Poker Jack on top of other Cards

How to Play Johnson (And “Jacks Back”)

Join us in finding out about another draw game variant. In this one, a particular hand determines how the entire game will proceed. If this is enough to generate interest, read this article to find out more.

Playing Johnson (And “Jacks Back”)

We bring to you a fascinating game — one that can be approached in two different ways. That’s right — you won’t know what to expect here. Will you be playing Johnson or perhaps Jacks Back? Well, it all depends on the cards you and your fellow players get. An interesting concept, right? It certainly is. Even though this game is not what you’d easily find at a brick-and-mortar casino, it doesn’t mean that it’s not something you should explore with your friends.

What’s more, if you tell them that they’ll be playing either by the rules of a Five-Card Draw or Ace-to-Five Poker, you might just spark their interest. And in the end, Johnson and Jacks Back might become your regular go-to game. So in order to introduce you to the rules, we’ll start from the beginning. To be specific, you need to know about the deck that’s used and how the cards are ranked.

Hand Rankings in Johnson (And “Jacks Back”)

This variant ranks the cards in two different ways. Namely, if a player opens with jacks or better, then they’ll use the standard poker hand rankings. Here, you should strive to combine, for instance, 10-A-J-Q-K of the same suit, as it is the strongest combination you can get. Apart from a royal flush, you can also get a five of a kind, as this game uses a joker to better your chances.

In contrast, if no one has jacks or better after the cards are dealt, then everyone at the poker table will be playing a Lowball version of poker instead. And here lies the primary and the most important difference. In other words, the hand rankings will be perceived differently. You don’t need the highest card/combination to win in this variant. Instead, you have to combine the lowest cards possible. For instance, you can win the pot with a wheel.

A wheel is a hand which is comprised of 5-4-3-2-A (they can all be of a different suit). This is the lowest possible hand in the Ace-to-Five variant of Lowball poker. Apart from this, don’t be joyful if you receive pairs. They won’t help you much since a hand which doesn’t have them actually prevails over yours. Also, straights and flushes do not count here. And as for the aces, they are always the lowest possible cards.

The Usage of the Joker

Interestingly enough, Johnson and Jacks Back entails having one joker added to the standard deck. This joker acts as a bug. If the participants are playing a Five-Card Draw, then the bug can substitute for a card which is missing to combine a straight or a flush. Other than that, it can act as an ace. As for the Lowball poker, the bug substitutes for the lowest missing card. For instance, if you have 7-6-4-3 and the bug, then it becomes an ace. Also, if you have A-2-4-5, then it is used as a 3.

Now that we’ve gone through these two things, let’s mention the rules.

Jacks or Better: A Hand That Determines Everything

As you might have already inferred, in order to play this game as a Five-Card Draw, then you need to meet one prerequisite. That is to say, one player needs to open with jacks or better. This is why this game also goes under the name Jacks Back.

However, if no one opens with this hand, then the game changes courses — it becomes a Lowball poker game. Some might be drawn to this variant just because of this — it makes them sit tight and wait to see how everything will unfold. So if you want to gather your friends and play, we’ll go over both scenarios.

Playing as a Five-Card Draw

If you want, you can play for a limited stake, in which case, each player has a set amount of money they can lose or place on the poker table. Everyone can discuss which sum of money works for them, and after that, the game can commence.

Most commonly, this form of poker uses an ante — not small or big blinds. In this case, every participant posts an ante which is a mandatory wager. After this, the players are dealt five cards face down. As per the rules, they need to check whether they have jacks or better so that the game can progress as a Five-Card Draw.

The player to the left of the dealer can open or check at the beginning of the round. And let’s say that they have jacks or better. After they open, the other players have to choose from three options. They can decide to call and match the previous bet. On the other hand, they might opt for folding and only observing this hand. Alternately, there’s an option of raising, i.e., increasing your wager in this poker round.

Consequently, this means that the only drawing round can begin. During the course of it, you can dispose of any cards you don’t want and take new ones. Of course, if you wish, you can stand pat, i.e., choose to keep your initial hand, as it might be the winning one. Now, once you make your decision and get new cards, you need to place a wager. This starts with the player who’s left of the dealer. All those remaining need to show their hands so as to determine which one is the strongest.

Playing as a Lowball Variant

During a home game of Johnson and Jacks Back, it’s likely that no one at the table will receive jacks or better. If that happens, you won’t be playing a Five-Card Draw, but a Lowball form of poker. With this in mind, the lowest hand wins the pot. The game itself follows a similar pattern like the above one. Specifically, everyone posts an ante and receives five concealed cards. The betting round commences from the person sitting to the dealer’s left.

Furthermore, the remaining players can inspect their cards closely as the drawing round approaches. If they wish, they can discard some of them and receive new ones. Those who are content with their hand can place another bet and participate in a showdown. Here, the remaining players compare their hands, and the lowest one takes the pot.


Now that you’re one step closer to mastering another draw poker variant, we suggest that you invite your friends for a game or two. Teach them the rules, and who knows — they might even become fans of Johnson and Jacks Back themselves.

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