The WSOP dealers choice tournament offers roughly twenty poker variants which fall broadly into holdems (Texas, Omaha, O8) in no-, pot- and fixed- limit forms; limit seven card stud games (Hi-Lo 8 or better, Razz, 7 Stud), lowball draw games (A-5, 2-7, triple or single draw); and badugi variants (badugi, badeucy, badacey). That seems like a pretty good yardstick of what constitutes the “mainstream” of poker.
That is not what this article is about. This article is a celebration of the deliberately arcane, complex, degenerate, or bizarre ways in which the basic rules of poker have been warped and woven into endless forms most beautiful. If you’re looking to spice up your home game, consider this your starter spice rack.
1- Three Card Brag/Teen Patti
Not strictly a poker variant, so much as a totally separate vying game, three card brag makes this list for three excellent reasons: it is similar to poker, the betting system is both brutal and weird and can be used to spice up regular poker games, and it earned a lot of cool by featuring in a pre-Madonna Guy Ritchie movie.
Three cards are dealt face down to each player (this results in a different set of hand rankings to five card poker, so look them up before you play) and then the players have the option to play blind. If you chose to play blind you pay half the amount of an ‘open’ hand (i.e. one the player has looked at).
Then the betting begins. The brutal part of three card brag is that to close the betting you have to ‘pay to see’ – this involves doubling your opponents bet – if you don’t pay to see the betting simply continues. So if the starting bet is £10 and no one raises, folds or pays to see, then every player just keeps putting in £10 every round (or £5 if they are playing blind) until they run out of money and have to fold.
Since the standard way of playing is that a raise doubles the bet, this game escalates quicker than PLR and can lead a penny ante game into real estate transactions pretty quickly.
The third great feature of brag, is the fact that the cards are only every shuffled when someone gets three of a kind. Which means if you can remember the folded cards and keep track of the deal, your memory becomes a key asset in this game.
Any of these parts of brag can be cannibalised to create new poker variants, as can the features of any of the other games on this list. I highly recommend getting your glitter glue out and going hog wild on the creative front.
2- Multi-Hole Hold’ems
If Omaha Hold’em was an improvement over the Texas kind, then imagine how much better five, six, seven or eight card hold’em must be.
When these crazy-town variants of hold’em new versions can be built up using combination decisions on the basis of the following:
1) Number of hole cards: roll a dice, pick a number, this is up to you the more cards the better the hands, the crazier the action.
2) Omaha rules: Do you have to use exactly two, up to two, or any number of your hole cards to make your hand.
3) Stud rules: are any of your hole cards dealt face up (compare with Boston)?
4) Do you have to discard any of your cards? If so at what stage/s and is there an extra betting round when you do?
5) Face up or face down discards.
6) Hi/Lo? If so declare or cards-speak?
3- Multi-Board Hold’ems
Just what it says on the tin. Again there are no end to the variants you can work up with this, but the basic premise is that some part of the board is doubled up. Either two flops, two full boards, or my favourite, three flops, two turns and one river.
Your hand can be made with any of the boards but you can’t mix and match so if one flop comes A-x-x and the other A-x-x you do not get to play that as a pair of aces.
These games may be headed for the mainstream following Stars’ new announcement of a two board hold’em.
These variants also lend themselves to a hi/lo and declare variants and can be mixed with pineapple, or the multi-hole versions of Hold’em to create huge and complex hybridised Frankenstein-monster hold’ems of every greater complexity and madness.
If you really can’t shake the holdem habit there are a few variations that make for and interesting twist. Pineapple involves getting three cards instead of two and discarding one before the end of the game.
The canonical version involves a betting round, then the discarding a card before the flop. But there are further variations involving having to use both cards in your hand to make your five card hand, and waiting until the flop round is over before discarding your third card.
Other versions involve getting up to five cards and discarding three. You do you on this one, its a terrible way to play poker, and that’s why it’s great.
Here the game is regular five-card stud but each round a community card is also dealt face up. The pot is then split at the end between the high and low hands made using any combination of your five cards and the community cards.
Given that eight of everyone’s nine card hand is played face up the opportunities to tell a story and sell a bluff are both frequent and bloody dangerous.
6- Five Card Stud
Once the king of the poker world, five card stud is in some ways the ur-poker. Simple, pure, no draws, no complex flops. Just one card face down, one face up, to every player then betting rounds for the remaining three cards face up cards which are dealt out one by one.
With no draws, and just one hidden card make this a game of high-card hands going up against each other.
The game plays alright as a limit game, but you can make like the Cincinnati Kid and play no-limit for a better game.
Or take it one step further and play Boston.
7- Split-pot Seven-Card Stud Games
While we’re ruining the stud family for you, there are a whole range of split pot seven-card stud games to spice your table-life up a bit. In Chicago the pot is split between the highest spade in the hole and highest poker hand.
Hi-lo declare adds a nice twist to the regular 8s-or-better version of Stud Hi/Lo. Declare plays like 8s-or-better but before showdown, you must put a number of chips in your closed fist. One for high, two for low, three for both. After everyone has declared the showdown happens.
If you declare for both you have to win both sides, or else you’re out of both pots.
Anthony Holden describes a roaming high stakes A-6 pot-limit seven-card stud game which followed the international poker circuit in the 80s. Nowadays finding anything that isn’t a limit variant of seven-card stud is tough, so don’t go out and find it, make it happen yourself.
Razz is an infamously swing prone game, with a huge array of coinflip starting hands and no such thing as a made hand until seventh street unless your hand rolls out a perfect wheel. As a result if you want to break someone’s spirit, wait till they’re on a downswing then suggest a game of Razz, get everyone nodding along, then propose the pot-limit.
Anyone who likes big pot poker will nod along until it’s round two of the game they are all in three ways on fourth street again for the eighth time.
Your best results in the comments, please.