How to Play | Poker Games

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On television and in movies, most depictions of poker games nowadays show Texas hold'em, by far the most popular poker game over the past 15 years. But there's more to poker than just hold'em - there's a wide range of poker games with different structures and strategies, and poker has something for just about everyone.

Here's a rundown of the different forms of the game played at the World Series of Poker and on

Texas Hold'em (Offered at: Online, WSOP, WSOPC, WSOPE)

In Texas Hold'em poker (usually shortened to just "Hold'em"), each player receives two cards face down. After a round of betting, give community cards are dealt face up on the center of the table - first three cards (called the "flop"), followed by another round of betting. Then the fourth card (the "turn") and another betting round. And then the fifth card (the "river") and a final round of betting.

Players use the seven cards they have available - two in their hand and five community cards - to make the best five-card poker hand.

Hold'em poker games are most often played no-limit, meaning players can bet all of their chips at any point in the hand. It is also common for it to be played with fixed limits, where each bet or raise is a set amount.

Omaha (Offered at: Online, WSOP, WSOPC, WSOPE)

Omaha poker is structured much like hold'em, but each player receives four cards face down. The flop, turn, and river are dealt face up just like in hold'em, with betting rounds in between. At showdown, players must use exactly two of their face-down cards and three from the board to make a five-card poker hand.

There are several popular varieties of Omaha. It is often played pot-limit, where the maximum amount of each bet or raise is equal to the size of the pot. It is also often played as a high-low split game, where the best hand wins half the pot and the lowest hand wins the other half. The high-low split variation may be played either pot-limit or with fixed limits.

Seven Card Stud (Offered at: Online, WSOP)

Unlike hold'em or Omaha, in seven card stud there are no community cards. To start, each player is dealt three cards, two face down and one face up. After a round of betting, each player receives three more face up cards, one at a time with a round of betting between each one. Then the seventh card (the "river") is dealt face down and there's a final round of betting. Each player can use five of their seven cards to make the best poker hand possible. The game is usually played with fixed limits.

There are a couple common variants of Seven Card Stud. Razz is seven card stud lowball, where the lowest hand wins the pot instead of the highest. And Seven Card Stud High-Low Eight or Better (often called abbreviated Stud/8) is a combination of razz and seven card high; half the pot goes to the high hand, the other half to the lowest hand.

Draw Games (Offered at: WSOP)

In draw poker each player is given a starting hand (usually five cards, in some cases four), and has the opportunity to exchange some of his or her cards for new ones (that is, draw from the deck) before the showdown.

5-Card Draw (Offered at: WSOP)

Before the explosion of Texas Hold'em's popularity, 5-card draw was the most common form of poker in movies, television, and at casual kitchen table games. Each player is given five cards. There's one round of betting. Each player has the opportunity to draw. Then there's a final betting round and a showdown. The game uses standard poker hand rankings - royal flush is best, followed by a straight flush, four of a kind, etc.

Lowball Draw (Offered at: WSOP)

In lowball draw games, the hand rankings are essentially reversed, so the "worst" hand wins. There are two common styles of determining the lowest hand.

In 2-7 Lowball (sometimes called Kansas City Lowball), straights and flushes count against you, and aces are always high. So the best possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7, with at least two different suits.

In A-5 Lowball (or California Lowball), straights and flushes are ignored, and aces count as low. The hand with the lowest unpaired cards wins, and the best possible hand is A-2-3-4-5.

Lowball draw games may be played no-limit - with one round of betting, one draw, another round of betting, and a showdown. Or they may be played with fixed limits. Fixed limit lowball games are typically Triple Draw. As the name implies, there are three opportunities to draw, and there's a betting round between each.

Badugi (Offered at: WSOP)

Badugi is a triple draw lowball variant in which each player receives four cards. There are three draws, with a round of betting between each. Badugi differs from other lowball games because of its hand rankings. Having more than one card of the same suit counts against you. So the best hand is A-2-3-4 of four different suits.

Badugi has spawned a couple other fun variants. Badacey is a combination of Badugi and A-5 lowball. It's a split pot game. Half the pot goes to the best badugi hand, the other half to the best A-5 hand.

Badeucey is a similar. It's combination of badugi and 2-7 lowball. Half the pot goes to the best badugi hand, and the other half to the best 2-7 hand. In badeucey, the best Badugi hand is 2-3-4-5 of different suits. Aces are always considered high.

Watch & Learn the basics of Badugi:

HORSE and other Mixed Games (Offered at: WSOP)

Mixed games involve two or more of varieties of poker. Usually the game will change after a set number of hands, or after a full round at the table.

The most famous mixed poker game tournament HORSE, which is an acronym for the five games in the mix: (limit Hold'em, limit Omaha hi-lo, Razz, Stud, and Stud E ight).

Other common mixed game tournaments are 8-Game Mix (which includes the five HORSE games, plus no-limit hold'em, pot-limit Omaha, and 2-7 triple draw lowball), and 10-Game Mix (which includes everything from 8-game mix, plus no-limit 2-7 single draw and badugi.)

Table Size

Besides choosing the type of poker game to play online or with your friends, there are other important elements that make up an exciting game of poker. Consider choosing the number of the players. The number of people playing can change the ideal poker strategy. There are three types of table sizes to choose from:

  • Full ring poker games: The size of the table is typically 9 to 10 players. The game play is usually slow and less frantic as 20-30 hands per hour are dealt at the table. The speed of the play depends on the decision making of each player. When playing with 9 to 10 players, the typical strategy that is played is conservative compared to playing shorthanded or head to head. Full ring games are ideal for multi-table players.
  • Short-handed poker games:  Can consist of 3 – 8 poker players at the table. More hands are dealt in an hour of play and the typical poker strategy is more aggressive than in full ring games. Playing short-handed often occurs during a tournament, and in cash games in late evening or early morning, during off-peak hours.
  • Heads up poker games:  Are played between two people. Self-discipline is key to playing heads up as there can be 150 – 200 hands dealt within the hour so a lack in concentration can cause a costly mistake which players can lose most of their stack. You’re most likely to experience heads up play in a tournament final table or in cash games.

Betting structures

Poker betting structures are the second important element in making up an ideal game. There are three basic types of betting structures in poker:

  • No-limit poker games: The rules to betting are simple. Players can bet all their chips at any time.  Bluffing at no-limit poker games adds to the excitement of playing as the payoffs are huge, and no-limit games tend to attract more players than fixed-limit games.
  • Pot-limit poker games:  In pot-limit poker, the maximum that a player can bet or raise is the current size of the pot. The maximum bet is declared by a player calling either “raise pot” or “pot”.
  • Fixed-limit poker games:  Fixed-limit poker was traditionally the most popular form of Texas hold’em when the World Series of Poker started nearly 50 years ago. In fixed-limit games, the amount of all bets and raises is determined by the specified stake at the start of the hand. The total number of raises in a betting round can be capped to three or four. Fixed limit is often good for beginners as betting mistakes are less costly compared to other forms of the game

Mixing the three elements of game type, table size and betting structure can added to the excitement and enjoyment of a poker game. Experiment with all three elements to find out the game of your choice.


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