The Ultimate Guide to Main Poker Variations: Play to Win

Say the word poker to most people and they’ll almost certainly think of one game: Texas Hold’em. That’s fair given that Hold’em is the most popular poker variation in the world, not least because it’s used for tournaments such as the $10,000 WSOP Main Event.

But, as popular as Hold’em is, it’s not the only game in town. Join any of our recommended online poker sites, and you’ll have the opportunity to play in a variety of ways. From Omaha and Stud to Draw and Mixed Games, poker has many nuances. 

This guide will take you from newbie to pro when it comes to identifying poker variants, betting structures and formats. So, if you want to explore everything the game has to offer and not be confined to Hold’em, here’s how to play the most popular types of poker. 

Top poker variations

  1. Texas Hold’em
  2. Pot Limit Omaha
  3. Seven Card Stud
  4. Five Card Draw
  5. H.O.R.S.E

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Classifying poker into variants

Poker isn’t a singular game. However, all poker variants are built on the same fundamentals. So, before we talk about the main types of poker you can play online, here are the basics:

  • Two or more players are competing to win pots.
  • All players receive a certain number of starting cards (based on the poker variation).
  • All players have the option to call, bet, check and raise.
  • There are two ways to win a pot: you make everyone or have the best hand at showdown.

Those are the basics of poker. Therefore, if you can remember these four fundamental tenets, you’ll be able to adjust your strategy and play any type of poker. However, when you drill down into the specifics of each poker variant, you’ll notice that certain variables change. 

There are three overarching variables we need to explain before we talk about specific types of poker. Those variables are: 

  • Table size (i.e. the number of players in a game)
  • Betting structure (i.e. the rules governing how you make bets)
  • Format (i.e. is it a tournament or cash game)

The following heads explain these three variables in more detail.

Table size

In general, there are three table sizes in poker:

  • Full Ring: This is a poker table with space for nine players. 
  • Short-Handed: Also known as six-max, these poker tables have space for six players. Some online poker sites offer special games with three or four spots at the table. These tables are used for Spin & Gos (more on these later).
  • Heads-Up: These poker tables are one-on-one showdowns i.e. there’s only space at the table for two players.

Betting structure

There are three betting systems that can be used in poker:

  • Fixed Limit = bets/raises can only be a fixed amount.
  • Pot Limit = bets/raises can be equal to or less than the size of the pot. 
  • No Limit= bets/raises can be any amount (over the minimum bet/not more than your stack)  

Format

There are three main formats in poker. All poker variations can be played in the following formats:  

Scheduled tournaments

Poker tournaments are games where each player pays a set fee to enter. Everyone receives a certain amount of chips in exchange for their buy-in, and the aim is to outlast everyone else. Tournament chips don’t have any real-world value i.e. you can’t exchange them for cash. 

However, if you outlast enough people, you’ll win a prize. This is known as “getting into the money”. The more people you outlast, the higher up the prize ladder you climb. There are various nuances with regards to poker tournaments, but the main ones you need to know are:

  • Poker tournaments involve players at one or more tables. 
  • Poker tournaments can be scheduled or on demand. Scheduled events start at a set time. 
  • Poker tournaments keep running until one player has all the chips. 
  • Poker tournaments have increasing blinds/antes. This means the forced bets increase in size as the tournament progresses (the intervals at which the blinds increase can be slow, normal, turbo or hyper turbo). 

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On-demand tournaments

As the name suggests, these tournaments don’t have defined start times. Instead, they start when a table is full. That’s why they’re known as Sit & Go tournaments i.e. once everyone is sitting, it’s time to go. On-demand tournaments usually happen on a single table (full-ring, short-handed or heads-up). You can also have multi-table on-demand tournaments. 

Like scheduled tournaments, the blinds/antes increase in size. The amount of time it takes for them to increase varies, but clocks can either be slow, normal, turbo or hyper turbo. Finally, Sit & Go tournaments with random prizepools are known as Spin & Gos and they’re often played on three/four-handed tables.

Cash games

Cash games can be played on any sized poker table. They don’t have start/end times, and people enter/leave whenever they like. The only constants in cash games are the blinds/antes. For example, if you’re playing a $1/$2 cash game, the small blind is always $1 and the big blind is always $2. The minimum/maximum buy-in for cash games will be based on the blinds/antes. Finally, chips have real value i.e. $100 worth of chips can be exchanged for $100 in cash. 

Check out our list of the best casinos with live poker games.

Poker game types

So far, we’ve outlined the basic rules of poker and how to win. We’ve also broken down the different types of poker you can play and how betting structures can vary. Wrapped up within all of these various elements of poker are three overarching game types: 

Draw Poker

Draw Poker is an apt name because you’re literally drawing cards from the deck. The main type of Draw Poker involves five cards. Each player starts with five cards and the aim is to make everyone else fold or make the best hand. You can improve your starting hand by discarding cards and picking up new ones. 

How to play Five-Card Draw Poker

  • Each player puts in an ante bet.
  • Each player receives five cards dealt face-down (i.e. only you can see your cards).
  • The player to the left of the dealer button acts first. They can bet (put in more chips) or check (move the action to the next player without committing more chips).
  • The next player can call if the player in front has made a bet. Alternatively, they can raise or fold. If no bet has occurred, the player can check or bet. 

The above dynamic applies to all players. Once the action concludes, everyone has the option to exchange one or more cards in order to improve their hand.  Finally, a second round of betting occurs. If only one player remains, they win the pot. If two or more players remain, a showdown takes place and the best-ranked hand wins. 

Stud Poker

Stud Poker is similar to Draw in that everyone plays with their own set of cards. Seven-Card Stud is the most popular poker variant in this category.

How to play Seven-Card Stud Poker

  • Each player puts in an ante bet.
  • Each player receives two cards face-down and one face-up.
  • The player with the lowest value face-up card has to make the first bet (and gets the dealer button). They can either pay the “bring in”, which is equal to the size of the ante. Or they can “complete”, which means they put in enough chips to equal the “small bet”. 
  • The next player (to the left of the dealer button) has to call if the player in front has made a bet. Alternatively, the player can raise or fold. If no bet has occurred, the player can check or bet. 

The above dynamic applies to all players. Once the action concludes, everyone left in the hand receives a fourth card face-up and another betting round occurs. This process continues as long as two or more players are active. 

Once active players have seven cards, a final betting round takes place. If only one player remains after this, they win. If two or more players are still active, a showdown takes place and the best five-card poker hand wins (i.e. a player can use any five of their seven cards to make a hand).

Community Card Poker

Community Card Poker is where every player gets to combine their hole cards with five additional cards in the middle of the table. The main types of community card poker are Texas Hold’em and Omaha. Each player starts with a set number of cards that only they can see (two cards in Hold’em, four cards in Omaha). 

Betting rounds occur after each street (i.e. a set of community cards). The “streets” in Community Card Poker are:

  • Pre-flop (before any community cards have been dealt)
  • The flop (the first three community cards)
  • The turn (a fourth community card)
  • The river (a fifth community card)

Everyone can use their cards in combination with those in the middle to make a five-card poker hand. That’s why it’s called community card poker. To demonstrate how this works in practice, here’s how to play a round of Texas Hold’em.

How to play Texas Hold’em

  • One player puts in the small blind, another player puts in the big blind.
  • Each player receives two cards face-down.
  • The player to the left of the big blind is first to act. They can call (put in an amount equal to the big blind’s value), raise (put in an amount higher than the big blind’s value) or fold. 
  • The next player has to call if the player in front has made a bet. Alternatively, they can raise or fold. This process continues around the table until the last highest best has been matched. 
  • A flop is dealt after the first betting round.
  • More betting takes place before a fourth community card. 
  • Another round of betting happens before the river. 
  • A final betting round takes place. 
  • If only one player is left at any point, they win the pot. If two or more players complete the last betting round, a showdown occurs and the best five-card poker hand wins. 

Check out our list of top 10 poker players in the world to learn how they earned their fortune.

Find out who are the top poker players. 18+ BeGambleAware.org. Please play responsibly.

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Find out who are the top poker players. 18+ BeGambleAware.org. Please play responsibly.

A closer look at the most popular poker variations played worldwide

At this point, you should be 90% of the way to understanding how poker works. To make up that final 10%, you need to know the nuances of each popular poker variant…

Texas Hold’em poker rules

The rules of Texas Hold’em poker are: 

  • Each player receives two cards.
  • There are five community cards in play.
  • Betting can either be Fixed, Pot Limit or No Limit.
  • Forced bets = small blind and big blind.
  • Winner = best five-card hand.

Omaha Hi poker rules

The rules of Omaha Hi poker are: 

  • Each player receives four cards. *You must use two hole cards.
  • There are five community cards in play.
  • Betting is usually Pot Limit but can be No Limit.
  • Forced bets = small blind and big blind.
  • Winner = best five-card hand.

Omaha Hi-Lo poker rules

The rules of Omaha Hi-Lo poker are: 

  • Each player receives four cards. *You must use two of your hole cards.
  • There are five community cards in play.
  • Betting can either be Fixed or Pot Limit.
  • The forced bets = small blind and big blind.
  • Winner = best five-card low ranking hand and the best five-card high ranking hand (pots can be split between two players or claimed by one overall winner)

Seven-Card Stud poker rules

The rules of Seven-Card Stud poker are: 

  • Each player receives seven cards (four are hidden, three are exposed).
  • There are no community cards.
  • Betting is usually Fixed, but can be Pot Limit or No Limit
  • Forced bets = ante (for all players) + lowest exposed card pays the bring-in or completes.
  • Winner = best five-card hand.

Five-Card Omaha poker rules

The rules of Five-Card Omaha poker are: 

  • Each player receives five cards, but one gets discarded midway through the hand. *You must use two of your hole cards.
  • There are five community cards in play.
  • Betting is usually Pot Limit but can be No Limit.
  • The forced bets = small blind and big blind.
  • Winner = best five-card hand.

Five-Card Draw poker rules

The rules of Five-Card Draw poker are: 

  • Each player receives five cards that only they can see.
  • There are no community cards.
  • Betting is usually Fixed, but it can be Pot Limit or No Limit.
  • The forced bets = ante (for all players).
  • Winner = best five-card hand.

High/Low Chicago poker rules

High/Low Chicago is a type of Seven-Card Stud. The main difference between Seven-Card Stud and High/Low Chicago is that 50% of the pot goes to the best high/low hand, and 50% goes to the hand with the highest spade hand.

The rules of High Low Chicago poker are:

  • Each player receives seven cards (four are hidden, three are exposed).
  • There are no community cards.
  • Betting is usually Fixed, but it can be Pot Limit or No Limit.
  • The forced bets = ante (for all players) + lowest exposed card pays the bring-in or completes.
  • Winner = best five-card high hand (in Chicago High)/best five-card low hand (in Chicago Low) + highest spade hand wins 50% of the pot.

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Mixed poker games

There are certain poker games that combine variants. Unsurprisingly, these are known as mixed games and the variant changes every few rounds. For example, you can play Hold’em for five rounds, then the game switches to Omaha for five rounds. 

Mixed games are a true test of all-round poker skill. The most popular types of Mixed Game Poker are:

  • H.O.R.S.E. (Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Razz, Stud, Stud Eight or Better)
  • H.O.S.E. (Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, Stud Eight or Better)
  • H.O. (Texas Hold’em and Omaha)
  • O.E. (Omaha Hi-Low and Stud Eight or Better)
  • Eight-Game Mix (2-7 Triple Draw, Limit Hold’em, No Limit Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Omaha Hi, Razz, Stud, Stud Eight or Better)
  • Ten-Game Mix (2-7 Triple Draw, 2-7 Single Draw, Badugi, Limit Hold’em, No Limit Hold’em, Omaha Hi-Lo, Omaha Hi, Razz, Stud, Stud Eight or Better)

How to choose the best poker variant

Finding the best poker variant for you comes down to information and knowledge. You need to know what the different types of poker are and, in turn, the type of player you are. For example, if you like to be creative with your bet sizing, No Limit games might be best. If you prefer rigid betting structures, Fixed Limit would be suitable. 

Of course, you’re free to play any and all variants. Just because you start with No Limit Hold’em cash games, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Omaha tournaments. In fact, the best way to get maximum enjoyment at our recommended online poker sites is to try every variant. 

To determine a starting point, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want my bet sizing to be restricted?
  • Do I want to use my own cards or community cards?
  • Do I want the flexibility of cash games or the competitive element of tournaments?
  • Do I want to have more potential hand combinations or fewer hole cards?
  • Do I want to play a slow structure or a fast structure?
Main poker variations. 18+ BeGambleAware.org. Please play responsibly.

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Main poker variations. 18+ BeGambleAware.org. Please play responsibly.

What is the easiest poker variant?

The easiest poker variant to learn in terms of basic rules is Texas Hold’em. As we’ve explained, everyone starts with two cards and you can combine none, one or both with five community cards. There are two forced bets (the small and big blinds) and play moves in a clockwise direction with the dealer acting last. 

What is the most difficult poker variant?

Pot Limit Omaha is one of the most difficult poker variants because there are a lot of possible hand combinations. In Hold’em, each player has two hole cards they can combine with the community cards. 

In Omaha, everyone has four hole cards, and you have to use two of them in conjunction with the community cards. This significantly increases the number of hands you can make which, in turn, makes it harder to determine what your opponents could have. 

Which poker hand is the best?

The best hand in poker is a royal flush. This is an ace-high straight where all cards are the same suit e.g. 10, J, Q, K, A (all hearts). The other hands you can make in poker from best to worst are:

  • Royal Flush e.g. 10, J, Q, K, A (same suit)
  • Straight Flush e.g. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (same suit)
  • Four of a Kind e.g. A, A, A, A, K
  • Full House e.g. A, A, A, K, K
  • Flush e.g. A, 3, 7, 5, J (same suit)
  • Straight e.g. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 (different suits)
  • Three of a Kind e.g. A, A, A, 5, J
  • Two Pair e.g. A, A, 5, 5, J
  • Pair e.g. A, A, 3, 8, Q
  • High Card e.g. A, 5, 6, J, 9

Can I make specific bets for every poker variant?

Yes, you can. As we’ve already explained, each poker variant can have one of three betting structures: Fixed Limit, Pot Limit or No Limit. 

Where can I play poker online?

You should now be confident in your ability to play any type of poker. From tournaments to cash games, Fixed Limit to No Limit, and Hold’em to Stud, you’ve got all the information you need to enjoy every type of poker. The only thing left to do is tell you where to play. 

We’ve reviewed dozens of popular online poker sites, so you know each one we recommend is high quality. However, in terms of giving you a starting point, here are three of the best online poker sites when it comes to offering a variety of gaming options:

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PokerStars is the largest online poker site in the world. It offers every type of game you can imagine, including some you’ve never even thought of. As well as cash games and tournaments costing as little as $0.01 and as much as $10,000+, you can enter freerolls on PokerStars. 

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If you prefer casino poker variants where it’s you vs. the dealer, Duelz is perfect. New customers can use our sign-up link to get a £100 deposit match bonus and 100 free spins. Once you’re a member, you can play a variety of casino poker games, including Stud. 

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For poker variants where you have to make a better hand than the dealer, Winomania has you covered. New customers get a 100% deposit match up to £100, plus 100 free spins, with our sign-up link. In terms of games, this online casino has everything from virtual Stud to live Draw Poker tables. 

What other table games can I play online?

Don’t worry if bluffing isn’t your thing because online poker isn’t the only game in town. Our top-rated UK casino sites offer a plethora of card games that require a combination of skill, logic and timing. Some of the best casino card games you can play online are:

  • Blackjack
  • Casino Poker
  • Video Poker
  • Baccarat

Our top five tips for playing poker

Before you head off and play, here are five poker tips to keep in mind:

  1. Choose the variant that suits your personality, temperament and playing style. 
  2. Always bet responsibly. Only play for stakes that represent a small portion of your bankroll (i.e. less than 5% of the money you’ve set aside for gambling).
  3. Try as many poker variants, formats and betting structures as possible so you can find the ideal games for you.
  4. Think critically about the hands your opponents can have in all situations. Don’t try to determine one specific hand. Think in ranges i.e. they’ve probably got these types of hands. Once you put someone on a range of hands, act accordingly to achieve a desired outcome. 
  5. Have fun! Poker is a fantastic game. It’s challenging, it’s full of skill and there are cash prizes to be won. Therefore, you should enjoy the process. If you stop having fun, stop playing. 

About the author

Daniel Smyth

Daniel Smyth has seen the online poker, casino, and betting industry from every angle. He previously played poker semi-professionally before working at WPT Magazine as a writer and editor. From there, he transitioned to online gaming where he’s been producing expert content for over 10 years.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanSmythThePoet

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Remember to gamble responsibly

A responsible gambler is someone who:

  • Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
  • Only gambles with money they can afford to lose
  • Never chase their losses
  • Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
  • Gamcare – www.gamcare.org.uk
  • Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org

For help with a gambling problem, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or go to www.gamstop.co.uk to be excluded from all UK-regulated gambling websites.

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