Play 5-Card Draw - Probably the oldest poker variant

If you're old enough to remember poker being played before the sweeping advent of Texas Hold'em, then 5-Card Draw is probably the version of poker you're most likely to have seen being played. No Cowboy film worthy of the name would be complete without a least one round of 5-Card Draw being played - usually with some kind of cheating being involved, guns being drawn, women screaming and someone slowly falling to the floor clutching their chest. Legend has it that James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok - one of the most infamous names associated with the Old Wild West - was shot dead whilst playing 5-Card Draw. The alleged hand he was holding when he was shot - the ace and eight of spades and the ace, eight and queen of clubs - is known as the "Dead Man's Hand".

Happily, these days deaths whilst playing 5-Card Draw are substantially less frequent, meaning it's a poker variant that can be played without risking one's life. It's also a game that's quite hard to find at online poker rooms, such is the dominance of Texas Hold'em Poker and Omaha. This is a shame as out of all the forms of poker, 5-Card Draw is perhaps the simplest to play, so if you're completely new to online poker, it's an ideal variant by which you can learn how to play the game and get used to the different poker hands, before you move on to Hold'em and Omaha.

This article will teach you the basics of 5-Card Draw, along with a sample deal and a reminder of the worth of the possible poker hands.

Don't forget that on each of my reviews of all the best poker rooms, I always give a full list of all the games that are available at each site. So if you are looking for a site at which you can play 5-Card Draw, then you will be able to find out which ones you can play at simply by reading the review.

About 5-Card Draw Poker


It's suspected that poker can be traced back to similar games in Asia and Europe, but the game really took off once it had crossed the Atlantic with the earliest settlers, some time perhaps in the 18th century. Life as a colonist in the early days of America was tough, so card and dice games became popular distractions.

Poker was thought originally to be a game where just the AKQJT of each suit was used. Each player was dealt five cards, and then they bet on their hand in the belief of having the best set of cards. The winning hands were a pair, two pair, a set, a full house and four of a kind. There were no flushes or straights as the odds of being dealt all five cards of the same suit were astronomical (about one in half a million).

Around the year 1820, people started to use the full deck when playing poker, which meant the introduction of flushes and straights, and then the game expanded in popularity when "the draw" was introduced. This was a second round of betting when, in turn, each player could exchange any number of the cards they held for fresh cards from the deck. The game of 5-Card Draw would remain the top poker variant for almost a century, until 7-Card Stud was invented, and 5-Card Draw began to fade from the affections of ordinary poker players.

Old Texas Hold'em

About The Game

Play in 5-Card Draw could hardly be simpler. Each player is dealt five cards, and a round of betting takes place. Once this is completed, each player is allowed to draw any number of fresh cards from the deck - from zero to five - discarding the same number first from their hand. A second round of betting then takes place. After that, there is a showdown, and the highest ranked hand wins.

Game Types

As with most poker games there are three types of 5-Card Draw poker:

  • Limit Poker: The betting amount is decided in advance and is always equal to the big blind. A maximum of four raises is allowed on each round.

  • Pot-Limit Poker: The minimum bet is the size of the big blind, and the maximum bet is the size of the current pot.

  • No-Limit Poker: There are no limits to the bets that can be made.

No-limit 5-Card draw is the most popular variation.

Gameplay and Rules

The Deal, and the Blinds

Because of the number of cards that are dealt in 5-Card draw, there are fewer players at the table than at Hold'em or Omaha - typically a maximum of six.

In casino games, the initial dealer is selected via some selection method such as "highest card deals" or cards are dealt around the table until someone is dealt a Jack. This player receives a dealer button which is subsequently passed around the table clockwise on each deal to signify the dealer.

The blinds are then posted. This is usually a small bet amount (say, $1) for the small blind, and the minimum bet amount (say, $3) for the big blind.

Five-card Draw Blinds

The dealer then deals five cards face down to each player. Once all the players have looked at their cards, the first round of betting commences. As the blinds have made their bets, the player to the left of the big blind is first to act. As with all poker games, they can fold, call or raise at this stage. If they fold they throw in their hand and take no further part in the deal. If they call they must match the big blind in order to remain in the deal. If they raise they must call the big blind and put extra money in the pot.

Five-card Draw Deal

Each player then either folds, calls or raises in turn. The blinds already have money in the pot, so this is taken into account when it is their turn to bet. The big blind can check if the betting gets back round to him without anyone raising. The betting round is complete when the betting comes back to the last player who made a raise which was not re-raised, or back to the big blind if the big blind decides to check and no one has raised. All chips are then gathered in to make up the pot.

Five-card Draw Pre Draw

In our illustrative deal above, F10N4 was the first to act after the deal, but she folded. Harry99 raised the Big Blind from $3 to $6. JuicyJay called, Alex1974 folded, and C*H*I*C folded, abandoning his small blind of $1. EdPokerK called, and as the betting was back round to Harry99 and no one had raised him the betting round is over.

Each player in turn, from the player closest to the dealer's left who remains in the round, can draw between zero or five cards. They must discard their cards before they take the new ones. The player will usually announce "take two" before discarding two of their cards - the dealer will then deal them two new cards to bring their hand back up the five. These are the final hands and they cannot be changed, subsequently.

Five-card Draw Post Draw

The next round of betting then takes place, starting with the player closest to the dealer's left who remains in the hand. They can check, fold or bet. Each subsequent player can then check (if no one has made a bet before them), fold, call (match the current highest bet) or raise. The betting is complete once the betting returns to the last player who called or raised without being raised or re-raise, or to the first player to act if everyone checked.

In our illustrative deal, Harry99 took two cards, JuicyJay three and EdPokerK three as well, managing to complete his set of Kings. He was first to bet, so he bet at $12. Harry99 raised to $24, and JuicyJay folded. EdPokerK called Harry99.

Five-card Draw Showdown

Then comes the showdown. The last player who was "called" shows their cards first. Each subsequent player only has to show their cards if they want to, and if they can beat the person who was called. The pot goes to the player with the best hand. All cards are gathered in, the dealer button is passed one seat around the table clockwise, and the next deal begins. In our deal Harry99's full house beat EdPokerK's three kings, so Harry 99 wins the pot.

That is all you really need to know when it comes to 5-Card Draw poker. Don't forget that if you want to know the best sites at which to play 5-Card Draw poker, you can read my reviews to find out.

Hand Rankings

For a full re-cap of the hand rankings, please see the relevant section in the Texas Hold'em poker article. If you only need a reminder, please check the handy graphic that is printed here:

Don't worry too much about remembering rankings as they will soon become second nature to you.


It seems there isn't much strategy when it comes to 5-Card Draw. All you really need to know is how strong your hand is, how many cards to draw, how likely your hand is to improve, and how likely you are to have the best hand at the showdown. Because there are no community cards in 5-Card Draw poker, it is virtually impossible to gauge the strength of your opponents' hands. They could be sitting on a pair of deuces, or four aces - you can never really tell. For this reason 5-Card Draw poker fans claim that their particular poker variant is one of the most complex, strategy-wise.

Because there are no community cards, it is also much easier to bluff and to be bluffed in 5-Card Draw Poker. I'll explain the best way of bluffing later on.

The key when you're beginning with 5-Card Draw poker is to play tight. First of all, the *minimum* hand you need in order to play is a pair of fours. Discard everything else. If there are more than two players left in the hand after you, you'll need at least a pair of tens to keep going. More than three and this becomes a pair of queens. More than four, then it's a pair of aces. It might sound crazy folding a pair of kings, but then this isn't Texas Hold'em or Omaha. The chances of drawing a good hand are much greater.

Never limp in. If you've got a starting hand you can play, then raise. If someone has already raised then you need a good hand to stay in - never call a raise with a flush or a straight draw.

Drawing is easy - if you have a pair, keep it and draw three. Two pairs or four of a kind - draw the unmatched card (I know you can't improve a four of a kind but you don't want to broadcast your hand). A set, discard one - the higher kicker. Obviously flushes, straights, full house - don't draw.

Things get more difficult post-draw. You'll really need at least two-pair, with one pair being Kings at least, to put more money in the pot. If you can check to the showdown, then do so. Else fold. Most of the time your hand will not improve on the draw, so make the most of the occasions when it does.

Oh and bluffing. If you've more chips than your opponents, and only one of the blinds and one of the other players called, and you are first to act, then this is the time to bluff. Draw one card and raise 75 percent of the pot. With luck your opponents will not have improved, and will fold. If you are called and your bluff is caught, then don't bluff again for a while. If you are raised then fold. Never bluff right to the bitter end, and don't bluff to often.

You should now have enough to take to your nearest 5-Card Draw table without becoming shark-bait. Don't forget to read my reviews, and good luck at the tables.

Review of 5-Card Draw Poker - Reviewed by
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