An Introduction to the Many Poker Game Variations
In the context of the long history of poker, No-Limit Texas Hold’em is a relative newcomer. While this variant dominates today – it only took off around 15 years ago. That coincided with the first boom of online poker. Before that — Hold’em was played as a Fixed-Limit game, and the No-Limit version restricted to a handful of tournaments.
This page covers most of the popular poker games you can play in both live casinos and online. These are covered in order of their popularity. Variations, and the type of betting rules commonly used are covered along the way. You can enjoy most of these games in both cash game and tournament formats.
Many people think of No-Limit Hold’em as ‘poker’. This is just one of many variants – and was rarely played at all until the end of the last millennium. NL Hold’em was famously used as the game for the World Series of Poker Main Event, starting in the 1970’s. This format determined the World Champion from the toughest ‘road gamblers’ around. It was rarely, if ever, played in cash games.
Known as the ‘Cadillac’ of poker, the simplicity of this format combines with a depth of strategy which can take years to master. No-Limit betting makes the game exciting to new players, and the 4 betting rounds give a lot of opportunity for skilled hand-reading.
Each player is dealt two cards, known as ‘hole cards’, before betting begins. Two players place ‘blinds’ to get the pot started before each hand. To stay in the hand, players need to match the big blind, or can raise any amount up to the chips in front of them. If your bet gets everyone to fold, then you will win the pot without a showdown.
The flop is an important point in each hand. Here 3 cards are dealt face up. At showdown, the winner of the pot will have the best poker hand (using the standard hand rankings) combining any of the 5 board cards and their own 2 cards. The flop goes a long way in deciding how strong your hand will be.
Betting continues clockwise, starting with the player to the left of the dealer button. Players may check or bet any amount. Once there is a bet, other players must match this, raise or fold their hand. There are two more community cards, and two more betting rounds before the best hand is decided.
This poker game is so popular, that you can find it in every possible format. Here are the main ones:
There are also different table sizes, speed of action (turbo and so on) plus variations like tournaments that have re-entries. As you will see from this page, poker games have almost endless variations – and No-Limit Texas Hold’em covers almost all of them!
No-Limit may get all the headlines, though Texas Hold’em is still enjoyed in fixed and pot-limit format. Games with fixed betting limits are still spread in casinos, and you’ll find a selection of games online at the bigger / busier sites.
With the betting units doubling after the turn, you need to be careful not to get ‘priced in’ with a sub-par hand on early betting streets with this format. There is usually a limit of 4 raises on each of the betting rounds. Some casinos will allow uncapped raises after the river in heads-up pots. Limit Hold’em was the cash game of choice up until the early 2000’s. It can also be played in tournament format, where the rising bet levels keep the pressure levels high!
Pot limit Texas Hold’em allows bets up to the size of the pot each time a player acts. This makes for some interesting strategy considerations. It is not possible to over-bet the pot, denying opponents the correct price to draw, in this format. Pots can escalate quickly, starting small on early betting rounds, then growing big as opponents bet and raise ‘pot’ on later streets.
Commonly known by the acronym ‘PLO’, Pot Limit Omaha is a clear 2ndin popularity of poker games.
This is an action format, which follows the flop, turn and river format of Texas Hold’em.
The key difference is that each player is dealt 4 hole-cards before the flop. There are special rules on how to construct a hand. This can only be formed using 2 of your own cards and 3 of the 5 community cards – no other combination is accepted.
Combine this with pot-limit betting, where you can’t shut out opponents by over-betting – and you have an entertaining game. PLO is a game where big drawing hands can be favourites over made hands like aces or even trips. If you are coming from another format, a good rule of thumb to get started is that you would not pay too much to draw to a non-nut hand.
Pot Limit Omaha works well in all the formats. This can be found as cash games (including fast-fold), tournaments and Sit N Goes online – though usually only in cash game format in live casinos.
This is the first ‘split pot’ game covered here. If a hand gets to showdown, the chips are divided between the highest hand (using the standard poker hand rankings) and the lowest. Low hands must contain 5 different cards 8 or lower to ‘qualify’. Where there is no qualifying low, the entire pot goes to the highest hand.
Omaha poker rules of using two cards from your own hand and 3 of the 5 community cards still apply. What makes Omaha Hi-Lo interesting is that the high and low hands are independent. You can use 2 different cards for each – or share cards (for example an ace is low, and also makes the highest pair!).
Omaha Hi-Lo can be played in fixed limit, pot-limit or no-limit betting format. It is mostly found as a cash game, though can be enjoyed in tournament format too.
Strategy considerations can get complex. Hands with potential to win both sides of the pot are premium. Hands with ace-2 of the same suit can make both the nut low and highest flush (for example).
Omaha is an action game in standard form. Sometimes, you’ll find this game with even more action. There are 5 card and 6 card Omaha games (both high-only and hi-lo). Courchevel adds yet another twist. This is a 5 card Omaha game, where the first community card is dealt before betting starts.
Stud was one of the early poker formats. It has roots going all the way back to the Civil war. There are several sub-variations. What these have in common is that each player has their own ‘board’ of cards. Some are visible, others known only to the individual player.
The most popular format is 7-Card Stud. This is a high-hand only game, usually played with fixed limit betting – and occasionally pot-limit. This is an ante game, where each player adds a small chip each hand. In addition, the player with the lowest ‘upcard’ will place a small bet known as the ‘bring in’ to start the action.
Players are dealt 3 cards, two hidden and one visible to all before betting begins. 3 more visible cards are dealt, with a betting round between each. These are known as ‘streets’, with the bets doubling after 4thstreet. The 7thand final card is dealt face-down, visible only to the individual player.
With 5 betting rounds, pots can be large. Strategy for this game involves seeing how your opponent’s boards develop. You will need to remember what cards have been folded. This will affect the number of outs that both you and your remaining opponents have left in the deck.
Variations include Stud Hi-Lo. This is played in the same format, though the pot is split between the highest hand and the lowest (if one qualifies). There are also 5 card stud variants. These have only one hidden card, and fewer betting rounds.
A popular variation is ‘Razz’. This is almost identical to 7-card stud, with one important difference. At showdown, the lowest hand wins the pot and not the highest.
One of the oldest poker games is a ‘closed’ poker variant. Here there are no community cards or ‘boards’ to observe. Your only clue as to your opponent’s hand is how they bet and how many cards they ‘draw’ before the second round of betting. This game conjures up images of smoky wild west saloons (and sometimes gunfights!).
There are several variations of draw poker which can be played online. Here are some of the most popular:
Mixing up different formats is nothing new. HORSE has been played in the World Series of Poker since before the current generation of star players were around! You can now play mixed games online in cash game and tournament format.
Here are some of the common mixed game formats:
#1 HORSE: – This is a combination of Texas Hold’em. Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, Stud and Stud Hi-Lo. All games are played with a fixed limit betting format. Sometimes you will find this game without Razz, this is called HOSE.
#2 8 Game – A popular format found at PokerStars. This combines fixed limit and no-limit betting formats. The list of games is 2-7 Triple Draw, Limit Hold’em, Limit Omaha Hi-Lo, Razz, 7 Card Stud, Stud Hi-Lo, No-Limit Hold’em, and Pot Limit Omaha.
#3 Dealer’s Choice – The WSOP now includes a dealer’s choice tournament. Here, whichever player has the dealer button gets to choose from more than 30 different poker formats. These include many poker games which are synonymous with kitchen table home games – as well as those listed on this page!
#4 Omaha / Hold’em – Compared to the multiple games of the other mixed game formats, this one is simple. You’ll switch between Texas Hold’em and PLO after a designated number of hands.
As you can see from the information above, it is not just the number of poker games which is huge – each one has betting variations and different formats.
Enjoying poker can be a lifelong journey – and learning the different games can be an important part of this. If you are new to poker, it makes sense to learn one game, in one format – at least until you are a profitable player. Learning about the tendencies of different opponents, and the mental aspects of beating the games is a transferable skill. This will enable you to jump into other formats, enjoy the change, and get up to speed on the different strategy quickly.