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How to play 5-Card Draw – Rules, FAQ, Strategy and Tips

Introduction

5-Card Draw is the oldest form of poker. The entire poker evolution started with this game over 200 years ago. Therefore, it’s also the simplest poker type.

This is a very basic draw poker game with a single draw and two betting rounds. There is little room for strategy and skill – most likely this is the reason No-Limit Hold’em and many other games eventually surged by it in popularity.

While for a long time it was one of the most commonly played versions of poker, these days, it is hard to find action, live or online. Many big poker rooms don’t even offer 5-Card Draw to their users anymore. You can find it on PokerStars, with usually one or two games going at a no-limit cash table on a good day. The WSOP hasn’t held a 5-Card Draw event since 1982. It’s also absent from all the popular mixed games.

If you’re more of a gambler, rather than a poker strategist, 5-Card Draw is a game we recommend.


Basic Rules

Every player gets dealt 5 cards face down.

The player to the left of the dealer button posts the small blind, the player left to them posts the big blind. These are blind bets to facilitate action in each hand. The big blind is usually twice the amount of the small blind. The first person to act pre-draw is the one sitting next to the BB, to their left.

Players have the option to fold, call the blind, or raise. If they fold they give up the chance of winning the pot, but they don’t have to put any more money in either. If they choose to raise, the others need to match the raised amount in order to stay in the hand. If everybody folds to a raise the last aggressor claims the pot.

If there are at least two players remaining in the hand after the first betting round, a draw takes place. Players can discard anywhere between 1-5 cards, then draw 1-5 new cards. They can also choose to keep their hand and not draw any new cards at all. This is what draw poker players call “staying pat”.

The player sitting closest to the button, to their left, draws first. The action moves clockwise, always closing with the player on the button if they’re still in the hand. After the draw a betting round takes place. Players have to act in the same order as for the draw. If it “checks through”, meaning no bet is made, or there’s betting and at least one caller, the showdown comes next.

Whoever has the best 5-card hand at showdown wins the chips in the pot. The classic Hold’em ranking applies, which is based on probability. Just as a reminder, here’s the rundown, from the weakest hand to the strongest.

Pair
Two of the same ranked card. Odds: 1.37:1 AsAc

Two pair
Two of the same ranked card and another two of the same ranked different card.

Odds: 20:1 AhAd KcKs

Three of a kind/Trips/Set
Three of the same ranked card. Odds: 46.3:1 AsAdAc

Straight
Five cards following each other in rank, suit discounted. Odds: 254:1 Ad2h3c4s5h

Flush
Five cards of the same suit. Odds: 508:1 (Ah7hQhJh10h, all of the same suit)

Full House/Boat
Three of the same ranked card and two of the same ranked different card.

Odds: 693:1 AsAdAcKhKd

Four of a kind/Quads
Four of the same ranked card. Odds: 4,165:1 AsAdAcAh

Straight flush
Five cards of the same suit, following each other in rank.

Odds: 72,192:1. (Ad2d3d4d5d of the same suit)

Royal Flush
10cJcQcKcAc of the same suit. Odds: 649,740:1

If the dealer runs out of new cards to deal, the discarded pile is reshuffled and dealt again. Since this is a single draw game, it’s a very rare scenario.


Basic strategy

In 5-Card Draw, you need to try to put your opponent on a range based on how many cards they’re drawing and on their betting habits. In this game, showdowns happen quite often and one hand takes very little time. This means you’ll have a substantial amount of information on what kind of hands the other players are calling or raising with within a fairly short amount of time. You need to pay attention to that.

Position is crucial. Not only do you get to bet after your opponent if you’re in position, but you also get to draw after them. This means you have significantly more information about their hand than they have about yours. Therefore, you should play most of your hands on the button where position is guaranteed post-draw.

A common move draw poker players like to make is called “snowing”. This means they stay pat with a weak hand to indicate strength, then bet as a bluff.

With all that being said, 5-Card Draw gives very little information about your opponent’s hand compared to other games such No-Limit Hold’em – where the board is known to all players, narrowing down the possible hands the others can have – or Stud games – where parts of your opponents’ hands are exposed. On top of all that, there is also only one draw and two betting rounds, meaning there’s even less opportunity to pick up on betting habits – compare that to, for example, 2-7 Triple Draw. For all these reasons, 5-Card Draw allows for very little edge against the other players.


History

5-Card Draw is the oldest poker game out there. It has been played since before the American Civil War era.

The early version of the game was the most primitive form of poker, with the players receiving 5 cards dealt face down, then betting on who has the best hand. Back then, a deck of cards only consisted of 20 cards: 10-Ace of each suit. Flushes and straights didn’t count, only pairs, two pairs, sets, boats and quads. Around the 1850’s people started using the full 52-card deck in order allow for more players to join in on the game. With that flushes, then straights got introduced as well as an additional drawing and betting round.

When R.F. Foster described poker in the 1937 version of Foster’s complete Hoyle;: An encyclopedia of games, he clearly was under the impression that “poker” meant early 5-Card Draw only, even though by then it was less common than Stud games. Foster wrote: “the game of poker, as first played in the United States, five cards to each player from a twenty-card pack, is undoubtedly the Persian game of As-Nas”.

Although Stud games surpassed it in popularity early on, the classic draw poker also stuck around for a long time, especially at home games.

You can see characters playing 5-Card Draw in such popular TV shows as NBC’s Friends or CBS’s Two and a Half Men. There’s also a draw poker scene in the star-studded Hollywood blockbuster remake of Ocean’s Eleven.

Despite all that, the professional poker community never seemed to embrace the game to a great extent. High stakes 5-Card Draw cash games and tournaments have always been rare. The last WSOP 5-Card Draw event was held in 1982 under the name $1,000 Limit Draw High. Only five World Series of Poker series had it on their schedule, 1978-1982. There’s no 5-Card Draw featured in any of the popular mixed games either.


Notable 5-Card Draw Players

The last 5-Card Draw WSOP tournament was won by David Sklansky in 1982. He got $15,000 for that victory, minuscule by today’s standards. Sklansky is also a prolific writer on poker strategy, publishing or co-publishing 13 books on the subject.

Another well-known poker author, Mike Caro has also played 5-Card Draw frequently. In fact, he wrote the chapter on draw poker for Doyle Brunson’s famous 1979 strategy book, Super/System.

 

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