An Overview of Poker Games
- A look at poker games from No Limit Hold ‘Em… to 7 Card Stud
- Five of the most common poker games are available online and in a real world setting
Currently, there are five variations of poker which are commonly played in casinos. They are: Texas Hold’em, Seven Card Stud, Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo, Omaha, and Omaha Hi-Lo. When deciding which game you want to play, there are several factors that you probably want to take into account, such as; which game best suits your playing style and overall personality, your risk tolerance, and also your available bankroll. And of course you also want to pick a game that looks like fun to play. Following is a brief overview of poker games.
- Texas Hold’em By far the most popular form of poker played today. Whether you want to play in a brick-and-mortar casino or online, whether you want to play in cash games or in tournaments, you can find more available games of Texas Hold’em at a greater variety of limits than any other form of poker, and by a large margin. Hold’em is the game featured in the vast majority of televised tournaments (one reason for its massive popularity) and it is also a fairly simple game to learn to play (the other reason.)
Please note the while Hold’em is an easy game to learn in terms of the mechanics of the game, learning how to play the game well is another matter entirely. As the saying goes, it is an easy game to learn, but a difficult game to master. There are a great many poker players out there who believe they are excellent Hold’em players, when in fact they play quite poorly, and this is what makes the game potentially so profitable. In Texas Hold’em, as in all forms of poker, your main profits come not from being such a brilliant player yourself, but from playing in games with bad players who make mistakes.
You can typically find Hold’em played as a fixed-limit game, at an almost dizzying variety of betting limits. And then there are the “big bet” Hold’em games; pot-limit and no-limit. Each limit type differs greatly in terms of the strategy and skills required. Hold’em is generally more of a people-reading game than most other forms of poker, particularly at the big bet games, where the ability to read your opponent is critical. At the lower limits, knowing the math and odds of the game is more essential. And while (selective) aggression is important in all forms of poker, the ability to be aggressive is especially vital in Hold’em, particularly at the big bet games where bluffing can be a major winning tactic. This makes Hold’em more of a “macho” type game than most other forms of poker.
- Seven Card Stud Though not nearly as popular as Texas Hold’em, Seven Card Stud is still a staple game offered in most casinos. Unlike “flop” games such as Hold’em or Omaha that involve community cards, Stud is a “board” game, where each player is dealt his or her own cards exclusively. This changes the strategy of the game in several ways and it also allows for more draw-outs, which can make short-term luck more of a factor in this game. Seven Card Stud is usually played as a fixed-limit game, though occasionally it is played spread-limit.
- More than any other form of poker, Seven Card Stud requires the player to pay attention. Because many of your opponents’ cards are exposed, a good Stud player must know and remember all of these exposed cards, including cards in those hands that have been folded. This allows the good player to know which cards are live (still available in the deck), and this information is critical to making decisions. So in order to play Stud well, you must have keen powers of observation and a good memory. Also, patience is more of a factor in Seven Card Stud than in other forms of poker, as Stud is a less of an “action” game than flop games like Hold’em and Omaha, or split-pot games such as Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo. Which leads us right into…
- Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo (also commonly called Seven Stud/8, which refers to the 8-qualifier for the low hand.) A game that is growing in popularity, the mechanics of this game are in many ways the same as regular Seven Card Stud. The big difference is that this is a split-pot game, where players can win at the showdown not only by making the best high hand, but also by making the best low hand. In any given pot there will always be a high hand and there may or may not be a qualifying low hand, which would then split the pot with the high. The real goal of Stud Hi-Lo is to “scoop” the entire pot by making both the best high and low hand simultaneously (a low straight would be a typical example, or a flush with low cards.)
As with regular Stud, it is extremely important to keep track of your opponents’ exposed cards, not only to be aware of which cards are live, but also to see which way your opponents are going. That is to say, are your opponents attempting to make a high hand, or a low one? This is vital information. So, strong powers of observation and a good memory are necessary to play this game well.
Split-pot games such as Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo do offer certain advantages over high-only games. Namely, the variance is less, which is more advantageous for people with a low risk-tolerance and/or a limited bankroll. Also, aggression and bluffing are less important factors in a split-pot game, since it is generally much more difficult to drive other players out of the hand. Thus, Stud Hi-Lo might be a more suitable game for players who have a less aggressive personality.
- Omaha This is a flop-type game like Texas Hold’em, except that each player begins with four holecards instead of two. The mechanics of the game are similar to Hold’em in many ways (the use of a button to fix position throughout the hand, the use of forced blinds, etc), but the resemblance between the two games ends there. Because players start each hand with twice as many hole cards, hands in Omaha tend to run bigger – much bigger. Whereas a hand like two pair, or even top pair, top kicker can frequently take down the pot in Hold’em, these types of hands win far less often in Omaha. Omaha is generally a game of straights, flushes, and full houses. Thus, the conventional wisdom that Omaha is a game of drawing to the nuts (the best possible hand for any given community board).
Currently, at least in the U.S.A., Omaha high-only is not nearly as popular as the Hi-Lo form of the game. And, when it is offered, it is usually played pot-limit. Nevertheless, you can find many limit Omaha games online if this is the game you would like to try.
- Omaha Hi-Lo (commonly called Omaha/8, in reference to the 8-qualifier for making a low hand.) The most popular form of Omaha, at least currently. Like Stud Hi-Lo, this is a split-pot game which means that there is always a high hand, and if a qualifying low hand is made it then splits the pot with the high. In the case of Omaha Hi-Lo there can sometimes be two or even three winning low hands in any given pot, and in these cases the “win” for the low hands is usually very small and sometimes even a net loss. As with Stud Hi-Lo, the real objective is to try and scoop by making both the best high and the best low in the same hand.
Omaha Hi-Lo, much like Omaha high-only, is a game of drawing to the nuts – and in this game players will be chasing both the nut high and the nut low. This makes Omaha Hi-Lo a very action-filled game, which probably accounts for much of its popularity. With four holecards and two ways to make a winning hand, most players can find plenty of reasons (or excuses, depending on your point-of-view) to stay in the hand and draw, one way or the other.
Starting hand selection is critical in all forms of poker, but especially so in Omaha Hi-Lo. A good knowledge of which starting hands to play, of when to stay in and draw and when to get out – and the discipline to follow through and stick to those standards – is probably enough to beat the game regularly, at least at the lower limits. This causes some poker players to say that Omaha is a “mechanical” game, a game of cards, not people. Certainly the ability to read your opponents, while still important, is not nearly as vital in this game as it is in a game like big-bet Hold’em. And because Omaha Hi-Lo is a split-pot game, aggression is less important, and overall variance is lower. So, as with Stud Hi-Lo, this game may be more suitable for players with less aggressive personality types, or who are working from a smaller bankroll.
So there they are and there you go. These are the poker games most commonly played today. If one or more of them sounds interesting to you, go ahead and give them a try. But please, unless the prospect of losing money means absolutely nothing to you, please start out at the lowest limits possible (or even at the free play-money games online) until you know the game and can win consistently. This is one reason why Texas Hold’em may be the best first game to learn; because it is the most popular form of poker, it is generally offered at the smallest limits. And if you are serious about playing poker long-term and hope to make money at it, then you should know that there are plenty of very good books on poker out there, so find one and read it. Better yet, find several and read em all. Remember, in poker knowledge is power.