With a twist…

Phil Shaw opens the door to a world of crazy pineapples and double flops – it’s hold’em, but not quite as you know it

The wraps that can make monster draws on the flop in Omaha are of less use in Irish as you’ll have to discard vital parts of them

Historically speaking, hold’em is still in the realms of being a poker fad, having succeeded stud and draw as the format of choice. Admittedly, hold’em shows no signs of going away and is in fact even more ubiquitous than many realise – Omaha is properly known as Omaha hold’em poker, and together with its bigger brother, it accounts for the vast majority of action taking place across casinos and online sites alike.

However, there have always been other variations popular in certain parts of the world and it’s well worth looking at them. Hold’em alternatives – which all consist of community cards and two to four hole cards, often with discarding at some point – force you to borrow aspects of strategy from both hold’em and Omaha and try to evaluate how to use them for yourself rather than according to what the book says.

We’ll start by making sure you’ve got the rules down and highlight some key strategy concepts. Remember though, just because a variation isn’t listed below doesn’t mean it’s not possible, or that you can’t try playing it. The giants of hold’em and Omaha got to where they are now by a process of trial and error or natural selection. Poker players have determined them to have the right balance of skill and luck to survive over time, and whilst most variations will probably never be quite as popular, it can be fun finding out why.

Irish hold’em

As its name would suggest, Irish originated in Ireland and is popular in pot-limit, dealers-choice games both there and in England. It plays exactly the same as Texas hold’em, except that players are initially dealt four cards and must discard two after the flop is dealt. This hybrid shifts between Omaha and Texas hold’em and requires some of the strategies for both. Interconnectivity in your starting hands is important (four cards means six twocard combinations), but remember that the wraps that can make monster draws on the flop in Omaha are of less use here as you will have to discard vital parts of them.

Instead, the emphasis is on flopping big made hands, so A-A-K-K double suited is the best you can get to start with, giving you the maximum chance of making a set (over 40% by the river), with flush outs as well, as back up. Remember that as in Omaha, small pairs can get you into all sorts of trouble if you flop set over set, and given the limited power of draws in Irish this is even more true. You should be quite a bit less afraid of seeing the nuts when all the cards are out in Irish than in Omaha, but don’t forget that even after the game reverts to two hole cards that players staying to the end won’t be that far away.

Pineapple, crazy pineapple and Tahoe hold’em

All of these start with three hole cards, but have different rules after that. In pineapple, a card is discarded before the flop; in crazy pineapple it is discarded after the flop; and in Tahoe hold’em (or lazy pineapple) there is no discard. As in hold’em, players may use none, one or two cards to make their best five-card hand at showdown. Pineapple variations are interesting in that they exist in the middle ground of hold’em and Omaha, where three hole cards allow for three two-card combinations, as opposed to one or six. Because of this, strategy for the game is a balancing act between what the more popular forms teach us, although the betting structure will still have a big influence on how made hands and draws fare in relation to each other.

In straight pineapple expect a lot more action and multi-way pots pre-flop as many players will have pairs, suited connectors or Broadway hands. The flop will weed these down to only a small number with serious hopes, but those that stay in will usually be very strong.

In crazy pineapple, the delayed discard means that the hands taken to a showndown will be of an even higher calibre – expect to see sets or better often taking the money. Even more so than in Irish, crazy pineapple tends to favour big made hands on the flop over draws, but because those hands are much harder to make this is one of the most finely-balanced variations in a big-bet format. In a no-limit one, things are more likely to turn into a crapshoot!

In Tahoe, the dynamic of Omaha is restored, with the possibility of three-card wraps countering the dominance of made hands and the possibility of using only one card to make a hand like a flush opening things up further. This sets it almost exactly between hold’em and Omaha in terms of the quality of hands that will eventually be shown down, though bear in mind that it probably possesses more of the latter’s characteristics.

Hold’em hi-lo

As you might imagine, in the search for different variations hold’em games have often been played hi-lo as well. Crazy pineapple and Tahoe in particular allow for greater degrees of flexibility in going both ways. In the latter game A-A-2 is obviously the dream combination, although A-2-3 also allows for flexibility against being counterfeited for low. Since it is much harder to scoop by winning in both directions in variations of hold’em hi-lo which have a qualifier of 8 or better (i.e. the low hand must be five differently-valued cards of 8 or below), it is important to watch how the board develops. The board can make the difference between a chance to win everything or realising you’re only playing for half and then playing accordingly.

Double-flop hold’em

Another alternative to the traditional formats is, as the name suggests, to have two flops (and turns and rivers). In this game the pot is split between the winner according to each board, although it’s probable that someone somewhere has tried to play double flop hi-lo! The game can also be played with variations of hole card numbers and discards, which make things a lot more interesting. Two flops introduces key decisions like the choice between making an all-out attempt to win on one board (and perhaps scoop an opponent attempting to do the same) or trying to have some shot at both, or choosing between combinations of made hands and draws when you come to discard.

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