If you have gambled at brick-and-mortar casinos or played at poker clubs, you probably have only played a few different variants of poker. In fact, you may not even be aware of the huge range of variants which are out there.
Online, however, you have a chance to try a much wider selection! This keeps the poker experience fresh. You will never get bored with so many different versions at your fingertips, and you may discover new ways to profit as you explore the endless possibilities.
There are a few key categories of poker variants:
- Draw poker
- Stud poker
Under each of these are a range of different games. Let’s check them out one category at a time.
Draw Poker Variants
At least in the past, before Texas Hold’em became such a big deal, draw poker was probably the most recognizable type of poker to most folks, who grew up familiar with five-card draw.
All forms of draw poker have one thing in common, and that is the way the cards are dealt. All cards are distributed face-down, so nobody knows what anyone around the table is holding.
- Five-Card Draw
As already mentioned, five-card draw is one of the best-known poker variants, occasionally referred to as “Cantrell draw.” Indeed, if someone simply says they want to play “poker” without naming a specific variant, there is a good chance they are referring to five-card draw.
Interestingly enough, the popularity of five-card draw has declined considerably with time. You may not even run into it if you visit your local casino. As to poker tournaments, they tend to focus on community games instead.
As the name implies, each player receives five cards at the start of the game. Everyone looks at their own cards, and then they raise or fold.
After this transpires, the players who have stayed in proceed to replace as many cards as they want. The new cards are dealt, and players once again raise or fold after viewing their new hands. Finally, in the showdown, the remaining players reveal their hands. The highest hand wins.
- Double or Triple Draw
This is a simple variation on five card draw. Instead of a single draw phase where players replace their unwanted cards, there are two for Double Draw or three for Triple Draw.
In this unusual poker variant, the values for the hands are reversed. The worse your hand is by traditional five-card draw standards, the better it is for Lowball.
The most common version is called “Ace-to-Five,” which is named for its most valuable hand: 5-4-3-2-A. This winning hand is referred to as a “wheel.” Some other popular versions of Lowball are Ace-to-Six and Deuce-to-Seven.
It takes some time to get familiar with the hand rankings for Lowball, and it is easy to get confused when you move from one sub-variant to another. So make sure that you review the rankings every time and do not make any assumptions.
- Gardena Jackpots
In Southern California is a city called Gardena which is home to around 59,000 people. Gardena isn’t all that famous in general, but it is renowned for one thing, which is being the origin of the game now known as “Gardena Jackpots.” Gardena may also be called “Jackpots” or “Jacks to Open.” The game was most popular between the 1930s and 1970s when gambling was a big deal in Gardena.
What distinguishes Gardena Jackpots? This is a variant of poker which includes neither ante nor blinds. What it does feature is a joker. The player who opens must have a pair of jacks at a minimum, which is why the game is sometimes called “Jacks to Open.”
Players do not actually need to keep the jacks in their hands. They are allowed to discard them, but they have to place them nearby so that they can demonstrate later that they really did have a valid opening hand. Dispensing with unwanted jacks is known as “breaking openers.”
The joker can stand in as any card necessary to complete a flush or a straight. The minimum hand required to win the jackpot is three-of-a-kind. If nobody has three-of-a-kind or better, another hand is played. The highest hand you can get is A-A-A-A-A, where the fifth ace is the joker.
This is a type of poker where four cards are dealt out instead of five at the beginning of the game. These are the “four before.” Betting proceeds, following another draw phase. During this draw phase, players who did not discard any cards receive one more to create a five-card hand. Players who do discard receive as many cards as they dispensed with plus one extra. That way they too have five cards.
- California High/Low Split
In this poker game, the scoring from regular five-card draw and Lowball are combined in a sense. Your aim is to get either the highest or the lowest hand. The pot is split between the players to achieve each of these, thus the name “high/low split.”
That means that strategically, you have to decide whether to aim for the lowest or highest hand based on the cards you are dealt. To make matters even more complicated, there are certain hands which can qualify as either the highest or the lowest hand, depending on what everyone else is holding.
High/Low games may be either “declare” games or otherwise. If you are playing a “declare” version, that means that you need to declare whether you are aiming to go high or low with your hand before the showdown. Online, you will usually not see High/Low with declarations. Those tend to be reserved for home games.
Sometimes this poker variant is referred to as “Jacks Back.” This name only applies if you need jacks or better to open. It is a game which starts as five-card draw, and potentially converts later to a California lowball format.
Other Draw Poker Games
There are a number of other draw variants out there beyond those contained in this list. A few you may find at online casinos. Many however, such as Spit in the Ocean, Shotgun and Anaconda, tend to only show up at home games.
Stud Poker Variants
Now that you are familiar with draw poker and its variants, let’s talk about stud poker. The difference between the two has to do with the way in which the cards are dealt.
During a draw poker game, all your cards are dealt face-down. You and you alone know what they are (unless of course you are terrible with tells).
With stud poker, you get some cards face-down and some cards face-up. So everyone at the table will know at least part of your hand as you play. Let’s check out some common variants.
- Seven-Card Stud
On the whole, stud poker isn’t as prevalent as draw poker or community poker. If you do encounter it, you are most likely to run into this version. The game begins with an ante. This is followed by a phase called the Third Street. During the Third Street, all players are dealt two face-down hole cards and one face-up card. The player who appears to be most disadvantaged by their face-up card bets first.
Following that first round of bets, the Fourth Street begins. During this phase, players are dealt one more face-up card. This time, the privilege of betting first is given to the player with the best face-up cards. Another round of betting proceeds.
Next is the Fifth Street. This is also a single face-up card deal to each player. As with the Fourth Street, the player to bet first is the one with the best face-up cards. A betting round ensues.
Now the game moves onto the Sixth Street. Once more, a face-up card is distributed to each player. Betting proceeds just as it did in the previous two rounds.
Sometimes, Seven-Card Stud poker is referred to as “Down-the-River.” This is a reference to the Seventh Street phase, which is also called simply, “the River.”
A single card is dealt during this phase to each player, and it is a hole card. Betting proceeds beginning with the player with the best face-up value, as it has for the past few rounds.
Following the River is the Showdown, when all the players expose their cards. While each player has seven cards, the usual five-card combinations are used to determine winning hands. So the best five-card hand you can make out of the seven cards you possess is the hand which is considered during the Showdown.
- Simple Stud Variants
It is possible to play stud poker following the rules above, but with a different number of cards. So instead of playing Seven-Card Stud, you might for instance play Six-Card Stud.
- Roll-Your Own Stud
This is a simple rule variation on stud poker. With the variants discussed above, it is the dealer who puts the cards face-up or face-down when they are dealt. With Roll-Your-Own, the dealer deposits all of the cards face-down on the table. That means that you get to look at them and decide which to display and which to keep face-down.
With razz stud, lowball rules like those discussed for draw poker apply.
- High/Low Stud
This is simply the stud version of the same game discussed in the section above on draw poker.
- Caribbean Stud
This is a version of Five-Card-Stud which pits players not against one another, but against the casino.
- Seven-Card Flip
In Seven-Card Flip, the dealer distributes all 7 cards to each player simultaneously. All are given out as hole cards. Each player then needs to examine his or her cards and decide on two to turn over for everyone else to see. After players have selected their up cards, betting proceeds.
This is a form of Seven-Card Stud where the pot is split. Part of it goes to the player who has achieved the best hand. The other part is given to a player holding a spade as a hole card. In the Big Chicago variant, that is the highest-ranking spade. In the Little Chicago variant, it is the lowest-ranking spade. Sometimes the Little Chicago variant is referred to as “Southside.”
Other Stud Games
As with draw poker, there are numerous other stud variants which you can try online, in brick-and-mortar casinos, and at home games. Some of these include Auction, Draft, Telesina, Kentrel and Show Hand.
Community Card Poker Variants
Finally, the last major category of poker variants are those games which are classified as “community poker.” As with stud poker, community poker includes a combination of face-down and face-up cards.
What makes community poker different is that the face-up cards are not the property if each individual player. They are “community” cards, which is what makes this “community” poker.
So the hand you are dealt face-down is not complete on its own. Instead, you need to complete that hand using the community cards. Those same cards will be used by the other players to complete their hands as well.
- Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em skyrocketed to fame thanks to the life-changing WSOP victory achieved by accountant Chris Moneymaker in 2003. After Moneymaker raked in $2.5 million, everyone wanted to follow in his footsteps. He got into WSOP by winning a qualifying satellite tournament online, so Texas Hold’em satellite games started springing up everywhere, both online and offline.
How is the game played? It starts with the initial dealing of two hole cards per player. Before any community cards are placed on the table, an initial round of betting takes place.
After that betting round is complete, the dealer puts three face-up cards on the table. These are the community cards, also known as a “flop.” Following the flop, a second round of betting takes place.
Next comes the “turn.” This is a fourth community card. Following the placement of this fourth card, another round of betting ensues.
Finally, there is the “river.” A fifth community card is dealt, and one more round of betting follows.
Immediately after this betting round, the players who are still in the game participate in the Showdown. Remember, by this point, each of the players is still only holding two cards.
If you are playing this variant of the game, it is up to you whether you use the hole cards at all. If the best possible hand is comprised entirely of community cards, you would use that. You also can choose to use just one of the two hole cards. If you want to use both like you would in Greek Hold’em (see below), that is acceptable as well.
That being said, you really are only in good shape if you are able to make a superior hand by using at least one of your hole cards. After all, every player can make the exact same hand out of five community cards. Indeed, that is essentially the “default” if nothing better can be made by combining community and hole cards. So if no one has a superior hand, the pot will be split among those in the Showdown.
- Greek Hold’em
This is a variation on Texas Hold’em. It is played more or less the same way as Texas Hold’em, except that the Showdown works a bit differently. Remember, in Texas Hold’em, you do not have to use both of your hole cards. That is not the case in Greek Hold’em.
In this variant, you must use both of the cards as part of your winning hand. You can use any three of the community cards to complete your hand, but cannot use four or five.
- Omaha Hold’em
In this variation, players are dealt four cards rather than just two. As in Greek Hold’em, two of the hole cards exactly must be used to make the final hand. The other three cards must be community cards.
To clarify, there are actually a number of different poker games which are called “Omaha,” so it is important to make sure that you know for sure whether you are looking at this basic form of Hold’em or another “Omaha” card game before you sit down to play.
- Irish Poker
In this community poker game, four cards are dealt out, as they are with Omaha Hold’em. Before the community cards are placed on the table, players must look over their hole cards and choose two to keep and two to discard. Following that, Texas Hold’em rules apply.
- No River Hold’em
As the name of this game implies, there is no river phase. There is just a betting round before the flop, a betting round after the flop, and then a turn phase with a third betting round. The other difference between this game and other forms of Hold’em is that each player receives three face-down cards. As in Texas Hold’em, players are given complete freedom to decide how many of their hole cards they want to use to create their final hand.
Other Types of Community Card Poker
Just as there are other types of draw and stud poker, there are other community poker games in existence as well. Some examples are Six-Plus Hold’em and Royal Hold’em as well as various forms of Pineapple Hold’em. You may encounter additional variants too.
Should You Play a Lot of Poker Variants?
It is common to get into a pattern with gambling. You find some games you like, and then you load those straight away each time you sit down at your computer.
In some respects, this is actually conducive to winning. By focusing on just a few variants (or even one), you can become an expert in that variant and develop your strategies closely around it.
I do recommend though that now and again, you break out of your comfort zone and try something new. Why? Because that will help you see the games you usually prefer to play in a different light. Variations in rules can give you fresh perspective on those rules, and may deepen your understanding.
Plus, you never know—you may just find that a different variant of poker suits you better than you expect. Soon that may become your go-to game.
Conclusion: The Web Is a Great Place to Discover Exciting Poker Variants
If you have only ever played one or several types of poker, you are missing out on the huge variety which is available to you online. So log into your favourite online casino and take a look at what they have to offer. You may very well be only a few clicks away from discovering a new favourite poker variant!
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