Although 5-card draw poker has mostly departed from the modern casino-poker and cardroom-poker scene, it can still be found in many home games, and-because of its important place in early poker history-in most of the movies which feature poker or poker scenes.
After all, who can forget Paul Newman turning over four Jacks in The Sting, when his opponent held four Nines (and had thought he had cheated by giving Newman four Threes, only to find he’d been out-cheated)?
Most of the poker scenes found in various old Westerns also featured 5-card draw, in part because the game was indeed played much more often then, but primarily because the movie watcher (who probably knew little about poker) could see a player’s entire hand all at once.
With games like Hold ’em and 7-card stud, the mechanics of showing viewers hole cards and up cards produced too great a challenge, especially when the movie really wasn’t about poker, but about good guys and bad guys, winning and losing, and the post-game gunfight.
While this very lack of complexity led to draw’s downfall as a casino poker game, it makes draw a fairly good place for new poker players to begin. As with all games, the hand ranks (a flush beats a straight, etc.) remain the same.
Beginning the Game
Draw begins with each player placing an ante into the pot. For our sample game, we’ll assume we are playing 5-10 draw ($5 and $10 bets) with a $1 ante, and that we are playing with seven players. The pot will thus start off with $7 in it.
The dealer deals five cards to each player, ALL of which are face down. In draw, unlike the other games we’ve seen, no one sees any of anyone else’s cards until the hand is over and it’s time to see who has won. As a result, there is much less hard, solid information available to the players about who holds what kind of hand. More subtle clues like the size of the bet, the nervousness of the player, and how many cards he drew thus become more important, as does bluffing.
This is another reason why draw poker is a moviemaker favorite, because player emotion and player personality are much more easily understood by an audience than technical matters like whether a pair and a flush draw is a better hand than two pair.
The player to the dealer’s left begins the betting, with an option to bet (in our sample hand, $5), or to check . If the first player bets, the second player can no longer check; his options are only to call or to raise. As with the other games we’ve seen, there is usually a limit of three raises per round.
After the initial round of betting, the players remaining in the hand have an option to replace cards in their hand with new cards. The player to the dealer’s left is the first to draw (if he wishes), and then the other players draw in turn.
To draw new cards, a player first selects the cards he wishes to throw away, removes them from his hand, and gently slides or tosses them to the dealer, simultaneously announcing how many cards he wants (which is always the same number as the number of cards he’s thrown away).
Drawing (replacing) Cards
The rules governing how many cards a player can draw vary. In some games, a player can draw five completely new cards, although it’s impossible to imagine a situation where this would be a smart play. In some games a player can draw four new cards if the lone card he retains is an Ace. This isn’t a good play, either, for two reasons. First, to draw the four cards, the player must show everyone that he has an Ace, which is giving a lot of information away.
Even if this “show the Ace rule” is not used-and it usually isn’t, in casino poker-it would be a bad play to draw four cards. Unless you are playing with total rookies, everyone will know you are drawing four cards to an Ace anyway, and a hand that needs that much help should be folded before the draw.
Most of the time, then, players will draw three, two, one, or no cards. A player who draws no cards is said to be “pat.” This creates the impression that he has a strong hand like a straight, a flush, or a full house.
Sometimes in an effort to be tricky, and/or create the impression of strength, a player who holds two pair or three of a kind will draw no cards. This player is giving up a potentially very useful and important chance to improve his hand, in return for creating the appearance of even more strength than he actually has.
For similar reasons, sometimes a player holding a completely worthless hand will draw no cards, and hope that this appearance of strength, combined with strong betting and raising, will win the pot by making everyone else fold. Usually such a play can only work in a no-limit game, where the player can bet everything he has, and is for reasons that should hopefully be obvious, very risky. Beginning players should avoid these extremely risky bluffing plays and try to focus on drawing to good hands.
After everyone has drawn their cards, there is a second and final round of betting, at the higher level (here, $10). The player who opened the betting on the first round starts the betting on the second round, and may bet or check. After all the betting, calling and raising is completed, the hand is over, and if more than one player remains, the players lay their cards on the table so everyone can see who wins the pot. If one player has bet or raised, and is not called by anyone else, he wins the pot and does not have to show his hand to anyone else.
A Hypothetical Hand
Now let’s look at a sample hand of 5-card draw. The players, and their starting hands, are:
Andy Bob Chuck
Dave Ed Frank
Greg is the dealer.
Andy has what is called an “open-ended” straight draw. If Andy draws one card, and catches either a Five or a Ten, he will have a straight. There is no way for Andy to know that three of the Fives and three of the Tens are already in other players’ hands, and so there are actually only two cards left in the deck that can help him.
Bob has a pair of Queens, a good starting hand that sometimes would be enough to win without improving, but as we can see, Frank and Chuck already have better hands. Bob will need to improve to win.
Chuck has two pair, the best hand at the moment, but they are the worst possible two pair, and unless he improves, he is in danger of losing to a better two pair.
Dave has a garbage hand containing no high cards, and no straight or flush draws. Ed’s hand is almost as bad; even though Ed has an Ace, drawing four cards to an Ace is a bad play.
Frank has a good hand, a pair of Kings. He does trail Chuck at the moment, but if Frank can catch another King, or a second pair, he will beat Chuck unless Chuck improves to a full house.
Greg’s hand isn’t complete garbage, which is unfortunate for Greg, who will call with the slightest possible excuse. His excuse here is that he has three fairly high cards to a straight (the 10-J-Q). He figures he can win if he catches two perfect cards for a straight, or perhaps if he pairs one of his high cards.
Betting Our Hypothetical Hand Before the Draw
The players, again:
Andy Bob Chuck
Dave Ed Frank
Because Greg is dealing, Andy has the first option to bet. He decides to check, because he only has potential at the moment. Bob likes his pair of Queens and bets $5.
Chuck realizes that his hand is pretty good right now, probably the best hand right now, but that he won’t have a good chance to win if a lot of players draw cards. He raises to $10 in the hope that some players who might otherwise draw and beat him don’t play.
Dave realizes his hand is worthless, and folds. Ed, who might have been (wrongly) tempted to call for $5 and draw four cards, realizes that $10 is too much, and also folds.
Frank is a bit puzzled. He knows his pair of Kings is a good hand, but someone else has already bet and that bet has been raised. Frank decides there is a good chance that his pair of Kings isn’t the BEST hand. Although he had been planning on betting or raising when his turn came, he decides his hand is not worth a re-raise, and just calls.
Greg knows he should fold, but can’t resist playing, so he also calls $10.
Andy is reasonably happy. Although he much would have preferred to play this hand for $5 rather than $10, a lot of players have called. Andy is unlikely to hit his straight, but if he does hit it, it will probably win. For that reason, Andy would prefer to play against a lot of opponents, because on those rare occasions when he does win a pot, it will probably be a large pot. If no one had called Bob’s initial $5 bet, Andy would have been correct to fold, rather than try to play heads-up against Bob. With a lot of players in the pot, and knowing that Bob will act first on the second round of betting (thus placing Andy in the advantageous last position), Andy decides to call.
Bob is no longer quite so thrilled with his pair of Queens, so he calls.
Deciding What to Keep and What to Discard
There is $57 in the pot. The players are:
Andy Bob Chuck
Andy throws away the Kd and hope for a Five or a Ten.
Bob draws next, and he draws three cards. Chuck follows, and draws one. This gives the other players some information about Chuck’s hand. If Chuck had been drawing to a straight or a flush, he probably would have just called on the first round, rather than raising. The other players are now pretty sure that Chuck has two pair.
Frank looks at his hand, briefly considers keeping the Kings and the Ace, and decides to keep only the Kings. This is a better play.
Greg briefly considers keeping the 10h-Qh-5h, which would give him a very remote chance to make a flush, and instead keeps the 10h-Jc-Qh. He has a remote chance to make a straight, and a slightly better chance of making one or two high pair. Given that he has already called the $10, his draw is correct, but Greg never should have called in the first place.
Evaluating and Betting the Hands After the Draw
After the draw, the players (now listed in the order in which they must act) hold:
Bob Chuck Frank
Bob has not improved (at least not significantly; he pair of Queens with an Ace is indeed better than a pair of Queens with an Eight, but this will only make a difference in the highly unlikely situation that he is up against another player with a pair of Queens. In hold ’em, where players share cards, holding a better “kicker” is often important, but in draw, it comes into play much, much less frequently), and afraid of Chuck’s two pair, checks.
Chuck has not improved either, and is worried that with so many players drawing at him, he has lost, but decides to represent strength by betting.
Frank likes his hand and decides it is worth a raise. Even if Chuck started with two pair, the odds are they weren’t as good as Frank’s Kings-up, and it is unlikely Chuck improved to a full house.
Greg has improved to a pair of Jacks. Because Greg bluffs a lot, he assumes that everyone else bluffs a lot also. He calls the $20, a bad play against two players who have already shown strength.
Andy has improved to a pair of Nines, but understands his pair has virtually no chance of winning against so many opponents who are acting strong, and folds.
Bob sighs. He would rather have gotten to call for $10, but now it will cost him at least $20 to see if his Queens are good. He is tempted to call anyway, but realized that Chuck could re-raise Frank (to say nothing of the chances of Frank re-raising Chuck), so he makes the good decision to fold.
Chuck knows he is in serious trouble. Frank raised him and Greg called. Normally any decent player seeing this would throw away two very low pair. But Chuck knows the Greg is one of the world’s biggest bluffers and optimists, and figures Greg would have raised with any sort of good hand. So, worried only about Frank, Chuck calls.
The hand is over. Frank turns over two pair, Kings and Sevens, which beat Chuck’s two pair, Threes and Twos, as well as Greg’s Jacks. Greg decides he is unlucky-if only he’d caught a Ten instead of a Jack! He still hasn’t learned how much more difficult it is to catch two good cards rather than one, for which Frank silently thanks him. Chuck had had the right idea in trying to narrow the field with his two small pair, but Frank was correct to call, and takes the $117 pot. He decides he will make it a point to play whenever he learns Greg will be in the game!