1. Learn How to Play 5 Card Draw Poker
Where better to start than the beginning? Your understanding of the game and all its many facets has a direct correlation with your ability to master its skills.
5 Card Draw is played with a single deck of 52 cards. Anywhere from 2 to 5 players may participate in a game. More than 5 is not appropriate, as it is possible for players to discard all five of their cards. If this occurs, there will be just enough cards in the deck to replenish each hand, with only two left over.
Game Play – Order of Events
The following is the 6-step order of events that take place during a hand. Note that, at any time during a game, if all but one player folds, the single player remaining wins the pot and the hand is over. Otherwise, the hand proceeds to the showdown, as described below. Also note that all references to betting and stakes are explained in detail in the Betting Structure section below.
Ante – A hand begins with each player placing a small ante bet.
Deal – The dealer passes five cards to each player. Each player may pick up and examine their own cards.
Pre-Draw Betting – The first round of betting takes place before the discard/draw phase, starting with the player left of the dealer. All bets/raises are equal to the low-end stakes.
Discard & Draw – Each player will discard any cards they do not wish to keep. A player can discard anywhere from 0 to 5 cards. Discards are placed face-down towards the dealer for collection.
Post-Draw Betting – A final round of betting takes place. This time, the player who opened in the first round of betting – that is, the player who made the first actual bet (as opposed to a check) – will be first to act. All bets/raises in this round must be equal to the high-end stakes.
Showdown – All players who are still active in the hand (i.e. didn’t fold) will play their cards face up. The highest-ranking poker hand (see Poker Hand Ranks) wins the pot. In case of a tie, the tying players split the pot equally.
2. Fixed Limit Betting Structure with Antes
Five Card Draw is rarely played with today’s more common blind-betting structures. Instead, the classic Ante structure is commonly utilized, wherein all players contribute a small amount to the initial sweetening of the pot. From there, the game is played in Fixed Limit (FL) style, meaning all bets and raises are limited to a fixed amount, according to the agreed upon stakes of the game.
Here’s your vocabulary lesson for 5 Card Draw, in order of occurrence.
Ante: This is a small bet made by every player to add value to the pot before a game begins. The ante bet replaces small/big blind bets in modern poker games. An ante is most often equal to 1/5 of the low-end stakes. For example, the ante would be $1 in a $5/$10 game. However, it is sometimes increased to 1/4 the low-end stakes to simplify the bet. For example, in a $1/$2 game, the ante might be $0.25 instead of $0.20, since it’s easier to bet one quarter than two dimes.
Fixed Limit: A Fixed Limit betting structure sets strict limitations on the amount each player can bet and/or raise in each betting round. All bets and raises must equal the low-end or high-end stakes of the game. The purpose of an FL game is to ensure bankroll security and longevity, as opposed to a No Limit (NL) game where any player could go all-in and lose everything on a single hand.
Low-End Stakes: In the first round of betting, prior to the discard and draw phase, all bets and raises must be placed equal to the low-end stakes of the game. If the FL stakes are $2/$4, the low-end stakes equal $2.
High-End Stakes: In the second round of betting, after the discard and draw phase, all bets and raises increase to equal the high-end stakes of the game. If the FL stakes are $2/$4, the high-end stakes equal $4.
3. How to Evaluate 5-Card Draw Starting Hands
One strategic feature all poker games have in common is the range of starting hands that should and should not be played. Once you become an intermediate player, you’ll be able to widen your range, based primarily on competitive reads. Until then, here are some strict guidelines to follow.
Pair of Jacks or Better: Play and raise any hand with a value of paired jacks or higher.
High-Card / Low Pair: Fold any hand that’s no better than a high-card or a low pair (i.e. lower than Pair of Jacks).
Straight & Flush Draws: Don’t bother playing a 4-card straight or flush. The likelihood of success does not warrant the cost of investment. The only exception is a 4-card outside straight with a Q+ that doesn’t cost more than a limp-call from late position. This hand offers more reasonable outs, including the ability to Pair Jacks or Queens because – as you’re about to learn – anything less than a Pair of Jacks post-draw should be instantly folded.
4. Post-Draw Hand Assessment
This part is easy. Once the draw phase is over, there’s no more questioning your potential. You know if you have a good hand or not. Whether it’s good enough to beat your opponents is something you’ll learn to read in our next section. Until then, here’s a basic guideline to follow:
- If you have high trips(J+) or anything better, move ahead with confidence, firing off raises.
- When you have low trips, raises once, and call if fired back upon.
- If you have a high pair, check or call a bet, but do not call a raise.
- With anything less, fold.
5. Learn How to Recognize Poker Tells & Bet Patterns
A strong power of observation can be the most formidable weapon in your arsenal. It is not a skill that can be instantly acquired. There are some fantastic starting points to note, which we’ll go over in a minute, but for the most part, this is the type of skill that can only be developed over time through mindful experience.
Initially, the primary lesson is to consider what your opponent has done, and what might have led you to do the same. For instance, consider what hands would most likely persuade you to discard three cards. Most of the time, you’d be looking at a pair, and hoping for trips, right? So this is the hand range you can put your opponent on. They have a pair at best, or at worst, two very high cards, probably A-K.
Tell Evaluation Guidelines
A good draw poker player will evaluate every opponent in this fashion. If a player discards…
5 Cards: They have absolutely nothing and should not even be playing the hand at this point. Unless they checked their way to the draw, the fact that they didn’t fold is a crying shame.
4 Cards: Any player discarding 4 cards is holding a high card. Always assume it’s an Ace.
3 Cards: You have to believe this player has a pair, and probably a high one (J+). They could have A-K, but unless you’ve observed them long enough to see them move ahead with hands like these, odds are slim to none.
2 Cards: This player either has 3 of a Kind, or is making the common mistake of keeping a Pair and High Card. As your powers of observation improve, you’ll be able to determine which is more likely, and respond accordingly. Until then, beware the trips.
1 Card: This player can be put on a wide hand range, but is most likely holding two pairs or a Straight/Flush draw hand. Draw hands aren’t dangerous since they don’t hit often, but if this tight/aggressive opponent raises post-draw, they probably hit it.
0 Cards: This player has a pat hand. We’re talking Straight, Flush or Full House. There’s always the chance they’re bluffing, but don’t count on it.
We all know what poker tells are. They are the little quirks, gestures, moods and other behaviorisms that players exude without realizing it each time they’re in a certain situation. In its simplest form, a player who is bluffing might rub his chin, or toss their chips into the pot instead of sliding or gently placing them. Similarly, a player with a great hand might display fidgety eye movement, or finger the top of his cards.
Your ability to recognize such behavior in a person, and attach a label to it, will significantly increase your capacity to defeat them. Every player is different. It takes time and patience to read each opponent, but the better you get at it, the faster you’ll do it.
These are just like poker tells, except that they aren’t physical or emotional. They appear naturally in a player’s bet sizing. You may notice a player bets and raises aggressively when they have a good hand, but always folds with a bad hand (tight/aggressive). If this player suddenly becomes passive, it could be that they have a fantastic hand, like a full house or straight flush. Maybe they’re limping to get as much in the pot as possible.
You won’t know for sure until you’ve spent enough time reading the player. Once you get their betting style down, you can put them on a hand range. And once you’ve successfully ranged everyone at the table, they might as well skip the game and hand you all of the chips now…
6. Tips on How to Transition from Amateur to Pro
These are some general guidelines to follow when you’re first dipping your toes into the strategy-driven pool of 5 Card Draw Poker. You should follow them precisely in the early, amateur stages. As you become more familiar with your opponents and learn to put them on loose/tight hand ranges and passive/aggressive betting patterns, you’ll naturally develop an eye for what moves you can and cannot make against them.
- If you’re going to play a hand, raise – don’t limp (unless instructed otherwise below).
- The object of the game should be to make a 3 of a kind, that being the most common winning hand.
- Do not keep a pair and kicker. This is the most common mistake amateurs make. Toss the kicker. Keep the pair and draw three.
- Fold any and all gut-shot straights. They are too improbable to have any equity.
- Only continue with 4-to-a-Flush if you’re in the second half of the field to act (e.g. betting position 3 or 4 of 4), and everyone before you has limped in. Limps show weakness, but add value to the pot.
- Only play 4-to-a-Straight if it’s an outside straight, and it’s free to do so (check), or if it’s a King-high Straight, won’t cost more than a limp-in, and you’re in the latter half of the field to act (e.g. betting position 3 or 4 of 4).