A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:
Q. In the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I think I recall a video poker game where you could choose your own wild card.
It had a pay table like Deuces Wild, with wild royals, five of a kind and so forth, but if you wanted to make a 4 or a 9 or whatever your wild card, you could choose it.
Do you remember the game? Is there a best card to choose to be wild, or does it not make any difference?
A. I do recall the game from the early 1990s, though it’s been many years since I’ve seen it on casino floors. Even then it wasn’t particularly widespread, and I don’t remember who distributed it. Most video poker games then, as today, came from International
Game Technology, but Bally Gaming and Sigma Games also were active in video poker development.
There is a current version called Anything’s Wild Video Poker, described at GamblingSites.org and available for free play at videopoker.com. I’ve not seen it in casinos, but it might be available at some online casinos. Before each hand, you can chose which card denomination to make wild.
Given my choice, I would always choose to make deuces wild. Deuces help turn more hands into straights than cards closer to the middle of the deck.
I explained this a while back in reference to a game called 7s Wild. Natural 2s are part of straights ranking 3-4-5-6-7, 4-5-6-7-8, 5-6-7-8-9, 6-7-8-9-10, and 7-8-9-10-J. Start a hand with the non-7s in those hands, and if 2s are wild you can complete the straight with any of the four 2s or any of the four natural 7s.
Natural 2s are part of straights ranking A-2-3-4-5 and 2-3-4-5-6. Remove the 2s, and if 7s are wild you can complete the straights with any of the four wild 7s or any of the four natural 2s.
You can see that using 2s as the wild card helps complete more straights than having sevens wild.
The effect is similar, though sometimes smaller, with other cards.
Only Aces have as few potential straights as 2s. The only potential straights that include Aces are A-2-3-4-5 and A-K-Q-J-10. However, using an Ace as the wild card means you have fewer potential wild royals.
If you are dealt K-Q-J-10 of spades and 2s are wild, you have four potential wild royals with the four deuces and one potential natural royal with the Ace of spades. If Aces are wild, you still have one potential natural royal with the Ace of spades, but only three possible wild royals with the other three Aces.
The straight factor for 2s vs. 3s through Kings and the wild royal factor for 2s vs. Aces means that if you choose your own wild card, your average payback percentage will be highest if you choose deuces.
Q. Assuming other rules are equal, am I better at a two-deck blackjack table were blackjacks pay 6-5, or a six-deck table with 3-2 pays? I once saw just that, and I’ve been wondering ever since.
A. It’s MUCH worse for players to have 6-5 pays than to have extra decks. Let’s assume the other rules are dealer hits soft 17; double down on any first two cards; double after split permitted; split Aces only once; split any other pair up to three times.
In the two-deck game with 6-5 blackjack, the house edge against a basic strategy player is 1.75 percent. Given six decks and 3-2 pays, the edge is 0.62 percent.
I would never play with blackjack pays of less than 3-2 without some really powerful compensating rules.