Whisky Poker / La Viuda
Although this American game, whose name is sometimes spelled Whiskey Poker. is based on poker combinations, the mechanism of the game is entirely different from poker. Whisky Poker is what is classified on this web site as a commerce game: a game in which players improve their hands by exchanging cards with a common hand on the table. It is described in many late 19th century and early 20th century card game books, but is less well known nowadays. A version of it is still played in Mexico, where it is known as La Viuda (the widow), or possibly La Vida (life). I will describe North American Whisky Poker first, followed by the differences in Mexican La Viuda.
Players, Equipment and Objective
From 2 to 9 people can play, using a standard 52-card pack without jokers. Each player needs a supply of chips, used for scoring. If playing for money, the value of a chip should be agreed before beginning.
The objective is to collect the best 5-card poker hand, by exchanging cards with a spare hand dealt to the table.
The first dealer is chosen by drawing cards (lowest deals), and thereafter the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. Before each deal, each player contributes one chip to a central pool.
The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts. The dealer than deals out the cards one at a time clockwise, beginning with the player to dealer's left. One more hand should be dealt than the number of players. The spare hand, sometimes known as the widow, is dealt to just before the own dealer's hand. The deal continues until each hand has five cards.
The players look at their cards, without showing them to the others. The spare hand, sometimes known as the widow, is kept face down in the centre of the table.
The play begins with the player to the left of the dealer and continues clockwise. There are three phases.
In the first phase, the spare hand is face down, and at your turn you have three options:
- Pass. You keep your cards, but reserve the right to exchange cards in future. The turn passes to the next player.
- Exchange. You place your hand face up on the table, and take the spare hand in exchange. You are not allowed to look at the spare hand before deciding to do this, and you do not show the spare hand to the other players. The second phase of play now begins. Your discarded cards form the new spare hand, and the player to your left is next to play as usual.
- Knock. You keep your cards and give up your right to exchange. This causes the play to end before your next turn.
When it comes to the dealer's turn, if no one has exchanged, and the dealer does not wish to exchange either, then after the dealer has passed or knocked the spare hand is turned face up and the second phase of play begins.
In the second phase the 5-card spare hand is face up on the table, and at your turn you have the following three options:
- Exchange one card. You discard one card from your hand face up to the table and take a card from the spare hand in exchange for it.
- Exchange five cards. You discard your whole hand face up and take the whole spare hand in exchange for it.
- Knock. You keep your cards and signal that the play will end before your next turn.
The play continues until someone knocks. The other players then have one more turn. When the turn reaches the (first) player who knocked, everyone shows their cards.
When the hands are shown, the player who has the best hand (according to the standard ranking of poker hands, without wild cards) takes all the chips from the pool.
There is an alternative method of scoring, which works as follows. Each player starts with a small number of chips, usually five, which are not assigned a money value. When the cards are shown, the holder of the lowest hand must pay one chip to a central pool. The first player to lose all five chips to the pool is the loser of the game, and must pay for the whisky or other refereshments consumed during the game.
This variation, which is currently played in Mexico, was explained to me by Rudy Quezada. It is best for around 4-7 players.
The players agree on the value of a chip - say $1 per chip - and each player must buy an equal number of chips - usually two or three chips each. The money paid for the chips will go to the winner of the game. An extra chip called "La Viuda" (the widow) is placed in a central pool. (Rudy Quezada suggests that it might have originally been called "La Vida" (life), since it gives an extra life to the player who buys it.)
The game is played with a standard 52-card pack plus two jokers. The jokers are wild cards, and in addition there is a wild card determined by the number of chips in the central pool. In the first deal, the Aces are always wild, because there is one chip in the pool. 11, 12 or 13 chips in the pool correspond to wild Jack, Queens and Kings respectively; 14 chips would correspond to wild Aces again, 15 would indicate wild twos, and so on.
The game is dealt and played counter-clockwise. As in Whisky Poker, the dealer deals a 5-card hand to each player and a spare hand of 5 cards. The play begins with the player to dealer's right. The phases of play and options are exactly as in Whisky Poker.
When a player knocks and the others have had one more turn, all the cards are shown and the hands compared. The Spanish terms for the hand types, from high to low, are:
- Quintilla (five of a kind)
- Flor Imperial (royal flush)
- Flor Corrida (straight flush)
- Poquer (four of a kind)
- Full (full house - Tercia + Par)
- Color (flush)
- Corrida (straight)
- Tercia (three of a kind)
- Dos Pares (two pair)
- Par (pair)
- Carta más alta (high card)
The player who has the worst poker hand must pay one chip to the pool. Since the pool now contains two chips, twos will be wild in the next deal.
A player who loses all their chips is out of the game, unless they buy "La Viuda" - the extra chip placed in the central pool at the start of the game. This costs twice the value of a normal chip; the payment is added to the money to be collected by the winner. If having lost your original chips you choose to buy "La Viuda", you can continue playing until you lose that chip as well, and are finally eliminated from the game.
"La Viuda" can only be bought once, and only immediately after a player loses his or her original supply of chips. If the first player who runs out of chips buys La Viuda, subsequent players will be eliminated as soon as they lose all their chips with no chance to buy into the game again. If the first player chooses not to buy "La Viuda", the option to do so passes to the second player who runs out of chips, and so on.
Note that when "la Viuda" is bought, the number of chips in the pool remains the same as in the previous hand, so the wild card also remains the same, instead of increasing by one as it ususally does.
The game continues until all but one player have lost all their chips, and the last surviving player collects all the money paid for chips.
In rare cases it can happen that when the cards are shown two players have equally bad hands. The rules used in Mexico for resolving who wins in these cases were explained to me by Johan from Tamaulipas:
- If two hands are otherwise equal, a hand with fewer wild cards (or none) beats a hand with more wild cards.
- If two hands are equal as poker hands and have no wild cards (or an equal number), then look for sequences of two or more adjacent cards of the same suit. The hand with the best such sequence is better - longer sequences beat shorter ones and if they are equal in length higher sequences beat lower ones. Examples:
- 8-8-9-5-4 is better than 8-8-9-5-4 because the 8-9 sequence is higher than the 5-4 sequence.
- 8-7-6-5-4 is better than 8-7-6-5-4 because the sequence 6-5-4 is better than 9-8.
- Q-Q-7-4-3 is better than Q-Q-7-4-3 because 4-3 is better than nothing.
- If two players have the same hand and neither has a sequence (or both have equal sequences), then the number of red and black cards in each hand is counted. The hand which has more cards of one colour is better. Example:
- J-J-7-7-5 is better than J-J-7-7-5 because four red cards are better than three black cards.
- K-K-8-6-5 versus K-K-8-6-5. The first hand has three black cards and the second has three red, so a card is drawn from the deck. If it is black (for example 9) the first hand wins; if it is red (for example 3) the second hand wins.
- 7-7-10-9-4 versus 7-7-10-9-4. These are equal as poker hands, there are no sequences in suit, and each player has three red cards and two black. So these ten cards are shuffled and whoever draws the higher card will win.
Paul Martin reports playing a version with a shortened pack: two players play with a 20-card pack with just A-K-Q-J-10 in each suit, and an extra rank is added for each additional player, so that for example 7 players would use a a 40-card pack ranking A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5. The winner of each hand scores 1 point, and the first player to reach an agreed target number of points wins the game.
Mike Baron reports having played a version in which when comparing flushes, the suit is compared first, using the suit order from high to low: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs. So for example any heart flush beats any diamond flush, irrespective of the ranks of the cards. However, this is not the usual rule: the Mexican players I have asked say that flushes are compared in the normal way used in poker: the ranks of cards are compared starting from the top.