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A Beginner’s Guide to 5-Card Draw Poker

If you are a complete newcomer to poker, then 5-Card Draw an excellent place to start. While it is not played as often as games such as Texas Hold’em or Omaha, it is the oldest and simplest version of the game, so it takes very little time to learn, and it can still provide you with hours of fun while giving you the chance to win real money.

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to play 5-Card Draw, including the rules and some basic strategy tips to get you off to the best possible start.

How to Play 5-Card Draw

The aim of 5-Card Draw is basically the same as any poker variant, you need to build the best possible five-card poker hand. The game uses the standard poker hand rankings, which are explained below.

There are two different methods of pre-flop betting in 5-card draw (the flop is the dealing of the cards). The first requires all players to pay an ante before receiving their cards, and this is very common in home games. The second, uses a small blind and big blind, which is more common when playing online or in casinos. These are compulsory bets placed by the two players to the left of the dealer in order to guarantee there is a pot to play for.

The game can also be played with three different betting structures, Fixed Limit, Pot Limit and No Limit:

  • Fixed Limit – Players can choose to call, bet or raise, but only by a fixed amount. The amount for any given betting round is set in advance.
  • Pot Limit – Each player can bet or raise by any amount up to and including the size of the entire pot at that time.
  • No Limit – Players can bet and raise by any amount up to and including their full stack of chips in any betting round.

All three follow the same rules, but the different betting structures require different strategies. For example, in a fixed-limit game some hands that you wouldn’t play become playable in no-limit, as you are able to bet enough to force your opponent to fold.

As mentioned, regardless of the betting structure, the rules are the same. Once all players have paid the ante or the blinds have been placed, each player receives five cards face down (however, players may look at their cards). There is then a round of betting,

After the round of betting, if more than one player remains, there is a first round of drawing. Each of the active players specifies how many cards they wish to discard and replace with new cards from the deck. If a player does not want to change any cards, they are said to “stand pat”.

Once the drawing is completed, there is another round of betting. After this round, if there is more than one player remaining, a showdown occurs and the player with the best five-card poker hand wins.

Poker Hand Rankings

As is clear, the rules of the game are very simple and take no time to learn. However, poker is all about the strength of your hand, so it is essential that you have a solid understanding of the different hand rankings. This way, you can spot the potential in the cards you are dealt and make the best decisions. As mentioned, 5- Card Draw uses the standard hand rankings and from strongest to weakest, they are as follows:

  • Royal Flush – This is the strongest hand possible and it contains the cards 10, J, Q, K and A all from the same suit.
  • Straight Flush – This is five cards in numerical order from the same suit; for example, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 of Clubs.
  • Four of a Kind – This is a hand that contains four cards of same value, such as 3 Diamonds, 3 Clubs, 3 Spades, 3 Hearts.
  • Full House – This is a hand that contains three of a kind together with a pair, for example, three 5s and two Jacks, the suit is irrelevant.
  • Flush – This is a hand of five cards all from the same suit, for example, 4, 6, 8, 9 and Queen of Spades.
  • Straight – This is five cards in numerical order, the suit is not important. For example, 4 Diamonds, 5 Clubs, 6 Hearts, 7 Spades, and 8 Diamonds.
  • Three of a Kind – This is three cards of the same value and two unrelated cards. For example, 7 Clubs, 7 Diamonds, 7 Spades, 2 Spades and King Hearts.
  • Two Pair – This is a hand that contains two individual pairs of cards and one unrelated card. For example, 6 Spades, 6 Hearts, 9 Diamonds, 9 Spades, 2 Hearts.
  • Pair – This is a hand that contains two matching cards and three unrelated cards. For example, Jack Spades, Jack Clubs, 4 Diamonds, 6 Clubs, 8 Hearts.
  • High Card – If a hand does not contain any of the above, then it is judged according to the highest value card in it.

5-Card Draw Basic Tips

Just because the game is easy to understand, it doesn’t mean that the strategy is straightforward. If you are going to start playing for real money, then it is advisable that you first spend time practising. It is not hard to find places online where you can play for free, and that is the best thing to start with.

Before going into specifics, one mistake that many beginners make is to play far too many hands, in particular when they attempt to draw to a straight or a flush. In many cases, it is better simply to abandon a hand than throw money after it.

Furthermore, as in games that use community cards, your position in relation to the button (the dealer) is important in 5-Card Draw. The closer you are to the dealer, the wider the range of hands that you can profitably play.

No matter what your position is, it is almost always worth entering the pot with a raise, as going in by calling (known as limping) normally results in many other players following suit, which means that you will need to match a stronger hand to win the pot.

When in an early position (close to the dealer), you should play cautiously and raise with hands such as pairs of aces or kings. As your position moves later (further from the dealer), you can add other high pairs, such as queens, jacks, tens and nines, particularly if there is a good kicker (the highest card not in the hand).

If you are lucky enough to be dealt two pair or three of a kind, then you should always come out raising, no matter your position. However, be careful of holdings such as four to a straight or a flush (if you are holding four of the cards needed for either of the hands); it is very easy to burn through your bankroll with these hands as the statistics are against you in terms of completing the hand.

What Cards Should You Discard

Knowing which cards to discard in the drawing round is essential to your success. You can find advanced strategies online that go into this in great depth. However, you can start with a few basics:

  • Holding one pair – Draw three cards
  • Holding two pair – Draw one card
  • Holding three of a kind – Draw two cards

This list is really just the very basics and you will find strategies that explain what to do in almost every scenario. However, when you are starting out, the basic rule is hold any readymade hands and discard the other cards.

A More Advanced 5-Card Draw Strategy

When you are feeling more comfortable with the basics, you can start looking into strategies that are a bit more advanced. As with any multi-player poker game, there is a large psychological element to 5-Card Draw, and you should try to become aware of it.

For instance, if you are holding a pair, then statistically the best move is to draw three cards. However, if you do this every single time, then your opponents will notice the pattern and be able to adjust their strategy to beat you.

If you are holding a pair, then sometimes it may be best to draw just one or two cards, or even just stand pat, as this will give the impression that you have a stronger hand that you really do. However, unlike games such as Texas Hold’em, it is rare to bluff completely in 5-Card Draw.

Players will usually have some kind of playable hand when betting, even if they are bluffing to a degree. This is why it is worth taking notes on your opponents’ plays in 5-Card Draw, as it will help you spot patterns and learn how the others play. For instance, if you notice that a player only opens with a pair of jacks or stronger on the button, you will know to fold a pair of 10s in the blinds instead of calling.

5-Card Draw is a truly enjoyable game and an excellent way to get started playing poker. Spend some time playing free games online, or with friends and family, and you are sure to have lots of fun. Once you are comfortable with it, then there is no reason not to move on to other poker variants to see what they have to offer.


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