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The game of poker essentially knows no bounds. Imagine sitting down over a table negotiating rules with friends. Multiply this by the millions of poker players in the world and this will give you some idea of the amount of poker variants possible in the real world. While players haven’t exhausted all these possibilities, they certainly have made significant strides in that direction. Some variants of this versatile game, though, have proven more popular than others.

By tracing back the history of poker, we can see why these variants have multiplied over the years. Ultimately, it seems that poker made its way across the Atlantic and possibly even overland from Central Asia. However, only upon its arrival in the US did it become the game people know and love today. In the 19th century, travel and communication between distant parts of the US still posed a problem, and local communities developed their own regional foods, accents and, of course, games. Poker derives a lot of its diversity from this historical fact, as people from many parts of the world spread across the North American continent.

Despite the fact that seemingly endless variations still exist after all these years, a few general strains of poker rules have risen to the top. Most players will encounter stud, draw and community card games when looking for some poker action. Stud generally means straight play based off of the cards dealt, usually five to seven cards. Draw games include a part of the deck players draw from during the course of the game to switch out undesirable cards. Community games involve cards that all players at the table use to create hands. Within each of these groups, several subsets of games exist. The following variants have caught the public attention due to big tournaments or just for fun among friends.

Texas Hold ‘em

Texas Hold ‘em has claimed the top spot among poker variants. When you watch competitions on television, the famous players winning those insanely large pots are playing Texas Hold ‘em. This game consists of a pair of cards dealt face down to each player, after which each player bets.

The next round reveals the first three community cards, called the flop, and another round of betting ensues. The dealer then throws out the fourth and fifth cards, called the turn and the river, respectively. A round of betting follows each one of these deals. At the end of this series of deals and bets, the players make the best hand they can by combining the five communal cards with their two unseen cards.

Crazy Pineapple

This popular variant of Texas Hold ‘em illustrates how small changes can change the dynamic of a poker game. In Crazy Pineapple, players are dealt 3 cards instead of the regular two at the beginning of the game. Play and betting continues as usual until the turn, which is the fourth communal card. Just before this card is dealt, each player has to discard one of their three original cards.

Seven-Card Stud

Many people know about this game since players preferred it before the advent of Texas Hold ‘em. Players receive seven cards in total, but in a particular order. Each player receives two cards face down and one face up for all to see. Play begins with the person showing the lowest value on the face up card dealt. The fourth through sixth cards are then dealt face up in succession, with betting after each card is dealt across the table. The seventh and final card gets dealt face down and followed by the fifth and final round of betting. Of course, some players will fold during the course of the game. However, if there are two or more players left at the end of the betting cycles, they show all their cards to determine who has won. The best five-card hand out made from the seven cards available wins.

High and Low Chicago

These two games pretty much follow the model set by seven-card stud. The game consists of the same number of cards, up and down, and the same betting cycles. However, in High Chicago, players ultimately have to be ready to call whether they will have the best poker hand or the highest spade. Players can also call both the best hand and the highest spade. Aces are high and spades on the table do not count as the highest spade. The player with the highest spade and the player with the best poker hand will split the pot.
Low Chicago follows the same rules, but the low spade, as opposed to the high spade, takes half of the pot.

Five-Card Draw

Most groups limit this game to six players to avoid the possibility of running out of cards at the end of a hand. The dealer distributes five cards face down to every player after the ante. The players bet on this hand and then take turns announcing how many cards they would like to exchange for new cards from the dealer. Each player can exchange up to three cards or none at all. After all players have had a chance to draw new cards if desired, the second round of betting happens. The remaining players’ cards are then revealed in clockwise order. The best hand wins. Other slight variations of this game allow players to replace more cards or introduce wild cards.

Omaha

This more recent addition to the game of poker borrows from Texas Hold ‘em and twists the action a little bit. Players begin with four hole cards, or cards in their hand, and play with the five cards on the board. However, players cannot choose to play only from the board. Two of the hole cards have to be used to form a valid hand. This changes the odds and the possible card combinations. Usually, Omaha employs blinds, a small blind and a big blind, instead of an ante. Once betting begins, the game proceeds much like Texas Hold ‘em.

Chinese Poker

This poker variant has some unique characteristics that make it more exciting for players who find themselves bored of some of the more standard variants. Each player gets thirteen cards face down. From these cards, the players have to put together two five-card poker hands and then a three-card hand. The first five-card hand should be stronger than the middle five-card hand. Once all the players have finished thinking, everyone compares the three rows of hands, winning a point for each one. Also, the player who wins the majority of the three hands gets a bonus point. Players should agree on the monetary value per point before play begins.

Seven-Card No-Peek

For a funny and exciting change to a regular poker night, this no peek variation of seven-card stud can do the trick. Players begin with 7 cards face down. Players must not look their cards. Anyone who sneaks a peek is automatically eliminated. The player on the dealer’s left reveals one card and everyone bets. The next player to the left must then beat this card. Once it is beaten, another round of betting begins. This continues around the table, with each person turning over as many cards as necessary to beat hand of the person to the left. If they can’t, their hand is over. The best hand left standing at the end of the game picks up the whole pot.

Some find this game stressful, but not knowing how a hand will turn out card by card adds significantly to the excitement.

Endless Possibilities

Again, the only limit poker knows is the limit of the human imagination. Given the sheer amount of poker enthusiasts, people will continue to come up with vast amounts of variations small and large in the future. In the end, it comes down the players and their preferences when choosing a game. Casinos and other established gaming venues typically only operate the games that have become standard over time. At home at the kitchen table or in the game room, though, any group of friends can experiment with the game until the players find a method of play that best fits their personalities and aptitudes.