Yahtzee Strategy: The Joker's GambitFebruary 25, 2021
Yahtzee is oftentimes a game of tough decisions with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, each whispering sweet temptations directly into your cerebral cortex. The Joker's Gambit, one of the most well-known dilemmas in Yahtzee strategy, is a prime example. The name refers to the Joker Rule, which governs the scoring of multiple Yahtzees, and invokes the trickster nature of the Joker character all the way from playing cards through Batman.
Consider the following situation and decide for yourself. Only two turns are left in your game, with the Yahtzee and Fives boxes still open. The 35-point Upper Section bonus appears to be out of reach as you would need to roll five Fives* to surpass the 63-point threshold. Things aren't looking too great but being a serious Yahtzeeist you never give up hope. On your next to last turn you roll a couple of Fives, then a couple more - and, yes, it's a Yahtzee in Fives! Welcome to the Joker's Gambit.
the Joker's Gambit
Instinctively, your pencil is drawn to the Lower Section of your Yahtzee scorecard to mark 50 big ones in the open Yahtzee box. But after a moment's reflection you realize that scoring 25 points for your Fives, thereby securing the 35-point bonus, will result in a total of 60 points for the turn and a 10-point advantage over scoring a Yahtzee. The math indeed adds up, but does it ever make sense to dis the game's namesake?
The decision over whether or not to lock up the Upper Section bonus boils down to your level of risk tolerance. It is a unique and paradoxical situation in Yahtzee where a player is able to score more points by passing up the game's highest scoring category. So counter-intuitively, the safe money says to play the odds and take the 25 points for your Fives to obtain the bonus, pat yourself on the back, and then try to roll the elusive second Yahtzee on your final turn. But if you're more of a high flying daredevil looking to maximize your total score, the best move would be to take the Yahtzee downstairs and set yourself up to finish the game with back-to-back Yahtzees. In this dream scenario, of course, the 100-point Yahtzee Bonus will more than make up for the missed Upper Section bonus should you not roll the second Yahtzee in Fives.
The Joker's Gambit, named for the wild card Joker awarded with a second Yahtzee, is a fascinating study in a Yahtzee player's willingness to forgo guaranteed extra points in the hopes of achieving a spectacular finish to the game. Only the most audacious dice roller can pull off such an inspired feat.
* The Joker's Gambit also applies when Fours or Sixes are the empty Upper Section box. Threes will break even at 50 points assuming a second Yahtzee is not rolled.