The beauty of poker lies in its variety. While Texas Hold’em has emerged as the most popular variation globally, many other games also provide exciting and strategic gameplay. Understanding these variations can help you enjoy a broader range of poker experiences and improve your overall understanding of poker strategy. Let’s dive into the basic rules of the most popular poker variations played at cardrooms: Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Seven-Card Stud, and Razz.
How to Deal & Play Texas Hold’em
Texas Hold’em is arguably the most popular form of poker, played in casinos, home games, and online poker rooms worldwide. Its popularity can be attributed to its easy-to-understand rules, strategic depth, and the exposure it has received from televised poker events.
Let’s look at a step-by-step guide of how a hand is dealt and played.
1. Posting Blinds
Each hand starts with two players posting blinds. The player directly to the left of the dealer posts the small blind, usually half the minimum bet, and the player to their left posts the big blind, typically the minimum bet. Blinds are forced bets that start the pot and induce action.
2. Dealing Hole Cards
Once the blinds are posted, each player is dealt two private cards face down. These are known as ‘hole cards.’
3. Pre-Flop Betting
The first round of betting starts with the player to the left of the big blind. This player can choose to fold (drop out of the hand), call (match the big blind), or raise (increase the bet). The action then continues clockwise around the table. Players can choose to fold, call, or raise based on the actions of the players before them.
4. The Flop
After the first betting round ends, the dealer deals three community cards face-up on the ‘board.’ This is known as the ‘flop.’
5. Post-Flop Betting
The second round of betting starts with the player to the left of the dealer, who can check (pass their turn without betting) or bet. If a player bets, the next player can fold, call, or raise. The action continues around the table.
6. The Turn
Once the second betting round is complete, the dealer deals a fourth community card face-up on the board. This is known as the ‘turn.’
7. Post-Turn Betting
A third round of betting ensues, starting again with the player to the left of the dealer. This round typically sees higher stakes, with minimum bets usually doubling in no-limit and limit games.
8. The River
After the third round of betting, the dealer deals a fifth and final community card face-up on the board. This card is known as the ‘river.’
9. Post-River Betting
The final round of betting starts. As with the previous rounds, this starts with the player to the left of the dealer.
If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. Here, players reveal their hole cards, starting with the last player to bet or raise during the final betting round. The player with the best five-card hand, using any combination of their two hole cards and the five community cards, wins the pot. In the event of identical hands, the pot is split.
Here are the primary variations of Texas Hold’em and how to play each of them:
No-Limit Texas Hold’em
No-Limit Texas Hold’em is the most popular version of the game. In this format, players can bet any amount of their chip stack at any time during the hand. The only restriction is that a bet or a raise must be at least the size of the previous bet or raise in the same round.
Each player is dealt two private cards (known as ‘hole cards’), and then five community cards are dealt face-up on the ‘board.’ The objective is to make the best five-card poker hand using any combination of your two hole cards and the five community cards.
Limit Texas Hold’em
Limit Texas Hold’em (or just ‘Limit Hold’em’) differs from No-Limit in its betting structure. In this version, there is a set limit on how much a player can bet or raise in each round of betting. Usually, the limit doubles in the last two betting rounds (the ‘turn’ and the ‘river’).
The dealing and objective of the game remain the same as No-Limit Hold’em, but the limit on betting changes the strategy significantly, often requiring more patience and careful hand selection.
Mixed Limit Texas Hold’em
In Mixed Limit Texas Hold’em, the game switches between No-Limit and Limit Hold’em. The switch is typically made every few hands or each time the dealer button completes a full cycle around the table. The mixed format presents unique strategic challenges, as players need to adjust their betting and bluffing strategies based on the current format.
While the basic rules of Texas Hold’em are relatively straightforward, each variation presents unique strategic challenges. Whether you’re playing No-Limit, Limit, Pot-Limit, or Mixed Limit, understanding the different versions of Texas Hold’em can help improve your game and make you a more versatile poker player.
How to Deal & Play Omaha Poker
Omaha poker, the second most popular form of poker, is known for its high action and exciting gameplay. It is similar to Texas Hold’em, but with some crucial differences that can significantly impact strategy and playstyle. In Omaha, each player is dealt four private cards, but must use exactly two of them in combination with exactly three of the five community cards to make their best five-card poker hand. Otherwise, Omaha is dealt and played exactly like Texas Holdem with the same 10 steps as shown above.
There are several variations of Omaha, each with its own rules and unique nuances. The most common types include Omaha High, Omaha Hi/Lo, and Pot-Limit Omaha.
In Omaha High, also known simply as Omaha, each player is dealt four private cards (‘hole cards’). Five community cards are dealt face-up on the ‘board.’ The objective is to make the best five-card poker hand using exactly two of your hole cards and three of the community cards.
The game has four rounds of betting: pre-flop (after dealing hole cards), post-flop (after dealing the first three community cards), the turn (after dealing the fourth community card), and the river (after dealing the final community card).
Omaha Hi/Lo, also known as Omaha 8-or-better, plays the same way as Omaha High with a key difference: the pot is split between the highest and lowest hands. To qualify for a low hand, a player must have five unpaired cards, all 8-or-lower. An ace is the lowest card in a low hand, so the best possible low hand is A-2-3-4-5 (also known as a ‘wheel’).
A player can use any two of their hole cards and three community cards to make a high hand and any two hole cards and three community cards to make a low hand. In some cases, the same combination, or ‘going both ways,’ can win both the high and low portions of the pot.
Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO) has become one of the most popular forms of poker, both in cash games and tournaments. The main difference between Pot-Limit Omaha and the other versions of Omaha is the betting structure. In PLO, the maximum bet or raise a player can make is the current size of the pot. This rule can lead to rapidly escalating pot sizes and adds an extra strategic dimension to the game.
The dealing and objective remain the same as Omaha High – each player is dealt four hole cards, and the aim is to make the best five-card hand using exactly two hole cards and three community cards.
Read our more detailed strategy article on How to Play Pot Limit Omaha here.
While the basic rules of Omaha are relatively simple, the requirement to use exactly two hole cards and three community cards to make a hand introduces complexity and makes the game very different from Texas Hold’em.
How to Play Seven-Card Stud
Before the rise of Texas Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud was the most popular poker game. Unlike Hold’em and Omaha, Seven-Card Stud is played with no community cards and a maximum of eight players.
Each player is dealt two private cards face-down and one face-up. The player with the lowest face-up card starts the betting. This is followed by three more face-up cards dealt one at a time with a betting round after each, then a final card face-down with a final betting round.
The goal is to make the best five-card hand from the seven cards dealt. Seven-Card Stud does not involve blinds, instead using antes and a bring-in to initiate betting.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how a Seven-Card Stud hand is dealt and played:
Seven-Card Stud begins with each player posting an ante, a small, forced bet that initiates the pot. The ante is typically a fraction of the regular bet size.
2. Dealing the Initial Cards
Each player is dealt three cards: two face down (known as ‘hole cards’) and one face up (the ‘door card’). The face-up card is also referred to as the ‘third street.’
3. First Betting Round
The first round of betting begins with the player with the lowest-ranking face-up card. This player has the option to ‘bring in’ with a small bet or to bet the lower limit. The action continues clockwise, with players choosing to fold, call, or raise.
4. Fourth Street
The dealer gives each remaining player another face-up card, referred to as the ‘fourth street.’ The second round of betting begins with the player holding the highest-ranking combination of face-up cards. They have the option to check (pass without betting) or bet.
5. Fifth Street
The dealer then deals another face-up card to each remaining player. This is known as the ‘fifth street.’ From here on out, all bets and raises are in increments of the higher structured limit. The player with the highest-ranking face-up cards begins the betting.
6. Sixth Street
Another face-up card, the ‘sixth street,’ is dealt to each remaining player. Again, the player with the highest-ranking face-up cards starts the betting.
7. Seventh Street (The River)
The dealer deals a final card face down to each remaining player, referred to as the ‘seventh street’ or the ‘river.’ The final round of betting ensues, initiated by the player with the highest-ranking face-up cards.
If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. The last player to bet or raise during the final betting round shows their cards first. If no betting occurred on the final round, the player in the earliest position (closest to the left of the dealer) shows their hand first.
Players assemble their best five-card hand from their seven cards. The player with the highest-ranking poker hand wins the pot. If players have identical hands, the pot is split.
How to Play Razz
Razz is a form of Stud Poker but is played for the lowest hand instead of the highest. Otherwise, Razz is dealt and played exactly like Seven Card Stud, with the same 8 steps as shown above.
The game begins with two cards dealt face-down, one face-up to each player, followed by a round of betting.
After the initial round, players are dealt three face-up cards, one at a time, with a betting round after each. A final card is dealt face-down with a last betting round. The aim of Razz is to make the lowest possible five-card hand from the seven cards you’re dealt, with the best possible hand being A-2-3-4-5.
From the strategic depths of Texas Hold’em and Omaha to the old-school feel of Seven-Card Stud, and the lowball twist of Razz, poker offers something for everyone. Each variant requires its unique strategy and understanding, yet they all share the fundamental principle of poker: the best (or in Razz’s case, the worst) hand wins. Happy gaming!
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