How to Add 5-Card Draw Poker Variants to Your Home Game (And Win Bigger Pots)
5-card draw poker is the best-known form of poker in the world.
Sure, you’ll see lots of people say Texas hold’em is the #1 poker game, but everyone I know starts at their kitchen table playing 5-card draw.
You hardly ever see it played in a real cardroom, but it’s still played in home poker games all over the United States every night of the week.
By its nature, 5-card draw is a bluffing game. That’s because you don’t get to see any of your opponents’ cards.
But it’s tricky to play a game where bluffing is such an important factor for low stakes. It’s just hard to get anyone to fold when you’re dealing with pennies, quarters, or even dollars.
This post provides an opportunity to spice up your home poker games with some variations on the traditional 5-card poker game.
I start by explaining the basics of 5-card poker, which are basic indeed, and then I offer several variations based on different rules for you to experiment with.
How to Play 5-Card Draw Poker
The first step in a 5-card draw poker game is for each of the players to post an “ante.” This is a small forced bet that everyone who wants to play must make.
The purpose of the ante is to drive the action. Were it not for the ante, everyone would just sit and fold until they got their perfect hand.
Once everyone has paid their ante, the dealer gives each player 5 cards. There’s a round of betting, where you can bet based on the cards you have.
After the round of betting, the players who haven’t folded have the opportunity to discard and replace cards in their hands. This is followed by another round of betting.
If more than one player stays in the pot — and usually they do — there’s a showdown. The players compare their hands, and the one with the best 5-card poker hand wins the pot.
And it’s really that simple. If you know the basics of how betting works in poker and how the hand rankings work, then you’re all set to play 5-card draw poker.
When it comes to opening the betting, 5-card draw poker is played in one of the folllowing 3 ways.
- Guts to open
- Jacks or better to open
- Jacks or better, trips win
Guts to open means that anyone can open the betting regardless of what cards he’s holding. The option to open the betting starts with the player to the left of the dealer.
The betting action rotates around the table clockwise from that point. In the second round of betting, the player who opened the betting in the first round gets to act first.
Jacks or better to open means that you must have a pair of jacks or higher to open. This means any hand that can beat a pair of 10s qualifies.
For example, if you have 2 pair, it qualifies to open even if both pairs are lower in rank than jacks. That’s because 2 pairs beats a pair of 10s. If no one can open, there’s usually a new shuffle and deal.
Jacks or better, trips to win is my favorite way to play. You need a pair of jacks or better to open, but you need at least a 3 of a kind to win.
If, at the showdown, no one has a 3 of a kind or better, the money stays in the pot. Then everyone re-antes, except for any players who folded. They’re out until the pot is awarded.
Most home poker games with this variation in place include at least one wild card. Otherwise, you might be playing in the same 5-card draw game for longer than you think would be fun.
5-Card Draw Poker Strategy
You have a limited amount of information with which to make decisions in 5-card draw. Here’s what information you have.
- You know what cards are in your hand, and you know what cards you’ve discarded.
In most games, discards aren’t shuffled back into the deck during the drawing round. So you know some of the cards that your opponents are NOT holding.
- You know how much your opponent has bet.
This can be a clue to how strong or weak your opponent is, but it helps to have an idea of your opponents’ general playing tendencies. Does he try to be deceptive? Is he a rock, only playing when he has solid cards? Is he a maniac, in which case he might have anything? This is where paying attention to your opponents’ play throughout the night really helps.
- You know how many cards your opponent has drawn.
When you combine this bit of information with the other pieces of information you have, you start to get a clearer picture of what’s going on. You can’t know exactly, because poker is a game of incomplete information. But you have some idea, rather than just a wild guess.
One easy aspect of 5-card draw strategy is to avoid letting the other players know how many cards you’re going to be drawing until it’s your turn to act.
Players who separate their hand and put their discards in front of them before it’s their turn to act are giving the other players information that could be used to beat them.
Here’s an easy way to bluff, too. If you see that all the players still in the pot before you take 3 cards each, you can be reasonably confident that none of them have anything better than a pair.
When it’s your turn to draw, keep a kicker with your pair. That way some of your opponents will put you on 3 of a kind, even though you only have a pair, too.
Finally, here’s one more strategy tip.
If someone stands pat preflop and doesn’t take any more cards, especially in a low-stakes home poker game, you might as well fold it up.
In a high-stakes game, you might have an opponent who’s trying to bluff. In fact, it might even be a bluff with a good chance of winning.
But in a low-stakes game, there’s almost always a showdown. It’s just harder to bluff everyone out of a pot. It doesn’t take much time or intelligence to figure this out, either. Even knuckleheads understand this.
The chance of someone not drawing to a hand that has no chance of winning is minimal. You’re just better off folding here.
Now let’s talk about some of the variations you can use to spice up your home poker games.
Draw Cards Cost Money
In this variation, everything plays out the same, but you must put money in the pot for every card you draw.
Depending on the stakes, this might be a quarter per card, a half dollar per card, or a dollar per card.
Obviously, this helps build larger pots.
5-Card Draw High Low
If you play a lot of poker, you’re probably already familiar with Omaha Hi Lo and/or Stud 8 or better. These are “high low” versions of those games; the pot is split between the highest poker hand and the lowest poker hand.
Obviously, if you’re playing high-low, you don’t need a pair of jacks starting requirement. After all, you could be playing to win the low.
The low hand is determined by the highest card in the hand.
If you have a pair, you don’t have a low hand in 5-card draw. Also, flushes and straights are ignored, so you could theoretically win both high AND low if you had a straight flush of A-2-3-4-5.
Also, the low hands compare the highest card in their hand to determine which one is lower. The easiest way is to think of the low hand as a 5-digit number. Which 5-digit number is lower, 87654 or 86543?
Some players have trouble determining the low in that situation, but that’s how you do it.
If there’s no qualifying low hand, the high hand wins the whole pot.
2 Hands to Win
In 2 Hands to Win, you play regular 5-card draw, but you must win two hands before winning the pot. Here’s an example of how that works.
You win the first hand you’re dealt in 2 Hands to Win. But that’s only the first hand, so all the money stays in the pot, and another hand is dealt.
Your buddy Paul wins the next hand, but that’s only one hand for him, too, so a third hand is dealt. The pot’s gotten pretty big at this point.
A third player wins this pot, but it’s his first win, too, so another hand gets dealt. You win this hand, which means you get ALL the money in the pot.
Even in a low-stakes game, this can add up to a large pot in a hurry.
Spit in the Ocean
This game is sort of a mix of Texas hold’em and 5-card draw. Here’s how it works.
Each player gets four cards, and then there’s a betting round.
After the betting round, each player can draw up to two cards. Then there’s another betting round.
Finally, the dealer puts one community card in the middle of the table. You use the four cards in your hand along with the single community card to make your final hand.
There’s another round of betting, and then a showdown.
Spit in the Ocean is also often played with a wild card, so if the community card is wild, you know that all your opponents at least have a pair or better.
I’ve heard of a variation that no matter what the community card is, it’s always wild. I’ve never played that variation of Spit in the Ocean, though.
5 and 2
This is a 5-card draw game with two community cards, but if you use one community card, you must use both community cards.
There are only two rounds of betting. The two community cards are dealt in the beginning of the hand, when you get your initial 5-card hand. There’s still a drawing hand.
This is as opposed to Spit in the Ocean, where you get the community card at the end. This also changes the number of betting rounds, too.
5-card draw is such a basic poker game that most people don’t think about it much anymore. Everyone’s watching Texas hold’em on television, and everyone’s hitting the hold’em tables at the casinos, too.
But you can still have a lot of fun playing 5-card draw in your home poker games — especially if you mix it up with some of the rules variations in this post.
Finally, it might seem like there are minimal opportunities for strategic thinking in 5-card draw, but that’s not true.
The levels of strategic thinking in 5-card draw are just dramatically different from the strategic thinking necessary in Texas hold’em, Omaha, or stud.