Where every game of poker you know originated from
This month we go back to where it all started – 5-Card Draw. It wasn’t Hold’em which featured in the Old West classic The Cincinatti Kid or Mel Gibson vehicle Maverick. And the phrase Dead Man’s Hand was coined when Wild Bill Hickok was killed clutching a Draw hand in a dusty saloon in 1876. So while Texas Hold’em is the game of choice these days, it’s worth revisiting the game which started many a bar-room fight, and paved the way for the game we all love.
Now, you might not be able to convince a group of friends to pop round for this home game, with only two betting rounds and no cards being dealt face up, but 5-Card Draw has been revived by several big name poker sites, such as PokerRoom and Paradise Poker. So you can always have a dabble online.
The format of 5-Card Draw is simple. Five cards are dealt to each player face down. Following a round of betting, those still in the hand get the chance to discard and re-draw as many or as few of those cards as they choose, although some house rules limit the changes.
There is then a second round of betting, where players have the option to check, bet/ call or fold. The showdown then follows, with the highest ranked hand taking the pot.
What’s the difference?
The similarities to Hold’em are few. For instance, in Draw everyone places a forced ante instead of blinds, and as already mentioned there are only two betting rounds instead of four. Sometimes Draw poker is played with a 53-card deck, with the addition of a Joker as a wild card, and it can be played under limit (which is more common) and nolimit rules. As with other limit games like Stud, the initial bet and raises are set at the lower limit in the first round of betting and go up to the higher in the second round. And there is usually a cap of three raises per round.
There are two formats commonly played for 5-Card Draw: High, which is as described above and Jacks or Better, where to open the betting someone must have a pair of Jacks or better to start. If no-one has, the dealer button moves to the left, everyone antes again and the cards are re-dealt until someone does.
Importantly, legal openers must be proved and if someone opens falsely their hand will be declared dead and their bet will remain in the pot. The number of cards allowed for changes must be announced to all players and quite often there is a limit. Some games allow three or four, but you could have five, although the fifth card would come after everyone has been given their change of cards. In a four-card limit game, a rule whereby you can only draw four if you have an Ace (and expose it) is often applied. But every site and game varies, so if you play at home decide which rules you’re going to play and make sure everyone knows at the outset. Likewise, when playing online read the site’s rules section thoroughly so you know the exact variation before you start.
In terms of strategy, the only real way to read the strength or weakness of opponents’ hands is by the number of cards they draw. It’s a game based on instinct and patience and it’s well worth reading Herbert O’Yardley’s autobiographical book The Education of a Poker Player to get a detailed analysis of what to stay on and when to bet, fold and raise.