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Rules of Five Card Draw

When the poker boom hit in 2003 after Chris Moneymaker famously won the World Series of Poker Main Event, Texas Hold ‘em was all the rage. But for many in the years prior, their introduction to poker came through a very different game.

Five Card Draw has always been one of the games that people would play around the house or at parties. For anyone that didn’t know how to play poker, the simplicity of the rules made it an easy variation of the game to start with.

It is one of the earliest forms of poker on record. In addition, it is one of the most famous as any movie that poker was a part of in the pre-poker boom era most likely featured Five Card Draw.

Five Card Draw is the game believed to have been played during the days of the Wild West when “Wild” Bill Hickok was famously shot to death while playing. As legend has it, he was holding two pairs, Aces and Eights, a hand that is now nicknamed “The Deadman’s Hand” due to this ominous occasion.

The game is no longer spread in brick and mortar casinos unless requested. Online you can find plenty of games, however. Luckily, if you’ve never played before, Five Card Draw is one of the more basic and straightforward forms of poker.

So getting a grasp on the rule set should be a cinch.

Five Card Draw Basics

The best place to start when discussing the basics is the hand rankings. Before diving into how the game is played it is important to know what constitute a good hand so that you can determine what you should do when it is your turn to draw cards.

Five Card Draw follows the same high hand guidelines as all of its fellow poker game variants. To understand the hand rankings of a poker game take a look at the graphic below:

Guide Table

The Deal

Five Card Draw will usually be played 6-handed. Because of the draw nature of the game, anything more than 6 and you risk not having enough cards in the deck to cover everyone’s draw.

The hand will start in one of two ways depending on the betting structure being used. In Five Card Draw you will sometimes see it played where everyone posts an ante, but the more popular way and the way that you will see it played online is that there will be a small blind and a big blind.

If you’re familiar with Texas Hold ‘em or Omaha than you know this format quite well. If you are new to poker entirely here is what we mean by small blind and big blind:

Small Blind
The small blind is the first forced bet by the first player on the direct left of the dealer. The amount of the small blind will be half of the big blind, which is considered the full bet amount.
Big Blind
The player to the direct left of the small blind will post the second forced bet known as the big blind. This big blind amount constitutes a full bet.

Once the blinds are posted the dealer deals each player five cards face down.

At this point, the first round of betting occurs, starting with the player on the direct left of the big blind. Once this round of betting has completed it is now time for the players to draw.

The Draw

The “draw” in Five Card Draw is the heart of the game. After the first round of betting, players have the option to discard cards they do not want and draw new ones from the top of the deck.

If a player likes the first five cards they were dealt they can choose not to draw any cards. This is known as “standing pat”.

After each player left in the hand has had a chance to discard and draw new cards, another round of betting occurs. After this final round of betting the remaining players table their hands and the player with the best hand is declared the winner.

Betting Structure

The betting structure of Five Card Draw resembles that of Texas Hold ‘em. Each hand starts with a small blind and big blind posting their bets. The game can either be played in the fixed limit structure, or the no limit structure.

In fixed limit Five Card Draw, betting is done in increments of the big blind equivalent. In no limit Five Card Draw the only limitation to how much you can bet is the amount of chips in your stack.


By now you have found that the rules of Five Card Draw are fairly simple and straightforward. A quick recap of the game sequence is as follows:

  • Each player is dealt five cards.
  • A round of betting, starting to the left of the big blind occurs.
  • Players discard the cards they do not want and draw new cards
  • A round of betting starting with the first live player to the left of the dealer.

In Five Card draw you will most likely always be drawing cards. It is fairy rare to be dealt an extremely strong hand on the first deal.

For reference, take a look at this mathematical chart below of the chances of being dealt certain strong hands prior to the drawing round:

  • Royal flush <0.001%
  • Straight flush (not including royal flush) <0.002%
  • Four of a kind 0.02%
  • Full house 0.14%
  • Flush (excluding royal flush and straight flush) 0.20%
  • Straight (excluding royal flush and straight flush) 0.39%
  • Three of a kind 2.11%
  • Two pair 4.75%
  • One pair 42.30%
  • No pair / High card 50.10%

Five Card Draw Rules Recap

At this point it is pretty safe to say that you have a solid understanding of the rules of Five Card Draw.

To understand the game even deeper and to get some tips and tricks on how to be more profitable at the tables check out our Guide to Five Card Draw section and best of luck along the way.

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