Russian Poker

Introduction

This is not a poker game in the usual sense, but a casino game based on poker hands in which players play against the house. We do not know exactly where and when it was invented, but it first appeared in Russia in the early 1990's, soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. At this time there were many newly rich Russian gamblers, and casino managers were naturally eager to give them VIP status and to provide them with every possible encouragement to play, including new games.

In this context, Russian Poker was developed. The basic idea is that the player places an ante, is dealt five cards, and decides whether to bet on his hand being better than the dealer's. The dealer needs to qualify with a hand of Ace-King or better, otherwise all bets are cancelled. If the dealer qualifies, the player is paid according to a fixed scale of payouts if his hand is better than the dealer's or loses his bet if his hand is worse than the dealer's. There are options for the player to stake extra money to exchange cards or buy an extra card or insure against the dealer failing to qualify. This game has the unusual feature that if a player who collects two poker combinations within a hand can be paid for both of them.

Note: The name 'Russian Poker' is sometimes used in America to refer to a different game, normally known as Chinese Poker, which is described on another page.

I am grateful to Boris Smith for explaining to me the rules of this game and its history.

Setup

Russian Poker is played at a table with a position for the dealer and six player positions or 'boxes'. The dealer plays for the house and there can be up to six players at the table. If there are fewer than six players a player is allowed to play more than one adjacent box, but anyone playing more than two boxes must play the third and subsequent boxes 'blind'. It is not necessary for all the boxes to be played. So for example a table could have four players each playing one box, or just two players playing three and two boxes, or any other combination.

A single standard 52-card pack is used.

Payout Table

If the dealer qualifies with at least Ace-King and the player's hand is better than the dealer's, the player wins and the house pays out according to the size of the player's bet using the following table of odds. (See ranking of poker hands for an explanation of the hand types.)

Player's Hand Payout on bet
Royal Flush 100:1
Straight Flush 50:1
Four of a Kind 20:1
Full House 7:1
Flush 5:1
Straight 4:1
Three of a Kind 3:1
Two Pair 2:1
One Pair 1:1
Ace-King 1:1

If the player has six cards, any set of five cards can be used to make a hand.

If a player can make two different hands from his five or six cards, both are paid. Different means that there must be at least one card in each 2-card, 3-card, 4-card or 5-card combination which is not used in the other combination. Kickers are ignored for this purpose, so two combinations are possible in a 5-card hand. Not more than two combinations will be paid for in a single hand. The possible cases of two combinations are as follows.

Combinations Total payout Example Hand
Royal Flush + Straight Flush 150:1 clubA clubK clubQ clubJ club10 club9
Royal Flush + Flush 105:1 heartA heartK heartQ heartJ heart10 heart7
Royal Flush + Straight 104:1 spadeA spadeK spadeQ spadeJ spade10 diamondK
Straight Flush + Straight Flush 100:1 diamond10diamond9 diamond8 diamond7 diamond6 diamond5
Straight Flush + Flush 55:1 clubQ club7 club6 club5 club4 club3
Straight Flush + Straight 54:1 heartJ heart10 heart9 heart8 heart7 spade6
Straight Flush + Ace-King 51:1 spade5 spade4 spade3 spade2 spadeA diamondK
Four of a Kind + Full House 27:1 club6 diamond6 heart6 spade6 heartJ spadeJ
Four of a Kind + Ace-King 21:1 clubK diamondK heartK spadeK diamondA
Full House + Full House 14:1 club8 heart8 spade8 diamond3 heart3 spade3
Full House + Ace-King 8:1 heart7 spade7 club7 diamondK heartK spadeA
Flush + Flush 10:1 diamondK diamondQ diamond9 diamond7 diamond6 diamond3
Flush + Straight 9:1 clubJ club9 club7 club6 club5 heart8
Flush + One Pair 6:1 heartA heart10 heart8 heart7 heart2 spade7
Flush + Ace-King 6:1 spadeK spadeJ spade8 spade5 spade3 diamondA
Straight + Straight 8:1 club8 diamond7 spade6 club5 diamond4 heart5
Straight + Ace-King 5:1 club5 spade4 club3 diamond2 heartA spadeK
Three of a Kind + Ace-King 4:1 diamond9 heart9 club9 diamondA spadeK
Two Pair + Two Pair 4:1 clubQ heartQ spade6 diamond6 heart3 spade3
Two Pair + Ace-King 3:1 clubA diamondA heartJ spadeJ clubK
One Pair + Ace-King 2:1 diamondA spadeK club5 diamond5 heart10

Initial Bets and Deal

Before the deal, players must place an ante for each box they wish to play. The house sets the minimum and maximum, and the ante for each box can be any amount within this range. The size of all subsequent bets and payments for a box depend on the amount of the ante for the box.

After the antes have been placed, the dealer shuffles the pack and deals five cards to each box that is being played and five cards for the dealer's own hand. All cards are dealt face down except for the dealer's last card which is face up.

Player's Actions

The players act in turn, beginning with the box furthest to dealer's left - that is the rightmost box as seen from the players' side of the table. The boxes are played in order passing to the left. All actions for a box must be completed before the next box is played.

When playing a box, the player looks at the five cards and decides on one of the following actions.

  1. Fold the box. The house takes the ante for that box.
  2. Bet on the hand as dealt. The bet must be exactly twice the amount of the ante for that box.
  3. Buy a sixth card. The player pays the house an amount equal to the ante for the box and is dealt an extra card from the deck.
    1. If the player is happy with his six-card hand he can place a bet, which is twice the amount of the original ante for the box.
    2. Alternatively, if the player is not happy with the hand he can fold, losing both the original ante and the payment for the sixth card.
  4. Exchange some cards. The player pays the house an amount equal to the ante for the box, discards up to four cards and is dealt an equal number of replacement cards from the deck.
    1. If the player is happy with his new five-card hand he can place a bet, which is twice the amount of the original ante for the box.
    2. Alternatively, if the player is not happy with the hand he can fold, losing both the original ante and the payment for the exchange.

Finally, if the player's hand is three-of-a-kind or better, he may buy insurance against the dealer failing to qualify. The player can insure for any amount up to half the potential payout according to the payout table. For example if the player has placed an ante of $100 and a bet of $200 and has a flush, the potential payout is $1000 and the player can therefore buy any amount of insurance up to $500.

Playing Blind

Anyone who plays more then two boxes must play the third and subsequent boxes blind. When playing a blind box the player simply places an ante and a bet on the box before the deal. There is no option to buy or exchange cards.

Dealer's Actions and Payout

After all the players have had a turn for each box they are playing, the dealer's hand is exposed. The dealer qualifies with a hand of Ace-King or better.

For any boxes that have folded, the dealer has already collected the ante and any payment to exchange cards or buy a card, and there are no further payments for folded boxes.

For boxes where the player has placed a bet, the result depends on whether the dealer qualified, and if so, whether the player's hand is better or worse than the dealer's.

Payments if the dealer qualifies

All insurance premiums are lost.

The player's best five-card poker hand is compared with the dealer's hand using normal five-card poker hand rankings. If the player's best hand beats the dealer's hand the player will also be paid for any second qualifying hand, even if the scond hand does not beat the dealer's.

Examples:

  • Dealer has club7-diamond7-spade7-heart9-club4, player has diamond5-club5-heart5-spadeA-diamondA-spadeK. The player is paid for full house + AK, even though the Ace-King hand is worse than dealer's 777.
  • Dealer has club7-diamond7-spade7-heart9-club4, player has heartQ-clubQ-spade8-diamond8-club5-heart5. The player's two pair + two pair loses to dealer's three of a kind even though two pair + two pair (4:1) has a higher payout than three of a kind (3:1).
  • Dealer has spade9-club8-heart7-diamond6-spade5, player has club9-diamond8-heart7-spade6-club5-heart4. This a tie: the player's best 5-card hand is equal to the dealer's best 5-card hand. The sixth card does not help the player.

If the player's hand beats the dealer's hand:

  • A player who bet on his original hand and beats the dealer's hand is paid 1:1 for his ante and also paid for his bet at the odds shown in the table. Example: player stakes $100 ante + $200 bet, dealer has a pair, player has a flush. The dealer returns the $300 staked plus $100 for the ante and $1000 for the flush, and the player's profit is $1100.
  • A player who bet after buying a card or exchanging cards has his original ante returned and loses the amount paid to buy or exchange. The bet is paid according to the odds table. Example: player stakes $100 ante, pays $100 for a 6th card and bets $200. Dealer has a pair, player has a flush. The dealer returns the original $100 ante and $200 bet and pays out $1000 for the flush. No winnings are paid on the ante if the player bought a card or exchanged cards, and the $100 paid for the 6th card is lost, so the player's profit is $900.

If the player's hand ties with the dealer's hand, the ante and the bet are returned, and if the player bought a card or exchanged cards the payment for the 6th card or exchange is lost. So the player comes out even if he bet on his original hand and loses the equivalent of one ante if he bought a card or exchanged.

If the dealer's hand beats the player's hand, the ante and the bet are lost, together with any payment to buy a card or exchange cards.

If the dealer does not qualify

For any box that has been insured, the insurance is paid out at 1:1. For example is you insured your flush for $500 (the maximum if your ante was $100), the non-qualified dealer returns your $500 premium plus another $500.

The owner of any box which has not been insured may chhose to pay an amount equal to the ante for that box to make the dealer exchange one card, in the hope that the dealer may then qualify.

Before carrying out the exchange (if paid for), the dealer first pays out for all the boxes that did not pay for the dealer to exchange. For these boxes the dealer returns the bet and pays out 1:1 for the ante. Any amount paid to buy a 6th card or pay to exchange cards is lost. Therefore a player who bet on his original hand will have a profit of one ante, and a player who bought a 6th card will come out even because the payout for the ante cancels the payment for the 6th card.

If one or more boxes paid for dealer to exchange a card, the dealer now discards the highest card from his hand and draws a new card from the deck to replace it. If this new card does not change the dealer's hand (the new card is the same rank as the old card and does not give dealer a flush), the exchange is repeated without further payment until the dealer's hand is changed: either a different rank is drawn or the dealer makes a flush.

If the dealer still does not qualify after the card exchange, the dealer pays out the remaining boxes in the same way as those that did not pay for an exchange. If the dealer qualifies as a result of the exchange, the payments to the boxes that paid for the exchange are as in the dealer qualifies section above. In either case, the payments to make dealer exchange - one ante for each box - are kept by the dealer.

Variations

Some casinos have a rule that if a player pays to exchange just one card of his hand, after discarding and receiving a new card he has three options: to fold, to bet or to exchange one card again. To exchange again the player must pay one more ante, after which there are the same three options. The player may exchange as many single cards as he wishes paying one ante for each exchange.

If all six boxes at a table are played, there is the possibility that the cards may run out, in which case the dealer will shuffle the discarded cards to form a new deck from which more replacement cards can be dealt. To avoid this situation, the table may agree on a limit on the number of cards that can be exchanged, for example not more than two cards per box.

Some casinos allow a "bonus bet" instead of or in addition to the initial ante. This bet, placed on a box before the cards are dealt, is a wager on the original five-card hand dealt to this box. The payout table varies from casino to casino. Here are two versions, one paying out for three-of-a-kind or better and one paying out for straight or better.

Hand Bonus Bet Payout
Royal Flush
1000:1
3000:1
Straight Flush
500:1
800:1
Four of a Kind
200:1
250:1
Full House
70:1
150:1
Flush
50:1
100:1
Straight
40:1
50:1
Three of a Kind
25:1
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Other Russian Poker Resources

The Wikipedia page on Russian Poker has another description of this game.

Casino Daily News has an article on Russian Poker including advice on playing online.