Wild About Wild Cards

by Cactus Kev

When poker started gaining popularity back in the golden days, players were constantly thinking of ways to spruce up the game. It wasn't too long before somebody came up with was the concept of wild cards. Wild cards obviously increase the chances of getting the more premium hands. The Joker was the obvious candidate for being wild (hence the expression "Joker's Wild"), but that meant playing with a 53 card deck. Some players balked at the idea of using 53 cards. They thought it made the game less "pure". In addition, since a Joker wasn't used in play all the time, it didn't get scuffed and worn as quickly as the "regular" cards. This had the side effect of making it plainly obvious when someone was dealt the Joker -- just look for the nice and shiny card in "pristine condition". So if using the Joker was taboo, another wild card candidate was needed. Since the Deuce was the card of lowest rank in most games played, it was the logical card of choice to be wild. It also meant there were now four wild cards available instead of just one. Thus was born games such as Five Card Draw, Deuces Wild.

I have yet to find a wild card game dealt in any of the casino poker rooms I've played in (although it often pops up in Video Poker). However, they do crop up frequently in home games around the country. If you happen to ever find yourself in a game with wild cards, it would be wise to first find out the house rules on how wild cards can be used in a hand. A good example is when using the Joker as a wild card. Some rules state the Joker is a "limited" wild card -- it can only be used as an Ace, or to fill a Flush or Straight. Other rules allow players to make the Joker any card they want it to be. The important thing is find out what the house rules are. But even then, there is an interesting wild card scenario that can arise, that needs further clarification.

Consider the following. Let's say we're playing a game where Deuces are wild, and you are holding Ks Qs Js Ts 2d. What hand do you have?

If you said a Royal Flush, then you are correct. The Deuce fills in as the missing Ace of Spades. Note that it could also fill in as a Nine of Spades giving you a King-High Straight Flush; but typically, a player will make the wild card be the card that gives him the highest possible hand.

Next question. If Deuces are wild, what does a player have holding Ac Ad Ah As 2d? Most people would say he has five Aces. My question would then be this: what card is the Deuce filling in as? The Ace of Nothing? An Ace of one of the other four suits? Does it matter?

I think it's safe to assume that a wild card must substitute for one of the valid 52 cards in a standard deck. It can't represent a "made up" card. Otherwise, a guy holding a wild card with the AKQJ of Spades can claim his hand beats another guy holding a Royal Flush, because his wild card represents an imaginary card higher in rank than an Ace -- the illusive Emperor of Spades. And everyone knows that an Emperor High Straight Flush beats a Royal Flush.

As you can see, making up imaginary cards leads to all sorts of problems. So by forcing wild cards to be a valid specific card, we rule out all these "fantasy" hands. Our hero with the wild card and the AKQJ of Spades simply makes his wild card be a Ten of Spades (a valid card), giving himself a Royal Flush.

Okay. Once you agree that wild cards can't represent an imaginary card, how do we handle a hand of four natural Aces plus a wild card? Is that a Five-of-a-Kind? If it is, then what card, pray tell, is that wild card supposed to represent? If it's another Ace, then what suit is that fifth Ace? Some might say it doesn't matter. But if we've agreed to our "no imaginary cards" rule, then you can't say it's the Ace of Stars, or the Ace of Grapefruits, or some other fantasy suit. It must represent a valid card.

So, why not just say it's the Ace of Clubs? That gives you a hand of five Aces that happens to have two Aces of Clubs. Is that a problem? Let's think about that. It is possible for two players to use a wild card as the same card. If Deuces are wild, a player holding AKQJ2 of Spades and a player holding 29876 of Spades will both use their wild card as a Ten of Spades. I don't see this as being a problem. In community card games such as Texas Hold'Em, it's a given that all players will be sharing at least three of the five community cards. So the question is, can a player have two or more identical cards in his own hand? If you say "no", then Five-of-a-Kind hands are never possible. A player with AAAA2 simply has four Aces with a King kicker. Straight Flushes remain the highest possible hand.

"But I want my Five-of-a-Kind hands!" you cry. Okay. You must then allow duplicate cards in the same hand. The wild card in the AAAA2 hand is simply another Ace of Clubs (or Spades, or any of the four legal suits). Now, once you've agreed to that, compare these two Flush hands: As Ks 9s 6s 3s and As 2d 9s 6s 3s. The Deuce is wild. Who is the winner?

Did you say they both tie? They are identical?? If so, then you are being inconsistant. You said that you do allow duplicate cards to appear in the same hand. You just allowed two identical Aces in the Five-of-a-Kind hand. So, why can't the second player count his wild card as another Ace? That would give him a double-Ace High Flush (AA963), which should certainly beat an AK-High Flush, correct?? If you cry foul, and say that the wild Deuce must be forced to represent a King, then why didn't you apply the same standard to the AAAA2 hand? Why can a Five-of-a-Kind hand have duplicate Aces, but a Flush hand cannot? Shouldn't the "rules" be consistant across all possible hands?

I believe the rules should be consistant. I say that if you allow Five-of-a-Kind hands to have two Aces of Spades in it, then you should also allow Flush hands to also have two Aces of Spades in it. If players balk at that ruling, then simply disallow all Five-of-a-Kind hands and force the wild card to be the best "valid" card possible, making the best "valid" five-card hand. So AAAA2 is actually Four Aces with a King kicker, and Straight Flushes remain the highest possible poker hand.

Cactus Kev, copyright 2003