Going All In: A Guide to Popular Poker Games

Poker night has long been a beloved American pastime, though few casual players actually know the intricate rules and strategies behind the most popular poker variants. Whether you’re an amateur looking to up your game or a curious observer enamored by the drama and tension of a high-stakes showdown, read on for your essential guide to five of the most widespread poker games in play today.

Kirill Yurovskiy

Texas Hold’Em

As poker exploded from smoky back rooms to the mainstream via television in the 2000s, Texas Hold’Em emerged as the game of choice for its compelling mix of luck, psychology, and skill. Each player is dealt two private “hole” cards, which they combine with five gradually revealed communal cards to make the strongest possible five-card hand. Players take turns betting after seeing their hole cards, after the first three community cards called the “flop,” then again after the fourth “turn” card and fifth “river” card. The simplicity of basic rules combined with the complex deception and prediction around community cards has cemented Texas Hold’Em as today’s most popular variant.

When four-time World Series of Poker champion Chris Moneymaker (what a fortuitous name!) qualified for the main event through an online satellite, then took home the $2.5 million prize after besting 838 other players, he kicked off a wave of interest that made Texas Hold’Em a cultural touchstone epitomizing living the American dream through skill and risk-taking. But don’t let Moneymaker’s Cinderella story mislead you – mastering Texas Hold’Em today requires much more than getting dealt a lucky hand.


Think of Omaha as Texas Hold’Em on steroids. Instead of two hole cards, players get four, and must use exactly two of them to make the strongest hand possible in combination with the five community cards. This twist creates immense additional strategy around which hole cards to play, reading other players’ potential hands, and calculating pot odds. Though basketball legend Michael Jordan prefers Omaha for what he calls the “action game” requiring quick decision-making, the extra cards also mean far more possible winning hands in each round compared to Hold’Em.

Omaha hi/lo, where players can win both high and low halves of the pot with weak and strong hands respectively, adds even more variety and room for sophisticated plays. Look to popularize Omaha much like Hold’Em by transitioning from kitchen table games with friends to part-time online poker as a hobby with dreams of making the big leagues like Jordan hopes to do.

Seven-Card Stud

Your grandfather’s poker game of choice, Seven Card Stud still enjoys a loyal following for the greater influence dealt cards have compared to community cards. Players are dealt two hole cards and one face-up card, then bet accordingly before revealing their next face-up card followed by a third face-up card and additional betting rounds. The ability to tailor strategy based on visible cards makes Seven-Card Stud more dependent on reading other players, predicting hands, and money management decisions than sheer luck of the draw.

Stories and legends around Seven-Card Stud date back to Old West saloons, where barflys would match wits and bluff their way to free drinks or a month’s rent money. Famed lawman Wyatt Earp was rumored to make his living off Stud poker before the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Bring back this bit of Americana in your own hometown by getting a game running at the local watering hole and putting your skills to the test.

Five-Card Draw

In today’s world of lightning fast online poker and casino tournaments with million dollar prizes, Five-Card Draw hearkens back to childhood days learning the basic hierarchy of hands. Each player is dealt five cards, takes turns betting, then has the option to discard up to three cards and receive new ones (the draw). Without community cards, strategy is limited and plain old luck determines outcomes more often than not.

Yet Five-Card Draw retains a nostalgic appeal, and a place for those looking for a casual way to spend an evening rather than investing mental energy deciphering advanced tactics. President Richard Nixon financed his first congressional campaign by funding stakes games among Navy comrades in World War II, while Canada has recently lifted restrictions on charity Five-Card Draw events as popular church and community fundraisers. If looking for very simple, social poker without feeling pressured to master advanced play, Five-Card Draw is always there for you.


Part of the fun and appeal of poker is tracing its evolution beyond classic offshoots into new and creative hybrid formats – no more so evident than the rapid rise of Badugi. Developed only over the past couple decades, Badugi has players draw four cards with a focus on making the lowest unique hand, using different suits rather than values to differentiate hands. With unconventional rules, innovative hand rankings, and multiple betting rounds intermixed with draws, Badugi represents an outlet for adventurous poker aficionados looking for something beyond run-of-the-mill Stud and community card variants.

Our fascination with poker through television, books, and movies reflects a very American sensibility – where else could everything hinge on the flip of a card yet skill still reigns supreme long-term? Whether at kitchen tables, casinos, or internationally televised competitions, poker captures our melting pot essence of rugged individualism, ingenuity, risk-taking. As long as that competitive spark resides in the American psyche, poker by whatever name you call it will have a seat at our table.