The card game of poker has many variations, most of them created in the United States in the mid-1900s. The standard order of play applies to most of these games, but to fully specify a poker game requires details about which hand values are used, the number of betting rounds, and exactly what cards are dealt and what other actions are taken between rounds.
Popular poker variants
The most populate poker variants can be divided into the following groups:
- Draw poker: Games in which players are dealt a complete hand, hidden, and then improve it by replacing cards. The most common of these is Five-card draw.
- Stud poker: Games in which each player receives a combination of face-up cards and face-down cards in multiple betting rounds. The most common of these are Seven-card stud and Five-card stud.
- Community card poker: Games in which each player’s incomplete hidden hand is combined with shared face-up cards. The most common of these are Texas hold ’em and Omaha hold’em.
Other poker variants
Some poker games just don’t fit neatly into the above categories, and some have features of more than one of these categories.
Stud Horse poker
Stud Horse poker is mentioned in the California law books as one of the gambling games prohibited in California’s card rooms. There is no definition for it under the law, however. It appears not to be Stud poker, which is not prohibited and is offered in several variations in California card rooms.
Though called “stud”, this is a combination stud/community card game that was popular at MIT in the 1960s, in which players receive individual downcards, individual upcards, and community cards. Many variations on this are possible by changing what kinds of cards and how many are dealt in various rounds.
One difficulty with such a combination is deciding the betting order: in stud games, the player with the best upcards showing bets first in each round (except sometimes the first, where the worst upcard is forced to begin the betting with a Bring-in). In community card games, each betting round begins with the same player (because there generally are no upcards), making it more positional. Oxford stud chooses to use the players’ individual upcards for determining order, which makes it play more like stud.
First, each player is dealt two downcards and one upcard as in seven-card stud, followed by a first betting round. Like stud, the game is usually played with a Bring-in, the lowest upcard being forced to pay it, and betting follows after that. After the first round is complete, two community cards are dealt to the table, followed by a second betting round, beginning with the player with the highest-ranking incomplete poker hand (as in stud) made from his upcard plus the two community cards. For example, if one player has a K upcard, and a second player has a 7 upcard, and the community cards are T-7 (T = 10), the second player bets first (since he has a pair of 7s, and the other player only has K-high). Then a second upcard is dealt to each player, followed by a third betting round, again beginning with the player who can make the best partial hand with his two upcards and the board. Finally, a third community card is dealt to table, followed by a fourth betting round and showdown. Note that as with Mississippi stud, each player has five cards of his hand exposed at this point (two of his own plus three on the board), so it is possible for a flush or straight to be the high hand for the purpose of first bet. At showdown each player makes the best five-card hand he can from the four cards he is dealt plus the three community cards, in any combination. This game is usually played High-low split.
Billabong (and Shanghai)
Just as Oxford stud is a mixed stud/community card version of Texas hold ’em, Billabong is a mixed version of Manila. Each player is dealt two downcards and one upcard. Low upcard starts the betting with a Bring-in if you are playing with one, otherwise high card starts the betting. Next, two community cards are dealt, followed by a second betting round, beginning with the player with the best exposed partial poker hand (counting the community cards, as in Oxford stud). Then a third community card is dealt, followed by a third betting round. Finally a fourth community card is dealt, followed by a fourth betting round and showdown. Each player plays the best five-card hand he can make from the three in his hand plus the four on the board in any combination.
Shanghai is the same game with an extra hole card, but no more than two hole cards play. That is, the game begins with each player being dealt three downcards and one upcard; each player must discard one of his hole cards at some point during the game as determined ahead of time. The most common variation is to discard immediately as in Pineapple; the second most common is to discard just before showdown as in Tahoe.
Rather than the customary rounds of betting followed by a single showdown, guts features multiple rounds, each of which consist of the decision to be “in” or “out”, and each of which contains a showdown. Only the players who stay “in” participate in the showdown. In the most common version, the player who stays in with the best hand receives the current pot, while all other players who stayed in must match the pot to form the next pot. For example, if the pot is $5 and three people stay in, then one player will receive the $5 pot and two players will be forced to add $5 each to the next pot, escalating the size of the pot for the next deal. Then the hand is re-dealt, and all players (even those who were “out” in the last round) can participate again. The game ends when only a single player has the guts to stay “in”, and thus the pot is taken without replenishment.
Each player’s hand usually consists of a reduced poker hand of either 2 or 3 cards. The cards are ranked as in regular 5-card poker, but in some variations straights and flushes count and in some they do not.
Another variation is for three-card guts. The hands are ranked as follows: Three of a kind, straight flush, straight, flush, pair. Each player receives two cards face down. In turn, each player declares whether they’re in or out. If they’re in, they receive their third card face up. The dealer declares last; if no other player has stayed in, then the dealer must have a pair or better to win the pot. Another variation is for the other players to have another chance to declare and challenge the dealer. With this variation, there is no requirement for the dealer’s hand; if no one challenges him, the dealer wins.
Declaring “in” or “out” is similar to declaring high or low in high-low games. Each player takes a chip, places their hands under the table, and either places the chip in one fist or not. Each player then holds their closed fist above the table, and the players simultaneously open their hands to reveal their decision (a chip represents “in”, an empty hand represents “out”).
Because the pot can double (or more) each round, the stakes can grow exponentially, and pots of 50 or 100 times the original ante are possible.
There are many variations. Sometimes only the single player with the worst hand (who stayed in) must add to the pot, but they must double the pot rather than match it. In an especially vicious variation, nobody wins the pot unless nobody else stays in. This can degenerate quickly, when one player must add a large amount to the pot, and decides to stay in until he wins it back. Thus the game continues indefinitely, with one player continually adding larger and larger amounts to the pot. The pot may grow so big that no player has enough cash to match it, leading to arguments about how to end the game. (This variation is not recommended when playing among friends. Often this variation is abandoned after the first really big pot leads to conflict.)
One solution to the exponentially growing pots is to cap them at 50x or 100x the ante. That is, if there are 5 players with an ante of $1, the pot started at $5. If there were 3 doublings, the pot is now at $40. Suppose the “cap the pot at $50” rule were in force. Then, if another doubling occurred, each loser would pay $40, but the pot would now be at $50 and the extra $30 would be set aside as the ante once there’s a hand with a winner and no loser.