Draw Poker

Introduction

Five Card Draw is one of the oldest forms of poker and was by far the best known internationally until the sudden rise in popularity of Texas Hold'em at the end of the 20th century. The basic game will be described first, followed by some variations with extra opening conditions, winning conditions or wild cards. These can be combined in various ways - for example jacks or better and trips to win are often played with a bug or wild card. This page assumes some familiarity with the general rules and terminology of poker. See the poker rules page for an introduction to these, and the poker betting and poker hand ranking pages for further details.

Five Card Draw Poker

This basic game, with no restrictions on the cards needed to open or win, is sometimes known as California Draw or Guts, though Guts is also the name of another poker-like game. Because of this freedom it offers considerable scope for bluffing, especially if played for high stakes.

Players and Cards

Five Card Draw is played with a standard 52-card pack, and there can be from two to six players - six probably make the best game. It is possible for seven or or even eight people to play, but then there is the disadvantage that the cards may run out during the draw.

Ante, Deal and First Betting Round

Before the deal each player puts an agreed ante into the pot. Usually the ante is the same amount as the minimum bet.

After the shuffle and cut, the dealer deals the cards face down clockwise one at a time until each player has five cards. Players may look at their cards, and there is a betting round begun by the player to dealer's left. If everyone passes (checks) in this first betting round, the cards are thrown in, the turn to deal passes to the left, the pot remains and everyone adds another ante to it.

In fixed or spread limit games, the number of raises after the initial opening bet is usually limited to four.

The Draw

If more than one player remains in the game after the first betting round, active players have one opportunity to improve their hands by discarding some cards and obtaining replacements. Beginning with the nearest active player to dealer's left, each active player announces the number of cards to be replaced, discards that number of cards face down, and is dealt an equal number of cards face down by the dealer.

A player can discard from zero to three cards. The dealer should wait until the player has discarded the number of cards stated before starting to deal replacements. Discarding no cards at all and thus keeping one's original hand is known as standing pat. Naturally, it is in the players' interest to wait for their turns and not give away information in advance about how many cards they intend to draw.

In a game with more than six players it is possible that the deck will run out of cards (since each player can consume up to 8 cards - a hand of 5 plus 3 more drawn). If the dealer finds that not enough cards remain then the discards of the players who have already discarded are shuffled and cut to form a new deck from which replacement cards can be dealt to the remaining player(s). Reusing cards rejected by other players is not very satisfactory, and this is why six players is normally set as the maximum number for this game.

Until the second round of betting begins, any player is entitled to ask how many cards any other player drew, and be given an honest answer.

Second Betting Round

After all active players have had a chance to draw there is a second round of betting, begun by the player who opened the betting on the first round.

The minimum and maximum bets allowed in the second betting round are normally set higher than in the first betting round - typically double.

In a fixed limit or spread limit game, the second betting round, like the first, is normally limited to a bet and four raises.

Showdown

After the second betting round, if the pot has not already been won, players show their cards in clockwise order, beginning with the last player who took aggressive action (bet or raised) in the second betting round. If everyone checked in the second betting round, the player who opened the betting in the first betting round shows first.

Variations

Drawing more than three cards

Some allow a player to discard and draw four cards if the fifth card is an ace. Some allow a player to discard four or all five cards unconditionally. With these rules the likelihood of running out of cards during the draw process is increased. In practice, however, the difference is small since it is rarely if ever worthwhile to draw more than three cards.

Blinds

Some prefer to begin the pot with a blind bet instead of or in addition to the ante. In the first betting round, the player to dealer's left is forced to bet an agreed amount, irrespective of his cards. The next player to the left may be permitted to straddle by placing a blind bet of twice this amount, the next player to re-straddle and so on. Then the betting round begins with the player to the left of the player who placed the largest blind bet. Players may fold, call or raise. If all others call or fold, the player who placed the largest blind bet may check or raise. See the poker betting page for further details.

Five Card Draw - Jacks or Better

This game, also known as Jack Pots, a hand at least as good as a pair of jacks is required to open the betting. It is probably the most popular version of Five Card Draw Poker. There should be at least four players and preferably more, otherwise most of the hands will be thrown in without play. Opinions on the merits of this game have varied widely over the years. For example:

"The addition of jack pots has probably done more to injure Poker than the trump signal has injured Whist ... the whole system has become a nuisance, and has destroyed one of the finest points in the game of Poker - the liberty of personal judgement as to every counter put into the pool, except the blind." (R.F.Foster: Handbook to the Card Games, 1897).
"It is essential for the stability of the game that a player have jacks or better when opening. If this rule is not enforced and a player opens the pot any time he feels like it, one of the greatest factors of skill in the game is automatically eliminated - which depends on knowing that the opener holds at least a pair of jacks." (J.Scarne: Scarne on Cards, 1949).

The ante and deal are as in Five Card Draw, but in the first betting round, if no one has yet bet, a player who does not have a pair of jacks or better is obliged to pass. Once a player has opened the betting, others are free to call or raise irrespective of what they hold.

Note that the opener does not actually have to hold jacks, or cards higher than jacks. Any hand that beats a pair of tens is sufficient - for example you could open with 5-5-3-3-6 (two pairs) but not with 10-10-A-K-Q.

The draw is the same as in Five Card Draw, except that if the player who opened the betting discards cards that formed part of the qualification to open, this must be announced and the discarded cards kept separate from the cards discarded by other players. This is known as splitting openers. For example a player might discard the diamondQ from diamondQ-clubQ-club10-club7-club6 in the hope of getting a flush, especially if some of the other players seemed to have good hands.

The second round of betting and the showdown are as in Five Card Draw. When the pot is awarded, the player who split openers must show the discarded card(s) to prove that the opening requirement was satisfied.

If no one has a good enough hand to open (or if those that do choose not to open), then the cards are thrown in and it is the next player's turn to deal.

If the opener wins the pot, enough of the opener's hand must be shown to prove that the opener really has jacks or better. This applies even if all the other players fold on the opener's bet. If the opener cannot show a qualifying hand, the opener's hand is dead. The opener cannot win the pot. If there was a showdown, the best of the other hands wins the pot. If everyone else has folded the pool remains for the next deal.

Some play progressive jackpots: if no one opens the minimum requirement for the next deal is increased to a pair of queens, and if this hand too is thrown in then kings and then aces, then back to kings, queens, jacks and so on.

Five Card Draw - Jacks or Better, Trips to Win

The rules are the same as Five Card Draw - Jacks or Better except that a player needs a hand at least as good as three of a kind to win the pot. If the pot is won without a showdown, the winner must expose enough cards to prove that the hand is at least as good as three of a kind. This of course further reduces the scope for bluffing.

If no one has a hand as good as three of a kind after the draw, the pot remains, but the players who folded before the draw are out of the game. The players who did not fold ante again and there is a new deal involving just these players.

Five Card Draw with a Bug

To increase the proportion of good hands, some players add a joker, to make a deck of 53 cards. The joker is not a true wild card but a bug: the holder can use it to represent an ace, or to complete a straight or flush. So for example 9-9-7-7-joker is not a full house but two pairs with an ace kicker.

In this game the highest hand is five aces: A-A-A-A-joker. This beats a straight flush.

When used in a flush the joker represents the highest card not already present, so for example heartA-heartK-heartJ-heart4-heart2 beats spadeA-spade10-spade9-spade8-joker because the bug represents the spadeK not a second ace.

The bug can be added to any of the above versions: California (Guts) Draw, Jacks or Better or Trips to Win.

Five Card Draw with Deuces Wild

In this variation of Jacks or Better, the four deuces (twos) are wild cards. A deuce can be used as any card the holder needs to complete a hand. The highest hand type is Five of a Kind, which is better than a Straight Flush.

Except when making Five of a Kind, a wild card cannot be used to represent a card that is already present in a player's hand. The only case where this matters is when making a Flush, in which case if you have (for example) a natural ace, you cannot use a wild card as a second ace.

This variant is found mostly in home poker games and is usually played with the rule that players must declare their own hands (the cards do not "speak for themselves" - see poker betting and showdown for details).

It is equally possible to play with any other set of cards wild as agreed by the players, or as specified by the dealer in a dealer's choice game. For example you one can play with fives wild, or with one-eyed jacks wild.

Wild Widow

This five-card draw variation is similar to deuces wild except that the wild card is determined during the deal rather than specified in advance. This is done by dealing a card dealt face up to the table, usually after the fourth card has been dealt to each player. The other three cards of the same rank as the face up card are wild.

Jacks Back

This variation of Jacks or Better works well for smaller groups, say 3 to 5 players, in which case there will be many deals on which no one can open.

The game begins like Five Card Draw. Five cards are dealt to each player and there is a betting round, in which Jacks or Better are required to open. If someone opens the betting the game proceeds exactly like normal Five Card Draw, and in a showdown the highest hand wins the pot.

If no one opens in the first betting round the cards are not thrown in. Instead the players keep their cards and the game changes to Ace-to-five Lowball, and there is a new betting round begun by the player to dealer's left. Provided that the betting is opened in this new betting round, the players then have the chance to draw with the aim of making a low hand. After the draw there is another betting round, begun by the first active player to dealer's left. If more than one player stays in there is a showdown in which the lowest poker hand wins. Aces are low and straights and flushes do not count, so the best hand is A-2-3-4-5 (a "bicycle"). A-A-2-3-4 is a pair, so it is worse than any hand without a pair, but better than any other pair since aces are low.

It may happen that no one opens in the first betting round, and then after the game changes to Lowball everyone checks again. In this case the cards are thrown in and the turn to deal passes to the left.

To avoid the possibility that a hand is thrown in, some clubs have a rule that when the game changes to Lowball the player to dealer's left must place a "blind" bet, and the betting round begins with the next player to the left. The player who placed the blind may raise after everyone else has acted even if no one did more than call. The betting round after the draw is begun by the first active player to dealer's left as usual.

Some play that check-raising is not allowed in the Lowball part of this game, and also apply the betting sevens rule as for California Lowball.

Jacks Back is often played with a joker, which acts as a bug for high hands. When the game is played for low, the joker is known as a fitter, and it represents the lowest card not already present in the player's hand. Other forms of Lowball Draw Poker are described on the Lowball page.

All for One and One for All

In this game the drawing and betting can continue until the deck is all but exhausted.

Antes are placed and five cards are dealt face down to each player. There is a betting round.

Now there is a drawing round. Each active player, beginning to dealer's left, can either:

  1. stand pat, or
  2. discard one card face down and receive a replacement, or
  3. discard all five cards face down and receive a new five-card hand.

The drawing round is followed by another betting round.

This process is repeated: there is a series of drawing rounds, each begun by the player to the left of the one who began the previous drawing round. Each drawing round is followed by a betting round.

There are restrictions to ensure that the cards do not run out:

  1. A player is not allowed to exchange all five cards if this would not leave enough cards for all remaining active players in the current drawing round to exchange one.
  2. If after a betting round there are fewer cards remaining in the deck than there are active players, there is no more drawing, but a showdown in which the highest hand wins the pot.