Top 10 Poker Game Variations

Some of us remember a simpler time, when poker just meant games of five-card draw with your grandparents, using penny candy instead of chips. But the game has developed over the years, and many online poker sites now offer all kinds of variations, from the simple to the complex. Here is a handy guide, so next time one of your buddies brags about the game he was playing last week you can surprise him with your extensive knowledge.

1. Texas Hold'em

Texas Hold'em

Texas Hold'em is the most recognizable version of poker game in 2017, helped no doubt by its use in the World Series of Poker Main Event. It's simple enough: each player gets two hole cards dealt face-down and uses those - along with five face-up 'community' cards available to everyone in the hand. The first three community cards are called the flop, the fourth is the turn and the fifth the river. There are betting rounds before the flop, turn and river and after the river has been dealt - and the winning player is the one with the best five-card hand after the final round of betting, using one or two of their hole cards and three or four community cards.

Biggest Cheats In Texas Hold'em History

Hold'em, like poker itself, has a history of cheats and scoundrels. The old Wild West gamblers would have cheated and angled their way to big, big pots (and used a gun if they had to).

More recently, the fledgling online poker industry has given rise to scandals of its own. And they don't come much more scandalous than POTRIPPER.

POTRIPPER was the online alias of an Absolute Poker who used his software's 'God mode' to view opponents' hole cards. He proceeded to fleece online customers of millions of dollars before being caught. Absolute Poker would get into more hot water in 2011 after Black Friday shut down their operations. It emerged that the site owed players (many in the US) millions.

A similar scandal took place at Ultimate Bet, where owner Russ Hamilton was implicated in another case of 'super user' scamming. UltimateBet employees cheated their way to millions by spying on customers' hole cards. High-stakes players like Mike Matusow were particularly hard hit and lost up to $20 million over several years on the site.

2. Omaha

Omaha

With Omaha, you get four cards instead of the two in Texas Hold'em, but you have to use exactly two of those four along with three of the community cards. The betting rounds are the same as in Texas Hold'em, but the best starting hands in Texas Hold'em - such as a pocket kings or pocket aces - are not as strong a favorite in Omaha. Most online poker rooms and live poker tours offer Pot Limit Omaha cash games and tournaments, where players are not allowed to bet more than the amount already in the pot.

Biggest Omaha Pots Ever

Despite being played Pot Limit, Omaha is a great game for players who love action. The draws and re-draws make Omaha one of the swingiest games around, much more so than Texas Hold'em.

And when played at high stakes, that can create serious fireworks. Take a quartet of the sickest online Omaha puppies of the last 10 years: Tom "durrrr" Dwan, Phil Ivey, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, and Patrik Antonius. And if you want to throw in some really sick action, add Great Dane Gus Hansen to the mix too.

Young Swede "Isildur1" appeared on the scene around 2009 and marked himself out with his fearless style. Playing $5000/10000 PLO against another fearless opponent in Phil Ivey, Isildur1 found himself with a full house (K-K-5-4 on a K-J-J-10-5 board) against Ivey. After calling an all-in, Ivey mucked after seeing the bad news and lost a pot worth over $1.1 million.

Isildur1 found himself on the wrong end of a million-dollar pot shortly after. The victor this time was Patrik Antonius who hit a straight with A-K-K-3 on a flop of 4-5-2. Isildur1 was going nowhere with 9-8-7-6 and the chance for a better straight. However, the turn and river bricked to send $1.35 million hurtling into Antonius's account.

3. Seven-card Stud

Seven Card Stud

Before the poker boom in the early 21st-century, seven-card stud was actually a more popular game than Texas Hold'Em. Each hand starts with players being dealt two cards face-down and one face-up, and betting starts with the player who has the lowest face-up card. There is a round of betting after each card dealt, with the fourth, fifth and sixth cards dealt face up and the seventh face-down. As with Texas Hold'em, the aim is to end with the best five-card hand, however there are no community cards dealt in stud. Six-card and five-card versions are also played, but less frequently.

Top 3 Seven-Card Stud Players In The World

Phil Hellmuth Jr. - Phil Hellmuth has an incredible 14 World Series of Poker bracelets to his name. However, he was the butt of gentle jokes for years for his record's overwhelming bias towards Hold'em.

Hellmuth has expanded his repertoire recently and has begun bagging big results in non-Hold'em events. And Stud is appearing more and more on Phil's results list. He has eight major WSOP Stud cashes to his name (including five final tables) and three have come in the prestige $10,000 Championship events.

Phil Ivey - When not trying to beat casinos at their own game, Phil Ivey likes to focus on more poker matters. But one of the best Hold'em and Omaha players in the world is also a mean Stud opponent. Phil has three WSOP bracelets in Stud (two in Hi-Lo and one in regular 7-card Stud). He has another five final table finishes and just under a million in cash prizes.

Doyle Brunson - It wouldn't be right to make a list of great Stud players without mentioning Texas Dolly. Stud would have formed a big part of the early WSOP schedules, and Doyle has three bracelets in the discipline (all 7-card Stud). Despite his three bracelets coming in the 1970s, he still managed a final table in 2009 when 164 runners turned out for the $10,000 Championship.

4. Razz

Razz

Razz, like stud, sees players dealt seven cards each, with the first two and the seventh all dealt face down. However Razz is a lowball poker game, which means the lowest hand wins - you want to avoid hitting a pair, and the best possible hand is A-2-3-4-5 (a 'wheel'). The World Series of Poker holds a Razz bracelet event, and past winners include Phil Hellmuth.

3 Things You Didn't Know About Razz

  1. It's A Game For The Old School - Razz has been played in American cardrooms for decades. And some of its biggest gambling legends have made their bankrolls in the game.

    Archie Karas was an impoverished Greek waiter who turned up in LA with a few dollars in his pocket. The legend goes that he turned an initial $10,000 loan into three times that playing $200/400 Razz. However, over the years he built up a bankroll worth millions playing pool and high-stakes Razz. He would boast about later losing a fortune worth $40 million.
  2. Stu Ungar Was A Mean Player - Stu Ungar won three WSOP bracelets (two of them back to back in 1980/1981) in Texas Hold'em, and started his gambling career hustling Gin Rummy. However, "The Kid" was also a tough Razz player and took on (who else?) Archie Karas in a massive heads-up game. After a days-long session, Stuey had won half a million dollars.
  3. Razz Wasn't Televised Until 2004 - If you think the modern poker boom was all about Hold'em, think again. The final table of the 2004 WSOP Razz event was put on TV by ESPN. And they lucked out as legend, TJ Cloutier, took down the event for $90,500. Dutch Boyd and Howard Lederer took 2nd and 3rd respectively.

5. Five-card Draw

Five Card Draw

Five-card draw is one of the simplest versions of poker, but tends to be played more for fun than in a competitive environment. Each player begins by being dealt five cards face-down, and have the opportunity to 'draw' cards from the deck, putting one or more of their cards at the bottom of the deck and replacing them with the same number from the top. There are betting rounds before and after the draw, with the best five-card hand winning at showdown.

Top Places To Play Five-Card Draw

Most poker players start out with some kind of Draw game. Even Yahtzee is a form of primitive Draw as players must decide which dice to "discard" or keep. And video poker works just like 5-card Draw in many respects.

It's been some years since the World Series of Poker ran a 5-card Draw event, so players wanting to win real money will have to head online.

PokerStars spreads Five Card Draw in both Pot Limit and No Limit varieties. In most cases, tournaments are run as heads-up SNGs with varying buy-ins. However, you can still find fairly popular Pot Limit cash games running at most times.

6. Omaha Hi-Lo

Omaha

Also known as 'Omaha/8', this variant is similar to Omaha in the sense that each player starts with four cards and can use two of them as well as three community cards. However the pot is split between the best 'high' hand and the best 'low' hand. Players aim to get the best low hand, 8-7-6-5-4 or lower, as well as the best high hand, using any two of their four cards for each. This poker variant leads to a lot of split pots, but one player can win the whole pot (also known as 'scooping') if they have the best high and low hands, or if they have the best high hand and there is no possible low hand on the board.

3 Tricks For Beating Your Opponents In Omaha Hi-Lo

  1. Know Your Starting Hands - Omaha Hi-Lo is generally a game where the best hand wins the pot. That means correct hand selection is key when bluffers won't get a lot of action later.

    Good starting hands in Hi-Lo might look like this. A strong pair like A-A or K-K should be mixed up with some low suited cards. This gives you a chance to win the High part of the pot and form straights and low hands with the other halves. Don't be scared to fold a lot of your starting hands.

    A-A-3-2 double suited
    A-A-4-2 double suited
    A-A-5-2 double suited
    A-A-4-3 double suited
    A-A-2-2 double suited
    A-A-5-3 double suited
  2. See As Many Flops As You Can...For The Right Price - Omaha Hi-Lo is played as Limit or Pot Limit most of the time, so raising pre-flop is rarely worth it. You want to go to the flop and hit the nuts, or near-nuts, when you can. You should also be drawing or re-drawing to the nuts on further streets. Don't be afraid to get out of the way on the flop if an opponent gets aggressive.
  3. Remember That You're Aiming For Two Pots - Omaha Hi-Lo is a split-pot game where a low hand will often split the pot with the best high hand. You should ideally be aiming for both halves. Calling all streets with JUST a low, for example, is a bad move. Don't be afraid to fold if you ONLY have a flush or trips where there's no opportunity to get the low hand too.

    If you're used to Texas Hold'em and calculating outs, you may have to re-learn your strategy. Get used to working out how many outs you have available at every point of the game.

7. 2-7 Triple Draw

2-7 Triple Draw

2-7 Triple Draw, sometimes just called 'deuce-to-seven', is a lowball game where players are dealt five cards and have three opportunities to draw cards in the same manner as five-card draw. Aces are high in this variation of poker, meaning the best possible hand is 7-5-4-3-2, also known as 'Number One' as it cannot be beaten.

Biggest Wins In 2-7 Triple Draw

Ben Yu ($232,738): 2-7 Triple Draw numbers rarely hit 100 for a big tournament but it came mighty close in 2017. 80 runners entered the $10,000 Limit 2-7 Lowball Triple Draw Championship in Vegas that year, with Ben Yu taking away first prize. Shaun Deeb took away $143,842 for his 2nd place prize.

John Hennigan ($320,103): 2016 was obviously a bumper year for 2-7 Triple Draw. 125 runners took to the Rio Amazon Room to play a 10k championship event. John Hennigan took away $320,103 for his first prize, and now has WSOP bracelets in four different disciplines.

Tuan Le ($322,756): 109 players turned out for 2015's WSOP edition of the Triple Draw. Tuan Le took away the lion's share of the prizepool, with players like Phil Galfond (4th) and James Obst (5th) coming close. Amazingly, Le had won the same event just the year before, the first time it had been played in a 10k format.

8. HORSE

HORSE

HORSE is a mixed-game, cycling between five different variations of poker. Often the variation will change after each orbit, and each letter of HORSE equates to a different variant. The H is Texas Hold'em, O is Omaha Hi-Lo, R is Razz, S is Seven-Card Stud, and E is Seven-Card Stud Eight or Better (also known as Stud Hi-Lo), a version of stud where players have to make high and low hands like in Omaha Hi-Lo. All five variations in HORSE are limit rather than no-limit or pot-limit, which means players can only make a predetermined size of bet.

3 Of The World's Unluckiest HORSE Players

Jeff Lisandro - The Aussie is undoubtedly one of the best Stud and Hold'em players in the world. But he's also managed several big HORSE cashes. A 5th place in 2010 at the WSOP and a 7th place result in 2008 at the WSOPE showed Jeff has prowess in this multi-disciplinary game. However, bad beats ruined his chances both times for better results.

Mike DeMichele - In 2008, Scotty Nguyen took down the $50,000 HORSE Championship at the WSOP. That wasn't the main story, though. Scotty had had one too many drinks and managed to embarrass himself for the whole duration of the final table. Pity Mike DeMichele, then, who ended 2nd (sober) for $1.2 million.

Daniel Negreanu - The Canadian pro was closing in on the 2017 WSOP HORSE Championship title. That was before a final table that saw his chip stack slide at the hands of Jason Mercier and then Eric Rodawig. During a round of Omaha Hi-Lo, Rodawig flopped trip sixes, with Negreanu only needing a spade to complete a flush. It never arrived, and Negreanu disappointedly crashed out in 6th place.

9. Irish Poker

Irish Poker

Irish Poker is relatively simple to play, and is starting to appear in online poker rooms. Players start a hand with four hole-cards, however after the flop is dealt they have to discard two of the four and play the remainder of the hand like a regular Texas Hold'em hand.

Top Mistakes Made in Irish Poker

Starting Hands Aren't The Same As Omaha: Irish Poker features a discard, where two cards from the four are thrown away to form your 2-card hand. It's important to hold onto the right cards, therefore. You want to have lots of opportunities to hit combinations when you flop, so a hand like A-K-7-6 is good as you have two pairs of connectors.

Of course, as in Omaha Hi, double large pairs are good too in Irish (e.g. A-A-K-K, A-A-Q-Q) and shouldn't be discounted. Remember too that you don't HAVE to use both hole cards to make a hand at the end. This makes playing strong boards a must.

Don't Get Attached To Top Pair: Top pair on the flop is a bad hand to carry on with generally, especially if there are flush and straight draws out there.

Watch Out For Draws: Sets tend to play themselves in Irish Poker, but watch out for any draws that might complete a flush or straight for your opponent. Lots of poor Irish players also tend to over-play over-pairs, so don't be one of them.

10. Badugi

Badugi

Badugi is a variation of the draw poker game, but it differs to five-card draw in that each player is dealt only four cards, and the lowest hand wins. There are usually three betting rounds in a hand of Badugi, and players need to try to avoid having more than one card of the same suit, as well as trying to avoid hitting a pair. Aces are low, so the best hand is A-2-3-4 of four different suits. If a player has more than one card of the same suit or the same value then it is discarded, leaving them with a three-card hand.

3 Fail-Safe Bluffing Techniques to Use in Badugi

  • Bet Your Bad Hands Twice: Like all draw games, "standing pat" shows strength. A terrible hand can be "pat" (no cards changed), then bet on the next draws to show false strength. This is called the "snow" but shouldn't be implemented all the time.
  • Remember That There Are Fewer Showdowns: Most of the time, an aggressive bet will win a hand in Badugi. That means more bluffs can be a good strategy, especially against weaker players.
  • Wait Until You Are In A Good Position - Snowing in Badugi is best done in late position. If you are last to act, you can use the Pot Limit betting to put pressure on earlier positions. Always pick the right tables, and wait for a table with lots of passive players. If you are playing online, this is easily done with the Notes section.