The CasinoPlay crew are known for their monthly Friday Night Poker Tournaments where we get together to celebrate the end of the week and the end of the month over a glass or two of our preferred libations and as many hands of poker as we can get in.
Our games are quite low stakes and more about the fun than the mun. It’s a chance to let our hair down and enjoy each other’s company – although the bragging rights that the winner gets are pretty sweet: the winner gets coffee made for every morning for the next month, they get to choose their work assignments, and they get a half-day every Wednesday.
As casual as our setup is, there are some strict rules. For example, you’re not allowed to out-bet other players so, if you have a huge bankroll, you can’t keep raising until other players can’t afford to play. You must at least match the ante in each hand before folding. Under no circumstances are players allowed to start betting articles of clothing and allowing the game to collapse into a strip poker evening – ALLAN!
The most important rule is that everyone must recognise and be able to play the game.
But it’s poker, how difficult could it be? Well, let me just say that some people – ALLAN! – have some pretty weird ideas around the rules of poker. There have been evenings where players have spent more time on their phones trying to understand a variation than playing. And that’s no fun for anyone.
Dealer’s choice applies to our games so when someone calls out “Deuces, One-eyed Jacks, and King with the Axe” we all know we are heading into a game filled with wilds like we’re in some high school poker game. For those that don’t know: “Deuces, One-eyed Jacks, and King with the Axe” refers to twos, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds being wilds. These two Jacks are both in profile, so you only see one eye, and the King of Diamonds is the only one holding an axe.
It’s when the dealer declares some obscure variation like Badugi that we start getting twitchy. Sure, it’s fun to find new games but sometimes you just want a good old fashioned Hold’em evening.
After a few minutes of arguing – and eventually sending Allan to go buy pizza so we could get on with a proper game – we thought about how many variations of poker we actually know. There are a lot. Some are famous, some are obscure, some are ridiculous – but they are all huge fun.
Let’s begin with the four main families of variants.
If we look at poker as a grouping of card games that follow a basic premise with related and common rules, we get four main versions. These are called the families of variants and all the other variants fall into one or more of these: straight, stud poker, draw poker, and community card poker. All these games are played with a standard 52-card deck (with Jokers sometimes included as wilds).
Straight poker is the oldest form of poker and comes from a game called Primero. Primero evolved into 3-card Brag, a game massively popular around the time of the American Revolutionary War and a game that can still be found in some online casino today. In straight poker, players are dealt five cards as a complete hand. Players use these cards to make up their best hand. There is no exchanging of cards to improve your hand (like draw poker) and no community cards (like Hold’em).
Players get their cards and bet on that hand. The joy of straight is that it’s a game where bluffing is a major strategy because you have absolutely no idea what the other players are holding.
Winning hands are ranked according to standard poker rules. A Royal Flush is the highest natural hand you can get but, if you’re playing with Jokers, then 5-of-a-kind will get you the pot.
Stud poker followed straight and became a huge hit with poker players. In stud, players are dealt a set of cards with some face down and some face up. In 5-card stud the player has a total of 5 cards, in 7-card stud the player has a total of 7 cards. Rules differ but, in general, play goes like this:
Each player is dealt one card face down (the hole card) and one card face up. Players may look at their face down card but no one else can see it. Players can choose to bet or fold at this stage. Players are dealt a third card face up (third street) and bet or fold. This is followed by a fourth card face up (fourth street), and a fifth card face up (fifth street or river card). Betting takes place after each card is dealt.
In 7-card stud the players start with two cards face down and then progress until all 7 cards are dealt.
Stud poker was, by far, the most popular form of poker and the standard at the World Series of Poker before Hold’em rose to prominence.
In draw poker players are dealt a hand of five cards face down. Each player places an ante into the pot before they are allowed to see their cards. Once they have seen their cards, betting begins. At the end of the round of betting, players can choose to discard up to three cards and replace them with new cards from the deck. This is followed by another round of betting after which the players show their hands. The player with the best hand according to the standard ranking of poker hands wins.
Community card poker developed from stud poker and, with games like Texas Hold’em and Omaha, is the most popular form of poker around the world today. Like stud poker, community poker takes the form of hidden or face down cards added to shown or face up cards. The difference comes in the face up cards which are community cards able to be used by the entire table rather than personal face up cards.
Players use their face down cards plus a selection from the face up community cards to create a winning five card hand.
Texas Hold’em is the perfect example:
Players ante into the game and are dealt two cards face down (hole cards). The dealer then deals three cards face up (the flop). Players bet on the combination of their hole cards plus the flop. The dealer then deals another card face down (the turn). Players bet. A final card is dealt face up (the river) and a final round of betting takes place before the players reveal their hands. Their hands are made up from the two hole cards plus three of the community cards and wins are based on the standard poker rankings.
This is where it starts to get complicated. Each of these four families variants also has a huge number of specific variations where the rules might be tweaked or changed a little. In the interests of time and not having the space to actually go into each and every variant’s rules, we are going to list the different variants for you.
Straight is pretty straightforward and the only difference come in whether or not players choose to add Jokers as wilds in the standard 52-card deck. Dealer’s choice also allows for any other cards or groups of cards to be called as wilds.
There are a number of different variations to the game of stud poker. Most land-based casinos offer Caribbean stud (sometimes called Casino Hold’em). Some stud poker variations are well known while others are pretty obscure.
Caribbean stud • Razz • High-low stud • Mexican stud • Option alley • Scandinavian stud • Six-card stud • Chicago
Draw is probably one of the first poker style games any player learns. The basic rules are quick and easy to understand but, as is the way of the gambler, there are versions that up the ante when it comes to rules.
Five-card draw • Gardena jackpots • California lowball • Kansa City lowball • Double draw • Triple draw • Badugi • California high/low split • Johnson • Shotgun • Seven-card draw
Texas Hold’em and Omaha are the most well-known of the community card poker games, but they are not the only ones. While Texas Hold’em has taken the world by storm in recent years, the rules and community aspect of community card poker has led to a fair few excellent version for players looking to try something different.
Texas Hold’em • Double-board Hold’em • Greek Hold’em • Irish poker • No river hold’em • Royal Hold’em • Six-plus Hold’em • Omaha Hold’em • Courchevel • Pineapple • Crazy Pineapple • Tahoe • Pinatubo
There is a variation of poker called HORSE. While it’s not a specific variation it is super fun and interesting (and a staple at the WSOP tables) because it uses five versions of poker over the course of a game: Texas Hold’em (H), Omaha high-low (O), Razz (R), Seven-card stud (S), and Seven-card stud eight-or-better (E).
Video poker is, technically, a version of poker but, because it follows the rules of one or more of the families variants it doesn’t really form a new variation.
While there will never be a FINAL variation because the game is always changing, we are ending our list with a poker game that we love and that doesn’t fit with the above: Pai Gow poker.
Pai Gow poker falls into the category of Chinese Poker, a series of games that take poker and add a chess-master’s level of strategy.
Traditional pai gow is played with Chinese dominoes but some very smart people decided to add cards to the mix to bring us Pai Gow poker.
In Pai Gow poker, each player is dealt a hand of seven cards face down. The player then needs to create two hands: a high hand containing five cards (front hand) and a low hand containing two cards (back hand).
If the player beats the dealer with both the front hand and back hand, the player wins. If the dealer beats the player with both the front hand and the back hand, the dealer wins.
If only one of the player’s hands beats the dealer, then it’s a tie.
This creates some very interesting options for the player, for example: if the player feels that the hand is weak, the player may choose to try and create a strong back hand thereby not winning the game but denying the dealer the outright win and pushing for a draw.
Poker is a very subjective game with the fun coming from both the gameplay and the social aspect so to find a ‘best’ is impossible. Texas Hold’em is certainly the most popular at the moment, but things do change.
From a CasinoPlay crew point of view, the best version of poker is the one you play responsibly, with a set budget and time limit, and the one that lets you have the most fun!