The Ten Best Games for Friday Night Poker

pokerchips3Ten interesting variants for your neighbourhood poker get-togethers.

Turn on your TV and you’d think the only way to play poker is the boring Texas Hold ‘Em game. The big money tournaments have spurred an enormous growth in neighbourhood poker get-togethers (and lots of reckless online gambling), but if you just stick to the casino hold ’em games or the old standards (seven-card stud, five-card draw) you’re missing out on a lot of fun. While I do agree with purists that some poker ‘variants’ aren’t poker at all, there are some great games that are poker, and which involve some intriguing strategy, bluffing, and even (gasp) cooperation. Or which are just plain fun. Here in Caledon our monthly get-together now has 18 players at three different tables (rotating at the breaks), so we’ve learned a lot of new games. Here are our current ten favourites:

  1. Do Ya: Like six-card stud, with a bunch of interesting wrinkles. Each player is dealt a single card face-down. All cards of that rank in that player’s hand are considered wild, including the face-down one. The dealer starts with the player to his left, turns over the top card from the deck, and offers it to that player. If the player wants the card, he adds it to his hand, face-up. If he does not, the dealer turns a second card over. If the player does not want the second card, the dealer turns over a third card, and the player is forced to take it. The dealer then moves on to the second player to his left. If there are any face-up cards after the previous player’s choice, the current player may take his pick of them. If he does not like any of them, the dealer turns over another card, just like with the first player. Once there are three face-up cards, the current player is always forced to take the third one. At the end of the round, any cards rejected by the last player are discarded, there’s a betting round, and the whole process is repeated five more times until each player has one down and five up cards. Best hand wins. You can usually guess what each player has down (wild) after a couple of rounds, so players try to appeal to others to sacrifice by taking a card that would be wild to the next player even though it’s of no value to them. The psychology can get interesting. The bluffing possibilities are extensive. And I’ve seen straight flushes lose. Note: we play this as a six-card game, one more than the standard.
  2. Pass the Trash / Anaconda: A delightfully aggravating seven-card stud variant. Each player is dealt seven cards face down, but must then (all players at once) pass three of them to the left (potentially breaking up a great natural hand). In the Anaconda variant, you then pass two more left and then one more left (all players at once) — though some dealers have the second and third passes going right, next-to-left, or across. A betting round follows. Now comes the piËce de rÈsistance — the ‘slow reveal’. Each player discards (face down) two cards and puts his five best cards in a pile in the order he plans to reveal them. Then all players at once reveal one card, followed by a betting round, and this is repeated four times until all cards are showing. The game can also be played high/low or lowball just to add to the mayhem. Or for a truly perverse variant, have the winner split the pot with the player to his right (the one who passed him the cards). The order of the reveal can disguise a good hand as a bad one or vice versa — for awhile. Three of a kind can often bluff out a flush.
  3. Guts: There are many variants of this game; here’s the one we play: Ante, then each player gets five cards face down and looks at them. At the count of three, all players at the same time drop their hands if they’re folding, keep them if they’re staying in. Best hand wins the pot, worst hand of those staying in must match the pot. Deal passes left, ante and repeat the process (everyone’s dealt back in, even if they folded the last round) until only one player stays in, and he wins the final big pot. If the deal goes all around without this happening (i.e. with only one player staying in) a final round is played with everyone staying in and a regular last betting round for the whole pot. If everyone folds in any round, the highest hand has to ante for everyone for the next round.
  4. Choose Your Own: Like seven-card stud, except you choose your own cards. Each player is dealt one card down and one card up, followed by a betting round. Then a kitty equal to one card per player is dealt face up in the middle, and starting with the lowest card showing, each player in turn picks a card from the kitty. After another betting round repeat the kitty deal and selection starting with the lowest hand showing, until each player has seven cards (one down, six up). The order of choice tends to keep everyone in until the bitter end.
  5. Countdown: A minor quirky variant of seven-card stud in which the denomination of the wild card equals the number of players still in. You are not permitted to fold (and hence change the wild card denomination) unless you would have to pay money to the pot to stay in. So if you have a mitt-full of deuces down, you bet like crazy and try to force all but one other player out. But if you have a mitt-full of deuces up, the other players won’t bite.
  6. Follow the Queen, Bitch: A home-grown combination of two seven-card stud variants. In Follow the Queen, all queens are wild and the denomination dealt (face up) immediately after a queen is also wild, unless another queen is subsequently turned up, in which case the denomination dealt immediately after that queen is wild instead. If the last card dealt up is a queen, only queens are wild. If no queen is dealt up, or if the Queen of Spades (the Bitch) is dealt up, all hands are thrown in, the pot stays, only players who did not fold are dealt in and ante for the next round, and this continues until a round is dealt that contains at least one queen dealt up but not the Queen of Spades. In a seven-player game, at least one throw-in is likely and pots can get large.
  7. Threes Call: A variant of seven-card stud in which the recipient of the last ‘3’ dealt face up gets to declare whether the game is regular (high hand wins) or lowball. As each ‘3’ is turned up, the recipient must immediately declare regular or lowball, which makes the decision more complicated for the recipient of the next ‘3’.
  8. Diablo: A variant of five-card draw. Deuces are wild, and you can only draw up to two cards each. The wrinkle is that after the winner has collected the pot, if the person who opened didn’t win, he has to pay into the pot a penalty of twice the ante times the total number of players — The deal then rotates left, another hand is dealt to those who didn’t fold, they re-ante and play for the pot including the penalty. Rounds continue until the person who opens wins the pot. If no one opens a round, cards are thrown in and deal rotates.
  9. No-Peek: Purists hate this game, but it is suspenseful and can build some great pots. Each player is dealt seven cards (nine if there are five players or less), which are left face down and unseen by anyone. Player to left of dealer turns over a card, and each player around the table after that flips cards until they beat the highest hand showing on the table, which sets off a betting round. As each player runs out of cards without topping the best hand showing, he folds. There is no betting round after folds. This game can be played with wildcard variations, such as Woolworths (5s and 10s wild, 4s get an extra card from the deck, black 3s eliminate you from play) or Night Baseball (3s and 9s wild, 3s have to match the pot or fold, 4s get an extra card from the deck).
  10. Aviation: This is a less-boring variation of Texas Hold ‘Em. Each player gets four cards face down instead of the usual two. Each player must discard one card before the flop and another immediately after the flop. After that, usual Hold ‘Em rules apply.

We play with low stakes, modest limits and very lenient house rules. It’s mostly couples, though spouses traditionally start at separate tables. Winners at the time of the 10pm snack-break rotate to a different table. The cards speak, so if you don’t notice that your hand is the winning one, you still win. As you can tell, we go for games with suspense and drama rather than those requiring machismo or great skill.

At the end of the evening we traditionally play a decidedly non-poker winner-takes-all game called Chase the Ace to allow losers to recoup their losses. Ace is low in this game. Each player places three one-dollar chips in front of them. First dealer gives each player one card down. Starting to dealer’s left, each player can choose to ‘stay’ or to trade their card with the person on their left. Player to the left must trade unless they have a king, in which case they show the king immediately. When the trading gets back around to the dealer, he can choose to ‘stay’ or to trade his card for a card he cuts from the deck. Cards are revealed and player(s) with the lowest denomination lose and must pay one dollar chip to the pot. Deal passes to left and rounds continue until all players except one are eliminated (run out of their three chips). That player wins the substantial pot. It’s a game that’s mostly luck, but it can be very suspenseful.

And that’s how we spend one Friday evening each month, when we’re not trying to save the world and stuff.

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