A wild card in card games is one that may be used to represent any other playing card, sometimes with certain restrictions. These may be jokers, for example in Rummy games, or ordinary ranked and suited cards may be designated as wild cards ("deuces wild" in Poker is a common variant). A card which is not wild may be referred to as a natural card.
In most cases, the wild card or cards must be agreed upon by all players before the cards are dealt and play commences. There are two common rules regarding wild cards: "fully wild" cards and the "bug".
A card that is fully wild can be designated by its holder as any card they choose with no restrictions. Under this rule, for example, a hand with any natural pair and a wild card becomes three of a kind.
Conversely, a bug is a limited wild. The common rule in casinos is that a wild card plays as a bug, which is given the rank of ace unless designating it as a different card would complete a straight, flush, or straight flush. Under this rule, a hand such as K-K-Joker-5-2 is just a pair of kings (with an ace kicker), but any four same-suit cards with a bug make a flush, and a hand such as 7-Joker-5-4-3 makes a straight.
There is also a variation of the "Fully Wild" rule in which the wild card (in this instance they are usually jokers as there are traditionally only two and there is only one black and one red) can be any card of the suits matching the cards colour or current suit. For example in a jokers wild game with these rules, the red joker could be used as any card of hearts or diamonds. Inversely, the black joker would be any card of clubs or spades.
Two exceptions to standard poker practice sometimes seen in home games are the double-ace flush rule, and the natural wins rule. The latter rule states that between hands that would otherwise tie, the hand with fewer wild cards wins. This is not common in casinos and should be treated as an exception to standard practice (as is the double-ace flush).
In some Austrian and South Tyrolean card games, one or more other cards may be used as wild cards, including the Weli, a special 6 of Bells, the 7 of Bells and 7 of Acorns. In the game of Perlaggen there are six or seven wild cards: four permanent Perlaggs - K or Maxl, 6 or Weli, 7 or Little Weli, the 7 of Bells or Bell-Spitz and 7 or Eichelspitz - as well as 3 "Trump Perlaggs" - the 7, Unter and Ober of Trumps.
There is a tendency among some players to regard wild cards as "impure" or treat wild card games as silly or amateurish. While it is certainly true that a game with too many wild cards can become so random that all skill is lost, the occasional use of wild cards can add variation to a game and add opportunities for skillful play. In particular, five-card draw is traditionally played with a joker in California (which plays as a bug), and also plays well with deuces fully wild. Seven-card stud plays well with one or two bugs, especially when played high-low split. Other games such as Texas hold 'em and Omaha hold'em do not play well with wild cards. For some players, the problem with wild card games is that the winner is almost always the hand with the most wild cards, making the other cards irrelevant, and making skill less important.
Another issue with wild cards is that they distort the hand frequencies. In 5-card stud, the stronger hands are less frequent than the weaker hands; i.e., no pair is most common, followed by one pair, two pair, three of a kind, etc. When wild cards are added, the stronger hands gain frequency while the weaker hands lose frequency. For example, if a player holds a pair and a wild card, they will always choose three of a kind rather than two pair. This causes three of a kind to be more common than two pair. But if two pair ranks above three of a kind, the two pair will become more common.
Footnotes and references
- The Language of Cards: A glossary of card-playing terms by David Parlett at www.parlettgames.uk. Retrieved 1 Jun 2018.
- Parlett, David. The Penguin Book of Card Games. London: Penguin (2008). ISBN 978-0-141-03787-5.
- Wild Card Poker Paradox Explanation of the paradox that arises in the ranking of hands when wild cards are introduced to poker