Poker/Five card draw

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Note: Throughout the chapter, we will provide several sample hands with which to illustrate the various rules and strategies of five card draw. Each example is independent of any prior hand. Thus, rules regarding the rotation of dealership, order of play, and other such logistical facts will not apply, unless explicitly stated.

"Welcome to the table, everyone," Alex says as he sits himself down. "So, what kind of game are we playing tonight? Five-ten? Ten-twenty?"

"Ten-twenty sounds alright to me," Dana answers, and everyone nods in agreement.

"Well, I guess I'll just start as the button, if no one objects," Alex continues as he shuffles up the deck of cards ...

What the heck is going on here? You might be thinking, "I thought the kind of game was five card draw!" So what's with the talk about ten and twenty? And what's a button, anyway?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Five card draw is a fun and thoughtful game of strategy, skill, and - as with all card games - a bit of luck. It derived from several card games invented in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, but truly flourished as game in the United States in the 1800s. It was a particularly popular game on the American Frontier, as it could be played with merely a deck of cards and anyone who was willing to risk their money at the table.

Rules of Play[edit | edit source]

  • Deck: Standard 52 Card Deck
  • Maximum number of players: 6
  • Wild Cards: None

Five card draw is a very simple game to learn and to play with friends. It requires 2 players, but 3 or more are recommended, with 6 players being the maximum. For the purposes of this chapter, we have drafted five fictional poker players, Alex, Ben, Chris, Dana, and Ellen, who will demonstrate much of the rules and strategies of five card draw. Let's return to our earlier anecdote.

When Alex asked what kind of game they were going to play, he was actually asking what the size of the bets were going to be (also known as the betting structure.) You can't just bet a random amount in a poker game - you have to bet according to predetermined betting increments. As you probably noticed, these betting amounts are called out in sets of two: "five-ten" and "ten-twenty." This is because in poker games with multiple rounds of betting - including five card draw - the betting stakes are raised in subsequent rounds.

Since everyone agreed on "ten-twenty", this means that for the first round of betting, if a player chooses to raise his opponent, he must increase his pot bet by $10, and by $20 in the second round. We'll get to the actual stages of betting later, but for now simply know what a "ten-twenty game" implies about the stakes at the table.

Continuing on with our anecdote, we will note now the general "set up" that goes into each hand. At the very beginning of play, one player is chosen to be the dealer - in this case, Alex. The dealer is also known as the button. This is more or less derived from the fact that, in order to keep track of who dealt last and who was to deal next in the older days, a brass button was handed from dealer to dealer. Over time, this tradition has evolved, and many decorative items are used in place of a plain old button to denote who is next to deal. At most casinos, there is only one house dealer at a poker table, and thus the "button" is merely symbolic in nature, though as we see in the next section it still has an important function in the game.

Before any actual cards are dealt, two initial antes must be placed into the pot in order to encourage play: the small blind and the big blind. The small blind is equal to one-half of the smaller of the two bets in a game. Thus, in a $10/$20 game, the small blind would be $5. This is placed into the pot by the player to the immediate left of the dealer. The big blind, as you can probably guess, is equal to 100% of the smaller bet. Thus, in a $10/$20 game, the big blind would be $10. This is placed into the pot by the player to the immediate left of the small blind. In the case of an unchanging house dealer, these bets are placed by the players to the left of the button. In tournament play, the blinds are consistently raised at set time intervals (usually after a certain number of hands have been played) as a means of speeding up the elimination of players. (We will discuss strategies involving the blinds later in this chapter.)

Once the blinds have been placed on the table, Alex will deal five cards, one at a time, face down to each player (to do otherwise would rename the game!), including himself. He then places the remainder of the deck - called the draw pile - face down near him. Each player now takes up his hand for examination. Hand ranking is discussed in the Basics chapter, for now we will continue with our discussion of the procedures for playing a hand.

Betting begins with the player to the left of the big blind - in our case, Ben was the small blind and Chris was the big blind, so play begins with Dana. Dana has three betting options at her disposal:

  • Dana may simply fold her hand. That is, she places her cards in a discard pile (still face down) and is no longer eligible to win the hand.
  • Dana may call. To call a bet at any time, a player must match the highest bet placed thus far on the table. Since Chris's $10 big blind is the highest bet, it will cost Dana $10 in order to call.
  • Dana may raise. To raise a bet, a player must exceed the highest bet placed by one betting increment. Since Chris's $10 big blind is the highest bet, Dana must pay $20 to raise.

Let's assume Dana folds her hand (another name for folding is mucking.) Play then continues to Ellen. Ellen has the same three options as Dana. Let's assume she chooses to call, and Alex chooses to call as well.

Ben, as the small blind, has the same three choices as the other players have had. However, since he has already invested $5 into the pot, and he only has to match the highest bet placed, Ben would only have to place $5 more into the pot in order to call, and only $15 in order to raise. Ben decides his hand is no good and folds.

For Chris, the big blind, the situation is somewhat different. If someone had chosen to raise the pot, he would have had the same options as the other players: he could fold, call the bet, or raise his bet on top of the previous raise (also known as re-raising.) However, since no one has raised the pot, Chris can choose to check - he has already matched the highest bet on the table, and so he can remain in the pot without having to put in any additional money. Chris chooses to check, and now the round of discarding begins.

Each player has the option of discarding up to 3 cards from his or her hand. In games with 5 or less players, the rules can allow for the discarding of up to 4 cards - this is up to the players at the table. A player can of course choose to discard 0 cards if they feel their hand is strong enough. Once a player has discarded his or her cards, the dealer deals them a number of cards from the draw pile equal to what they have discarded.

A second round of betting now ensues. As was stated earlier, the minimum bet is now $20. The first player to act is the closest player to the dealer's left who is still in the hand. In our case, Ben the small blind has folded, and so Chris is the first to act. Since no new money has entered the pot, Chris elects to check. Ellen is the next to act, and she bets $20. Alex calls her $20, and Chris folds his hand. Alex and Ellen then turn over their hands, and the best hand wins the pot (a whopping $75, if you weren't keeping track!)