Poker Variations and How They Work

By in Poker on
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Poker Variations Table Cards Chips

Here we are again, kids. When it comes to gambling, I don’t think you can ever know too much about poker. There’s such vast nuance and character to the game, there could be a chat board running 24/7, and this geek would never tire of reading about this fine and potentially lucrative pastime.

Here, we’re going to get into the different variants of the heart-pounding, enticing, and exciting gambling craze of this millennium. There are so many different styles and rules of play, each one really ought to have its own full post, but for today, let’s touch on a few variants and you can let us know your favorite (mine is cliché, to say the least: it is, of course, Texas Hold Em).

Since there are three common categories and several common rule variants, as well as the so called ‘mixed’ poker games, there are obviously an almost limitless amount of variants with combinations of rule variants in different categories, as well as games where the different variations are mixed, such as HORSE (Hold em, Omaha high-low, Razz, Seven card stud, Eight or better).

In this post, we’ll go through the main categories and variants and then touch briefly on some specific rules, followed by an example of a variant that doesn’t fit into the categories.

Think Three Themes

There are three main categories of poker, each of which has many different variations. These three are the most popular and most often used in casinos and poker rooms throughout the world. If you’re a poker connoisseur, you’ve probably played at least one subcategory of each of the three most popular variants.

  • First off, you have your draw poker. Five card draw is the first game I learned to play as a child. In draw poker, each player is dealt a complete hand, all of which are hidden. After the hands are dealt, each player has the option to draw additional cards from the deck to improve the hand they were dealt.
  • Next, we have stud poker. I think this one was named for yours truly (yeah, right, dream on). The most common stud games are five and seven card stud. These two are further played in other different formats. This method of play features a combination of face up and face down cards in multiple betting rounds.
  • The third category we’ll be discussing is community card poker, and an example of this one is beloved by many the world over, let alone in my home state, Texas; of course I speak, once again, of Texas Hold Em. With community variants, each player’s incomplete hidden hand is combined with shared and face up community cards. Another example of this variant is Omaha Hold Em.

Rake In the Ranking Rules

Though many rule variations exist, we’ll talk about the eight most common rule variants. These can flip a game upside down and can even make forget everything you thought you knew about poker.

Certain players believe some of these rules are only incorporated by amateurs, but with variety being the spice of life, I’d have to disagree with that. These twists can turn your crummy hand into a sure fire winner and turn your royal flush into the guaranteed loser of the game.

High Low

In lowball, the lowest hand wins the pot. With different circles, you have different rules as to whether aces count as high or low cards, as well as the effects of straights and flushes. The most common games using lowball are Razz and 2-7 Triple Draw.

Then, you have high low split, in which the highest hand and lowest hand split the pot. There is usually a qualifier for the low hand, such as the low hand must have 5 cards with ranks of 8 or less. Most of the time, a high low game observes the usual rank of poker hands, so an unsuited broken straight (2, 3, 4, 5, 7) wins low. One variant, based on lowball, in which only the low hand wins, a straight or flush has no bearing, so the best low hand would be A, 2, 3, 4, 5, suited or not.

Joyfully Jab the Jerk

Next you’ve got a rule in which players can pass cards to each other. One example would be Anaconda (also known as pass the trash, screw your neighbor, 3 2 1 left), in which each player is dealt seven cards. After dealing, each player selects three cards to pass to the player on their left. The cards are placed face down near the player.

After each player has set down the pass cards, everyone gets to see their new hand. Each player then selects two cards to pass to the same player to their left, followed by another round in which one card is passed. After the three rounds of passing, each player is allowed to select two discards to form their best five-card poker hand.

Another rule variant, which I’ve seen many a player scoff at, is when wild cards are introduced. This can be as simple as deuces wild or one eyed jacks wild to the 7 card stud variant named baseball.

A twist round is one in which players can buy another card from the deck, and if it’s not to their liking, they have the option of purchasing another card by adding money to the pot. This is at times called a ‘tittle.’

Pot Payment Please

A kill game is when a fixed limit game is played and a player wins two pots in a row, the stakes are doubled. In some split pot games, a player winning both halves of the pot may also cause a kill. In some variants of lowball, a player may choose to kill by doubling the bet after seeing the first two cards.

A stripped deck may also be used. The earliest games of poker were played with only 20 cards. In keeping with poker history, players will play with a stripped deck, such as in Spanish Poker (or synthetic poker), a variation on Texas Hold Em. In this game, only 28 cards are in play (8 through ace, in all four suits). The ace can be played as a low card, as if it were a 7 or as a high card. Poker hand ratings are the same as Hold Em, except that a flush beats a full house.

The last rule variant we’ll cover here is roll your own. Played in stud games, this allows a player to determine which of his or her cards are turned up and visible to the others. In a game like 7 card stud, the ‘roll’ action only applies to the first three cards, which are dealt face down. The player then decides which card should be exposed.

After which, the game carries on as usual. A game like Mexican Stud, on the other hand, applies the roll option throughout the game. Two cards are dealt face down, and players roll one card up. The game continues as in 5 card stud, except the cards are all dealt face down, and each player then decides which of the two down cards is exposed.

Free the Fantastic Five

Though there are tons of variations that can be made by just what we’ve listed above, not everything can fit into such a nice package. There are many specific poker variant games, and some of them have features of the rules and categories we’ve listed above. Most of the variants I’m speaking of are played in home games, usually as part of dealer’s choice format. A few of these games are High Chicago, Follow the Queen, Countdown, and Shanghai.

Five-O Poker is a variant of heads up poker (played between two players only) in which both players must play five hands of five cards simultaneously. Four of the five cards of each hand are face up. Once all five hands are dealt, there is a single round of betting.

The winner is determined by matching each hand to the corresponding hand of the opponent. The player with the stronger hand in 3 (or more) of the 5 columns wins, unless a player folds on a bet that was made. If a player beats with all five hands, this is called a Five-O win. This kind of game would make my head spin. I can’t imagine trying to play with more than two players, and I wonder where the heck they came up with the name of the game?


Though we were only able to cover a minimal amount of subject matter here, I’m sure it’s plain as day how many variants can be played with just the categories and rule variations we’ve covered here today. In addition to what we’ve gone through here, there are also non standard poker hands, which can vastly expand your horizons playing at home with your poker buddies.

What are your favorite kinds of poker? Was there anything you’d like other readers to know about or do you have any suggestions for future posts? Please comment below!

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. ...

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