Feel free to “draw” on a bottle of “Red-Eye” as you read this section. Harkening back to the days of John Wayne, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and every western you ever saw set in the 19th Century, there was always a draw poker game at the table in the local saloon. Historically, cowpokes on the trail generally spent most of their wages in these places on bad whiskey, immodest women, risky games of chance, and then just wasted the rest of it.
The very basic 5-card draw game requires a table or dealer-set ante, the dealer distributes five cards, one at a time, face down to each player beginning with the player on the left, bets are placed, perhaps raised, then there is the “draw” from the deck exchanging cards in hopes of better ones, betting resumes, and the one with the best hand wins the pot. Easy? Maybe. Bluffing, i.e., someone betting as though they have a great hand when they don’t, is easier to run in a simple game of 5-card, meaning no wild cards in play.
The “draw” part means that the dealer can set how many cards the players can draw in exchange for cards discarded from their hands. Usually it is three or four. This action can tell you something about what they may have – or maybe they are bluffing. For example, if the dealer allows four cards to be drawn and someone draws four, the odds are that they had nothing. If they begin to bet big after this, the odds are that they might be bluffing, but not always. If someone takes one card, they are probably trying to fill out a straight or a flush; three cards generally means that they had a pair that they are holding onto, and so on. If they take no cards on the draw that can mean they think they can win already or they are bluffing. Knowing the players and watching what they do is more than just a small part of poker. You might want to remember that you aren’t just playing your cards, you are playing the other players, too. Keen observations are as important as getting good cards in this game.
Typically, there are two betting rounds in 5-card, one before the draw and another one after. Obviously, when people act differently in betting after the draw that can mean either they have drawn something good or they’re bluffing. You see, it isn’t that easy, unless you know the players and their habits. Even then, they might surprise you as the guy who tries to bluff his way through once a night, but no more. It is tactics and strategy.
Now, the hands get more interesting when wild cards are introduced. The dealer calls the game so it could be as simple as “deuces (or ducks, as all cards have an alternative name) wild and this can produce some interesting hands. But when you get to “Acey Deucey One-Eyed Jacks and the Man with the Axe”, this means 11 wild cards in the deck of 52, so it will probably be nothing less than four of a kind which wins this one. In Roll Your Own, for example, each player chooses which card in their hand will be wild. In Kings and Little Ones, similarly, the largest and smallest cards in the players’ hands are wild.
Pots can enlarge geometrically when the feature of “Jacks or better to open, progressive” is used. This means that after everyone ante’s, at least a pair of Jacks have to be used for an opening bet in the first round and players “check” if they do not qualify. The “progressive” part comes into play when nobody has a pair of Jacks. Then the cards are collected, shuffled, everyone ante’s again, and the cards are re-dealt but whoever opens the betting has to have a pair of Queens. If no one has any Ladies, then it happens all over again for Kings. Eventually, if the dealer isn’t dealing great hands, the players get so frustrated they request that the dealer go back to “guts to open”, meaning anything can open the betting. Quite often that will happen after nobody has opened after it has progressed to Aces…and by then there is a large pot already in the middle of the table. This modest primer hasn’t even talked about “Roll ‘Em”, or paying for the draw, or other variations as there are as many as the imaginations of gamblers can create.