5 Card Draw Rules – How To Play Draw Poker

Poker, at its heart, is all about convincing your opponents you hold the most valuable hand.  Whether this is the truth or something far from it, is where you can use your skill against your opponents.  When learning how to play 5 Card Stud or Texas Hold’em, for example, you always get to see some element of your opponent’s hand.  Playing with 5 Card Draw Rules, you don’t.  Deducing what your opponent may hold is much more difficult, and as such your bets are that much more of a gamble.
Draw Poker, by its nature, is a game of bluffing.  You don’t get to see your opponents’ cards, so you have only your wits and their bets to go on.  If that sounds like your kind of game, read on! In this article, we’ll tell you all about how to play the game, give you an example hand, and go into some strategy pointers.  We’ll even have a brief look at Draw poker’s history, too!  We hope you enjoy our guide to 5 Card Draw Rules…

Draw Poker Gameplay

Draw poker is played with anywhere from 2-10 players, although around 6 is a good number.  Players have, as the name suggests, a hand of five cards.  From this hand, they have to try and create the best poker hand they can manage.  Players can bet on their chances both before and after an opportunity to alter their hand with one or more unknown cards.  It is a game of cunning and bluffing, and as such is a great way to sharpen up your general poker skills.

Many poker sites now offer draw poker, and the feel of the game online can be very different.  Reading tells and body language is much easier in person.  However, 5 Card Draw Rules are by no means set in stone.  You can alter them and create variations to your heart’s content when playing with friends. That way, you can find a game that really suits you.  In this article, we’ll focus on the most common rules – the ones you’re most likely to encounter in a casino or online. With that in mind, let’s see how to play the game.

Order of Play

Before anything else is decided, players must agree on the betting structure. Naturally, if you’re playing in a casino or a league, there will be house rules.  These days, it’s common for blind bets to be placed before any players receive their cards.  In the same way as Texas Hold’em poker, a dealer chip (or “button”) passes clockwise around the table each hand.  Before anyone can receive cards, the player to the left of the dealer must place a “small blind”, and the player to the left of them, a “big blind”.  Typically, the small blind is half of the big blind, and the big blind is the minimum raise allowed.

The alternative method of betting is to use an ante.  Essentially acting as a ‘table tax’, an ante is an incentive for players to enter a hand.  Each hand, every player must commit a small amount into the pot before the dealer can begin dealing cards.  It is unusual for an ante to be larger than 5% of the buy-in. However, in most games, they will increase or double every time the dealer chip completes one lap of the table.  This helps to move the game along.  Late in the game, when the ante is expensive, players with a small stack will be pushed out much faster.

Set Up

Playing with an ante: All players seated at the table put their ante in.  The dealer then deals five cards to each player. Betting starts to the left of the dealer. Players may check during the first round of betting.

Playing with blinds: The player to the dealer’s left bets the small blind amount.  The player to their left bets the big blind amount. Once these bets are placed, players may receive their cards from the dealer. Betting starts to the left of the big blind.  The minimum bet or raise is the size of the big blind.

Betting Round 1

From here on in, gameplay is the same, regardless of whether you’re playing with an ante or with blinds.  Moving around the table clockwise, players may either “call” the same amount as the previous bet, “raise” it, or “fold” their cards.  When you fold your cards you must return them to the dealer, face down. Once all bets are even, that money goes into the pot, and remaining players move on to the draw.

Draw Round

Starting left of the dealer, players have the opportunity to replace any number of cards in their hand.  Discards are returned face-down to the dealer before they can be replaced.  Sometimes the number of discards can be limited to 3.  However, this is rare, since it only favors weaker players.  Discarding zero cards is known as “standing pat”, and is a great tool for pressuring your opponents into thinking you have a strong hand.

Betting Round 2

Once again, starting from the left of the dealer, players can bet or fold.  The first player has the option to “check”, which is effectively betting zero.  Subsequent players may continue to check until a player places a bet.  Similarly to before, when bets from all remaining players are even, the game moves to the showdown.  If during either betting round a player’s bet is not matched (because everyone else folded), then that player claims the pot and a new hand begins.


Players remaining in at the end of the hand must “Showdown” their cards.  Unlike some other poker variants, all players must show their full hand. Very simply, the best 5 card poker hand wins.  In the rare occurrence of a tie, the winning players split the pot evenly.  Suits are not ranked when determining a winner.

Things to Note

Things To Note

Probably the most important thing to know is that 5 Card Draw winning hands are most often a single pair or even high-card.  Only one hand in seven hundred is likely to land a full house or better.  Bear this in mind when you play. Players may be confident, and therefore raising your bets, with what appears to be a fairly weak hand.

Conversely, if you do land a great hand like four-of-a-kind, you are certain to take the pot. If not, then you’re the victim of a very bad beat. Players are usually wary of big bets, so be careful, and don’t push the pot too hard.  In Draw Poker, more than any other variant, knowing your opponent is your most valuable asset.

Typical Betting Structure

When playing using 5 Card Draw rules, it is most common to play no-limit.  This means players are free to bet any amount from the big blind up to the player’s entire stack.  Other variants, such as Triple-Draw, are better as pot-limit games.


Your chances of drawing a good hand in this game are very low.  As a result, if you want to win a decent amount, you need to start bluffing.  As mentioned earlier, players shy away from big bets in this variant of poker more than most, since you have no real way of knowing who can better your hand.  Position at the table has an even stronger role to play here than in games like Texas Hold’em since you can evaluate everyone’s wager before placing your own.

If you plan on playing a lot of Draw Poker, then knowing when to go for a bluff is a vital skill.  The only true teacher of this is experience, but the tips we can give you are as follows:

  1. If you are bluffing based on a good position and tentative bets/checks from opponents, you should be able to push quite hard.  It’s wise to have at least something here, no lower than a K/Q or K/J, but ideally, an ace partnered with a 10 or better.
  2. If you’re gunning for a high hand and you raised in the first betting round, you can push your bet in the second round, to give the impression that your hand came in when you drew your card(s).  Opponents are likely to call your bluff here, so put their stack under pressure if you can afford to.
  3. When used purely as a psyche-out, standing pat can be a great way to bluff your opponents.  When you stand pat, the message you send to your opponents is that you have a made hand.  Be wary of bluffing here if any of your opponents also stood pat.

Getting Out Early

In 5 Card Draw, nearly fifty percent of the time you will see a pair or high card win the hand.  This means you should pursue any hand that has a pair in it.  However, most of the time you will have very little of value in your starting hand.  Aces are usually worth holding because they can win you many hands.  Backing them up with any combination of kings, queens, jacks and tens is also useful. If your hand contains no pairs or better, and nothing higher than a queen, you’re not in a good spot.  Unless you have the makings of a straight or flush, it’s best to fold.

Knowing Your Odds

As we mentioned before, the high-card often wins a game of Draw Poker.  If you wanted to know just how often, this table should give you an idea:

Approximate pre-draw odds of getting each hand

Hand Draw Odds

This shows you that more often than not, you’re going to be working with scraps.  Knowing your chances of successfully drawing a good hand is a must.  Without this knowledge, you’re working on luck alone, and any seasoned poker player will tell you, that doesn’t last!

Targeting a Straight or Flush

There may be times when you are dealt a hand with no pairs or high cards to work with, but you have a good number of closely grouped cards or cards of the same suit.  Playing for a flush, the odds are always against you.  If you have four suited cards, then you have just under a 1 in 5 chance of drawing the card you need (9 of the remaining 47 possible cards are of your target suit).  Trying to draw two cards from the same suit, the odds get very long.  You’re trying to draw one of 10 cards from 47 you have not yet seen – twice!  Your odds go up to more than 1 in 22, so it’s a massive gamble. Generally, this isn’t worth doing unless you’re the big blind and you don’t have to wager more money to try it.

The maths gets more complicated still if you’re trying to draw a straight.  You can try and fill a gap, e.g. you have 4-5-7-8-Q, and discard the queen.  This is an outside straight, and you have 4 potential ‘outs’ from the remaining 47 cards: 1 in 11.75.  A much better chance is if you have an inside straight, for example, 2-6-7-8-9.  Here you would discard the two, hoping for a five or a ten.  That’s 8 cards from the remaining 47, or just better than 1 in 6.  You can see from these odds that targeting either a straight or a flush is always a long shot and should be approached with care.  Our advice is not to pursue it for any more than the cost of a big blind, but, as always, that is just a guideline.

Watching Your Opponents

In any game played with 5 Card Draw rules, you don’t get any idea of what your opponents are holding.  Therefore your only clue to the strength of their hand is how they are behaving.  In a live setting, this means you can observe body language, angle shooting and tells, as well as the number of chips they play. Online you have less to work with, but careful observation of a player’s delays, bets, and stack usage should give you an idea what to expect from them.  5 Card Draw strategy for the online version of the game is much harder to get a handle on.  As a result, only a few sites offer it, and it can often be hard to find a table.

Example Online Hand

Here we will go through a hand that I played on The game was for play-money, and this is how it panned out:

Deal and Opening Bets

The Deal

I’ve been dealt a fairly low hand: a pair of nines.  However, there are some good kicking cards in there with the A♥ and K♦.  The hand is weak now but it is worth pursuing.  All five players went in for the value of the big blind, with the pot standing at 1,000.

The Draw

The Draw


There is a little we can learn here from the other players.  L121212, seated 4th from the dealer, has discarded 3. That almost certainly means he holds a pair. Given that their bet was only one big blind, it’s unlikely to be aces or kings. In the 5th seat, mici.muc88 has discarded only two.  This is much harder to read, but counter to what you might initially think, it doesn’t always mean the player holds trips.  More often than not, the player has a pair with a good kicker (J, J, A, for example).  Discarding three gives you better odds of drawing a good hand, but doesn’t mask your strategy very well.

I chose to discard the 5♥, giving the impression of a potentially strong hand.  If a player holds four cards, they could have a made hand of two pair, trips and kicker, or even 4 of a kind.  They could also be set to draw a straight or flush as we covered earlier. It’s not as intimidating as standing pat, but it is a good way to psyche opponents out.

Closing Bets

Closing Bets

You can see from the picture, I was lucky with the draw, and landed three-of-a-kind.  The ace and king are of no consequence, as you can’t tie for trips when playing 5 Card Draw Rules.  In this round, krokodyl666 immediately bet 3xBB (600).  This was enough to scare off two more players.  However, I knew I had a good hand, and decided to stay in.  mici.muc88 also thought the same.  Here’s what happened:

The Showdown

The Showdown

As you can see, krokodyl666 had a pair of queens with a king kicker.  These are good enough cards to win some hands, but it was still a rash bet. mici.muc88’s two pair is very strong since he holds aces, and he can consider this loss a bad beat.  My win here was a solid one, netting over 1,800. However, it could have been better.  Since I am in ‘position’ as the dealer, I bet last, and a better course of action for me would have been pushing up the value of the bets.  Trips or better, combined with position, is usually when to consider starting to push people.

History of 5 Card Draw Poker

The earliest record of drawing cards in poker is from Bohn’s New Handbook of Games, 1850.  At the time, the French 52 card deck had already been widely adopted as the standard for card games throughout America.  The game developed into Cantrell Poker, or 5 Card Draw, through several generations of players in the southern states.

Draw poker owes its origins to the game of Brag, brought across with the British in the 17th Century.  This is where the idea of drawing a card came from, and the idea stuck, thanks to the extra excitement generated by a second betting round.  Over time, Draw poker in its purest form has remained a home favorite, although many players have adopted variations.  As recently as 2006, the World Society of Poker adopted the 2-7 Lowball and 2-7 Triple-Draw variants of the game and introduced them to The Poker Players’ Championship at their annual events.


Triple Draw

One easy way to create more drama with 5 Card Draw Rules is simply to add more play!  By playing for an extra two draws, each with an extra betting round, players stand a much higher chance of making a strong hand.  You can also play Double-Draw, although it’s unusual to play this format these days. Triple-Draw games are particularly popular for our next variant, which is…


2-7 Draw, or “Lowball” is an interesting take on Draw Poker.  Instead of trying to score the best poker hand, you’re trying to land the worst.  This means straights, flushes, and even pairs count against you.  The best hand you can score (the “nuts”) is 2-3-4-5-7.  There is a caveat here, though.  Where in a high-card game, the hand is ordered by the best card (highest), the same logic doesn’t work for Lowball.  Your hand strength is still dictated by the highest card, but instead of being the best in your hand, it’s the worst.  So a good looking 2-3-4-5-J will get beaten by a lucky 4-5-7-8-9.


Badugi Showdown

In this game, players receive four cards and have to try to create a hand with one of each suit.  In the case of a tie, the player with the lower cards wins.  Aces are low in this game, so A♦, 2♠, 3♥, 4♣ is the best you can draw.  Like Lowball, it’s your highest card that counts.

Split-Pot Variants

There are many variants of draw poker now, but two of the most favored are Badeucy and Badacey.  These combine the attempt to land a Badugi (four off-suit cards as low as possible) with scoring a good lowball hand.  In Badeucy, normal 2-7 lowball rules apply, but players divide the pot equally between the best hand and the best Badugi. It is possible for a player to “scoop” both halves of the pot.  Badacey functions the same way, except Aces are low, and straights do not harm your hand.

5 Card Draw Rules – In Conclusion

To sum up: Draw Poker is a fantastic way to play the game, particularly at home or with live opponents.  The game has a huge focus on bluffing and reading other players, which is great for learning.  The rules are easily adaptable, so you can change them to fit the group of players present.  One downside of the game is that there aren’t too many places to play online. Luckily for you, we have a tool for comparing sites, and you can make a list of sites that have the variant you want to play!

Playing poker with 5 Card Draw rules is a really fun way of mixing the game up.  If you’re into poker for the subtlety, bluffing and psychological side of it, then this is definitely your game!  We hope you’ve enjoyed our introduction to 5 Card Draw rules and we look forward to reading your comments below!


I am a poker enthusiast who also enjoys sailing, rugby, and gaming. A relative newcomer to the world of online poker, I will be putting our strategy guides to the test as I start the Bankroll Challenge: how far can I get without depositing a single penny? Keep an eye out for updates.

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