Whether it was at your Grandma's kitchen table, in your neighbor's smoky, beer-drenched basement, or behind the bleachers at St. Patrick Junior High School, 5 card draw was the first poker game most of us learned to play. Back when Chris Moneymaker and Daniel Negreanu were still in diapers, draw poker was the game du jour and Southern California's card rooms were its thriving epicenter. These days, one is more likely to hear the phrase "draw is dead." However, with the addition of 5 card draw ring games on Poker Stars and other rooms, this old-fashioned form of poker is gaining new life online.
Online 5 card draw games are played six-handed with a button, a small blind, and a big blind. Limit, pot-limit and no-limit structures are all available. Each player is dealt five down cards to start and may call, raise, or fold their hand. After the first betting round's action is complete, each player, beginning with the small blind, may draw from one to five new cards. There is another post-draw round of betting, followed by a showdown. The player with the best five card high hand wins the pot.
Simple enough, right? Kind of like video poker? Wrong.
Basic Strategy/Starting Hands
The number one mistake 5 card draw players make is playing too many hands. Tight is right in this game. Playing small pairs and drawing hands will only bleed your bankroll. If you're looking to blow off steam or let your inner poker maniac out, consider 2-7 triple draw or pot-limit Omaha. 5 card draw rewards patient players. But don't worry – there are plenty of people out there playing that don't even understand the basics. With one or two of them at the table, 5 card draw can be a surprisingly profitable endeavor.
Always consider your position when deciding to enter the pot. Think limit hold'em in the pre-draw round– if you're the first one in the pot, come in for a raise and represent strength early. Limping invites more limping. Raise instead and narrow the field. From early position (UTG and UTG+1) you're looking for at least a pair of aces or kings to open. In the cutoff, with the action folded to you, Q-Q or J-J become viable starting hands. On the button, add T-T and 9-9 if they come with decent kickers (T-T-A-J-8= good. 9-9-4-5-6= not so good). Two pair or trips are worth an open- raise from any position. Four to a straight or flush are not– avoid these drawing hands unless you're playing from the blinds. Drawing to straights and flushes is another huge mistake players make in 5 card draw. You are almost never getting the right price to speculate on these hands in a six-handed game. Think about it– with one card to come you're a 4-1 dog at best to make your hand and your opponents are likely to hold some of your outs.
Blind defense in 5 card draw is both dicey and opponent-dependent. In the small blind, open-raise with anything you would come in with from any other position (9-9 or better) and limp with weaker hands like big aces (A-Q-T-J-8) or a small pair (6-6-K-9-5). 8-8 and 7-7 are worth an open-raise as well from the small blind. If your hand in the small blind looks more like a good deuce-to-seven starting hand (2-2-4-5-7), just fold it and move on. In the big blind facing a raise, pay close attention to your opponent's tendencies. For example, if you're in the big blind with 9-9-K-5-4 facing a raise from an opponent in the cutoff who typically opens with J-J or better, you can safely fold. Also consider the size of the pot. If an early position player opens for a raise and gets two callers, a pair of tens or jacks might be worth a call from the big blind, while hands like a strong two pair (J-J-9-9-4) are worth a raise. Use that "notes" feature and keep close tabs on what hands your opponents are willing to enter a pot with.
So, you have a pair and it's time for the draw. What cards do you dump? With a pair hand like A-A-J-8-7, draw three. Don't try anything fancy like keeping the J kicker and trying to represent a set. A shocking number of players will try this. One exception might be if you're reading an opponent for two pair and you have a high pair with an ace kicker. Then it's possibly worth a gamble to try and catch an ace for a better two pair. Draw two to your trips, and one to your two pair. Save the fancy plays for when you have more specific reads to work off of.
With a new generation of online draw players emerging online, grandma's penny-ante game never looked so profitable. Get on Poker Stars, play tight, and avoid the lure of pretty drawing hands. Not only will it improve your reading skills in other games, but it should put a nice chunk of change in your pocket.