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Playing Guide for Wild Card Poker Games


Playing wild card poker games is not the same as playing in any non-wild card game. To be successful in wild card poker games you must make adjustments. The adjustments you make are largely determined by the number and nature of the wild cards and the realization that holding a wild card is much better than holding any other card. The average winning hand in a wild card poker game is alway higher than in the non-wild card version of the same game.

To help explain concepts or ideas we use examples of wild card poker games that are featured on our Wild Card Games page. Refer to that for specific game details.

Wild Cards are Much Better

That wild cards are much better is by no means a revelation of any hidden truth. Intuitively, anyone who has played wild card poker knows that holding a wild card is a lot better than holding any other card. While later we will temper that a bit, here we will demonstrate how important wild cards can be. In our example we will say you are playing a wild card version of 7 card stud in which there are 4 wild cards (eg. Deuces Wild).



Imagine that in two consecutive hands you are dealt the same starting hand: trip aces. In the first hand you have a pair of aces and one wild card. What are your chances of improvement to 4 of a kind? On fourth street 5 cards will make you 4 of a kind: 3 wild cards and 2 aces. Likewise, on fifth, sixth and the river you have these same 5 cards to make your hand. Of course, if you pair one of your other cards you will immediately improve to a full house as well as add 2 more outs for getting 4 of a kind. But, that might just be a problem. Aces full may seem to be too good to throw away but might still be vulnerable, especially with lots of players in the hand. Likewise, if your second pair is small, turning it into a small 4 of a kind may not necessarily make it a winner. These become the kind of hands where you may win a small pot, but lose a big one.

In the very next hand you have the same trip aces, but this time made from a pair of wild cards and a single ace. What are your chances of improving to 4 of a kind? Again, on fourth street there are 5 cards: 3 aces and 2 wild cards. But this is where the similarity to the first example ends. Because you have 2 wild cards all you need to do to make 4 of a kind is to pair any of your other cards. Thus, on fifth street you now have 8 outs, on sixth street you have 11 and on the river it’s 14. Now, should you pair little cards they are more likely to stand up since you have 2 of the 4 wild cards. Granted, your chances of improvement in either example is reduced whenever one of the cards you need is dealt to another player.

Types of Wild Cards


Unrestricted wild cards may be used to substitute for any other card in both rank and suit. For example, in Deuces Wild any deuce can be used as any card you wish. Most wild card game allows for the unrestricted or unlimited use of wild cards.

Restricted wild cards impose limits in how a wild card may be used. For example, in games such as Draw Poker with the Joker or Cow Pie Stud with Joker, there are limits on the use of the wild card (Joker). In these games the Joker may be used only to complete a straight, flush or straight flush. It may also be used as an ace. Thus, 5 aces would be the highest possible hand but no other 5-of-a-kind hands are possible.

Shared wild cards are wild cards that appear in the shared or common cards of games such as Omaha or Hold'em. It is important to differentiate between games where players share a common wild card or cards (like Bummer or Criss-Cross Wild) and games where each wild card belongs to just one player (like Baseball or Follow the Queen). When there are shared wild cards you must consider that everyone has (at least) one. It is as though there are as many wild cards as there are active players, plus any other cards of the same rank. If there are 6 active players, that is a total of 9 wild cards. Another thing to keep in mind is that you will have no advantage over any of the other players unless you have additional wild cards yourself.

Player specific wild cards are those that are held in the hand of an individual player and are not shared among all the players. This is the typical situation in stud or draw style games. When playing with player specific wild cards there is just the designated number of wild cards that are used in that game. For example, in One-Eyed Jacks Wild there are 2 wild cards and you must hold one of those cards in your hand to use it. It is important to note that for every wild card you hold there is one less for the other players to hold. On the other hand, when you don't have any wild cards yourself you are the one at a big disadvantage.

Indicator cards are cards that are use only to indicate or designate what the wild card(s) are but can not be used in a players hand. Examples of games using indicator cards are King Tut's Tomb and Triple Option (option #2). A card of the same rank as the indicator card serves as a wild card, but the indicator card itself is not in play. Example: If the King Tut card is the five of clubs only the 3 remaining fives (spades, diamonds, hearts) are wild.

Directional wild cards may be used in high-low split games where the wild card is dependent on the direction (high or low) that the player declares. Examples include K2 and Kings and Commoners. In those games a deuce plays as a wild card only in the high hand. A king plays as a wild card only in the low hand.

Wild Cards Mean Higher Hands


Again, this is something that you know intuitively. The addition of wild cards increase your chances of receiving a higher hand. And, the more wild cards that are available in a game, the higher the hand you will need to win. Just how much wild cards influence this is illustrated in the probability charts below. Often a dramatically better hand is necessary to win a wild card game compared to the same game without wild cards. Adjust your standards to reflect this. You must also develop a sense of the usual or average winning hand in each game. Most importantly, you must maintain the discipline to fold hands that are inferior to the usual winning hands.

Wild Cards in High-Low Poker


There is no reason that high-low split poker can not be played with wild cards. However, as expected, wild cards make it considerably easier to draw an excellent low hand. You need to have very strict standards regarding the rank of a low hand you are willing to play. Often, playing with anything less than the best possible low is a risky proposition.

Sometimes Wild Cards Don't Help That Much


Having a wild card or 2 does not necessarily guarantee you a winning hand. The rank of the wild card as well as your other cards have a significant impact on the value of your hand and sometimes they do not come together as powerfully as you hope. Here are a few examples to illustrate.

An easy example is in games with a restricted wild card such as Draw Poker with Joker or Cow Pie Stud with Joker. Holding the wild Joker is great, but since its use is limited, unless you complete your straight or flush or have at least one ace, it provides virtually no value to your hand. Here are some sample hands where, depending on your other cards, the Joker helps a great deal, a little and not at all. W stands for the Joker wild card.
AAAAW is 5 aces. W serves as 5th ace.
KKKKW is 4 kings. W cannot be a king so it does not help. (You could consider it as an ace kicker, but 4 kings cannot be tied so it would never come into play.)
AAKKW is aces full of kings. W serves as ace.
KKKAW is kings full of aces. W serves as ace.
KKKQW is trip kings. W cannot be a king or queen
KKQQW is 2 pair (kings over queens). W cannot be a king or queen. It can serve as ace kicker which has some slight chance of being helpful.

In Bummer (a high-low split game) if you match the rank of the shared wild card with 1 or more of your hole cards, those cards become wild as well. But, even when you do you do not necessarily end up with a winning hand. Here are 2 examples of when the wild card helps you a lot, helps you a little and when it does not help you at all. In each we assume the single non-wild card provides no benefit to your hand.

You hold 9832A. The wild card is 9. For high you have a straight (5432A) which will not win (if the 32A are suited you'd have an excellent straight flush). For low you have the best low under both 5432A and 6432A rules.
You hold 9832A. The wild card is 3. For high you have 3 aces. For low you have an 8-low (using 1 wild card as a four gives you 8432A). Neither of those hands stand a chance of winning. The wild card was of no benefit to you.

In this next example the wild card helps both hands, but the differences are enormous.
You hold AA662. The wild card is 2. Your best low is pair of sixes (6632A) which is not a playable low hand. For high you have 4 aces. You will probably win the high hand half of the pot.
You hold AA662. The wild card is 6. Now, you have both the best possible low in either 5432A or 6432A rules as well as the best possible high (5 aces). Only another player's miracle hand will prevent you from winning the entire pot.

In high-low split games, the rank of the wild card is very important with regard to your low hand. If the wild card is a low ranking card there is little to be gained if you hold only 1 of them. For example, in Deuces Wild your low hand is not really helped when you hold just a single deuce. At face value it is already the second best low card. You could change a holding like 65432 (in 5432A rules the 6th best low hand) into 6543A (the 5th best low hand), but that is not much of an improvement. (If playing by 6432A rules it would help considerably more since 65432 is a straight under those rules. But, even 6543A may not be a winner - it's only the 4th best low hand.) It is only when you hold 2 or more deuces that you gain significant value from the wild cards. Now the second deuce can be used to fill in for any other card you need.

Lastly, a couple of miscellaneous items:
If playing One-Eyed Jacks Wild it is impossible to have a hand of 5 jacks.
If playing Deuces Wild it is impossible to have a hand of 5 deuces.

Ranking of Hands - 5 of a Kind is Best


Five of a kind is the highest ranked hand when playing wild card poker. (Even with the limitations of draw poker with the joker, 5 aces is possible, though no other 5 of a kind can be made in that game.) After that the established hand rankings found for non-wild card poker is used even though, as you can see in the charts below, it may not always seem mathematically correct to do so. For example, with 4 wild cards there appears to be a greater chance of drawing 4 of a kind in 5 cards (1.2%) than a full house (0.49%). But, do not use this to alter the rankings of hands. With wild cards you can manipulate your hand to reflect whatever is most advantageous. For example, you could rank trips plus a wild card as either 4 of a kind or a full house. Therefore, to change the established hand rankings to reflect any seemingly contrary math is pointless.

Poker "purists" will probably disagree with the concept of 5 of a kind. They may try to make the case that since a royal flush is the highest hand in "regular" poker it is the highest legitimate hand that can be made in any version of poker, including wild card poker. It is certainly your choice to do this, but make sure all are aware. In all likelihood, any poker "purist" is not going to want to play wild card poker at all.

Some Optional Wild Card Rules


Here are some options you can consider using when playing wild card games:

Buying wild cards: In stud games, consider requiring a player who receives a wild card as one of their up cards to pay a fee to the pot in order to "activate" the wild card. Only if the fee is paid will that card be considered wild. The player has the option of refusing to pay the fee, but, in that case the card is not wild. A suggested fee can be 1 or 2 small bets.

Progressively buying wild cards: The same as the above buying option, but the fee rises with every wild card dealt. Start the fee at 1 small bet. The first wild card costs 1 small bet; the second costs 2 small bets; the third costs 3 small bets, etc.

Buy or fold: A player must either pay the wild card fee or fold his hand.

Read Your Hand Correctly


With wild cards, sometimes determining your hand can be complicated. Take your time to evaluate and identify the best hand you could have. Often at the beginning of a hand you'll make an assumption on where your hand is heading. Be alert for the possibility that your hand has turned out differently by the end. At the showdown, don't be too quick to muck a hand that you think is beaten. The other player may have misread his hand or you may actually have a better hand than you originally thought. Players often fixate on the cards they need to make 4 of a kind and may be less likely to notice a straight flush. Or, perhaps your starting low has turned into a good high hand.



It is very difficult to calculate the probabilities or odds of drawing any particular hand in wild card poker. Much depends on the specific game, the number of wild cards in play, the nature of the wild cards (unrestricted vs restricted), whether they are shared or player specific wild cards and if the wild card(s) is a Joker added to the deck or is from among the cards in a standard 52 card deck. In the charts NO Wild Cards means non-wild card games. It is included to provide a comparison that illustrates the how the addition of wild card(s) increases the chances of being dealt hands.

High Hands from 5 Cards


Approximate probabilities of being dealt the following HIGH hands in 5 cards. Number of wild cards refers to the total number of wild cards in the game, not the number of wild cards held by an individual player. For example: One-Eyed Jacks Wild has a total of 2 wild cards, Deuces Wild has 4 wild cards. No Wild Cards means non-wild games and is provided as a reference point. Note that it is 50 times easier to be dealt 4 of a kind in games with 4 wild cards compared to non-wild card games (1.2% divided by 0.024% = 50).

Hand NO Wild Cards1 Wild Card2 Wild Cards4 Wild Cards 8 Wild Cards
5 of a Kind-0.00045%0.0025% 0.026% 0.26%
Straight Flush0.0015%0.0071%0.02% 0.1% 0.46%
4 of a Kind0.024%0.11%0.32%1.2% 4.4%
Full House0.14%0.23%0.31%0.49% 0.60%
Flush0.20%0.27%0.36%0.56% 0.98%
Straight0.39%0.70%1.1%2.4% 4.5%
3 of a Kind2.11%4.8%7.7%13.7% 22.4%
2 Pair4.75%4.3%4.0%3.7% 2.5%
1 Pair42.3%44.2%46.7%47.2% 43.9%

High Hands from 7 Cards


Approximate probabilities of being dealt the following HIGH hands in 7 cards. Number of wild cards refers to the total number of wild cards in the game, not the number of wild cards held by an individual player. For example: One-Eyed Jacks Wild has a total of 2 wild cards, Deuces Wild has 4 wild cards, Baseball has 8 wild cards. No Wild Cards means non-wild games and is provided as a reference point. Note that it is 50 times easier to be dealt a straight flush in games with 4 wild cards compared to non-wild card games (1.5% divided by 0.03% = 50).

Hand NO Wild Cards1 Wild Card2 Wild Cards 4 Wild Cards 8 Wild Cards
5 of a Kind-0.0095% 0.056% 0.46% 3.1%
Straight Flush0.031%0.14%0.37% 1.5% 4.9%
4 of a Kind0.17%0.73%1.9%5.6% 13.3%
Full House2.6%3.9%5.0%7.0% 7.2%
Flush3.0%3.9%4.8%6.0% 7.6%
Straight4.6%7.1%9.4%14.5% 17.8%
3 of a Kind4.8%8.6%11.8%15.1%15.9%
2 Pair23.5%20.4%17.8%14.6% 8.2%
1 Pair43.8%40.0%36.1%27.6% 17.6%