This unusual poker variant was contributed by Michael Sanderson. The exact origin is unclear, but it seems that it may have originated in the Northeastern USA. The game was certainly played on the campus of Brandeis University (in Massachussetts), and now has a reasonable following in the Maryland-Virginia area as well. There are several poker games in Annapolis where this game is standard fare. It is not known how the game acquired the name "Napalm".
Michael Sanderson writes:
This has proven to be a very interesting game, calling for frequent bluffing and allowing substantial movement of money fairly quickly. We have found it to be a good game for a timid poker table. Perhaps the most interesting facet is that the "winner" of the game (getting 5 tokens first) may not be the biggest money winner, as the side bets can collectively eclipse the final pot amount.
Andy Latto reports that he learned this same game in 1979, under the name Whipsaw. A related game with wild cards has appeared in several collections of home poker games under the name 3-5-7.
Players, cards and equipment
There are from 4 to 7 players. A game consists of a series of hands, the turn to deal passing to the left after each hand.
A regular poker deck is used, with 52 cards and no jokers. The game uses the standard ranking of poker hands, but aces always count as high cards, even when playing for lowest hand.
Players need a supply of chips (or money) for betting. You also need a collection of tokens which are different from the chips. Tokens do not have a direct monetary value; they start in a central store and are awarded to players in certain circumstances; the first player to collect five tokens wins the pot.
There are two main objectives:
- to win the gradually increasing pot by being the first to collect a pre-determined number of tokens;
- to win occasional "side bets" each matching the pot amount, occuring throughout the game.
At the start of each hand, each player antes one chip into the pot. The play of the hand is then in three stages.
Dealer starts by dealing two cards to each player. Each player looks at their own cards.
Starting at dealer's left and going round the table clockwise, each player makes a declaration "Yes" or "No", indicating whether they believe they may have the best two card hand of those dealt (a pair of aces is highest; any pair beats any two odd cards; highest odd card wins if no one has a pair; second card compared only if there is a tie for highest; 3-2 is the lowest hand; in a two-card hand flushes and straights have no value).
Each player has just one chance to say "Yes" or "No" except for one special case: if the dealer, declaring last, sees that all others have said "No" and then says "Yes," each other player in turn has the opportunity to "challenge" the dealer by changing their "No" announcement to a "Yes."
After all declarations, there are three possibilities:
- If only one player has declared "Yes," that player is awarded one token from the central store.
- If two or more players have declared "Yes", they privately show each other their hands; whichever of them has the highest hand collects a "side bet" equal to the total number of chips currently in the pot, paid directly to them by each of the others who said "Yes". No tokens are distributed and the pot itself is not affected.
- If there is a tie for best hand between players who have said "yes", there is no payment of chips between the winning tied players. If any other players with worse hands also said "yes", then each of these losers pays an amount equal to the total number of chips in the pot to each of the winners. So if two players tie for best hand and beat you (both you and they having said "yes"), you have to pay out twice as many chips as if there had been a single winner.
- If no players have declared "Yes", no chips or tokens change hands.
Dealer deals three additional cards to each player (players keep their original two as well), and each player then makes a declaration based on their belief that they have the lowest hand of five cards. Aces still count as high, and straights and flushes now count, so the best (lowest) possible hand for this stage is 2-3-4-5-7. After the round of declarations, tokens are awarded or side bets resolved in exactly the same way as for stage one, described above. Between several players who said "Yes", the lowest poker hand wins.
Dealer deals two additional cards to each player, so that everyone has seven in all. Each player then makes a declaration based on having the highest 5-card poker hand (selecting whichever 5 of their 7 cards make the best hand). The declarations and token award or side bets are again handled as in the first stage, with the highest five-card poker hand winning any contest between players who said "Yes". The cards are then thrown in and shuffled, the turn to deal passes to the left, and a new hand begins with stage one, each player putting another chip into the pot.
Winning the pot
With each new dealer, each player antes an additional chip. (By player agreement, this may be limited to every other new dealer, to keep the pot from rising too quickly).
As soon as any player collects five tokens (or another pre-agreed target number) the game is immediately over, and the winner (the player with the five tokens) takes all the chips in the pot.