What is the purpose of the Joker and what card games use Jokers?

The Joker, with its vivid imagery and often ambiguous depiction, stands out as an exceptional card in any deck.

While some may only recognise it as the card to be cast aside before a game begins, in many card games, it takes centre stage, adding a twist to the gameplay.

In this article, we’ll explore the Joker’s primary role across a spectrum of card games and delve into why this card remains a favourite for many.

The Joker as a Wild Card

Before diving into specific games, it’s essential to understand the Joker’s most common role: the wild card.

In card terminology, a wild card is a card that can substitute for any other card the player wishes. Imagine the adaptability it offers!

In essence, it’s a chameleon, able to assume the identity of other cards, providing flexibility and, at times, a much-needed lifeline in certain games.

Card Games that Use the Joker

Poker Variants

The world of Poker is vast, and the Joker often finds its way into several versions. In games like Pai Gow Poker, the Joker serves a dual purpose, acting as an Ace or to complete a straight, flush, or even a straight flush. Another variant, Five-card Joker Poker, sees players incorporating the Joker as a wildcard, adding a layer of unpredictability to traditional hand rankings.

Rummy Games

The Joker’s role in Rummy games can’t be overstated. In Gin Rummy, while a standard deck without Jokers is usually used, some variations introduce the Joker as a wildcard to shake things up. Indian Rummy, a popular variant in South Asia, employs the Joker to substitute for any desired card, making the task of forming sets and sequences a strategic challenge.

President (or Scum)

A players hand in a game of President
A players hand in a game of President, with cards organised in rank order.

In the card game President, often referred to as “Scum” or “Kings”, the Joker is sometimes introduced as the highest-ranking card. The presence of the Joker changes the dynamics of gameplay, as players try to clear their hands of cards. With multiple Jokers, rules can vary with one Joker being higher than the other. Additionally, the power dynamics (from President to Scum) can be dramatically shifted by the play of this wildcard.


While traditional Euchre uses a 24, 28, or 32 card deck, certain modern variants incorporate the Joker. When introduced, the Joker becomes a top trump card, with one Joker often ranking above the other, adding a fresh twist to this classic trick-taking game.


While War is a game mostly based on luck, some have introduced the Joker to tilt the balance. In these versions, the Joker becomes a super card, defeating all others. This adds an element of suspense, as players hope to draw this all-conquering card in battles.


In Canasta, Jokers are invaluable. This game, played with two decks, sees Jokers as wildcards, worth 50 points each, compared to the 5 points for most other cards. A meld (set) comprising wild cards, which include both Jokers and twos, can be formed, although it’s less valuable than natural melds. However, if a player goes out and hasn’t yet melded with a wild card, they are heavily penalised, losing 500 points!

Spades or Hearts

Jokers can be integrated into these games to either add a new ranking card or to introduce surprise elements. For instance, in some Spades variants, the Joker might outrank all other cards, including the Spades, leading to intriguing play scenarios.

Crazy Eights

While traditionally an 8 card serves the special function in this game, some players like to introduce the Joker with its unique powers, like changing suits, forcing the next player to skip their turn, or even reversing the direction of play.


Double-deck Pinochle, a variant of the classic card game, sometimes includes the Joker. In this version, the Joker acts as a trump card, and its introduction can change the entire strategy of melding and trick-taking.

Chase the Joker

This is a British card game where the Joker takes centre stage. Players are dealt a card, and the aim is to not end up with the Joker by the end of the round. If you’re left holding the Joker, you’re out!

500 Rummy (or Five Hundred Rum)

A variant of Rummy, 500 Rummy uses the Joker as a wildcard, similar to other Rummy games. However, in this version, there’s an additional twist: if a player can use the Joker in a set or run, they can replace the Joker with the appropriate card from their hand, then immediately use that Joker in a new set or run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the Joker included in a standard deck of cards?

The Joker was originally introduced in the United States in the 1860s as a trump card for the game of Euchre. Over time, its versatility led to its inclusion in various other games and eventually in standard decks.

How many Jokers are typically found in a deck of cards?

Most standard decks come with two Jokers. However, the number can vary depending on the deck’s purpose or the specific game for which it’s designed.

A pair of Jokers held up against a blurred wooden background

Are Jokers used in official card tournaments?

It depends on the game and the tournament rules. For instance, in most official Poker tournaments, Jokers aren’t used. However, they might be a central component in Rummy or Canasta tournaments.

Is the Joker’s design standard across all decks?

No, the Joker’s design can vary significantly across different decks. Some might depict a classic court jester, while others feature more modern or artistic representations. The Joker’s design is often where deck designers exhibit the most creativity.

Can you play a game using only Jokers?

While traditional card games require a mix of cards, there are numerous informal and homebrew games created that use only Jokers or give them a central role. The adaptability of the Joker makes it perfect for inventing new games.

Are there any card games where the Joker is the weakest card?

Yes, while the Joker is often seen as a powerful wildcard or the highest-ranking card, there are game variants where it’s deliberately made the weakest or comes with certain penalties, introducing a unique twist to the gameplay.

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