Poker Game Guide: Five Card Draw

5 Card Draw

Five card draw is a classic poker game. Most people learn to play as kids. It's not only fun--it's also easy to learn. For beginners, five card draw is the best place to start learning poker.

This page presents an overview of how to play, what the rules are, and how strategy works. Five card draw uses normal poker hand rankings. The best possible hand is a royal flush.

Betting rounds and structure resemble Texas hold‘em and Omaha. If you know how to play either of these games, you should pick up five card draw quickly.

How to Play – 5 Card Draw Rules

Starting a Hand

Each hand starts with a specific player being designated as the dealer. This is indicated by a dealer button, a white disc with the word dealer on it, which is placed in front of the relevant player. The player to the immediate left of the dealer is the small blind. The next player to her left is the big blind. At the completion of each hand, the dealer button and blinds move one position to the left.

To ensure action, the two blinds must make a forced bet. The size of this bet depends on the table limits. Most five card draw games are fixed limit. If you're playing a $2 / $4 fixed limit game, the small blind is $1 and the big blind $2.

Once the blind bets have been made, the dealer passes out cards. Starting with the player in the small blind position, each player receives five cards face down one at a time in a clockwise order.

Example of Poker Table on Initial Deal

First Betting Round

When every player has five cards, the first round of betting starts. The player to the left of the big blind acts first. They have three options at this stage.

  • Fold
  • Call
  • Raise

Play continues with the next player to the left. Each player has the same three options; they can call the previous bet, fold, or raise. Once all payers have either called the previous high raise or folded, the betting round ends.

Drawing

Now the draw phase of the hand starts. Each player can select any number of cards to discard. These are replaced by the dealer. If a player chooses not to discard any cards, then she has what's called a pat hand.

Second Betting Round

After all the new cards are dealt, there's another round of betting in the same order as the first round. But this time the first player remaining in the hand to the left of the dealer starts the action (instead of the player to the left of the big blind). They now have the following options.

  • Check (stay in the hand but not make a bet)
  • Bet

Subsequent players can only check if no bet has been made. Once a bet has been made they must call that bet, or make a raise, if they wish to stay in the hand. Alternatively, they can choose to fold.

When every player has acted, the betting is completed for the hand.

Showdown

If more than one player remains after the second round of betting, there's a showdown. The player with the best five card poker hand wins the pot. If a player raises and gets no callers, she wins the pot by default.

Betting Limits

The betting limits are determined by the table limits. In a $2 / $4 fixed limit game, the limits you can bet and raise each round are $2 and $4. The first betting round has $2 increments, and the second round has $4 increments.

Five card draw can also be played as a no limit game. You can bet all your chips at once. It can also be played as a pot limit game. In that case, your bet is determined by how much money is in the pot.

Provided you know the rules and how betting rounds work, you'll be able to quickly pick up what the betting limits are at a table. For inexperienced players, no limit tables are the riskiest. You can lose all your chips at once.

Fixed limit offers the lowest risk. The limits determine how much you can lose in any one hand. Pot limit games are in between in regards to risk / reward.

Hand Rankings

The best possible hand is a royal flush. The worst hand is seven high. Any hand is possible at any time, but hand strength in five card draw is relatively low. In other words, a high pair or two pair in five card draw would be a strong hand in draw poker, even though it would be useless in Omaha, for example

How Easy is 5 Card Draw?

Draw is easy to learn but hard to master. It's not a popular game in casinos, but it's still great fun. It's also a great test of one's ability to read others.

The only information you have is your opponents' betting patterns, cards discarded, number of previous hands played, body language, and voice.

If you're playing online, the last two don't even apply. This makes it a tough game. It's hard to assess a hand's strength. It's also hard to know where you are compared to your opponents. That's a lot of fun, but it makes the game hard to master.

5 Card Draw Strategy

Five card draw is now played mostly for recreational purposes. Few (if any) brick and mortar casinos offer the game. But you can still find games online.

As a result of only having two betting rounds, one draw, and resultant low variance, the game is less popular than other forms of poker. On the other hand, most players are also less skilled and play with little to no strategy. This increases your odds of becoming a winning player. All you have to do is apply some basic strategy.

Starting Hands

If you start with a strong hand in five card draw before the draw, chances are you'll take down the pot. The favorite in the hand before the 2nd round generally remains soothe favorite after the 2nd round. Since there's only one draw, the chance of your opponent improving their hand is low.

That's why variance is so low.

Like other poker games that involve draws, your chances of improving on the draw are directly related to the strength of your starting hand. The worse your starting hand is, the harder it is to improve to a winning hand.

Weak players try to luck out by taking a draw and trying to improve their hand. This works out for them sometimes. But most of the time, it doesn't. It's that much more important to narrow starting hand range. The goal is to take advantage of weak players looking for the miracle draw.

Our Advice

To be a winning player, enter pots with strong starting hands which have the best odds over your opponent's hands. You can't win every pot, and you'll sometimes lose to a worse starting hand. But if you keep playing better starting hands than your opponents, the odds eventually will even out.

Also consider your position. Late position always helps--you get to act last. Your starting hand needs to be stronger if you're in early position. Your range can be wider in late position.

Hands to Play by Position
  • First position:

    Pair of aces or better

  • Early position:

    Pair of kings or better

  • Middle position:

    Pair of queens or better

  • Button:

    Pair of tens or better, or a pair of nines provided you have two cards higher than the 9 in your hand, or an ace.

  • Small blind:

    Limp in with A Q to a pair of sixes. This is a rare exception to the never limp rule. You should open raise with anything better, especially if all of your opponents fold. If the big blind raises, call and draw three cards. Although your odds aren't great, you need to defend your blind sometimes. When in doubt, fold.

  • Big blind:

    If two or more opponents limp in, raise with a pair of kings or better. With two or three players in after a raise, call with a pair of tens or better. Reraise with a pair of jacks or better. When in doubt, fold.

You'll be folding most hands before the first draw. You're also likely to be profitable. Patience is the key in every form of poker.

Are you playing hands for the sake of keeping yourself entertained?

It's time to take a break and do something else. You'll lose if you keep doing this. Better players play fewer hands than weaker players. This is consistent at most limits, until you reach the highest limits. With professional players, situations change.

With more players at the table, your range should narrow. If there are only a few players at the table, relax your starting hand range... There are fewer hands to beat and a lower chance of good hands popping up.

Outs

An out is a card that completes or improves your poker hand. Since the Texas hold'em boom, most players have learned about outs arriving on the flop, turn, or river. Much to the disdain of many players, the river is quite often a key card in determining the final winner.

Five card draw is the opposite. With only two betting rounds and a single draw, your great hand will hold up more often than not.

Outs work similarly in five card draw as they do in Texas hold'em. But there are a few minor differences.

Calculating Outs

You start with Ten of Spades Jack of Spades Queen of Diamonds King of Clubs six of Clubs. You discard the six of Clubs and draw a 9 or A to make a straight. In this example, you could also draw a K or Q which would give you a competitive hand. But you're mainly going for a straight, which means the deck holds 8 possible outs for you to make your straight.

There's a 17% chance you'll hit the straight and most likely take down the pot. These odds are low. It probably isn't worth going for it, but if you include the chance of hitting a K or Q--which gives you a high pair--your outs have increased to 14. You now have a 30% chance of winning, which might be worth pursuing depending on how much money is in the pot.

This example represents the odds of hitting outs to possibly win the hand. Starting hands are vital in five card draw.

If an opponent has a starting hand with two pair or three of a kind, they have an 83% chance of winning against your hand. That starting hand might seem good, but it really isn't—not if you want to win in the long term.

Here's a simple rule in determining your outs on the fly at the poker table without working out the exact math. Just work out how many outs you have and multiply this by 2. This gives you a rough percentage on how likely you are to hit your outs.

Table Selection

Selecting a table is critical in all forms of poker. You want to be seated with players who are weaker than you. That's how you profit.

But unlike Texas hold'em, where you have dozens of tables to choose from both online and in a live casino, five card draw tables are few and far between.

That doesn't mean you still can't apply a few strategies to improve your chances, though.

First, the limits that you play at dictate the strength of players. As a rule of thumb, the higher the limits, the better the players. The lower the limits, the weaker the players. Even if your bankroll warrants playing at high limits, it might be worthwhile to drop to lower limit tables to improve you game.

If you're playing online, make sure you use the notes function to keep track of players and how they play. When it comes time to choose a table, you can make an informed and profitable decision based on your notes.

Table selection at a live casino is nonexistent, because five card draw is rarely played in casinos.

Reading Your Opponents

In five card draw you don't see any community cards or opponent's cards at all. You need to get all your information from tells, hand history, betting patterns, and how many cards the player discards on the draw.

This allows you to narrow your opponent down to a range of possible hands. You then weigh the odds against your own hand to determine if you can win the pot.

Study each opponent in every hand, even if you aren't currently in the pot. Take note of how often each player voluntarily enters the pot, their betting patterns, and the number of cards they discard in the draw. Then correlate this information to actual exposed hands at the show down. Build a profile for that player. Doing this enables you to determine a range of possible hands that you're up against. This enables you to make an informed decision about folding, calling, betting, or raising.

Closely watch how many cards an opponent chose to discard on the draw, too. If they discard two or more cards, then they probably have a weak hand. If they discard one card, they might be drawing to a flush or straight, which has low odds of hitting. Or they have a made hand and are looking to make it even stronger. If they stand pat, which means not discarding any cards at all, then they either have a strong hand or they're trying to bluff.

If you're in a hand where an opponent stands pat and then checks to you, proceed with caution. They might be trying to slow play a monster hand, but this can also be played as a bluff. In this situation, it might be worth checking, unless you also have a monster, to show down and gain some information on your opponent.

If an opponent has drawn two or more cards, and then proceeds to bet aggressively, chances are they have missed the hand. As we know from our calculations above, the chances of improving a hand are low. So they're often trying to buy the pot.

But keep in mind that 10 - 20% of the time they may have hit the hand. Winning 80% of the time outweighs losing 20% of the time.

Studying the betting patterns of your opponents is also critical.

It's one of the best ways you'll get information on where you are in the hand. Players have certain patterns they follow, and if they're a weaker player then these won't deviate much.

By learning their betting patterns related to how many cards they draw and how many pots they voluntarily enter, you'll gain a lot of information to use to your advantage. You still need to adhere to a strict starting hand range, though. Knowing your opponents well doesn't mean you can out think them in every pot and win every hand. You still need to choose your spots to act.

When you're at the poker table, virtual or real, always be studying your opponents and building a poker profile on them. This'll give you more information so that you can make informed decisions which are more profitable in the long run.

This doesn't mean you'll always win against a particular opponent, but it should mean that you win hands against them more often than not, which is going to keep you profitable in the long run.

Planning the Hand

Always have a plan for each hand. This plan should be in line with your overall strategy. Playing poker is like running a business. You have your strategy, tactics, and operations. In each hand, you must use tactics that are derived from your strategy, and operationalize this by playing the hand in a certain way. If you have a solid strategy and subsequent tactics and plans, then you'll be a profitable player.

In five card draw you need to play according to your position. This is determined by where you're seated in relation to the dealer button. Early position puts you at a disadvantage because you have no information on what other players will do before you act.

On the other hand, being in late position means you get information from the other players in the hand before you act.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of position. Position is vital to winning poker play.

Only enter pots in early position with strong hands.

If you're in late position, widen your starting hand range. Acting last can also determine how many cards you discard on the draw. If all of the opponents are discarding two or more cards, you can stand pat with a weaker hand as you know they'll have a relatively low percentage of hitting a good hand. Then you can bet accordingly to take down the pot. This is also a good spot to bluff to win the pot.

In late position you also have pot control, meaning you can determine how large the pot is. You can decide to check a pot through, raise, or call. The final decision both pre draw and post draw is with you. You're controlling the hand. This is a huge advantage. It allows you to manipulate the play to suit whatever hand you're holding.

If you don't have much information on other players at the table, then using position effectively can allow you to be profitable while developing a profile on your opponents.

Voluntarily entering pots is something else to consider. If a player enters a lot of pots voluntarily, then they're generally a weaker player with a wide range. This means they will often not have a strong hand.

If a player is voluntarily entering pots few times, then they're most likely a stronger player with a stricter starting range. It's harder to win a hand against them. Focus your play on opponents with a high percentage of entering pots voluntarily. Do this in conjunction with adhering to your own starting range, and you'll be more profitable.

At the same time, the amount of times you voluntarily enter a pot should be higher when you're in late position. This correlates directly to the starting hand ranges, as they relate to what position you're in.

Once you have this down, move on to deciding how you'll react in each hand to your opponents' actions. This is where studying your opponents comes into play. Position and starting hands generally make players profitable. By making the right decisions throughout the hand, you can increase profitability.

Once you've entered a hand, determine what you'll do in any situation. This is much easier to do in five card draw as there are only two betting rounds and one draw. Therefore, you need to decide what you'll do if an opponent, checks, bets, or raises. Your plan should change so that it's harder for an opponent to profile you, and you should use all the information you have gained about your opponent to decide what to do in any situation.

It's always a good idea to review your hands and work out what you did well and what errors you made. This is much easier playing online. You'll be able to review a complete hand history after each session.

Bankroll Management

In order to become a profitable player and take your poker game to the next level, you should apply some form of bankroll management. This will not only make your poker play more enjoyable, but you'll also appropriately measure your play in monetary terms. This allows you to identify weaknesses in your game and learn what you need to work on.

Most recreational players don't consider bankroll management. They fund poker from other areas in their life, such as their job. They also don't keep track of winning and losing sessions and study these sessions in relation to their hand history.

Please Note

Even if you're a recreational player and don't think that bankroll management concerns you, you might be missing out on some vital information that will help you win. Poker is more fun when you win.

Bankrolls vary depending on the game you're playing and its variance. In no limit Texas hold'em, a bigger bankroll is required. Texas hold'em players have to manage huge variance. In five card draw, the variance is much lower, so a smaller bankroll is needed in relation to the limits you play.

Your bankroll should be big enough that it doesn't impact your decision making. If you're thinking about folding because it will impact your bankroll, then you're playing at too high a limit.

On the other hand, if you make a call because you're thinking your bankroll allows you to make the call, you're playing at a limit that may be too low. Make decisions at the poker table based purely on the situation, not on how many dollars are in your account.

Assigning yourself a poker bankroll and keeping track of winning and losing sessions allows you to be a more profitable player. Track your sessions against your hand history and work out when mistakes were made and what you need to do in future games.

Let your bankroll, coupled with your skills, determine the limits you play. If you become consistently profitable at a limit, and if your bankroll justifies an increase, you should move up. This might be indicating an improvement in your game, meaning you can now compete against better players at higher limits. If it all goes wrong, then you can always drop back down and hone your skills before trying again.

Controlling Your Tells

Five card draw is a game where no cards are exposed. The only information your opponents have about you and your hand is what they see you do. This can be through your betting patterns, how many cards you discard and draw, and your verbal and nonverbal actions. As most five card draw games are now played online, the last two won't be as important.

But if you play in a live five card draw game, they matter a lot.

In respect to your hand, your betting and discard patterns give your opponents a lot of information. For example, if you discard three cards, they'll put you on a weak hand. If you bet and raise, they'll put you on a strong hand. If you just call and check they'll think you have a weak hand.

Don't worry too much about giving away information in respect to betting and drawing. You can change your play up a little bit depending on your opponent and what hand you have. But you still need to take the necessary actions to be more profitable. If you play on a table with weak players, they're far more concerned with their own hand and actions. They won't give any thought to what you're doing.

You can control some things, especially at a live game. These include how you act.

Our Advice

Try to act in a neutral manner. Keep your voice the same no matter the situation, sit the same way, and move the same way. Don't change how you act based on the hand or situation. This gives your opponents information.

Many players can't control their body language or voice at the table. If you can control yours, you can study opponents to get an advantage. If a player misses a draw, they might slouch and become disinterested. If they hit their draw, they might become rigid and interested in what is going on.

If you're playing with good players who are studying everyone at the table, use this against them. When you make a hand, do the opposite of what weaker players do. Make them think you missed. They then might call you with a weaker hand. Be careful, though. You can lose control of the situation quickly.

It can be worthwhile to sometimes play differently in order to confuse opponents. Always use position to your advantage when doing this. The goal is to minimize losses and control the pots where you're changing up your play. This keeps them guessing and makes it harder for them to profile you.

When playing online, you can change your action speed in order to confuse your opponents. Often players will act quicker and slower depending on their hand strength. So you should either change it up, or always take the same amount of time to act.

Common Mistakes

Here are some common mistakes in five card draw.

Playing pairs smaller than jacks out of position

– Never do this.

Limping

– This is just calling to enter a pot. If you stick to the starting hands suggested above you should always be folding or raising, never just calling.

Drawing to a straight or flush

– The percentages of hitting these hands are low. Don't be a big underdog.

Keeping a kicker

– If you have a pair, discard all three cards to give you the best possible chance of making three of a kind.

Calling when you're obviously beat

– If you know you're beat, swallow your pride and throw the hand away.

The biggest mistake you can make in five card draw is constantly trying to draw to a monster hand.

Summary

Did you learn how to play poker playing five card draw? You might be surprised to find it available at some online poker rooms. The game is still as simple as it was around the kitchen table, but the stakes are much higher online.

Use the advice on this page to give yourself the best chance to be a long term winning five card draw player.

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