Editor’s Note: For more than 30 years, I’ve played poker one night a month with the same core group of guys. During that time, we’ve played all kinds of games. You may find many of them gimmicky, or just plain stupid, but, after so many years, you need variety. If I had to play five-card draw, nothing wild for more than three decades, watching the same guys grow older, fatter, grayer, balder, more wrinkled and just plain more unattractive with each passing year, I think I would have dragged my old, fat, wrinkled ass out of there years ago. (For an idea of the sort of fellows who constitute our group, check out the picture below of four of us cutting the ribbon to open the new Southwestern Connecticut Poker Association (SWCPA) Clubhouse in Norwalk, Connecticut, our semi-permanent, year-round site.)

Following are some of our favorite games. I periodically add more as we come up with them. If you’ve got favorites you’d like to see posted, I’d appreciate hearing from you. Recently, Mark Poole, of Cincinnati, Ohio, wrote in with a game called “Zero-Fifty-Four,” which has worked out quite well for us. For an extensive and detailed poker site that’s full of helpful information, as well as links to a host of other poker-related sites, try Online Poker Tools, based in Manasquan, NJ, which is managed by Chris Sorensen.


House of Cards — The Games We Play

(Updated 01/07/2010)

1-3-1

Does not refer to a basketball zone defense. A form of Five-Card Stud in which the cards are dealt one down, three up and then one down. This game happened by accident when a clumsy guy dealt the last card down in a game of five-card stud, because he was too drunk to maintain his attention span long enough to deal the cards properly. This is really a better game than standard five-card stud, because there’s more suspense and better betting with the last card down. Actually, I think five-card stud is a really crappy game, which is why I’ve never called it in more than 30 years of playing. In fact, the only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was when Edward G. Robinson pulled the royal flush to beat Steve McQueen’s full house in Norman Jewison’s classic 1965 film, “The Cincinnati Kid.”

727

Not really poker at all — more closely resembles a weird form of Blackjack. Each player initially receives one card down (which he can look at) and one card up. The object of the game is to get as close as possible to either seven or 27. Aces count as one or 11, face cards count as 1/2 and all other cards are at their face value. The players closest to seven and 27 split the pot. In case of an exact tie above and below — for example, two players have five and nine, or two have 26 and 28 — the player who comes in below seven or 27 wins. There is betting after each dealing round, and if you feel you have enough cards, you turn your up cards sideways — from that point on, you can’t change your mind and receive any more cards. Betting continues until everyone has either turned their cards sideways or dropped out.

This is not a game for the scrotally challenged — the pots are generally large, because anyone who hits seven or 27 exactly will bet the limit each round (unless he’s a dolt). Often, only one player goes low, while everyone else is forced to go high. Realizing he is sure to scarf up half the pot, that player — who can expect to be referred to by the sobriquet “what an asshole” for the duration of the game — will bet the limit each round, unless, of course, he’s stupid. (If two players tie for either high or low, they will each receive a quarter of the pot, while the single winner at the other end will take half the pot.)

Because of the rudimentary accounting skills required, this game may not be everyone’s cup of tea. (We have an older fellow in our group who needs to take off his shoes and drop his pants to count to 21. It’s usually better to call this game early in the night while he’s still at least somewhat alert.)

Acey-Deucey

Not even remotely poker, although the same might be said of much of this list by serious purists. Everyone antes and is then dealt two cards face up. Players are then given the option of making a bet, which can be anywhere from the pre-set minimum to the entire pot. After a player bets, he is given a third card up. If that card is between his first two (aces are always high only), he wins; if it’s outside them, he loses; if it matches either of the two cards, he pays double.

The key parameter here is what constitutes a pair of cards that demands a player “go pot,” which is what it takes to end this shitty game. This is directly related to the testosterone level of the bettor. For those with manly endowment, queen-three is sufficient; limp wrists will require a minimum of king-deuce to risk a major burn. Anyone sitting on the ace-deuce combination who does not go for “all of it” is immediately considered a “skirt.” Sometimes, when the pot is not too large, a player with a lesser hand, such as jack-three, may go pot just to get the game over with. This is because everyone hates this game: It’s the worst game we play, and only one of our members ever calls it. Sadly, this wienie calls it constantly, which is why the rest of us consider him such a dick.

I’ve actually seen a variant of this game played in Atlantic City, where it’s called Red Dog. Players bet against the house dealer’s chances of getting between the two cards, and the name derives from a marker in the shape of a small red dog, which is moved on a board that lists the odds paid for each combination of the two up cards. As you can guess, the odds do not favor the bettors, as I found out one Saturday when I watched $150 evaporate in the space of about 10 minutes.

Baseball

A seven-card stud variation. Threes and nines are wild. Anyone who gets a four up is given the opportunity to buy an extra card, which he can take up or down, for a pre-set fee. (It generally costs more to take it down, rather than up.) With the extra cards and the eight wild cards, even a full house is probably not going to be good enough to win, so this is the ultimate “garbage game.” A night of poker is not complete until someone who’s just won this game does a bad imitation of Garrett Morris from the old “Saturday Night Live” show delivering fictional N.Y. Met Chico Esquela’s immortal line, “Bazeball’s been very, very good to me.“

A variant of this is Night Baseball, which is the No Peek (see below) version. This makes what is already a junk game marginally more junky.

Bob

An extremely complex combination of Guillotine (see below) and Omaha (see below), this game was contributed by a reader from California. This sort of game is almost guaranteed to generate a huge pot, unless you’re playing with guys whose nuts have been hidden away by the squirrels and are inclined to drop out early and often.

Each player is dealt four cards down. Nine flop cards are placed on the board (in the middle) face down in a three-by-three pattern. There’s an initial round of betting. Then, the four corner cards are flipped, followed by another round of betting. Next, two of the side cards (9:00 o’clock and 12:00 o’clock) are flipped, followed by another bet, then the last two side cards (3:00 o’clock and 6:00 o’clock) are flipped, to be followed by another bet. This fourth betting round determines whether you’re in for the pot or out. You can drop out, bet or check. If you bet or check, and someone else raises you, you can still drop out. However, if you bet or check and no one raises you, you must stay in until the end of the hand.

The pot will be split by the high hand and the low hand. You must play two of the cards in your hand, plus three on the board in a row, horizontally, vertically or diagonally (i.e., tic-tac-toe style). However, there is a qualifier on the low hand — it cannot contain anything greater than an eight. (An ace can be used as high or low, depending on what you’re shooting for.) If there is no low hand, there is no split, and the high hand takes the entire pot. This qualifier is what makes the bet before the flip of the middle card on the board so important — since the middle card is used in half the possible combinations, it’s likely to affect the low hand. Once the middle card has been flipped, there’s another round of betting (during which no one can drop). Then, if there’s a possibility of having both high and low hands, each person still in the game must declare by hiding coins (or chips) in his hand and displaying them simultaneously at the count of three: no coin for low, one coin for high and two coins for both. The cards are then shown and the winners (or winner) are determined. (If you go for both and only win one, you lose, the other winner takes the pot, and you match it.)

There are four possible outcomes: 1) High and low hands split the pot, and everyone else has dropped, so the game is over; 2) high hand takes the entire pot (there was no low hand with all cards eight or below), everyone else has dropped and so the game is over; 3) high and low hands split the pot, and there are one or more losers, who must match the pot, and the game continues; and 4) high hand takes the entire pot, there are one or more losers who must match the pot, and the game continues. Because of the possibility of multiple hands with multiple losers, the pot could get unduly large, so there is usually a pot-matching limit set, with a pre-agreed-upon dollar amount. And, because this game could take an inordinately long time, there is a limit on the number of hands that can be played. When this limit is reached, it’s “loser(s) pay winner(s)” — losers match the pot and then the winner(s) take whatever’s in there. Another twist is that once a hand is completed, anyone who has previously dropped out can come back in free of charge, so everyone is always involved at the start of every hand.

This game is so complicated that older and/or less aware (i.e., dumb) players probably won’t be able to hold all the rules in their failing memories at once, so it will probably need to be simplified in some way. I have described above the complete game as it was submitted to me for the benefit of those poker clubs young and sharp enough to avail themselves of all of its complexities. This could also turn into a very expensive game, so skinflints, skirts and the small of ball are unlikely to enjoy it or stick around until it ends.

Dave Spence

A form of seven-card stud in which deuces are wild; however, you have to have two of them in order for them to be wild. Hence, anyone who does get two deuces is likely to win, but the real interest is generated by players who get a deuce up and bet heavy, pretending to have another one in the hole. (Of course, interest generally tends to flag, and everyone tends to drop, if someone actually shows a pair of deuces up.)

This game was named for one of our group whose birthday is on the 22nd and always wore the number 22 on his uniform back when he was young enough to participate in athletic endeavors that required a uniform. For your group, you can probably find a member with whom you can associate a double number — maybe one of the players has a 55-inch waist or a 4.4-inch ... well, I’m sure you get the idea. In our game, part of the fun is calling for the dealer to “Spence me,“ which invariably draws the comment, “There’s something his wife hasn’t said in years,” which we find hilarious no matter how many times we hear it (which ought to tell you something about the level of wit around our table).

A variation of this game is called Half a Spence, in which the same rules apply; however, if you have only one deuce, you’re allowed to use it as an ace. This grew out of the aphorism that “half a Spence is better than no Spence,” and the observation that “two is half a Spence” ... oh, never mind.

Double No-Draw

I’ve also heard this game called Two Feet in Texas. Like five-card draw, but with no draw — you just play the cards you’re dealt — and nothing is wild. The variation is that the pot is taken by the first player to win two hands. As a result, the pot can grow quite large, although there will always be one or two guys who drop out after the first ante. (These guys are probably wearing lady’s panties under their clothes and should be encouraged to stay home.) A good ploy is for the winner of the first hand to bet like a maniac from then on to force out the more gelatinous and effeminate players.

Drops

Also known as Guts or Dropsies. All players ante a predetermined amount. (There will be no further betting.) Everyone then receives three cards face down. After examining them, they are given the opportunity to play or drop. Players hold their cards approximately six inches above the table, while the dealer rhythmically counts, “one, two, three, drop.” Those who drop their cards are out of the round. Those who have held then show their cards. The winner (the highest hand possible is three of a kind) takes the pot, while the loser(s) match the pot. [Some people like to play this game with three-card straights, flushes and straight flushes also possible, although three of a kind is still the highest hand; however, most players find this gimmicky and won’t call it.]

Cards are then re-dealt, and everyone is back in, regardless of whether they dropped or not in the previous hand. The game continues until such time as only one player holds — this ballsy fellow takes the pot, and the game is over.

For the faint of heart, a limit is sometimes established to keep the pot from growing too large and the losses from becoming too onerous. For example, the dealer may specify that, regardless of the size of the pot, the most the losing player(s) will have to throw in is $10 apiece. Another add-on feature can be a “pot hand,” which involves three cards dealt face down in the center of the table. Those who hold must beat the pot hand, as well as the other players in order to win. This keeps brave guys from holding with nothing and winning on guts alone when everyone else drops. In effect, the pot hand penalizes courage. I approve of this myself, because I have relatively small cojones and resent others with larger ones. When a lot of pot hands and limits are used, brave-hearted types refer to this as “Ladies Night.”

One popular form of this game is Three-Two Drops, which starts out the same; however, those players who hold their cards will then receive two more, so that five-card flushes, full houses, etc., are possible. Again, there is no betting involved, other than the ante and the matching of the pot. This game is often played with a limit and a pot hand. (Naturally, the pot hand gets five cards.) When played with no limit, this game often produces extremely large pots, as well as the potential for a “major burn” — this tends to be an “end-of-the-night” sort of game that can be great fun when accompanied by the sounds of grown men whining like women.

In addition, either the Three-Card or the Three-Two version of Drops can be played with a variant called Pimp Guts. Here, the first two cards are dealt down, and the third card is dealt face up. The player with the high card face up must hold. (If two players tie for high card up, they’re both forced to hold.) This cuts down on the need to have a pot hand to keep the brave from “stealing” the pot, and it also builds the pot quickly, since all hands will have at least one person holding, and some may have three (or even, in rare occasions, four) players forced to hold. However, because this is a game in which the gutless are often compelled to show guts, a “pot limit” may be even more crucial.

Five-Card Draw [see Mumbles, Double No-Draw]

Five-Card Stud [see 1-3-1]

Follow the Queen

A variant of Seven-Card Stud. During the dealing of the up cards, the card that follows a queen is wild, until the next queen appears, and then that card becomes wild. If the last card dealt is a queen, nothing is wild (and, obviously, if no queens come up at all, nothing is wild). This is always a good catalyst for childish witticisms centering on the word “queen,” which result from the natural homophobia and insecurities of the average poker player as regards his manhood. This is similar to the sort of vulgar witlessness prevalent during a game of One-Eyed Jacks Wild (grown men shouting “jack me,” “jack me hard,” “gimme the old one-eye,” etc.)

A perfectly acceptable variation of this game includes the rule that, if the last card dealt up is a queen, then queens are wild. Another variant of this game is Queen, Follow the Queen, in which all queens are always wild, in addition to the card that follows the queen; however, this game is entirely too junky and should be avoided. Finally, there’s a version that’s sometimes called Black Mariah. In this game, the rules are the same, however, if the queen of spades is dealt up at any point, the game automatically ends, and a new hand is dealt. This game often goes on for quite a while and can become rather expensive.

Guillotine

This is a complex and potentially expensive seven-card stud variation that is played without wild cards. Like Low Spade Splits the Pot (see below), this is a game for socialists (or, at least, liberal Democrats), in that it can (and usually does) have two winners. At the end, the high hand and the high heart in the hole split the pot; however, to qualify, you must declare after the final bet whether you’re going for high hand, high heart or both. You can only win what you declare for, and if you don’t win what you declare for, you have to match the pot, while the winner (or winners) take it all. Hence, you need a manly pair of testicles (or the ace of hearts) to stay in until the bitter end.

Until the final card has been dealt, this is a pretty standard game, but after the seventh card, the complexities come into play. In the final round of betting, you can drop, bet or check. If you bet or check, and someone else raises you, you can still drop out. However, if you bet or check and no one raises you, you’re in until the hand ends. This can lead to some cautious (but tactical) betting in the final round. Once it has been established who’s still playing, each player declares what he’s going for by hiding coins (or chips) in his hand and displaying them simultaneously at the count of three: no coin for high heart, one coin for high hand and two coins for both. (If you go for both and only win one, you lose and must match the pot, and the other winner takes it all.) This game generates some heavy burns, big pots and plenty of whining, which is why we only allow it during the final hour of play.

Indian Head Poker

Also known as Headsies or Native American Poker. Each player receives three cards, which are dealt face down, and you’re not allowed to look at them. On the count of three, each player takes his top card and places it on his forehead, such that he cannot see his own card. He can, of course, see everyone else’s cards on their foreheads. Betting commences. Then the second card is put in place, followed by more betting. By this time, everyone will be feeling silly and giggling like six-year-olds. Once the third card is up, the betting is completed. Since there are only three cards, the best possible hand is three of a kind. For obvious reasons, avoid playing this game in a room where there are reflective surfaces. And I would guess that a seven-card version of this game would also be problematic. I’m told that the Headsies Table at the Mirage Hotel & Casino is one of the busiest in all of Las Vegas.

Land of the Blind

This game is based on the old proverb, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” In this seven-card stud game, if you get a one-eyed jack, you’re allowed to call it a king. This enables bold players to bet the limit by pretending they have a pair of kings in the hole to go with the one-eyed jack they have showing. In some ways, it’s similar to another dumb-assed game we play in which a deuce can be called an ace.

Low Spade Wild

Seven-card stud, with the lowest spade in the hole held by anyone still in the game at the end wild. This card makes all cards of that denomination also wild. For example, if the four of spades is the lowest hole card, the other three fours are wild as well. Because you are always uncertain what the wild card will be (unless, of course, you’re holding the two of spades under), this game is hard to drop out of, so it can often build a decent pot.

A game that sounds similar, but is not really all that closely related is Low Spade Splits the Pot. As you might expect, the person with the lowest spade in the hole splits the pot with the person with the best hand. Some players view this game as a form of socialism, so, in these conservative times, it’s not a good idea to call this game too often, lest you to be labeled some sort of “closet liberal.”

Meatloaf

This game is also called Black Mariah by some old timers, although there is some confusion here, because a version of Follow the Queen goes by the same name. In this variant of seven-card stud, the winner must have two out of three of the following to win: high hand, high spade in the hole or low spade in the hole. If no one has two out of the three, the cards are thrown in, the pot remains and a new hand is dealt. This is a great game for building the pot, because it’s rare that someone gets two out of three in the first few hands.

I consider this to be the finest game we play, as do several of my compatriots. Unfortunately, those who hate this game (i.e., pussies and cheap bastards) really hate it and will complain throughout. Or they will show their lack of gonads by dropping out at the first bet, unless, of course, they get the ace and deuce of spades dealt to them right off the bat. In that case, they will bet the limit every time and whine somewhat less loudly.

Note: No wild cards are ever allowed in this game — after all, you wouldn’t want a great game like this to get stupid. In case you’re wondering why it’s called “Meatloaf,” think of the large, sweaty singer of the same name who had a 1977 release that contained the lyric “two out of three ain’t bad.”

Mersman

This is a variant of seven-card stud. After the first two down cards are dealt, the dealer turns over the next card and places it face up on top of the deck. The player to his left has the option of taking the revealed card on top of the deck or the card under it (which no one can see until it is dealt ... sort of like choosing Door #2 on “Let’s Make a Deal”). If he chooses the up card on top of the deck, a new card is flipped over for the next player, who has the same option — to choose the revealed card or the next card in the deck (the mystery card). This continues until it’s the dealer’s turn — if he chooses not to take the up card, it is then buried.

Then, there’s a round of betting. The next three rounds proceed in exactly the same way. The seventh card is then dealt down as in a standard seven-card stud game. (One variant of this game is a nominal surcharge for rejecting the up card in favor of the mystery card.) 

The strategic aspect of this game that makes it a real crowd pleaser is whether you choose the card you take based strictly on your own hand, or whether you deliberately take a card that might not help you that much (i.e., “take one for the table”) in order to keep that card away from someone else who really wants it. It’s the classic psychological conflict of self-interest vs. altruism (which is always self-interest anyway) ... and can you count on the next guy to “do the right thing,” if you choose not to “play a little defense.”

You’re probably wondering where the name came from. As is the case with Dave Spence, it’s peculiar to our game. A one-time guest brought this game, which took its name from the name of a player in his group. I don’t even know if this is the correct way of spelling it — I could find out, but I prefer leaving it undefined, like that mystery card hiding hopefully just under the up card.

Mumbles

One of the endless varieties of Five-Card Draw, this game is idiosyncratic to the SWCPA, and its name has no meaning outside our group. Developed because our surliest player called the game often, and couldn’t be bothered to repeatedly spell out its parameters, beyond a series of primate grunts and grumblings, it’s simply five-card draw, jacks or better to open, with deuces wild and trips to win (if no one has at least three of a kind, the cards are thrown in, and there’s a new deal).

It’s a popular choice at our game; however, with a wild card, the “trips to win” aspect turns out to be essentially pointless — we’ve played it hundreds of times, and have never had a hand without a set of trips in it, so the game has never gone beyond one hand. (For that matter, now that I think of it, the wild card also makes the “jacks or better” aspect equally senseless.) In fact, I don’t know why anyone calls this game at all, other than out of a sense of tradition and for the opportunity to either unintelligibly grunt out the words, “Mumble Game” or to imitate famed ring announcer Michael Buffer’s classic delivery with, “Let’s get ready to mumble.”

A more reasonable choice is five-card draw, jacks or better, trips to win, Progressive, with no wild cards. This is a game that can really take some time and build up the pot. The “progressive” portion of it means that the first hand is jacks or better to open, the second hand is queens, etc. until you get to aces, when it then reverts back to jacks again. The perfect game for those, like myself, who enjoy drawing two cards to a high pair and a kicker, then betting the limit to scare off the skirts.

Another interesting variation that has recently come to my attention is called Diablo. Here, the guy who opens must win or he’s forced to match the pot. So opening with just a pair of jacks and nothing else promising could be stressful and expensive, but it would open up the game to some creative betting and skillful bluffing. This game can be played such that the winner gets the opener/loser’s pot-matching cash (and the game is over) or the opener/loser matches the pot to begin the next hand, and the game continues until an opener wins a hand. To keep the pot from getting out of hand (and to keep the ladies in the group from dropping out as soon as the first nickel is bet), this game can also be played with the opener/loser anteing for everyone to start the new hand, rather than matching the pot.

No Peek

Also known as Roll Your Own. Seven cards are dealt face down. No one is allowed to look at his cards. The first player rolls over one card and bets. The next player must roll his cards until he has beaten the player before him, and then he bets. Play continues until all players have, in succession, either turned over all of their cards or dropped out.

Often combined with wild cards. One of the best variants is the Follow the Queen (see above) version. Because the wild card can change at any time, including during the last few cards to be exposed, players are encouraged to stay in and continue fruitlessly tossing their cash into the pot right until the bitter end on the off chance a really crappy hand will miraculously be resurrected. Because this variation can, at times, actually require an evaluation of the possibilities of other players’ hands, it is often facetiously referred to as a “thinking man’s game.”

Power

A game of five- or seven-card stud (or 1-3-1) in which the person with the best cards showing at the end of the deal has “the power” to call the game on or off. If the game is off, the pot remains, and the cards are re-dealt. A great game, because there is the potential for a huge pot, particularly since, as the pot gets bigger, the players with the power tend to become gun shy about calling the game on. And, of course, once a hand or two have been played, those who remain are “pot committed,” and won’t drop out no matter what. Can be played in an endless number of variations: Two of the best are Follow the Queen (see above) and Richard Petty (see below).

One of the best aspects of this game is the tendency of players to abuse anyone who has the cojones to call the game on, but hasn’t got the cards to win. Especially interesting is the politicking of players with bad cards, who employ all manner of reverse psychology to get the player with the power to call the game off. Some players like to raise the guy with the best cards (we call it “Bobbing” ... don’t ask) to intimidate him into throwing them in, which can lead to some incredibly stupid betting. It’s also great to hear sore losers with good cards in the hole bitch and moan when the guy with the power calls the game off.

Inexplicably, on one occasion, a guy with the power called the game on with a check, rather than a bet. However, he is a supremely rotten player, who lost the hand anyway, as well he should have.

Richard Petty

Derived from the number (43) of the famous racer’s car, this is a seven-card stud game in which all threes and fours are wild, However, if anyone gets both a three and a four up, he “crashes and burns”; i.e., he’s out of the game. There is also a Power (see above) version of this game, in which anyone who crashes and burns during a hand that is subsequently called off is automatically allowed back in for the next hand at no expense, while those who have dropped out voluntarily are not.

Another popular variant is called Night Racing, which is a No Peek (see above) version that has much greater possibilities for crashing and burning, because all seven cards in each hand will eventually be up cards. Also designed to increase the likelihood of crashing and burning is the No Breaks variant, which is dealt with two cards down, then five cards up.

A nearly identical game is called Broderick Crawford. Here the wild cards are 10s and fours. It’s based on the late actor’s signature line on the old T.V. show “Highway Patrol“ — “Ten-four, over and out.”

Screw Your Neighbor

Also called Pass the Trash, this is another game that is not in any way a form of poker. Each player puts three piles of a set amount of money (or chips) in front of him. Everyone is then dealt one card face down, which he can look at. The goal is not to be the guy holding the lowest card at the end of each hand. (Deuces are low; aces are high.)

First, the player to the left of the dealer opts to either keep his card or pass it to the person on his left in exchange for that player’s card. This process continues around the table until it’s the dealer’s turn to either keep his card or discard it (he throws his card in the middle and takes a new one off the deck). Anyone dealt an ace is required to turn it over immediately, which blocks the player to his right from passing. (If the player to the left of the dealer turns over an ace, the dealer is prevented from taking a card off the deck.) When the passing is completed, everyone flips his card over, and the player with the lowest card pushes one of his piles into the pot. The winner of the game is the last player to have a pile (or piles) in front of him.

When a deuce starts moving around the table — barring the presence of an ace — it will always end up reaching the dealer: This card is known as a “round tripper.” When someone is passed a card and elects to keep it, you can assume the card he gave up was even lower, and the player who received it is likely to lose. When this happens, the remaining players often opt to keep what they’ve been dealt.

For this game, the best seat in the house is the one to the left of the dealer, because this player never has to pass a card if he doesn’t want to and will never have his good cards taken from him. Hence, this is referred to as “the catbird seat,” and all other players feel compelled to abuse this guy over the course of the game and hate him if he should win. This game can also be played with just one big pile of chips — a tense “one and done” game, which we refer to as Screw Your Neighbor Grandé.

Seven-Card Stud [see Baseball, Dave Spence, Follow the Queen, Guillotine, Land of the Blind, Low Spade Wild, Meatloaf, Power, Richard Petty, Vulcans Never Bluff, Woolworth’s]

Sixes

Also not a form of poker. Six cards are placed face down in the middle in two rows of three. Each player is then dealt four cards down. You look at your cards, and there’s an initial round of betting. The cards in the middle are then turned over one at a time, with betting after each turn. If a card in your hand matches the card turned over, you discard it in the middle on top of that card. If a card turned over matches one that has already been turned up in the middle, it’s placed on top of that card, and a new card is dealt face up, into the middle, from the deck. Hence, everyone always has exactly six opportunities per hand to discard.

The object is to get rid of as many cards as possible. The winner is the player who ends the game with the least number of points in his hand – aces count as one, face cards are 10 and all other cards are at face value. Any player who completely empties his hand during the course of the game wins automatically.

The key qualifier is that, to take the pot, the maximum number of points you can be holding is six, so the game is seldom won on the first hand, and the pot generally grows pretty quickly. The best part of this game are the cries of “I got a shot!” from desperate optimists, who bet like mad for a few rounds before relenting and then complaining incessantly, “I never win this shitty game.”

Spit in the Ocean

A seven-card game that includes a “flop card,” i.e., one placed in the middle (or as the professionals call it, “on the board”), which can be used by everyone. Like seven-card stud, players are first dealt two hole cards and one up card, which is followed by a betting round. Next, three more up cards are dealt, with each followed by a round of betting, as in a standard stud game. Finally, a card is dealt on the board, face up, prior to the final round of betting. This flop card is wild, as are all others like it. (For the brain dead, this means that, if the flop card is a seven, all sevens are wild.) I have no idea where the name of this game comes from; if anyone has a clue, I’d appreciate hearing.

There is also a five-card draw version in which you are dealt four down cards, with one flop card on the board. After looking at your cards, there is round of betting, followed by a draw (you can take anywhere from zero to three cards). Again, the flop card is wild; however, it is the dealer’s choice as to whether this card is flipped over before the first round of betting, before the draw or after the draw. I prefer to wait until after the draw to increase the suspense. In addition, this causes the inevitable complaining from those guys who feel compelled to claim that they just discarded one or more of whatever ended up being wild. I find this particularly enjoyable, unless, of course, I just threw out a wild card myself. I suppose it would also be possible to wait until after the final round of betting to flip over the wild card — while this would certainly maintain the game’s suspense, it would also remove any small element of skill that might remain, and we wouldn’t want that to happen.

Staches (pronounced stash' iz) Wild  

Similar to One-Eyed Jacks Wild (jacks of spades and hearts; see graphic above), Suicide King Wild (king of hearts; see above), Man With the Axe Wild (king of diamonds; see above) and the various combinations thereof. Can be played as draw poker or five- or seven-card stud. The wild cards are the face cards that have moustaches. In all the decks I’ve seen, these are the jacks of spades, hearts and diamonds, as well as the kings of clubs, spades, and diamonds; hence, there are six wild cards. The king of hearts has a beard, but no moustache (see above), while the jack of clubs is clean-shaven.

Some players have insisted that the queen of clubs also has a moustache. She has been referred to as “the Italian Queen,” but I find this expression offensive, so I will not repeat it ... again. (The bit of facial hair in question turned out to be a bit of dried chili, which eventually flaked off the card.)

Texas Hold ’em

A seven-card game in which each player receives two cards down (the hole cards). Then, five cards — which can be used by everyone — are dealt face down in the middle of the table (“on the board”). After everyone has looked at his hole cards, there’s an initial round of betting. As the cards on the board are turned over, there are three additional rounds of betting. The first three cards (“the flop”) are revealed at one time, then the remaining two cards (referred to as “fourth street” and “the river”) are exposed, one at a time. Players use the best five cards from the seven available. You can use one, both or neither of your hole cards. If the five cards on the board form the best hand, everyone remaining in the game will split the pot.

This game can be played with or without wild cards; however, it is considered by professionals not to be a junk game, so it’s best played without any. (In fact, I’m told that, if you call Hold ’em with deuces wild, World Series of Poker champion Doyle Brunson will come to your house and personally kick your sorry ass.)

This is actually a game of skill, because it’s possible to estimate the best possible hands your opponents are holding, based on the up cards on the board. In fact, lengthy articles have been written on tactics for playing and betting this game. Hold ’em is played exclusively at the World Series of Poker and was also used extensively in the movie “Rounders.” Starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton and John Malkovich, “Rounders” is the greatest sports movie ever filmed (other than “Caddy Shack”) and one I’ve only seen 12 or 15 times. A serious game that requires some thought, Hold ’em is often referred to as “The Cadillac of Poker.”

In home game, antes are generally used, rather than “blinds.” In a tournament setting, there are blinds and an “all in” bet; however, for a home game, if you’re not playing tournament-style, in which the goal is to have only one guy standing at the end, these aspects are unnecessary. You can play this in a home game as a tournament, but the problem is that, at some point, most of the attendees will have been pushed out of the game, so they’ll have nothing to do but stand around watching the remaining players, or getting fingerprints on your CD collection or thumbing through your porn, so tournaments can be problematic. For that reason, I won’t provide any details on the tournament rules, which can be gleaned from watching the endless poker telecasts that are all over cable. 

There’s a variation of this game, which I’ve heard referred to as Omaha. In this case, the five cards on the board are turned over one at a time, so there are more opportunities to bet. However, I don’t recommend it, as it’s a bastardization of a classic game, and far be it from me to advocate such heresies. 

In addition, the name, Omaha, isn’t correct either. True Omaha is played exactly like Texas Hold ’em, except that each player receives four hole cards, of which he must use exactly two (in conjunction with three of the five cards on the board). The fun here is that players complain endlessly when they’re dealt four card flushes in the hole, which eventually become useless, and you can’t imagine the whining that emanates from someone who’s dealt four eights in the hole, only two of which he can use.

Vulcans Never Bluff

A seven-card stud variant, in which the cards are dealt two down, then one down, then the last four up, one-at-a-time. The first bet comes after the first two hole cards are dealt, with additional bets coming after each subsequent card. The twist here is that if anyone is dealt a three up, he can pick out any other person at the table whose hand he’s curious or uneasy about, and that person will be required to turn over two of his three hole cards. (The person whose hole cards are being turned over gets to choose which two are revealed.) The same person cannot be picked on twice, so no one ever has to turn over all three of his down cards.

This game penalizes guys who bluff too often or are in the process of bluffing, since it’s likely they’ll be chosen to show their hole cards. It also rewards the faint of heart, who, I think, don’t get enough breaks in life ... as someone once said, “Blessed are the meek.“

Woolworth’s

A seven-card stud game in which all fives and 10s are wild (also known as Five and Dime). However, whenever anyone is dealt a 10 up, he must either match the pot or drop out. In this respect, it could turn out to be more like a crash-and-burn game (see Richard Petty above), in that, if the guys you play with are anything like the cheap f**ks I play with, they will almost always drop out, rather than match the pot, especially late in the hand when the pot is large. A game of skill and daring that requires bettors with skill and a full scrotal sack — qualities generally in short supply in our games.

Zero-Fifty-Four

This is a high-low, non-poker game. Each person is dealt five cards after the ante. Players look at their cards, then turn them up one at a time, with a bet between each turn. The player with the highest total up leads the betting in each round. Aces count one or 11, face cards are zero and all other cards are played at their face value. Hence, the highest possible hand is 54 (four aces and a 10), and the lowest possible hand is zero (five face cards). High and low hands split the pot. Of course, it’s possible (but unlikely) that one person could be both high and low, with, for example, three aces, a six and a king, which would be nine and 39. (You don’t have to declare whether you’re going for high or low or both, as in a game such as Guillotine.) A good strategy in this game is flipping over aces when you have them so that your opponents have no idea whether you’re going high or low.

A variant of this is 0-54, Pass the Trash, in which you pass two to a neighbor, then pass one to a neighbor. The rub here is that the person you’re passing to can figure out whether you’re going high or low, and you know the same about whoever is passing to you. This can also be played with a seven-card deal — pass three, pass two, pass one and then muck two; however, that sounds like an awful lot of work.


If anyone has an interesting game he’d like to share, I’d appreciate an e-mail.

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