Palace Poker

Contributed by Scott Henneman

Introduction

Palace Poker (or Castle Poker or Banner Poker) is a game played much like regular poker, with betting rounds and pot-taking, with several major variations. It has elements of stud and draw games in it, but is unique in that all betting is done heads-up, or man-to-man.

In general it requires more strategy than any other poker game and thus the element of luck is somewhat reduced.

It can be played for high or low stakes, and even for points (family style) instead of money.

Players

Just like many poker games, palace poker can be played with 2 to 10 players.

The Cards

Palace poker is played with a standard 52-card deck. The card ranks are:

    A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (low)

Suits are not ranked. The winning hands are the same as in any poker game.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen by dealing out a single card. There is no suit rank; in case of a tie, the holders of the high cards are dealt one more card each, until the dealer is decided.

Banner Cards

This long description may make this seem complicated, but in fact is extremely simple.

Each player in the hand must first ante to pay for their initial card, called the banner (or sometimes, the flag). Usually the ante is equal to half of a small bet, rounded down (i.e. if the stakes were $5/$10, the ante would be $2).

Starting with the player at the dealer's left, each player is dealt one face up card each. This is the banner card. However, the dealer often deals these cards more slowly, because it must be done in a way that the maximum number of different suits are represented on the table as banner cards. In other words, if there are four, three, or two players, each player must end up with a different suit for their banner card.

This is done by dealing one card to the player on the dealer's left, then one card to the next player. If the card is the same suit as the first player's card, another is dealt; if that is the same, then another, and so on until the second player is dealt a banner card that is a different suit from the first player's banner.

The third player must then receive a banner card with a different suit than either of the first two players, and the fourth player must receive the fourth and final suit.

The 5th through 8th players are then treated as a separate group when dealing banner cards. Their suits are not compared to the 1st through 4th players'.

The 9th and 10th players also are treated as another separate group.

On the off chance that the dealer runs out of cards before the deal is through, all the extras (the cards that were not used as banner cards) are collected, re-shuffled, and the deal continues at the player where the dealer left off.

Example:
Here is a banner deal example from a 6-player game. Players are: from the dealer's left, Aaron, Brad, Christine, Dave, Elena, and Frank (the dealer).
All players ante. Frank deals club8 to Aaron, and clubJ to Brad. Since Aaron already has clubs, he deals another card to Brad, heart3. Then on to Christine, spade10. Dave must be dealt a diamond. He gets club2, then heart5, then heart10, then heartK, and finally diamondJ.
The diamond4 is dealt to Elena, but since she is the 5th player, the suit counting begins again, so it doesn't matter that Dave just received diamonds; she keeps the diamond4 as her banner. And finally, to Frank the dealer himself, he can receive anything but diamonds (because he is the 6th player, and Elena was just dealt diamonds). He deals himself diamond10, then spadeQ.

See Figure 1 for an illustration of the results of the above banner deal.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Here, white chips are $1.

Palace Cards

When the banner deal is done, the dealer takes all of the extra cards, puts them back in the deck, and shuffles 2-3 more times. He then deals three cards facedown to each player, one card at a time, again beginning with the player at his left. These are the "palace" cards (also often called "hole" or "pocket" cards in other versions of poker).

Each player places their banner card in front of them, with the lengthwise edge facing them, as seen in Figure 2. The dealer then places the deck in the middle of the table.

Figure 2
Figure 2. The palace deal.

The Play

Turns proceed clockwise, starting from the dealer's left.

On his/her turn, a player can choose to do one of five things: Buy [a soldier card], Discard [soldier cards], Bet [battle], Stay (do nothing), or Fold.

Buy

This action is also sometimes called Draw. The player pays a small bet into the pot and receives the top card from the unused deck in the middle of the table. He/she places this new card face up right below the banner card, but with the short side facing the player (perpendicular orientation to the banner card). Cards positioned in this way below the banner are called soldier cards. The player may then, on the same turn, discard any number of their soldier cards into the discard pile, including the one he/she just bought.

The discard pile is placed on the right side (from the dealer's point of view) of the unused deck. Sometimes, it is also tilted at a slight angle to further differentiate it from the unused (draw) deck. Important note: although in most card games, the discard pile is face up, in Palace Poker, it is always face down.

A player can only have 5 soldier cards at any one time. If a player Buys when he/she already has five soldier cards up on the table, at least one must be discarded (note that any number from one to all of the soldier cards may be discarded on such a move).

If there are no cards left in the draw deck, the dealer takes the whole discard pile, reshuffles it, and places it down as a new draw deck. The dealer will do this only when it is needed, i.e. not in the turn when the last card has been taken from the draw deck, but in a subsequent turn when a player wishes to Buy and finds there are no cards available in the draw deck.

If there are no cards in either the draw or discard piles (which rarely happens but can occur with a large number of passive players), then the Buy option is simply not available.

Discard

Basically the same as Buy, except the player pays nothing and draws nothing. He/she may discard one or more of his/her soldier cards.

Bet (or battle)

This is where the action of the game happens.

When it is his/her turn, the player says he is going to bet, and declares one particular player to bet against. That player can be declared by name or, more commonly, by their banner card. One cannot bet against another player whose banner card is of the same suit as their own (a situation that would only happen if there were 5 or more players).

In the example game, if Dave was going to bet against Christine, he would say, "Bet (or battle) against Ten of Spades."

The amount of the bet is equal to the amount of face up cards that player currently has (soldier cards plus one banner card), multiplied by the small bet amount, i.e. (# of Soldier cards + One Banner card) × Small bet. Thus, if the player had no soldier cards, he/she would pay one small bet, and if he/she had 5 soldier cards, 6 small bets would be necessary to Bet battle.

Note that this simple formula provides the cost for bet battling in limit games. In a no-limit game, the formula simply defines the minimum bet.

Also note that all chips bet during a battle are placed in the central Pot, which is not necessarily won by the winner of the bet battle, unless the battle winner is the last surviving player. The Pot may be ultimately won by a player who was not involved in the current battle. This will become clearer below.

When a player is Betting against someone, he/she is said to be the attacker, and the player who is being attacked is thus called the defender.

When a defender first gets bet against, he/she has three options: Fold, Call or Raise.

Fold

If the defender Folds, he places his palace cards in the discard pile. He pays nothing more and is out of the hand. The attacker then takes the defender's soldier and banner cards into his own soldier pile. He treats the newly obtained cards as new soldiers - he can only end up with a total of five, but can discard as many as he wants.

Call

If the defender Calls, he must pay (# of his own face up cards) × Small bet. Note the distinction; he does not necessarily have to meet the full amount bet by the attacker - he may end up calling a little more or less, based on the amount of soldier cards he himself holds.

In a limit game, this is easy. The defender just looks at his face up cards, counts them, multiplies this by the small bet, and places that amount in front of him to call. In a no-limit game, it can be a little trickier. The difference between attacker and defender's soldier cards decides the difference between the total amount needed to call. This is explained best in the example below:

Example:
In a past game, Dave had bet against Christine. He had three soldier cards and she had one. It was a ($5/$10) no-limit game. He bet $100 (he needed to bet at least $20). To call, she had to put in $90 (she had two less soldier cards than Dave, and thus owed $10 less to the pot). If she would have had 4 soldier cards, she would have had to put in $105 to call, because she would have had one more soldier card than her attacker and would thus owe $5 more.

When the defender calls, the attacker must slide or pass his palace cards across the table (facedown of course) to the defender. The defender then examines them and determines the winner of the "battle".

This decision is made in much the same way as 7-stud or hold-em, or any poker game where there are more than five cards from which to make your hand: you simply make the best 5-card hand you can. So, in this case, the defender would be looking at his attacker's palace cards and at his attacker's face up cards (including the banner), and would figure out the best 5?card hand his opponent could have (all palace, soldier and banner cards can be used to determine the best 5-card hand). If it is better than his own best 5-card hand, he slides the cards back to the attacker and says "I'm out," or "I'm beat," or "You won," or something to that effect. The defender then puts his own palace cards in the discard pile, and gives his banner and soldier cards to the attacker; the same effect as if the defender had folded (see Fold, above).

If the defender realizes his own 5-card hand is better than the attacker, he passes back the attacker's palace cards, says, "I won," or "You're out," etc, and passes his own palace cards to the attacker so he can examine them and confirm that the defender actually won. When the defender wins, the same process happens; the attacker is out of the game, and the defender gets his opponent's banner and soldier cards for his own soldier ranks.

Banner Suits:

There is an important additional rule. During a bet battle, any cards of the same suit as the opposing player's banner card cannot be counted; they are essentially worthless for that bet battle.

In the example game, suppose Elena had bet against Frank. Because he is spades (has the spadeQ as his banner), any spades Elena has cannot be used to make a 5-card hand against him; they are worthless for her in that battle. Conversely, because Elena has the diamond4 as her banner, any diamonds that Frank holds cannot be used to defend against her attack-diamonds cannot be included in whatever 5-card hand he deems is his best.

This rule is obviously important because it can radically change one's hand: if your banner is clubs and you hold a flush of hearts, you would never attack the player with hearts as his/her banner and, conversely, would almost always fold at an attack from that player. Because a player can never bet against someone whose banner is the same suit as their own, this makes cards of one's own suit the most valuable; they can be used in any bet battle.

The only exception to this rule is with four-of-a-kind. If a player has four of a kind in his cards, all four cards will count toward the hand, regardless of the fact that one of the four would of course be of the opposing player's banner suit.

Ties

On the rare occasion that an attacker and defender have the same hand (5-card hand with the exact same hand values), the player with the highest amount of his/her own suits in his hand will win the bet battle. See the example in Winning the Pot, below. If there is still a tie and the two bet battling players are not the only two players remaining in the hand, they both must fold, and all of their cards, including their banner and soldiers, go into the discard pile. If they are the only two left, of course, they split the pot.

Raise

If the defender Raises, first he/she must meet the attacker's bet, as determined by his/her own face up cards (see Call, above). Then, they may raise as determined by the structure of the game.

If it is a limit game and the defender wishes to raise, he/she must raise one big bet, unless they have no soldier cards. In this one case he/she needs only to double it to two small bets.

In a no-limit game, of course, the defender can raise (add to what he/she owes for a call) whatever amount he/she wishes equal to or greater than the big bet (or equal to or greater than a small bet if the defender has no soldier cards).

When raised, the attacker now can decide to fold, call, or re-raise.
  • If the attacker folds to a defender raise, only the attacker's original bet and the amount that was needed for the defender to call goes into the pot; the defender keeps whatever he/she raised. The attacker is then out of the game, and the defender receives his face up cards.
  • If the attacker calls, he of course must meet however much the defender raised.
  • The attacker may decide to Re-raise. In a limit game, he must put down a big bet. Re-raises like this are uncommon in no-limit games, but of course, when they happen, they can be any amount the re-raiser wants.
    The defender can then re-raise, but that is usually the limit in most games (3 raises).

The player who finally calls, whether that be the attacker or defender, gets to look at the opposing player's cards first to determine the winner.

Example:
In the first round of a $5/$10 limit game (the game illustrated in Figures 1 and 2), Aaron Buys and draws a club5. Brad is next. He had been dealt a pair of aces (clubA heartA diamond9) in his palace cards. Instead of Buying, he decides to go early after Frank and his spadeQ. He bets against Frank, placing down a $5 chip (because he only has one face-up card, his banner). Frank calls (he also only has one face up card, so he puts down $5) and raises, putting down another $5. Brad thinks that Frank only has a pair of queens at best, so he re-raises, calling Frank's $5 and dropping down the additional required big bet, $10. Frank re-raises, dropping down $20, and Brad follows with a call, putting another $10 in the pot. Because Brad ended up being the one who called, Frank passes him his palace cards. Brad reaches over, picks them up, and sees clubQ diamondQ heart8. Trips. Groaning, he passes back Frank's palace cards, places his own palace cards to the side of the deck in a new discard pile, and passes over his heart3 banner to Frank.

Stay

A Stay is simple - it means no action; the player forfeits his/her turn and the next player clockwise takes a turn.

If at any point all the players at the table Stay, Discard or Fold in a row, the hand will end. This sequence of Staying/Discarding/Folding players does not have to end at the dealer, or last player. In the example game, if Dave had said Stay, and all other players back to Christine had done the same, Discarded or Folded, the hand would end. Basically, if every player takes their turn and no money is put into the pot, the hand ends.

All players, starting from the player who initiated the string of Stay/Discards/Folds show their palace cards (a showdown). Whoever has the best 5-card hand wins the pot. There are no suit constraints in this situation, like there are during a bet battle. This is the only way to end a hand without bet battles.

Fold

Although a player technically can fold, because Staying is free, it is quite improbable and foolish for a player to fold, and thus he/she will probably only do it if there is an emergency and needs to leave the table.

Winning the Pot

If there are only two players left, and one bet battles the other, it is obvious that the winner of that bet will win the pot.

However, if there end up being only two (or even three) players remaining, and they all have the same banner suits, the hand is immediately over and they split the pot.

If all players in a row decide to Stay/Discard/Fold, the hand ends and there is a showdown. The best 5-card hand will then win the pot. If there is a tie for top hand (exact same 5 card values), the hand with the highest amount of cards with the player's own banner suits wins the pot.

If this ties, the pot is split.

Example:
The previous hand, there was a showdown. Elena and Aaron ended up having the same top 5-card hand. They both had a pair of kings, with J, 9, and 8. Elena had heartK clubK heartJ diamond9 heart8, with the heartJ as her banner. Aaron had diamondK spadeK clubJ heart9 spade8 with a spade5 banner. Because Elena had 3 of her suit in her hand, and Aaron only had 2 of his, Elena takes the pot. Notice that Aaron can still use the heart9 in his hand, because he was not bet battling against Elena - it was just a showdown.

Example Game Continued

Here are the results of the example game between Aaron, Brad, Christine, Dave, Elena, and Frank.

The game continues where we left off in the example in the Raise section, above. Brad had just lost a Bet battle to Frank, and so he is out.

It is now Christine's turn. She Buys, drawing spade7. Dave Buys, the club9. Elena thinks, then Buys and draws heart2. Frank, thirsty for another 8 to complete his full house, Bets against Aaron, putting $5 into the pot (he had discarded the heart3 he received from Brad). Aaron looks at his palace (spade4 spadeK club10), thinks that since Frank had a better hand than Brad, Frank must have at least a pair. Since Aaron has no pair, he folds. Frank takes the club8, placing it in his soldier area. He then takes the club5 and discards it. At the same time, Aaron places his palace cards into the discard pile. The end of this round is displayed in Figure 3.

figure 3
Figure 3. Here red chips are $5 and blue chips are $10.

Round two begins with Christine Buying again, drawing clubJ. Dave is noticeably transfixed on the clubJ that Christine just drew. His palace cards are (spadeJ heartJ diamond5). The spadeJ doesn't count against her, so he technically has only a pair of jacks - his banner and the heartJ. He Bets against her, placing $10 into the pot. She looks at her hand (diamond6 club6 diamond8). She has a pair, but it is useless against Dave because he has a diamonds banner. She folds, tossing her palace cards on top of the discard pile. Dave takes her spade10, spade7, and clubJ, thinks, and then discards the spade10, spade7, and the club9 he had bought on the previous round. Elena looks again at her palace (heart9 heart4 diamond3). She doesn't want to pay anything else unless there is a chance she can take a 5 and 6 or 5 and ace in one bet battle to complete a straight. She stays. Frank interprets this (correctly) as a bad hand and Bet battles her, placing $10 into the pot. She folds. He takes her heart2 and diamond4 and discards them. The result of this round is shown in Figure 4.

figure 4
Figure 4.

Third round. Dave, with his four of a kind Jacks, is certain he can beat Frank, so he Bets against him, moving $10 into the pot. Frank thinks that Dave might have three of a kind, jacks. Since his diamondQ is useless against Dave, bringing him to two pair, he hesitates, but decides to call, placing $10 into the pot. Dave passes his palace cards to Frank, who sees the 2 jacks in the hand and the 2 on the table. He mucks his hand, tossing them onto the discard pile, and Dave takes the pot, winning $142, as Aaron begins gathering the cards to shuffle for his deal. This final result is shown in Figure 5.

palacep5.gif - 29898 Bytes
Figure 5.

Note that this was a short hand; normally one doesn't see a full house and four of a kind go heads up like that. Also, four out of the six palace hands contained pairs, a rare event. In addition, none of the figures show multiple soldier cards, but this of course is possible (up to five) as Christine actually held two soldier cards at one time.

Variations

No Pot Sharing Rule

The most common variation is to eliminate pot sharing when two or three same-banner-suited players end up being the only players remaining. This is accomplished by immediately having a showdown, and the pot awarded (or divided up, in rare cases) according to the normal rules of a showdown, as illustrated in Winning the Pot, above.

Open Market Rule

This common variation allows a player the option available of also Buying the top card on the discard pile. Rather than one small bet, it costs one big bet. This does give the opportunity for collusion between players seated next to each other, though, and should be watched.

Kings in the House Rule (or Royal Palace Rule)

This is a variation in which the royal cards (King, Queen, Jack) of one's own suit can become [semi] wild when held in the palace cards.

  • The Ace is still the highest card, but cannot be used as a wild card.
  • The King of one's own banner suit can be used as any card King and below, of any suit.
  • The Queen of one's own suit can be used as any card Queen and below, of its own color only. (For example, if one had a clubs banner, and they held the clubQ in their palace cards, they could use it as any card 2-Q, of either clubs or spades, but not hearts or diamonds.)
  • The Jack of one's own suit can be used as any card Jack or below, of its own suit only.

Note the emphasis on palace cards: royal cards of one own suit in the banner or soldiers cannot become wild.

These three royal cards can only be used as an Ace in one situation: a wheel, i.e. a straight or straight flush A-2-3-4-5.

Palace Poker without money

Palace Poker can be played without money or chips also. Play proceeds as normal; it is obviously free to draw and free to attack. So, during a bet battle, one player attacks another, and the defender looks at the attacker's cards and declares who is out, without, of course, the calling or raising, etc.

The winning player scores 10 points minus the number of soldier cards that ended up in the winner's hand, i.e. winning scores range from 5-10 points. The final winner is the first to score 100 points (or whatever the players decide).

There is no pot-splitting, of course. All same-banner-suited players do a showdown if they are the only ones left, a la the No Pot Sharing rule. Thus, there is only one winner per round. However, if there is an absolute tie (exact same hand denominations, exact same amount of banner suits in hand), then there is no winner and no points are awarded that hand.