Chapter 8: Deuces Wild

            Deuces Wild (DW) is the highest paying video poker game that is widely available. With expert strategy, Deuces Wild offers a nice advantage to the player (0.76%). In addition, the expert strategy is not that difficult to learn.  In fact, the expert strategy is straightforward enough to learn that only the expert strategy is presented here.  This game is fairly high in volatility, but is a little less risky than double bonus poker. The high return and tractable strategy makes this game a favorite of many die-hard video poker players. However, the use of wild cards makes learning the strategy especially important because intuitions about what to keep are often incorrect. In fact, it is probably the use of wild cards that keeps this game as a viable money-maker for the casino in that many people play this game with a poor strategy that will provide the casino with a large (e.g., 3 to 5 %) edge.

            When you consider the food and room comps, playing this game can provide you with a very nice profit.

            Deuces wild is risky because about 4% of the total return comes from the four deuces which pays out 200 bets ($250) in the full-pay version. Since four deuces occurs only about once in every 5000 hands, you can expect four deuces about once every 6 to 10 hours (depending on how fast you play). However, it is sometimes the case that you might play twice that long and still not get four deuces. If this happens, then you may lose money at a rate of about $60 per hour.   Playing 10 hours and losing $600 is a pretty unpleasant experience, but the upside is that you can really make money in this game if you are on a hot streak by hitting four deuces a couple of times in few hours.

            The full-pay version of this game is widely available in Las Vegas. (For exact locations in Las Vegas, see links section).  This full-pay version is often referred to as 15/9/5 because the five-of-a-kind pays 15 bets, the straight flush pays 9 bets, and the four-of-a-kind pays 5 bets.

 


 

Here is the full-pay payout table.

 

Hand                                         Payout (bets)

--------                                        -----------------

Royal Straight Flush                   800

Four Deuces                              200      

Wild Royal Flush                       25        

Five-of-a-kind                             15        

Straight Flush                            9         

Four-of-a-kind                            5

Full House                                 3

Flush                                        2

Straight                                     2

Three-of-a-kind                           1

 

            There are a number of variations of this game, some of which are short-pay and some of which actually pay more than the full-pay version. In fact, there is a version of this game which pays a whopping 1.5% (1.6% with a couple of strategy modifications). Unfortunately, this high payout game is very risky and requires a large bankroll to ride out the highs and lows.

            Figure 24 shows the most common variations and the total overall optimal return. Underneath each graph is the complete payout table for each of the versions of Deuces Wild. The asterisk(*) indicates the standard full-pay version (which is printed in bold).

Figure 24

            There are many different versions of “Deuces Wild’. One advantage of the Deuces Wild strategy is that it can be applied to the many other deuces wild games with no change. While the use of one strategy to play many different games is obviously easier than learning alternate strategies for each game, the reduction in financial reward is very minor. Figure 25 illustrates the financial reward for the highest paying versions of Deuces Wild if you use the strategy presented here. For each game, the optimal reward is graphed next to the actual reward you can expect if you use a single Deuces Wild strategy

Figure 25

 

As the graph shows, you can achieve very close to optimal return (within about 0.1%) using a single Deuces Wild strategy without any modifications. The only exception to this is “Bonus Deuces”, which requires two slight modifications that are noted at the end of this chapter.

Versions of Deuces Wild which pay 400 bets for four deuces are called ‘Double Deuces’ or ‘Bonus Deuces’.  The most common of ‘Double Deuces’ pays out 16 bets for five-of-a-kind and 11 bets for a straight flush. The optimal reward for this game is -0.4%. Once you learn the basic Deuces Wild strategy, you can play this game without modification and you will achieve a return of –0.5%. The highest paying ‘Bonus Deuces’ returns 0.9% with perfect strategy. You can use your deuces wild strategy with only two slight modifications to play ‘Bonus Deuces’ (see the end of the chapter) and achieve about a 0.8% return.

 

            Versions of Deuces Wild which pay 500 bets are called ‘Loose Deuces’.  The most common of these pays out 12 bets for five-of-a-kind and 8 bets for a straight flush. The optimal reward for this game is –0.8% (-0.9% with the strategy presented here). The highest paying version of this game (17/10) pays a whopping 1.6% (1.5% with the strategy presented here), but is available in only a few Las Vegas casinos (detailed in Chapter 11). In addition, it is not certain how long this version will remain in Las Vegas.

            The highest paying Deuces Wild games (e.g. Bonus Deuces, 15/10 Loose Deuces and 17/10 Loose Deuces) have two drawbacks. First, they are not widely available. Second, because four deuces pays such a large amount, the variability of these games is quite a bit higher than the full-pay version of Deuces Wild that pays 200 bets for four-deuces.

            The hierarchy for deuces wild is somewhat different than double bonus or “jacks or better”.  If you grab the “Deuces Wild” strategy card, you will see that the strategy card is divided into 4 sections, which each indicate what to do when you are dealt 3, 2, 1, and 0 deuces. Obviously, if you are dealt 4 deuces, then you do a little dance and hold all 4 deuces (maybe you should hold the deuces before you do the dance so you don’t accidentally hit the “draw” button while you are dancing).

When we play deuces wild, the first thing we do is look for deuces. Because they are wild, identifying how many deuces is a crucial first step. You can be dealt 0,1,2,3 or 4 deuces. Of course, the most likely occurrence is to be dealt 0 deuces, but all of the other possibilities will probably occur.  Here are the probabilities of being dealt deuces:

 

            Dealt 4 deuces              0.000018 (about 1 in 54,000)

            Dealt 3 deuces              0.0017  (about 1 in 576)

            Dealt 2 deuces              0.06      (about 1 in 15)  

            Dealt 1 deuce                0.3        (about 1 in 3)

            Dealt 0 deuces              0.6        (about 2 in 3)

           

            After you have identified how many deuces there are, then you need to decide which other cards to hold. The more deuces you have, the fewer the number of hands there are to consider. For example, if you are dealt 4 deuces, then you should of course hold them all.

           

            While being dealt 4 deuces is a very rare occasion, being dealt 3 deuces happens about once an hour. When it does, it is very exciting because there are so many good possibilities for high paying hands.  On the card, you will see that the only hand above 3 deuces is a wild royal:

                               

           

Some strategy cards advise holding five tens through aces because this actually has a higher expected value than 3 deuces.  This is so because if you are dealt 5 of a high card, then you have fewer chances for a royal straight flush because there are 2 fewer high cards to draw (because you are throwing away 2 high cards).  Fortunately, this strategy is not really important to your overall return (it will effect your net return by about .0003%). Therefore, always hold 3 deuces if you are dealt five-of-a-kind with 3 deuces. One advantage of holding the three deuces is that if you play one of the other games that pays 400 or 500 bets for the four deuces, then holding the 3 deuces is much better than holding five-of-a-kind. In these games, holding 3 deuces  (instead of five-of-a-kind) is worth about .1%.

            There is one more advantage of holding the 3 deuces.  Holding 3 deuces and trying for the big score is very exciting, remember that gambling is supposed to be fun!  Of course, if you are the risk-averse type, then you can hold the five-of-a-kind. You also might want to hold the five of a kind if you are at the end of your money want to keep playing for a while.

            While being dealt 3 deuces is not so common, being dealt a pair of deuces will happen every couple of minutes.

            On the card, you will see a couple of notations that need some explanation.  Above the two deuces, you will see the straight flush box. If you have 5 cards to the straight flush, then you want to keep it, that would look something like this:

                   

            On the right side of the box, you will see the notation: “4(Gap=0)>6”, The “Gap=0” indicates that you only want to hold four to the straight flush if there are no gaps in the straight flush. With no gaps, you have better opportunities for straight flushes, straights and flushes. In addition, the “>6” indicates that the highest card must be a 7 or greater because having a 6 or less is like having a gap.  Why is this so? Imagine if you have two deuces, and the 3 and 4 of diamonds. Then you don’t have as many cards to fill your straight flush because the cards are so low that if you draw the two of diamonds, then it is both a wild card and a card to fill your straight flush. On the other hand, if you have two deuces and the 8 and 9 of diamonds, you can get a wild card, a high diamond or a medium diamond to fill the straight flush.

            So you will hold four to the straight flush if you are dealt the following:

                   

            But you will hold only the two deuces if you are dealt the following (because the highest card is not greater than 6):

                   

And you will hold only the two deuces if you are dealt the following (because there is more than 1 gap in the straight flush):

                   

            If you have four-to-the royal (or five to the royal), then that is better than only two deuces; consider the following hand:

                   

 

            Here, we hold the 4 to the royal (2-2-King-Ace).

Finally, from the strategy card we can see that if we have four of a kind, then we hold that above any kind of four-card straight flush. Consider the following hand:

                   

 

Here, we hold the four aces, even though we have four to the royal, because there is a connection from four-to-the-royal up to four of a kind.

            If you have two deuces and none of the hands above, then you just keep the two deuces and throw out the other cards. For example:

                   

You may have noticed that the hand below contains a straight. This illustrates an important rule that is not so obvious. Never hold a straight or a flush with a pair of deuces. Every time I go to Las Vegas, I see people making this mistake. The reason why you should only hold the deuces is that straights and flushes are worth only 2 bets in deuces wild. With two deuces, your expected value is about 3.2 bets.  If you forget this rule, it will cost you at least 1% of your return.

 

            OK that does it for the situations where you hold two deuces. What about if you are dealt one deuce? This happens about once in every 3 hands.

            We start by checking for 3 of a kind (see the first box on the left in the “1 deuce” section of the card. Consider the following hand:

 

                   

We’ve got 3 tens, but we also have 4 to the wild royal. Form the connection up to the wild royal, we can see that we should hold the four to the wild royal. Another important connection is up to a 4 card-straight flush with 0 gaps: Consider the following hand:

                   

In this case, we hold the 4 to the straight flush because there are 0 gaps in the straight flush.

Consider a similar-looking hand:

                   

In this case, we hold the 3 tens – we only go for the straight flush if there are no gaps.

If we do not have 3 of a kind, we check the next set of flush or straight boxes.  Similar to the 3 of a kind box, we also have a connection up to the “4 to the straight flush with 0 gap” rule and the “four-to-the-royal” rule. Consider this hand:

                   

           

            Here we have a straight, but we also have a 4-card straight flush with 0 gaps, which is better to

Hold: Similarly if we have:

                   

            Then we hold the 4-card straight flush above the flush.  This is only true if there are 0 gaps in the 4-card straight flush.

 

 

            The next box checks 4 card straight flushes with gaps, for example:

                      

 

            The next box checks 3 to the royal with no ace.

            Why is an ace bad?  An ace is bad because when you have an ace, you have fewer possibilities because the ace is the highest card. Because an ace is the highest card, it is harder to get non-royal straight flushes (and also harder to get straights). This might look like:

                   

 

            The next box is having 3 to the straight flush (a deuce plus two sequential cards in the same suit). As before, the highest card should be 7 or above. This might look like:

                   

 

            Consider the following hand:

                                  

 

In this case, we do not hold the 3 cards to the straight flush, because there is a gap in the straight flush (the seven and the nine are not consecutive).

 

Finally, the last box is the deuce plus two card royals with an ace, but only if the other two cards are not penalty cards. Penalty cards are cards that would help you. In this case, a penalty card would be a card in the same suit of the royal, or a high card, which would help you get a straight. Holding two card royals that are dealt with a penalty card is bad because when you throw away the penalty card, there are less cards to fill the good hands that you want.  Let’s look at the following hand:

                   

            Here, we have 2 cards to the royal with a deuce and one is an ace, BUT we also have the 3 of clubs, which is a penalty card (because it is in the same suit as the ace and then ten). Similarly, if we had a king of diamonds (instead of the 3 of clubs) then this would also be a penalty (because throwing away a king would reduce the chances of picking up a straight). To summarize, for the hand above, we would simply hold the single deuce.

 Consider the following hand:

                   

Here, we do not hold the deuce plus the ace and ten of clubs, because there are not any penalty cards.

            If you do not have any of the above hands, then you simply hold the deuce. This might look like:

                   

 

            Let’s take a little breather and review what we’ve done. We’ve looked at what to do when you are dealt at least one deuce. Unfortunately, most of the time you will not even get one deuce. In these cases,

You will use a strategy similar to the one used by the non-wild card games.

 

Consider the following hand:

                   

 

Since we have a pair of jacks, then we start at the “Pair” box and see if we can improve upon the hand. As it turns out, we also have four to the straight flush. Since there is a line from the “pair” box to 4 SF/Royal, then we hold the four to the straight flush and throw away the jack. This case is somewhat rare, you will usually hold a pair of jacks.

 

Consider the following hand:

                   

 

Since we have a pair of jacks, then we start at the “Pair” box and see if we can improve upon the hand. As it turns out, we can’t improve upon our pair, so we are done and hold the pair of jacks.

Of course, if you have two-pair, three of a kind, a full house or four-of-a-kind, then you would hold those because they all have connections from the pair box.

 

Let’s consider another hand:

 

                     

 

We have a pair, but we also have three to the royal. Since there is a connection from the “pair” to the “3 Royal”, then we hold 3 royal and throw away the pair.

 

            If we don’t have a pair, the next box we check is the “Royal box”.  In deuces wild, royal combinations are somewhat more valuable than flushes in the non-wild card games, so we check the royal combinations first.

            Notice that on the Deuces Wild strategy card, nothing is above 4 to the royal (except, of course, 5 to the royal). Because a straight flush only pays 9, four-to-the royal is actually better than a dealt straight flush. Let’s consider the following 3-card royal hands:

                      

            Here, we have 3 to the royal, but we also have a 5 card straight, so we hold the straight.

            How about this one?

                     

            Here we have 3 to the royal, but we also have 4-cards to the straight flush (8-T-J-Q of spades), so we hold the 4 card straight flush (see the connection from the 3 part of the royal box up to the “4 Str FL” hand.

In the next box, we check dealt flushes and four-card flushes. As you can see in the strategy card, the only hand above four-to-the-flush is a 5 card straight.

 

 In the next box, we check dealt straights and four-card straights (with 0 gaps – i.e. outside straights). Note that J-Q-K-A is not outside because we can only get one card to fill the straight. Likewise, 3-4-5-6 is not outside because 2’s are wild.

 

            The next box is a 3-card straight flush with any number of gaps, but no ace. You should not keep three to the straight flush if you have an Ace used as a low card (e.g. Ace, 3 and 4 of spades). With an ace as a low card, you have fewer chances for straight flushes (and straights) because a wild card (2) is part of the straight flush (and straight) combination. A 3-card straight flush might look like this:

 

                    

 

The next box checks inside straights such as the following:

 

                    

 

            Here we have four to the inside straight, but we also have a jack-ten in the same suit, which is the only hand higher than the inside straight (see the connection up from the 4str1 box to the suited-jack-ten hand). So we hold the jack and ten of spades. In another hand we have the following:

                    

            Here, we hold the inside straight (i.e. T-J-K-A).

The final box checks if we have Queen-Jack, Jack-Ten or Queen-Ten in the same suit. This might look like:

                    

 

If none of the boxed rules are satisfied, then we toss all five cards, this might look like:

                    

            If you want the absolute maximum return, you can also hold king-ten/king-jack/king-queen in the same suit instead of garbage as long as there are no penalty cards (i.e. cards that are in the same suit or high cards). A king-ten/king-jack/king-queen hand has an expected value which is slightly higher than garbage so it will only effect your expected return by about .001%.             

            With this strategy, you will be playing expert strategy which will give you about a 0.76% reward. With good food and room comps, you will be most likely be significantly ahead.

            The only way to learn this strategy is to practice playing it. If you're serious about getting better, see the links section for a link to Winpoker, which is cheap software that allows you to practice a huge range of video poker games.

            Two slight strategy modifications (holding two pair above a pair, and holding four to the flush above a pair) should be applied to the version that pays 20 bets for the wild royal, 10 bets for five of  a kind, 10 bets for the straight flush, 4 bets for 4 of a kind, 4 bets for the full house, and 3 bets for the flush, 2 bets for the straight and 1 bet for three of a kind (e.g., “Bonus Deuces”). With these two strategy modifications, you can achieve about a 0.8% return for Bonus Deuces.