What Is a Joker in the Game of Poker?

The Jokers Can Be Wild or a Pair of Jacks in Poker

Joker Card
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What does a joker mean in the game of poker? There are two meanings for this term. One is to refer to a wild card. The other is the slang for a pair of jacks.

Jokers as Wild Cards in Poker

The most common meaning of joker is a wild card in poker. There are often two extra joker cards included in a deck of cards. These cards have no suit, and they traditionally feature a character dressed as a court jester or clown.

When a player draws a wild card, they can designate it to stand for any card of their choice. This adds a random element to games and affects the odds.

Wild cards are not generally used in casino poker games or poker tournaments but may be used in home games or online games. A bug is similar to a wild card, but it stands for an ace except when it can complete a straight or flush.

Some video poker machines play Joker Poker or include a joker as a wild card. They will often have adjusted payouts and odds, such as only paying for a pair of kings or better rather than a more standard pair of jacks or better. The Joker can add an element of fun to the game, but you know that the house will always win in the long run. The Joker might also be featured in extra play and wheel spins on the machine for additional chances at prizes and bonuses. Video poker has an element of skill as well as chance, but players may have to mentally adjust the odds when playing a game that includes a Joker.

The Joker cards were introduced to card decks around the time of the American Civil War and were used as trump cards in the game of Euchre. Around 1875, the game of poker adopted the joker as a wild card. They have been a standard part of American playing card decks since the 1940s.

Jokers as a Nickname for a Pair of Jacks

The second meaning of jokers is a slang term for a pair of jacks in Texas Hold'em.

If you have two jacks in the hole, you might say you "have jokers." It is one of many colorful nicknames given to different pairs and hole card combinations. Other slang terms for a pair of jacks are hooks or fishhooks (referring to the shape of the letter J as well as how "fish" or inexperienced players might get excited and overplay a pair of jacks), Johnnies, Kid Dyn-o-mite (from the character J.J. on the "Good Times" television series of the 1970s), the Two Jakes, jaybirds, and brothers.

The joker cards are not used in Texas Hold'em poker, except perhaps at friendly home games. Therefore, any reference to jokers you hear while playing Texas Hold'em at a card room, casino, or tournament is likely to be referring to a pair of jacks.