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Perfecting Your Play on Joker Ace King Hands

In Kings or Better Joker Wild, hands beginning with WAK (where the W stands for a wild card, namely a joker, and single quote marks indicate the cards are suited with each other) are better than average.Bob DancerBob Dancer is one of the world's foremost video poker experts.  He is a regular columnist for Casino Player, Strictly Slots, and the Las Vegas Review-Journa land has written an autobiography and a novel about gambling.   He provides advice for tens of thousands of casino enthusiasts looking to play video poker.  Bob's website is  Holding either WA or WK gives you your money back --- at least. There are times when you hold neither WA nor WK (WAK'56', for example), but usually you hold either WA or WK.

In basic strategy, the correct play is WA over WK. It certainly isn't obvious why this would be the case. To find the difference, you have to look at the potential for getting straight flushes. Drawing three cards to WA you can end up with four different straight flushes, namely W 'A234', W 'A235', W 'A245', and W 'A345'. Starting from WK, you can only end up with three straight flushes, namely W 'KQJ9', W 'KQT9', and W 'KJT9'. The reason for the difference is that one of the king-high straight flushes, W 'KQJT' is actually paid as a joker royal flush rather than a straight flush.

If you want to go beyond basic strategy, there are some cases where WK is the better play over WA. These all deal with straight and flush penalties.

Flush penalties are fairly self-explanatory, but you need to keep in mind that if they are straight flush penalties, it changes the hand. For example, from W 'A2' K8 you hold W 'A2' and from W A 'K9' 4 you hold W 'K9'.

Straight penalties to the ace are 2, 3, 4, and 5. These are all equal to each other. The 9 is a straight penalty to the king. But what about Q, J, and T? They are clearly straight penalties to BOTH WA and WK.

These cards, however, penalize WK more than they do WA, simply because for the ace they only penalize AKQJT (where one of the cards is a joker) but for WK they penalize both AKQJT and KQJT9 (where, again, one of the cards is a joker.) In the counting system presented below, we'll consider the Q, J, and T as a straight penalty to the king only. This is a simplification, to be sure, but it works.

To figure out whether to hold WA or WK, we use a counting system where flush penalties count as 2 and straight penalties count as one. The only time we hold WK is if the ace is penalized at least two more than the king. Let's look at some examples.

W AK78 -- Neither WA nor WK is penalized at all so basic strategy kicks in and WA is the better play by 5¢ for the 5-coin dollar player.

W AK43 -- Here the ace has a total penalty weight of two and the king is unpenalized, so we hold WK by a small fraction of a penny.

W 'A6' K4 -- The ace has a total penalty weight of three, two for the flush (6), and one for the straight (4). The king is unpenalized, so we hold WK by 4.2¢.

W 'A9' K4 -- As before the ace has a total penalty weight of three, but this time the king has a penalty weight of 1 for the straight (9). But since three is two more than one, again we hold WK by 1.4¢.

W 'A6' "K4" -- This time the ace is penalized a total of three and the king is penalized a total of two. So we hold WA by 2.2¢.

W 'A5' K9 -- We mentioned earlier that the correct play is W 'A5' by 60.3¢. This is a HUGE error and it's easy to miss when you're concentrating on whether to hold WA or WK.

W 'A86' K -- Although the two flush penalties to the ace make WK 6.6¢ superior to WA, the 4-card flush with one high card is $1.58 better yet.

This rule is relatively simply and 100% accurate. If you play this game, it makes sense to add it to your arsenal.

There are a few corollaries to the rule. One is that if there is a Q, J, or T involved, WK is NEVER superior to WA. Since we count these cards as a straight penalty to the king and no the ace, no fifth card can penalize the ace sufficiently to make WA less valuable than WK.

The second corollary is that the only time we hold WK in spite of a 9 penalty is when the 9 is suited with the ace, and there's a low straight penalty in the hand as well. The fourth hand above is an example of this.

Neither of these corollaries adds anything new to the rule, but the more any rule is fleshed out, the easier it is to memorize and understand. Also, since we learn things in different ways, perhaps the corollaries will "turn on the light" for some students.
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