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Poker odds with wild cards

Last week I wrote about the odds and probabilities of every five card poker hand. If you missed the article you can read it here.

This week, I’m going to look at how these odds change if we add a wild card into the mix.

A wild card, sometimes called a joker, can be used to represent a card of any value and suit. This can cause some interesting effects (as we'll see later). It also means that five of kind is possible.

Because the wild card can be used to represent any card, we’re going to make the assumption that the player uses the wild card to maximum advantage. What this means is that, if the player is dealt a wild card, s(he) uses it in a position that results in the highest possible ranking hand.

A consequence of this is that you will never see the hand two pairs including a wild card. If you have a wild card, you would be better off making three of a kind from the natural pair. (And if a hand was two natural pairs and a wild card, it would automatically be a full house).

Similarly, the lowest possible hand including a wild card is a pair. (It’s impossible to have a high card hand with a wild card, as this wild card will automatically pair with the highest natural card).

Vanilla (natural) Odds

Straight Flush40
Four of a kind624
Full House3,744
Three of a kind54,912
Two pair123,552
One pair1,098,240
High card1,302,540

Let's refresh ourselves on the basic odds.

To the left is a table showing the frequency of all possible five card poker hands. The way these figures were derived are explained in last weeks article.

There are 52 cards in a standard deck and so 52C5 possible sets of cards, resulting in a total of 2,598.960 possible combinations.

The addition of a wild card adds an additional card to the set 53C5 = 2,869,685.

One Wild Card

Let's repeat the exercise from last week of going through all hand rankings and finding out number distinct sets of cards that make each of these groups when there is one wild card in the deck.

Five of a kind (with one wild card)

There are only 13 sets of cards in the entire deck that can result in five of a kind. The wild card must be present, and the other four cards need to be quads. There is only one way to make five of a kind for each of the thirteen values in the deck.

13 five of a kind hands.

Straight flush (with one wild card)

There are three different ways to make a straight flush when there is, potentially, a wild card.

The first is the natural way (no wild card involved). Once the top card of a straight flush is defined, the rest of the cards follow on automatically. A straight flush can be have an Ace as the top card, or a King, or Queen … down to the five. There are ten possible straight flush hands per suit, and four suits, so 40 possible natural straight flushes.

When a wild card is added, things are a little more complicated. A wild card can be used to fill any possible position of a straight flush, except the lowest card of the straight (because if there were four cards in a row the player would select the wild card to be at the top end of the straight; remember, we're assuming the player makes the highest possible hand). The exception to this is when the straight is Ace high. In this case, the wild card can be any of the cards, even the lowest one.

Let's deal with the latter special case first. For an ace high straight flush (a royal flush), the wild card can be any of the five cards: A,K,Q,J,T and there are four suits, so there are 20 ways this can happen.

For an non-royal straight flush there are nine possible high ending cards, and the wild card can be any one of the four higher cards, and there are four suits, so with a middle wild card there are: 9 × 4 × 4 = 144.

40 + 20 + 144 = 204 Straight flush hands.

Four of a kind (with one wild card)

There are two ways to make four of a kind. The first is a natural way, and the second is with a triple and a wild card. Because we're assuming the player always attempts to make the highest ranking hand, they will use the wild card to make a quad with the triple, and not to pair up with the singleton to make a full house.

In the natural case, there are thirteen different cards that can be used for the quads: A,K,Q,J,T … 3,2, this leaves 48 other cards for the singleton (not 49, because we can't use the wild card as this would be five of a kind). So the number of possible hands is 13 × 48 = 624.

If one wild card is involved, there are thirteen values for what the triple can be, and this can be made 4C3 different ways (all the ways four cards can be arranged in groups of three). Then there is the wild card, and the remaining singleton must be one of the 48 remaining cards that is not the same as the triple. So the number is: 13 × 4 × 48 = 2,496

624 + 2,496 = 3,120 Four of a kind hands.

Full house (with one wild card)

There are two ways to make a full house. The natural way, and with two pairs and a wild card.

For a natural full house there is a triplet and a pair. The triplet can be one of any of the 13 card values, and three out of the four possible cards chosen. The pair will come from one of the twelve other cards and there are the combinations of the ways that these pairs can be made from four cards.

The calculation for the natural full house is: 13C1 × 4C3 × 12C1 × 4C2 = 13 × 4 × 12 × 6 = 3,744.

For the two pairs, there are 13 possible values for the the first pair, and 12 possible values for the second pair, but, as the player will want to maximize the hand, the wild card will be used only to triple up the higher pair, so the number of combinations is half this (13 × 12) ÷ 2 = 78. For each of these combinations of numbers there are 4C2 ways the suits can be arranged. So the number of full houses with a wild card is: 78 × 6 × 6 = 2,808.

3,744 + 2,808 = 6,552 Full House hands.

Flush (with one wild card)

As before there are two ways to make a flush. The natural way, and with a wild card.

We have to remember that, when counting flushes, we must subtract the special case of flushes that are also straight flushes (to avoid double counting). As 'cards speak' a hand that is also a straight flush will have been counted earlier. We've already determined that there are 204 straight flushes.

For natural flushes there are 13C5 ways to pick five cards of the same suit, and four different suits: 1,287 × 4 = 5,148 natural flushes.

With a wild card, there are 13C4 ways to pick the other cards, and still four suits: 715 × 4 = 2,860 flushes with one wild card.

5,148 + 2,860 - 204 = 7,804 Flush hands.

Straight (with one wild card)

In just the same was as with the straight flush, there are three cases to consider with the regular straight. The first is the natural way. The second is with a wild card being in any location but the last value in the straight, and finally a wild card in an ace-high straight (where the wild card can be in any of the positions).

Once we have the totals for all of these we must remember to subtract away the number of straight flush hands (204) as we do not want to double count them.

For a natural straight, there are 10 possible values for the high card, and each of the five cards can be any one of the four suits: 10 × 4C15 = 10 × 1,024 = 10,240.

When there is a wild card and the top card is not an ace, this can happen nine times. Each non-wild card can be one of four suits, and the wild card can be any one of the lower four positions: 9 × 4C14 × 4 = 9 × 256 × 4 = 9,216.

The last case is when there is wild card and the straight is ace high (also called by the friendly name "broadway"). In this case there are four other cards that can be any suit, and the wild card can be in any of the five positions: 4C14 × 5 = 256 × 5 = 1,280.

10,240 + 9,216 + 1,280 - 204 = 20,532 Straight hands.

Three of a kind (with one wild card)

There are two ways for get three of a kind. The natural way and using a wild card to triple up a natural pair.

The natural way requires three cards to be one of the thirteen values, and these three cards can be selected from four suits. The final two cards are selected to be different from what is left: 13C1 × 4C3 × 12C2 × (4C1)2 = 13 × 4 × 66 × 16 = 54,912.

For the wild card case, there are 13 possible values for the pair (in various combinations of suits), then the wild card, then the two cards needed from the remaining 12 and each of these can be from any suit: 13C1 × 4C2 × 12C2 × (4C1)2 = 13 × 6 × 66 × 16 = 82,368.

54,912 + 82,368 = 137,280 Three of a kind hands.

Two Pair (with one wild card)

The only way for two pairs to be made is a natural two pair. (If a wild card showed up with one pair, a better hand could be made by converting these to three of a kind, so the wild card would never be used to form the second pair).

There are thirteen possible values that each of the natrual pairs could have, and from these we need to select two 13C2. Each of these pairs can be made from two differenent suits 4C2. The singleton can have a value of any of the other unused 11 cards 11C1, and be any one of the suits 4C1

Two Pair: 13C2 × (4C2)2 × 11C1 × 4C1 = 78 × 36 × 11 × 4 = 123,552.

123,552 Two pair hands.

High Card (with one wild card)

This hand is not possible if there is a wild card for the obvious reason that if a wild card existed then, at a minimum, it would pair with the at least one of the other cards. There are, therefore, the same frequency of occurences as naturally occuring high card hands (see previous article if you want the derivation).

1,302,540 High card hands.

One Pair (with one wild card)

There is one natural way to make a pair, and one way in which the wild card pairs up with the highest singleton in the hand.

We're doing this calculation last and out of order because this is the most complicated rank to calculate. We can apply the principle of complemenet and logical subtraction. As we know there are a total of 53C5 possible hands, we can subtract off all the other calculated ranked hands and get the number of one pair hands. 53C5 = 2,869,685

One pair = 2,869,685 - 13 - 204 - 3,120 - 6,552 - 7,804 - 20,532 - 137,280 - 123,552 - 1,302,540 = 1,268,088

1,268,088 Pair hands.


Here is a table of the results with one wild card:

Five of a kind13
Straight Flush204
Four of a kind3,120
Full House6,552
Three of a kind137,280
Two pair123,552
One pair1,268,088
High card1,302,540


If you look carefully you will see that frequency of two pair is less than three of a kind (making it rarer). This creates a dilema.

What we should do is rank the hands in relation to how rare they are; this would require us to switch the ordering of two pair to make it rank higher than three of a kind.

But now the situation is crooked the other way around! If a player is dealt a wild card and a pair, he would forgo the three of a kind to make two pair. This means that the only way three of a kind would be possible is from a natural way, but now that makes it less likely again (as we'd remove 82,368 ways from three of a kind, to two pair, and return three of a kind to just 54,912 ways).

There is an irreconilable dilemma for the ordering of two pairs and three of a kind when there is one wild card.

(This dilemma is solved in the "Pai Gow" variant of poker where the wild card can only be used in the completion of straights and flushes. Outside of this it is given the value of an ace. This reverts the ordering of two pair and three of a kind to their natural order).

Even crazier wild cards

This situation gets worse if more wild cards are added. Here are various other ways that poker is often "spiced up" with the addition of other wild cards:

Below are tables of the frequencies of these odds:

NaturalOne JokerTwo JokersOne-Eyed JacksTwo's Wild
Five of a kind 0137872672
Straight flush402046245342,552
Four of a kind 6243,1209,3608,32831,552
Full House 3,7446,5529,3608,11212,672
Flush 5,1087,80411,3889,47614,472
Straight 10,20020,53234,70428,93862,232
Three of a kind 54,912137,280232,968199,758355,080
Two pairs 123,552123,552123,552102,96095,040
High Card1,302,5401,302,5401,302,5401,052,130799,680
Wild Cards01224
Total Cards5253545252

Take aways:


Image: Guts Gaming


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