Researching and writing my book Poker & Pop Culture enabled me to pursue a wide range of topics and learn a number of things about the game’s history I might have never explored otherwise. For example, if not for the book I might not have learned the rules for how to play strip poker.
I’m sensing that you, dear reader, might doubt what I am saying. Who doesn’t know how to play strip poker?
I found examples of strip poker turning up in movies dating all of the way back to the silent film era, and references to strip poker going back even before that. Meanwhile in today’s world of webcams, laptops, and mobile devices, it probably isn’t hard to find a strip poker online game somewhere, although I’ll leave that research to others.
In other words, the idea of playing poker by betting with your clothes instead of with chips or cash has probably been around for roughly the entire history of the game — from shortly after its origin to today. As a result, it is reasonable to assume everyone who knows how to play poker should also know how to play strip poker, right?
Well, let me assure you… the rules are a lot more complicated than you might realize.
The great Edwin Silberstang wrote more than 50 books about popular gambling games, including several about poker. Books like The Winner’s Guide to Casino Gambling and Winning Casino Craps were bestsellers held in high regard and commonly referred to as “gamblers’ bibles.”
One of Silberstang’s more popular books was Playboy’s Book of Games, first published in 1972 before going through multiple editions. The book starts out covering a lot of different card games, including poker, rummy, bridge, hearts, and blackjack. Silberstang also discusses craps, roulette, sports betting, backgammon, and more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the association with Playboy magazine, Silberstang also includes a section about strip poker. In fact, he separates that discussion from a longer one treating other popular poker games like five-card draw, five- and seven-card stud, and lowball. (There’s no hold’em, by the way, as that wasn’t yet such a popular variant in the early 1970s.)
The section is great in part because Silberstang adopts a somewhat deadpan approach to explaining strip poker rules. That is to say, he takes it all very seriously, but you can tell he’s frequently got his tongue in cheek. For instance, the discussion of playing split-pot games and a “popular variation” being that the winner of the high half of the pot “gets an article from the waist up” from others while the winner of the low gets a “waist-down garment” is a riot.
He goes through rules of the game, the order of play, guidelines regarding dressing and undressing, and even discusses some strategy. As an example of the latter, Silberstang recommends the dealer take into account what the opponent is wearing before calling a game. “I only play lowball against those opponents who favor pantyhose as against regular stockings,” he jokes.
You’re probably tired already of all this teasing, so let me just share a few of Silberstang’s most important pointers about strip poker.
Prior to the first hand being dealt, it’s important that everyone who is playing knows basic poker rules. “Before any game of strip poker, make sure that the players understand the game,” recommends Silberstang.
Strip poker is not a game for the shy or reserved. Getting involved without knowing how to play poker can only make things less comfortable.
There are too many betting rounds in stud games, Silberstang points out, thus making stud a bit harrowing for strip poker. If players keep sticking around all of the way to showdown, “those staying in will have bet most of their clothing after just a few hands.”
“Therefore, from long experience and as a result of much study,” says Silberstang (and I imagine him winking here), “I recommend that only draw poker, jacks or better, be played in strip poker.”
Hold’em might prove problematic as well, given it has four betting rounds whereas draw only has a couple (with the ante, if used, adding another bet). Player (and stripper) beware.
“Once an article of clothing is removed, it cannot be put on again,” insists Silberstang. In other words, you can win back your clothes, but you can’t then put those clothes back on. Instead, you have to keep the items in front of you to be used “merely as a betting medium.”
This strikes me as a house rule that could be waved. In any case, it’s an example of the sort of thing that should be sorted out before the game begins.
Silberstang touches on this issue repeatedly in order to answer the question “What counts as clothing?” Clothing means “garments worn by the player,” which in turn means that “a shoe fits this description, but a band-aid does not.” Also ruled out are “eyeglasses, bobby pins, earrings, watches, rings, bracelets, wigs, and toupees.”
Later he circles back to the topic to add items like cuff links, tie clips, watches, hair curlers, jockstraps, hearing aids, and dentures to the list of non-clothing items. Dentures!
You have to draw the line somewhere. “Who would want to bluff with consummate skill in order to gain one of twenty-eight bobby pins in the opponent’s hair?” Silberstang asks. It’s a fair question.
There’s more, including suggestions about the order in which clothes must be removed. Silberstang says clothes should be taken off from the bottom to the top (except in those high-low games mentioned above), as that will keep the game from getting slowed down by players hemming and hawing about which item to remove.
“If, on the first ante, there are four players, there should be four shoes in the pot,” he says. Also, “the one rule that must be followed is that outer items go before inner clothing.”
Silberstang suggests playing with a kind of “rake” which means from each pot the “house” gets a piece of clothing. Doing that ensures the game eventually proceeds toward some kind of finish as players ultimately run out of clothes with which to bet.
Speaking of the end of the game, there are a few ways to get there, with everyone finally losing all their clothes being the most common. Silberstang adds the suggestion “If the game has gone on for two hours and the majority of players decide to end it, then everyone must strip.”
That advice reminds me of a movie I watched for the book called Zeta One, kind of a psychedelic, exploitative sci-fi spy spoof from the late 1960s in which a race of alien women from the planet Angvia kidnap earth women to try to repopulate their planet, and only a James Bond-like secret agent can thwart the plot.
Sounds great, right? I’m sorry to report it is not, and it starts with what has to be the longest, most boring game of strip poker in cinema history.
“We’ve been playing for two hours and we’re back where we started!” the exasperated Bond guy finally says. (For the viewer, it seems longer.)
Obviously, they didn’t have a copy of Silberstang’s rules help move things along.