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Five-card draw (also known as a Cantrell draw) is a poker variant that is considered the simplest variant of poker, and is the basis for video poker. As a result, it is often the first variant learned by most new players. It is commonly played in home games but rarely played in casino and tournament play. The variant is also offered by some online venues, although it is not as popular as other variants such as Texas hold 'em.
In casino play the first betting round begins with the player to the left of the big blind, and subsequent rounds begin with the player to the dealer's left. Home games typically use an ante; the first betting round begins with the player to the dealer's left, and the second round begins with the player who opened the first round.
Play begins with each player being dealt five cards, one at a time, all face down. The remaining deck is placed aside, often protected by placing a chip or other marker on it. Players pick up the cards and hold them in their hands, being careful to keep them concealed from the other players, then a round of betting occurs.
If more than one player remains after the first round, the "draw" phase begins. Each player specifies how many of their cards they wish to replace and discards them. The deck is retrieved, and each player is dealt in turn from the deck the same number of cards they discarded so that each player again has five cards.
A second "after the draw" betting round occurs beginning with the player to the dealer's left or else beginning with the player who opened the first round (the latter is common when antes are used instead of blinds). This is followed by a showdown, if more than one player remains, in which the player with the best hand wins the pot.
About the draw
Variants of the five-card draw are often considered to be the most difficult poker games to master psychologically, due to the fact that no cards are open and that bluffs (or semibluffs) occur naturally at the draw of new cards. Players must pay attention to how many cards other players change, but should not take too much for granted in this phase. Psychology is a major factor when drawing cards. For instance it is not always advisable to draw three new cards when holding a pair, although this is statistically the best way to improve the rank of the hand. The reason is that the other players quite easily can "read" the hand. A player may choose to draw one or two cards instead in order to make other players believe that the hand is better than it really is.
The opposite can also be used. If a player has three of a kind and several other players have drawn new cards, one strategy is to draw only one card. Other players may underestimate the hand, believing the player has two pairs or lacks a card for a straight or flush. In games with a full card deck and four or more players, two pairs can often be the winning hand.
It's also imperative to vary both the way to draw the numbers of new cards in equal situations and how to bet both before and after the draw. If a player is "easy to read" he very seldom will win large pots even when holding a very good hand.
The most common error is to "throw good money after bad" and make high-stakes calls because he or she thinks the other player is bluffing. Very few true bluffs really work in the long run; the bluffer usually has some kind of strength to his or her hand, but plays the hand as if it were higher than it really is. For instance, a player may bluff by playing a pair of aces as if it were a straight, flush, or full house. Such a play is "insured" against all lower pairs, but far too often player with a lower pair calls at expensive times only to make sure he or she is not bluffed. On the other hand, cheap calls are usually not considered to be throwing good money away, especially when calling an unknown player. Seeing the player's hand may be worth the small amount of money in the long run.
A player may benefit in the long run if he or she is discovered to be bluffing. A player may intentionally declare to be pleased with a bad hand and bet low for the sole purpose of being discovered. This may benefit the player later if he has a good hand and wants keep other players from folding. The downside of this strategy is that a bluffer may have to wait a long time before he or she can successfully trap other players with this strategy.
A common "house rule" in some places is that a player may not replace more than three cards, unless they draw four cards while keeping an ace (or wild card). This rule is useful for low-stakes social games where many players will stay for the draw, and will help avoid depletion of the deck. In more serious games such as those played in casinos it is unnecessary and generally not used. However, a rule used by many casinos is that a player is not allowed to draw five consecutive cards from the deck. In this case, if a player wishes to replace all five of their cards, that player is given four of them in turn, the other players are given their draws, and then the dealer returns to that player to give the fifth replacement card; if no other player draws it is necessary to deal a burn card first.
Another common house rule is that the bottom card of the deck is never given as a replacement, to avoid the possibility of someone who might have seen it during the deal using that information. If the deck is depleted during the draw before all players have received their replacements, the last players can receive cards chosen randomly from among those discarded by previous players. For example, if the last player to draw wants three replacements but there are only two cards remaining in the deck, the dealer gives the player the one top card he can give, then shuffles together the bottom card of the deck, the burn card, and the earlier players' discards (but not the player's own discards), and finally deals two more replacements to the last player.
The sample deal is being played by four players as shown to the right with Alice dealing. All four players ante $1. Alice deals five cards to each player and places the deck aside. Bob opens the betting round by betting $5. Carol folds, David calls, and Alice calls, closing the betting round. Bob now declares that he wishes to replace three of his cards, so he removes those three cards from his hand and discards them. Alice retrieves the deck, deals a burn card, then deals three cards directly to Bob, who puts them in his hand. David discards one card, and Alice deals one card to him from the deck. Alice now discards three of her own cards, and replaces them with three from the top of the deck (Note: in a player-dealt casino game there is often a rule that the dealer must discard before picking up the deck, but this is a home game so we won't worry about such details). Now a second betting round begins. Bob checks, David checks, Alice bets $10, Bob folds, David raises $16, and Alice calls, ending the second betting round. David shows a flush, and Alice shows two pair, so David takes the pot.
Stripped deck variant
Five-card draw is sometimes played with a stripped deck. This variant is commonly known as "seven-to-ace" or "ace-to-seven" (abbreviated as A-7 or 7-A). It can be played by up to five players. When four or fewer players play, a normal 32-card deck without jokers, with ranks ranging from ace to seven, is used. With five players, the sixes are added to make a 36-card deck. The deck thus contains only eight or nine different card ranks, compared to 13 in a standard deck. This affects the probabilities of making specific hands, so a flush ranks above a full house and below four of a kind. Many smaller online poker rooms, such as Boss Media, spread the variant, although it is unheard of in land casinos.
Math of Five-card draw
- Pre-draw odds of getting each hand
- Royal flush <0.001%
- Straight flush (not including royal flush) <0.002%
- Four of a kind 0.02%
- Full house 0.14%
- Flush (excluding royal flush and straight flush) 0.20%
- Straight (excluding royal flush and straight flush) 0.39%
- Three of a kind 2.11%
- Two pair 4.75%
- One pair 42.30%
- No pair / High card 50.10%