pair, Jacks or Queens over with no wilds, to trip Aces or a small straight with wilds. So, the change is a bit more dramatic with four or five wild cards than with just one semi-wild card.

The other new wrinkle wild cards introduce is the chance to hold FIVE of a kind with both natural and wild cards combined. Five of a kind beats even a natural Royal Flush (unless the house rules say otherwise), so the absolute nuts would be five Aces.

So, how do you identify a “good hand?” Almost any five or a kind is likely to win, but there’s a catch: If you only have one wild card, it improves all your opponents’ chances of having a higher five of a kind.

Ideally, you hope for three wild cards in your hand that you then catch a pair to on the draw. If you have three of the wild cards, that doesn’t leave much for your opponents, does it? Two wild cards is strong enough to call a medium-sized raise before the draw and take three cards to your two wilds. You’re guaranteed at least trips.

If you hold an Ace or King with two wilds, it might be enough to win without improvement, assuming you draw two cards. But, two wilds plus that high card can also turn into a straight, flush, or better without a lot of help. Two Aces and a single wild aren’t even remotely as flexible as two wilds and a high card. Three wilds in your hand before the draw is worth a big raise; you have all the wild cards and are guaranteed quads.

After the draw, any five of a kind, then any straight flush, then quads “faces or better” that use at least one wild, four of a natural kind, full houses of all types, and view flushes and straights as consolation prizes that “could” win, but may not.

So, whether or not you hold wild cards – and how many – can be a very important part of the game.