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how to play draw poker games

How to Play Draw Poker Games

Pull up your trousers and put on your reading glasses, because I’m about to teach you how to play draw poker.

This article will give you an overview of the most popular draw poker games, as well as some variations that you’ve probably never even heard of. To help you come out on top, strategic tips for certain game types are included as well.

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How to Play Draw Poker Step-by-Step

There are many different types of draw poker games which each have unique rules. However, each of them begins like this:

Step 1: Post the Blinds
The player to the direct left of the dealer button posts the small blind and the next player to the left posts the big blind (which is 2x the size of the small blind).

Step 2: Deal Cards to Each Player
Each player at the table gets the same number of cards. In most, but not all draw poker games, you will start with five cards (see the game sections below for variations).

Step 3: Betting Round
The player to the direct left of the big blind acts first — he can fold, call the size of the big blind, or raise. Action continues clockwise until the final player folds or calls.

Step 4: Draw Cards
Starting with the small blind, each player selects which cards (if any) they would like to discard. Then, each player gets replacement card(s) for each card they discarded.

Step 5: Second Betting Round
The small blind now acts first — he can check or bet. Action continues clockwise until the final player folds or calls.

Some draw poker games feature three draws, in which case step 4 and 5 are repeated two times. Regardless of the game type, the final step is…

Final Step: Showdown
Each player who has not folded shows their hand. The pot is then rewarded to the player with the best hand according to the hand rankings of that game type — most games use the traditional rankings of poker hands.

Draw poker games can be played as limit (with fixed bet sizings), pot-limit (where you can bet up to the size of the current pot) or no-limit (where you can bet any amount up to your current stack). For more information on each of these betting formats, as well as a more detailed look at how betting rounds work, take a look at this article on betting rules.

Now, let’s get more specific.

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Specific Draw Poker Games

Before Rounders, any movie with a poker scene had the stereotypical five card draw setup:

A bunch of old dudes sitting around a card table, chain smoking cigars and telling the dealer “I’ll take two.” Then, statistically unlikely things happen, like a straight flush beating four-of-a-kind.  Also Mel Gibson might be there. 

mel gibson draw poker

The point is, pretty much everyone kind of knows the rules to five card draw because it’s a very simple game. Let me quickly refresh your memory, then we’ll move into other draw poker game types.

Five Card Draw

Everyone gets five cards with two players posting the small blind and the big blind.

There’s a round of betting after the initial deal, then everyone discards however many cards they want (starting with the small blind and moving clockwise).

Each player gets replacement cards. Then there’s another round of betting.

Finally, each player who hasn’t folded goes to showdown and the best five card poker hand wins (using traditional poker hand rankings).

That’s it. It’s super simple, which is why it’s great in movies.

Draw poker deck of cards

Why I’m Not Going to Write About Five Card Draw Strategy

I’m going to explain the basic strategy you should use for some of the game types that follow, but not five card draw because…

Basically no one plays this game anymore. Why?

Modern day poker players like lots of action. They like lots of swings. Betting and raising and check-raising. Snowing (we’ll get to that). It’s hard to do any of that in five card draw.

If you’ve played five card draw, you already know this: it’s really hard to improve your hand, so generally whatever you get dealt is what you’re going to have.

That’s boring. You’re probably bored with this explanation.

The more popular forms of draw poker in 2020 are “lowball” games.

Lowball Draw Poker

Lowball is just inverting the normal poker rankings so that the “worst” hand wins.

There are two major versions of lowball hand rankings:

  • Ace to five (aka California Lowball)
    Aces are low under these hand rankings, and straights and flushes don’t count against you. The best possible hand in ace to five lowball is A-2-3-4-5.
  • Deuce to seven (aka Kansas City Lowball). 
    Aces are high and straights and flushes do count against you. In other words, deuce to seven rankings are the exact inversion of traditional hand rankings. The best possible hand in deuce to seven lowball is 2-3-4-5-7.

From here, the world is your oyster. The number of variants of lowball will blow your mind. Here are the most popular draw games currently played in casinos and mix games around the world.

Deuce to Seven Lowball

Commonly referred to as just “deuce.”

This is the preeminent draw game. It’s almost impossible to find a limit mix game that doesn’t include this game in some fashion. It’s super straightforward, action-heavy and very complex while also being the most accessible game in most mixes.

There are two general ways to play:

  • Limit Deuce to Seven Triple Draw: Three draws with a limit betting structure.
  • No Limit Deuce to Seven Single Draw: One draw with a No Limit betting structure.

The No Limit version has the reputation of being one of the most skill intensive games in the history of poker. There’s very little to it, but massive amounts of money tend to exchange hands over games of deuce.

Deuce to Seven Lowball Strategy

To get you started, here are a few basic strategy tips on deuce.

Tip 1: Deuces are Powerful

If it’s in the name of the game, it’s usually pretty good. Having a deuce in your opening hand is incredibly important, since the best hand you can make without having a deuce is 86543, which is the 9th best possible hand. So if you want to be able to make some real money, make sure you don’t start without a deuce.

Tip 2: Straight Draws Suck

Starting with four low cards in a row like 2-3-4-5 may look really strong, but since catching a 6 will give you a straight, you are actually going to brick a lot of draws with this hand. 2-3-4-5 is still very playable, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this hand is the best draw possible.

Side note: 2-3-4-7 is actually the best draw you can have, because catching a 5 or a 6 will give you the best or second best possible hands, respectively.

Tip 3: The Person Who Draws the Fewest Cards Drives the Action

If there are draws left, any deuce player worth their salt will check to the person who drew fewer cards than everyone else. They don’t even need to look at their hand, because they know they’re a favorite to still be ahead. Basically all game dynamics stem from this basic concept.

Tip 4: Blockers are Super Important!

Over the course of the hand, if you’ve discarded multiple of a card that might be important (like starting with a hand of 22257) then you can make assumptions about what kinds of hands your opponents have.

Any premium hand should have a deuce in it. So if you have three of the deuces and you’re up against two opponents, for example, you know for sure that one of them is starting with a pretty bad holding.

If you see enough key cards, you can make an expert maneuver called a “snow.” A snow is deciding to turn your draw into a bluff by drawing zero cards (called “standing pat”), then you take aggressive actions to represent a strong hand, hoping to force your opponent(s) to fold. This is a good way of incorporating bluffs into your draw poker game.

Badugi

Badugi only appeared since poker became big, but it has taken the mixed game community by storm. It’s the basis for several split pot draw games, so you’ll have to know the basic rules in order to keep up.

The first difference you’ll notice about this low-hand-wins game: you only get four cards.

Also, suits matter. Your goal is not just to avoid a flush — if you have even two cards of the same suit in your hand, the highest of those two cards doesn’t count.

The best hand is A-2-3-4 with each card being different suits.

badugi best possible draw poker hand

But, for example, if you have A♠-2♠-3-4 (notice that the ace and deuce are the same suits), you only have a three card hand of A-3-4. This is still a decent hand, since it’s pretty difficult to make a hand with four different suits (called a badugi). Just know that even terrible badugis, like K♠-Q♣-J-9, will beat you.

The game is typically played with a limit betting structure and three draws, but there have been rare places that will try playing it pot-limit with three draws.

Now that you know the basic rules of badugi, you’ve unlocked two of the hottest games in draw poker these days.

Badeucey & Badacey

(Some may spell these game type names differently. They’re wrong. Don’t @ me.)

These are triple draw split pot draw games (say that five times fast) where half the pot goes to the best badugi hand and half the pot goes to the best five card hand.

The difference between Badeucey and Badacey lies in the five card hand part of the rules:

  • Badeucey uses deuce to seven lowball hand rankings.
  • Badacey uses ace to five lowball hand rankings.

These games became very popular in the last decade and most mixed games contain one or both of them. Mix players like these games because, though they seem as simple as the straight deuce or ace-5 games they come from, they’re much more complex after adding badugi as a factor. The unique rules make it so you cannot simply play the same hands in the same way and expect to do well.

Badeucey & Badacey Strategy

By far the most important factor in these games is having the best badugi. It’s much harder to make a strong badugi than it is a strong five card hand, though having the extra card helps a great deal.

If you were to have a hand like 2♠-3♠-4♠-7 in a regular deuce game, you’re very happy. In this game, the three spades mean you have a garbage hand.

There are rare instances where this isn’t the case, but unless you get dealt a monster, like a strong pat hand with only two suits, it behooves you to bite the bullet and try to make the badugi first. Otherwise it’ll be very hard to win more than half of the pot.

Archie

Find Jughead, because we’re about to play some Archie.

Archie only came about in the last few years. It’s only really popular in Phoenix and Vegas, but it’s a high action game that plays great with a full table.

The big draw to Archie is that it’s played hi/lo, meaning the best high hand splits the pot with the best low hand. The crazy part is that both hands have to “qualify” in order to have a chance to win.

For the high hand, Vegas usually plays with a pair of sixes qualifier and Phoenix requires nines or better to win. So if your high hand is a pair of fives, you have no chance of winning half of the pot (even if that pair of fives is the best high hand at showdown).

For the low hand, the qualifier is an eight-low or better. So if your low hand is 9-7-5-3-2, you have no chance of winning half of the pot (even if you have the lowest hand at showdown).

Archie is played limit with three draws.

Archie Strategy

Low straights are what you’re looking to make, since it’s nearly impossible to get scooped by only one opponent if you make a low straight.

Also, make sure you know which rules you’re playing, because the difference between Vegas and Pheonix rules are significant.

Drawmaha

Lastly, the newest game on this list.

Drawmaha came about only in the last few years and originated in crazy party games. Nowadays it is played in mid and high stakes games online and live.

The game has a few variants but the base game is played with one draw and is a split pot game. It’s like a mixture of Omaha (with flop-turn-river community cards) and five card draw (with one draw).

Half the pot goes to the best five card draw hand and half the pot goes to the best five card Omaha hand. The one draw takes place after flop action is complete.

So the step-by-step way to play this game is:

Step 1: Preflop/pre-draw betting round.

Step 2: The flop is dealt and there is another round of betting.

Step 3: Each player draws as many cards as they want.

Step 4: The turn is dealt and there is another round of betting.

Step 5: The river is dealt and there is a final round of betting.

Step 6: Each player who hasn’t folded shows their hand.

At showdown, the person with the best five card draw hand gets half of the pot. The other half of the pot goes to the person with the best Omaha hand using two of their hole cards and three of the community cards.

Dramaha Strategy

Drawmaha is slightly more intricate than it looks, but for the most part you’re looking to start (or make) the best five card draw hand.

Because you only get one draw, it’s very hard to improve your hand. A strong two pair or dealt trips is going to be a big winner most of the time.

A typical hand might be AAJ82 with the AJ of diamonds. On a flop of QT3 with two diamonds, you can draw the 8 and 2, which lets you keep your flush draw and still have a good chance of making two pair or trips in your five card hand while mostly maximizing your chances of making a strong Omaha hand.

A Brief History of Draw Poker

Draw poker’s history is quite fascinating. The game dates back to the Middle Ages, but its popularity spiked when it was brought to the American West, where Five Card Draw became a staple of the era and was synonymous with tough outlaws who prided themselves on their poker-playing prowess.

Initially, Five Card Draw was played with 20 cards—tens to aces in each suit—with no draw, despite its name. Obviously, this limited the hands players could make. Then, during the 1820s, players began playing Five Card Draw with a full deck of cards. Not only did this increase the types of potential hands to include straights and flushes, it also allowed for more players in a hand. And, of course, the “draw” aspect of the game was born.

Draw poker’s essential feature lies in the fact that each player receives what could be a complete hand before any betting begins. The game then progresses as players discard and replace (“draw”) cards and additional betting ensues. The betting structure—whether there are antes and/or blinds—as well as betting limits vary depending on the game’s location, players, and host.

With increased popularity, Five Card Draw migrated to American gambling staples such as New Orleans and onto Mississippi riverboats. During the Civil War, Five Card Draw was popular with soldiers in both the North and South.

However, with the advent of other poker games such as Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw began to wane in popularity. While it hasn’t regained its former limelight, Five Card Draw continues to be played on video poker machines, some online sites, and at some home games.

What is your favorite draw poker game?

Let us know in the comments below!

Until next time.

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Jimmy Fricke

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