Texas Hold’em is the most popular variant of live and online poker today, but it’s far from being the only game in town. Mastering Texas Hold’em is indeed essential for any player wishing to get ahead (especially if you want to stand a chance at the final table of the World Series.) However, other variants offer just as much of a challenge – and as much fun! From the hyper-strategic Omaha to the upside-down world of razz, here are five poker variants that will have you looking differently at how you play poker online.
If you know how to play Texas Hold’em, you’ll pick up Omaha in no time. Texas Hold’em caught on in the first place because it was perceived as a “thinking man’s game.” Players can only see their two hole cards and the community cards as they appear on the flop, the turn and the river. In fact, you only get to see your opponent’s cards in Texas Hold’em if they show them to you! As a result, you have to play much more strategically than in traditional draw poker.
Omaha takes the strategic nature of poker even further. You get dealt four hole cards, but you can only use two of them to form your best hand. The remaining cards in your hand have to come from the board. This variant still makes use of blinds, so it’s worth reading up on how to master the big blind position before you get too carried away, as your position at the table will still matter!
Omaha has two main variations. In Omaha High, the best hand wins (just like in Texas Hold’em.) In Omaha Hi-Lo, the pot is split between the best high hand and the best low hand of cards ranked eight or lower. Pot Limit Omaha online poker tournaments are quite popular because betting is restricted to the size of the pot, so it’s harder for players with big stacks to push other players around.
2. Seven-card stud
Seven-card stud was the definitive poker game before Texas Hold’em took over; with unique gameplay and strategy, it’s still one of the best online poker variations. In seven-card stud, players first receive two cards face down and one face-up on the table. Based on those cards, you decide whether to stay in the hand (by making a bet) or fold. As betting rounds continue, you receive a fourth, fifth and sixth face-up card. If you stick around long enough, a seventh (down) card will complete your hand, followed by a final round of betting. The best five-card poker hand wins the game.
As you can probably tell, seven-card stud is completely different from Texas Hold’em. There are no community cards, and you only have sight of four of your opponents’ cards, so you’re constantly trying to work out what each of their best five-card hands could be. Also, because the betting is staggered across five rounds, there’s no chance to go all in. This is good news if you don’t like the idea of being bullied out of the betting or losing all your money on a single hand.
If you’re looking for something completely fresh, you may want to play a few hands of razz. This is a special variant of seven-card stud where the lowest five-card poker hand wins the day. Play follows in the same order, but aces are low, and straights and flushes do not count as playable hands. These exceptions call for a totally different strategic approach compared to any other poker variant.
Razz is often included in mixed poker tournaments (it’s the ‘R’ in the H.O.R.S.E. category at the WSOP,) so it’s worth getting your head around. Razz is one of the lesser played variants means, which means that as far as poker tournament tips go, players are unlikely to have expert-level strategic knowledge. This makes the ability to read other players comparatively more important.
4. Five-card draw
You’ll want to try your hand at five-card draw if you want to revisit the roots of poker and experience how it was played in the Old West. This is the game that “Wild” Bill Hickok was playing when he was shot to death while holding what’s now known as the “dead man’s hand” (a pair of aces and 8s.)
The gameplay is easy to follow: players receive five cards each, after which there’s a betting round. Players then have the option to discard up to all five cards in their hand and draw new cards. A second betting round ensues, followed by a shoot-out (sorry, Bill!) in which the best five-card poker hand wins. The simplicity of the rules makes five-card draw the ideal variant for playing online poker with friends. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for that fast-paced Wild West feeling, you could have a go at video poker online, as many games of this type are basically single-player versions of five-card draw.
5. Pai gow poker
Derived from the Ancient Chinese domino game of pai gow, pai gow poker is the only poker variant in which you have to beat a dealer. Players each receive seven cards and use them to build two separate hands, one of five cards and one of two. To make things more interesting, the five-card hand has to be stronger than the two-card hand. If both your hands beat the dealer’s hands, you’re in for a win. If the dealer beats both your hands, you lose your bet. If only one of your hands wins, then the bet pushes to the next round. This makes for a fun poker alternative where you may not win very often, but you also may not lose so often, either.
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