In the world of poker, Texas Hold’em is the king of the roost. It seems everyone from grade school kids to grandmothers want to play “The Cadillac of poker” as Poker Hall of Famer and World Poker Tour commentator Mike Sexton is wont to call it and, over the past 15 years, it seems everyone HAS stepped up to take part in the game. But there are some variants – including a Hold’em discipline – that present other challenges and are just as much fun (and money-making) when you play them.
These other games – be it Seven Card Stud, a Hi/Lo variant, Razz or even Omaha Hold’em – present their own challenges that are completely different than when you are playing Texas Hold’em. If you approach them as you might a session of Texas Hold’em, you’ll probably come out on the losing end of the equation unless fortune is smiling on you that day. With this in mind, here’s three things you need to remember when playing a variant of poker other than Texas Hold’em.
There’s More Information
In the non-community card games – those games where you actually are dealt a hand rather than “hole cards” to combine with a community board to make your five card combination – there is a tremendous amount of information right in front of your eyes. In Seven Card Stud especially, that information comes in a multitude of forms beginning with the up cards. These cards – the one or more that you can actually see or have seen on the table – will definitely tell you whether you can continue with your hand or offer up a bluff in your attempt to win.
With Seven Card Stud, there are two cards dealt face down and one up to every player participating in the hand (in Five Card Stud, there’s one down and one up to start). Meshing your hand with the information presented by the up cards your opponents are showing will be a key indicator as to whether you should continue on to Fourth or even Fifth Street. There are a couple of ways to see this in operation.
Let’s say you have (A♦ K♦) 10♦ in your first three cards, an outstanding start in many circumstances in poker. You glance around the table at your other seven opponents and, amongst their up cards, you see that there are three more diamonds on the table. The most likely hand you’re going to make out of your cards is that nut flush, but you’ve now only got seven outs from the 28 cards that are remaining in the deck (assuming an eight-handed table; your odds are worse if there are fewer players and more cards still in the deck). By no means should you be ditching this hand, but if you draw something along the lines of a 3♣ on Fourth Street, then you’ve got only three more chances to catch two more diamonds to make your best possible hand. Pursuing things further will get costly (as the betting doubles on Fifth and subsequent streets) and you are drawing thin.
Here’s another circumstance that I’ve actually seen some players fall into. Let’s say that a player is dealt (A-A) K, another great hand to start with, and said player immediately goes blind to the fact that there is another Ace and two Kings in the up cards of his opponents (rare that there are three of the same cards that come up on one street, but we’re riffing here!). There’s little help that is coming, with only the case Ace and King left in the deck, so even your bluff options are short and you’ll have to pair some other cards to even improve to two pair with your hidden Aces. There’s plenty to consider before blindly rushing off the precipice.
Remember The Game
One of the key things to remember – and this is especially true when playing H.O.R.S.E. or some other multi-game variant – is what game you are actually playing when on the tables. I have seen some cases where a player actually will forget what game is being played and its rules while trying to win a hand. Not only is it a bit embarrassing, it can also prove to be costly to your chip stack when you go in this direction.
In Razz, the object is the complete opposite of a normal poker game – instead of making the best hand, you’re looking to make the worst one. Ergo, things like a straight aren’t good, even if you have the lowest cards in the mix. I’ve actually seen a player, in Deuce to Seven Lowball Razz, turn up a three-four low (3-4) – only to then show that he had a five, six and a seven to finish it off. While he thought he had the winner with the three low, he actually had a straight and left the table in embarrassment for a few minutes to compose himself.
There’s also the higher betting limits in Stud that will completely throw off players. Beginning with Fifth Street, betting is doubled so, instead of $10/$20 as it was through Fourth Street, it now becomes $20/$40 from Fifth Street on. Whereas you might have the right price to float to see Fourth Street, on Fifth Street you’ve got to be able to make critical calls on whether it is worth it to continue on the journey. There’s plenty of players who have forgotten the “kick” in the betting limits in considering whether to continue with the hand in Stud.
Exercise Good Judgment
It is extremely enticing, especially in games where you get more than just two cards, to want to stick around to see “what happens.” It is arguable that, in games like Omaha Hold’em, Seven Card Stud and other games, that you actually might want to play less hands rather than more (especially in a cash game situation). Why? Because you have to have stronger starting options and you have fewer improvement chances.
With Omaha, it might be tempting to stay around with a gapped hand like 10♠ 8♠ 6♥ 4♥ (and, if you’re a good Omaha player, you like to see a double suited hand, but that’s a conversation for another time), but there’s so many ways that this can get you in trouble. Say that board comes with an A♠ Q♦ 2♦ – you’ve completely missed, so you can get away easy. What about an A♠ 7♠ 5♦ flop, however? You’ve got a wealth of draws at a straight and a flush but, if someone has flopped a set, then you’re going to be taking on an opponent who will stick around to the river. If you don’t catch that straight or flush (probably the only two hands that will win for you), you’ve got a big zero and you’ve also lost a good deal of your stack by playing a hand that was arguably marginal to start with.
If you enjoy Texas Hold’em, odds are that you’ll enjoy other variants of the game of poker. It is critical, however, to remember some basic rules before you take these disciplines on so you are prepared for the battle. If you can remember these three things especially, you’ll be better prepared the next time you step to the felt.