Doyle Brunson described no limit Texas hold’em as the Cadillac of poker games, but there are problems with the analogy. Cadillacs are driven by only a tiny number of car owners, whereas absolutely everyone in the poker world plays hold’em.
In terms of prevalence, no limit Texas hold’em is more like the Toyota Corolla of poker. It’s more popular than every other variant put together.
But you don’t always have to drive a Toyota Corolla. In fact, it might be fun to take a look around at some other variants to spice up your poker playing, particularly some of those that lurk in the lesser populated regions of the PokerStars client.
With help from our friends in the card-room team, we’ve been able to identify some of the most underplayed poker games on offer. It’s got to be tempting to give some of these a try, and really get that feel of exclusivity.
So without further ado, here are some of the true poker Cadillacs…
There once was a time when draw poker was the most prominent poker variant in the world, at least as far as the movie-makers will have us believe. The games played in the saloon bars of the (fictionalised) Wild West usually had a few gunslingers standing pat, or drawing one, two or three, trying to make the best hand and blasting an opponent away if the draw missed. It’s not clear if any of them ever deliberately tried to make the worst hand, but that’s the general idea in Deuce to Seven Single Draw — a purists’ game, if ever there was one.Sometimes known as “Kansas City Lowball”, Deuce to Seven Single Draw is similar to all draw poker variants in that players get a chance to exchange any number of the five cards they initially receive. They can also stand pat, which means discarding no cards. In “single draw”, players only get one chance to do this, as opposed to triple draw, where it happens three times.
The Deuce to Seven part of the title means that players are aiming to hit the lowest set of cards possible, which DO NOT connect to make pairs, straights, flushes, or any of the hands that usually win in other variants. Aces are always high in this variant, so the absolute best hand is 7, 5, 4, 3, 2 of different suits. If you have any pair, your hand is possibly too “strong” to win.
Deuce to Seven Triple Draw is actually a very popular variant on PokerStars, but its Single Draw cousin is played less often. It’s probably because this is a game that really rewards bluffers, as well as those super-humans who are able to put soul reads on opponents and sniff out the bluffs. There are fewer opportunities to pick up tells with only one draw, particularly playing online, and so perhaps the game’s principal attraction is missing.
Nevertheless, you can always find 2-7 Single Draw tables for all stakes. The lowest games have $0.10/$0.25 blinds; the highest are $10/$20.
As the World Series of Poker underwent its incredible surge in popularity through the mid 2000s, organisers wanted to add a high buy-in, small-field tournament that would really determine who was the best player in the world. They introduced a tournament with a $50,000 buy-in and to test five poker variants:
Eight or better (seven-card stud hi/lo).
Although the $50K event at the WSOP became an 8-game mix in 2010, and then a 10-game mix five years later, the core HORSE variants still make for an excellent tournament or cash game rotation. And it’s available on PokerStars for stakes starting at $0.10/$0.20, all the way up to $1,000/$2,000.
Don’t be under any illusions: it’s tough to play HORSE. You need to be a versatile thinker, with a good mastery of all variants, to compete. But it really rewards players who opt to develop all-round poker skills, rather than those who just specialise in one variant.
Of course, there are also plenty of play money games where you can develop those skills for free, and get used to playing all the different variants. After that, the cash game tables are always open, and HORSE almost always appears in the tournament lobby too, as well as in events like WCOOP and SCOOP.
If you can play HORSE well, you’re well on the way to being the all-round player.
For every hugely successful game, there are a few variants that tinker slightly with the format and offer a new twist. For the game of 5-Card Omaha, the most popular twist is known as Courchevel.Of course, 5-Card Omaha is itself a slight variant of its better known four-card cousin, and Courchevel takes things one step further. In it, players receive five personal cards each, from which they need to use exactly two, matched with three from the community cards of flop, turn and river, to make the best five-card poker hand.
But in Courchevel, the first card of the flop is dealt before the pre-flop betting round. It means that all players can see exactly six cards at the very beginning of the hand: their own five hole cards, plus this one flop card.
After the first betting round, the flop is completed with two more cards. Then a turn and a river completes the board.
This seems like a very small twist, but it can dramatically alter considerations pre-flop. You might learn that you’re one card closer towards making a big hand or, perhaps even more crucially, that one community card is not going to help your draws at all. It might also give you a potential second draw to back-up what you consider your main hand.
Courchevel is available in fixed limit, pot limit and no limit levels, and there’s also Courchevel hi/lo to mix everything up even more. The biggest stakes here are $25/$50 blinds, and you’ll find a good few players mixing it up there some nights.
Badugi has something of a cult following among poker aficionados and it often appears on home game rotations. That’s probably because it requires players to do what few other poker variants do: pay attention to the suits of the cards as well as the denominations. It is also unique in that badugi hands only have four cards whereas in every other variant, players need to make a five-card poker hand.Badugi is a lowball game, meaning the “lowest” hand wins. But players are also looking for a four-card hand in which all of the cards are of a different suit. That’s known as a “badugi”. Aces are low, so the very best hand is 4-3-2-A, of four different suits. (Straights are not a thing in badugi.)
If any of your suits are duplicated, your hand is devalued and the duplicate card(s) must be ignored. Therefore the A♠4♣7♣9♦, for instance, is only considered a three-card hand because the 7♣, matching the club suit of the 4♣, is ignored. This hand will lose to any badugi hands … but it would beat A♠2♠3♦4♦ because this hand has two suits duplicated.
There are three draws, with a betting round between each, and it’s usually played as a fixed limit game. It means there are lots of chances to gain information and for fortunes to change rapidly.
Badugi game stakes begin at $0.25/$0.50 and go up to $400/$800, and you may well find your new favourite game if you give this a try.
PokerStars very often introduces new variants to the lobby, offering other options for play, so be sure to look around regularly and give some new games a try. And remember, everything is always also available as a play money game, so you can try it for free.