Advanced Joker Poker (Kings or Better) Hand Examples
Kings or Better Joker Poker is the most popular form of video poker with a single joker, but the strategies can get complicated and tricky in certain situations because they’re more difficult than they can appear. Here we look at some instructive hand examples to explain what you should be thinking about when playing tough hands in this game.
Advanced Strategy for Joker Poker
There are three main types of Joker Poker, but Kings or Better is the most popular by far. Aces or Better and Two Pair or Better are the other two types, and you’ll find that the strategies for Two Pair or Better are much different.
With that said, the strategies for Aces or Better are virtually identical except Kings don’t make high pairs, so you can use the strategies noted here for that game as well.
The key thing to keep in mind is that advanced strategy in Kings or Better Joker Poker is all about knowing what the trick situations are and identifying them correctly when you start a hand. Plenty of hands in this game play similarly to the basic strategies of Jacks or Better, the most popular game out there, but tons of mistakes and lost value can happen when you think you should play like that but really shouldn’t.
Rule Set and Payouts
We will be following the Microgaming version of this game in terms of the pay table. It’s a flexible enough pay table that the strategies will hold over to when you play with other popular providers, but it also happens to be one of the most played versions of the game out there, so it’ll serve the most players most of the time to take this route.
The key characteristics of this pay table are a 1,000x payout for a natural royal flush and a 17x payout for four of a kind. If you spot those two pays with a 7/5 structure overall (ie: 7x for a full house and 5x for a flush), then you’re using the Microgaming pay table that we’re using here to base our hand values on.
With that out of the way, we’re going to look at a quick overview of the basics of strategy for this game and then jump straight into our first instructive hands.
Quick Strategic Overview
There are a few hand rankings that are important to have memorized for this game, and we’ll expect you to know them for our strategic discussion further down. In order of strength from, strongest to weakest, we have the following when there is no joker in our hand:
- High Pair
- Four-card Flush Draw
- Low Pair
- Four-card Outside Straight Draw
It’s important to know the order that these four types of hands fall into for video poker strategy in general, and we want to make sure you’re informed enough to get the most out of the examples we’re about to move into.
Hand 1: KsKhQhTh3h
If you pay attention to the basic strategic overview that we gave up above, then you’ll immediately notice that your options seem to be to keep the high pair or to keep the four-card flush draw. If you were playing Jacks or Better, you would immediately pick the high pair and ditch the four-card flush draw because it’s higher ranked according to these basics.
However, this is one of the trick situations where you can miss out on a good bit of value by mistakenly playing too strict according to the basics. Consider the missed possibility:
- Three to a Royal (KQT) – 1.572x
- Pair of Kings (KK) – 1.376x
- Four to a Flush (KQT3) – 1.083x
In most games, Jacks or Better included, three to a royal is worse than a high pair but better than a four-card flush draw. However, because of the top-heavy pay table and because of the existence of the joker in the deck, three to a royal is bumped up so that it’s worth even more than a single pair.
Something that helps this hand be better than a high pair is that the payout for two pair is the same as the payout for a pair of kings or better. The significance of this is that the kings have to improve to at least three of a kind to get a higher payout because an improvement to two pair doesn’t increase the pay for the kings.
Hand 2: KsQcJsJhTc
There’s a general rule in most games, much like what we looked up above, that a low pair is better than an open-ended straight draw (aka: an outside straight draw).
However, in many non-wild situations, you’ll find that there are some exceptions to that rule regarding the Broadway open-ended straight draw KQJT. In Jacks or Better, for example, there’s a well-known exception where with KQJTT, you should play the draw over the pair.
Because the threshold for pair payout is higher in Joker Poker, there are a number of analogous hands to this: KQQJT, KQJJT and KQJTT are all very similar in this regard. We want to clear up how to play these spots because there’s a lot of value to be missed out on if you play them incorrectly:
- Pair of Jacks (JJ) – 0.708x
- Straight Draw (KQJT) – 0.625x
This situation is very anti-intuitive, and one reason for that is that you may feel like the pair of Jacks has a hard time improving in the same way that we discussed a pair of Kings has a hard time improving up above. However, this is a very common mistaken thought process:
The pair of Jacks can improve its payout to two pair because the single pair of Jacks doesn’t get paid at all.
That’s the crux of the situation and one reason why it’s so anti-intuitive. Another aspect is that the Joker makes it more likely for the draw to improve (even to just a pair of Kings), but that’s not enough to overcome the lower than average payout for a straight (3x).
Hand 3: QsJhTs5d3s
Learning to play hands with no pair and no clear draw is tougher in Kings or Better Joker Poker than in most games. If you have a low pair, you can keep that, and that’s a little better than keeping a single high card. However, without either of those two obvious options, you start running into some problems because it’s really hard to know what you’re supposed to prioritize.
This instructive hand and the next are designed to show you everything you need to know about playing these spots correctly. Consider the order of payouts for the various options:
- Two to a Royal – No High Cards (QT) – 0.343x
- Discard Five – 0.329x
- Three to a Flush (QT3) – 0.316x
The key thing to note here is that two-card royal draws are enough to beat out discarding five, but three to a flush (or three to a straight) are not.
Hand 4: QsJs8d6d4d
This example hand has one purpose: That is to show the relationship between three to a straight flush draw and two to a royal when you have no pairs, no high cards and no four-card draws available:
- Three to a Straight Flush (864) – 0.491x
- Two to a Royal – No High Cards (QT) – 0.365x
You’ll notice that we used a straight flush draw with two “gaps” so that it would be clear that a similar draw with no gaps like 876 would also be sufficient to beat out two to a royal. Equivalent two-gap combinations like 874 have similar payouts as well.
To summarize what these last two hands show: Three to a straight flush is better than two to a royal, which in turn is better than standing pat. Without one of those two options, and absent any high cards (Aces or Kings), then you should just go ahead and discard five.
Hand 5: KsTs8s5dX
Note: In this situation, the X stands for Joker.
Most hands with a Joker are actually really straightforward to learn how to play with basic strategies, so we aren’t going to look at any examples of them except for this one.
The player is put into a bit of a pickle. There are a few different options that can seem reasonable, but only one of them is correct, and there’s a lot of value on the line if you make a mistake. Consider these options:
- Three of a Kind (55X) – 3.691x
- Three to a Royal – One High Card (KTX) – 2.035x
- Four to a Flush (KT5X) – 2.000x
- Pair of Kings (KX) – 1.632x
Something to note about this is that if we had QTX instead for three to a royal without a high card, then our payout would drop to about 1.7x and would be worse than four to a flush. This is a key idea to keep in mind for starting hands with a wild in Kings or Better and Aces or Better Joker Poker because it’s a recurring theme.
It’s critical to understand that three of a kind by itself only pays out 2x, so for this hand with a wild to have a payout of nearly twice that at about 3.7x is pretty impressive. It really shows how easily that hand can improve to get bigger payouts as well.
Kings or Better Joker Poker, and also the Aces or Better variation, is known for creating an environment where players are very confident that they’re making the right move in a number of situations where they are actually playing incorrectly. It’s difficult to adequately address those spots without showing examples of them specifically, which is what we have done here.
If you really want to play well at this game, then the key is to learn the basics but to then look out for the exceptions to those rules and the handful of spots where it’s easy to get tripped up. Studying the scenarios we have laid out for you here is an excellent start to that.