5 Poker Variations Other Than Texas Hold’Em You Should Try


Ever since Chris Moneymaker took down the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event – winning $2.5 million as a rank amateur with ESPN broadcasting the action worldwide – No Limit Texas Hold’em has been the game of choice for millions of poker enthusiasts.

As the man once said, Texas hold’em takes only a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master. With two cards in your hand, combined with five community cards on board, it doesn’t take a genius to sort through the sets and straights while learning the game. And even folks who don’t quite know what they’re doing can still rely on luck to back their way into winning the pot.

Throw in those immortal words “I’m all in,” and the no-limit variety of Texas hold’em certainly deserves its title as the “Cadillac of Poker.”

But for the modern generation of poker sharps, Hold’em has increasingly been replaced by lesser-known poker variants. Many players have grown bored with Hold’em, a game that is widely believed to have been “solved” by computer analytics and simulations. Others are simply looking to expand their mixed game skill-set by exposing themselves to various forms of poker.

Whatever your reasons are, taking up a non-Hold’em variant can be a great way to brush up on your poker fundamentals. Texas hold’em may be an exhilarating roller-coaster ride at times, but the heavy emphasis on preflop raising can become a bit one-sided – especially when compared to limit bet games like Seven Card Stud and Lowball.

Indeed, when you ask top pros of the era about their favorite poker variants, you’ll seldom hear players mention Texas hold’em. While that may be the money maker (pardon the pun), two-card poker just doesn’t get the creative juices flowing for the game’s younger talent.

Here’s what European Poker Tour (EPT) champion and former PokerStars Team Pro Matthias de Meulder, the epitome of a poker young gun, had to say on the topic:

“One interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed happening in 8-game events is how when no-limit holdem and pot-limit Omaha come around – in other words, the games with which I’m most familiar – they seem really boring compared to the other games.
There’s a lot more folding and less action, whereas in the limit games you are playing more hands and making more decisions.
I think also if you’re strictly a no-limit holdem player you might discover that when playing the limit games (especially live) you’ll find the games more fun to play because the players who sit at those tables tend to be a little more animated and sociable, generally speaking.”

That revelation, taken from a blog post entitled “Am I Bored with Hold’em?” was published way back in 2013. Even five years back, pro poker players were wondering aloud whether Texas hold’em had enough going on to keep them mentally engaged.

If you’re thinking about taking the plunge and learning a new form of poker, check out my personal list of five variants everybody should try. These games range from popular to obscure, and simple to complex, but at their heart, they all share the same central DNA. Anybody can play cards, but to truly call yourself a poker player, you should know these five games as well as you do Texas hold’em.

1 – Pot Limit Omaha

The natural stepping stone from Texas hold’em to lesser-known mixed games is Pot Limit Omaha.

If Hold’em is the Cadillac of poker, Pot Limit Omaha (also known simply as PLO) is surely the supercharged sports car. The game plays out almost identically to Texas hold’em, with players combining their hole cards with a five community cards – the flop (three cards), the turn (one card), and the river (one card).

But instead of starting with two down cards in your hand, Pot Limit Omaha starts you out with four hole cards. From there, the gameplay mechanics follow Hold’em to a tee, with preflop betting followed by betting rounds on the flop, turn, and river.

As the game’s name suggests, your betting is limited in Pot Limit Omaha. Rather than the big all-in bets – massive wagers that can be made at any point in the hand – which define No limit Texas hold’em, PLO hands are built up incrementally.

Under the pot limit structure, players can only wager a maximum amount equal to the current pot size. That may seem like it would slow down the betting, but in reality, a pot limit system actually encourages players to swell the pot post-flop. That’s because players can feel comfortable taking a shot in the preflop rounds, knowing that the big all-in bet so commonly deployed in No limit Texas hold’em won’t be coming.

But with four or five players taking their four-card starting hand to the flop, the fireworks get going from there, as someone tends to connect with a monster hand or draw.

The four-card starting hands allow players to be much more flexible when compared to Hold’em. While you can only use two hole cards, combined with three of the five community cards, to form your final hand, those two cards can change throughout the hand. Thus, you can be playing one two-card pair on the flop, another on the turn, and yet another on the river to make your hand at showdown.

You can take a look at this footage from the $10,000 Pot Limit Omaha World Championship final table at the WSOP to get a feel for the gameplay mechanics, but here’s how it works:

Let’s say you’re dealt something like the As-Ks-7d-8d to start off your first Pot Limit Omaha hand. In this case, you can use your Hold’em experience to see that you have two decent starting hands, the Ace-King of spades and a middle suited connector with 7-8 of diamonds.

When the flop comes Ah-9s-10d, your hand takes on several dimensions at once. Obviously, you paired your ace, so your top hand at the moment would combine the A-K with the flop to form A-A-K-10-9. But your 7-8 also connects with the 9-10 to form an open-ended straight draw.

On the King of diamonds turn, your hand improves to two pair (Aces and Kings), but you also pick up a diamond draw to go with your straight draw – giving you a slew of outs. You’re still playing the A-K for top two pair right now, but things can always change on the river.

And indeed they do, when the 6 of clubs hits the felt. Now, even with that big slick in your hand good for top two, you’ll be playing the 7-8 for the nut straight at showdown.

That’s obviously a “rigged” example hand used to show how Pot Limit Omaha works from the player’s perspective, but you’d be surprised how often a four-card starter connects with the board. For this reason, PLO experts shy away from hands that aren’t the exact nuts, or as close to it as possible. Flopping middle set in Texas hold’em is usually a lock, but in Pot Limit Omaha, you always have to be fearful for a higher set, or for straights, flushes, or full houses to complete by the river.

I’ll leave learning the intricacies of Pot Limit Omaha up to you, but suffice it to say, it’s a far more complex game than Texas hold’em.

Interchangeable two-card hands make up your four-card starter, and the betting starts off gradually before building to a crescendo. Players talk about “wrap” and “combo” draws, or hands which make use of all four cards in your hand depending on what comes next. And unlike Hold’em, you can never really discount any combination, as players may take the lowly 2-7 to war with them when they have A-A on the other half.

I’ll let European poker star Rolf Slotboom, a star of the early ESPN broadcasts of the WSOP, explain why so many players are flocking to the PLO tables:

“Nowadays I play mostly Pot limit Omaha, a beautiful and exciting, but also extremely complicated game.
Unlike Limit Holdem, where patience is rewarded and tight/aggressive players take the money, some of the best PLO players play rather loose.
They play lots of hands and like to pump up the pot before the flop.”

Another reason to take up Omaha is the game’s built-in variability. Just like Hold’em can be played in either Limit or No-limit format, Omaha’s standard pot limit structure can be modified.

Many pros prefer an offshoot known as Omaha Eight or Better, or Omaha-8, which is a pure limit game that gives half the pot to the low hand and half the pot to the high hand. In this case, a low hand is any unpaired combination that comes in at eight-high or under (A-2-3-4-5 is the best low, while 3-5-6-7-8 is the worst).

While many hands end in a “scoop,” with one player taking both halves for themselves, many pots are chopped (or even quartered) between two or more players.

You’ll find a few different versions of Omaha floating around out there, so once you’ve learned the ins and outs of PLO, be sure to check out Omaha-8 and its closely related cousins.

2 – Seven Card Stud

Decades before Texas hold’em was ever invented, grizzled poker pros plied their trade at the Seven Card Stud tables.

An offshoot of Five Card Stud, the seven-card variety starts players out with three cards each. One of those cards is face up for the rest of the table to see, while the other two work as hole cards.

After an initial betting round to build the pot, players can stick around and draw fourth, fifth, and sixth cards (all dealt face up), punctuated by a betting round after each. Finally, on “seventh street,” remaining players draw one more card face down to complete their hand. Using the seven cards available to them, the goal is to form the best possible five-card poker hand.

Seven Card Stud presents two main departures from Texas hold’em.

First, the betting is entirely limit-based, so you’ll be following a model that goes something like bet-300, raise-600, reraise-900 during the course of a hand. This tends to keep the action in line, so players can’t go broke on a single deal, but the drastic pot-to-bet ratios can lead to some interesting decisions on the latter streets.

Second, you have no community cards to work with in Seven Card Stud. Instead, players hold their own seven cards and use them alone. In other words, what you have is what you get.

For this reason, one of the chief skills employed by top Seven Card Stud players is recall. The best in the world can easily scan the table as the hand progresses, tracking all of the face-up cards that get dealt out to other players. Some of those cards will wind up in the muck, and while less skilled players forget about them at that point, those with Stud talent make a mental note.

Then, when the time comes to draw for certain cards, these players can scan through their internal Rolodex to decide whether or not chasing holds merit.

You can learn all about the intricacies of Seven Card Stud from Daniel “Kid Poker” Negreanu through his video tutorial on one of his favorite games.

And if Negreanu’s instruction doesn’t take, check out this video lesson on learning Seven Card Stud from Barry Greenstein, the acclaimed “Robin Hood of Poker.”

And just like Omaha, the game of Stud can be played under a number of different variants. Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo, for example, uses the same split-pot structure for high and low hands as Omaha Eight or Better.

3 – Razz

Another version of Seven Card Stud turns the typical objective poker on its head.

The game of Razz has a funny-sounding name, and it’s far less popular than other poker variants, but if you can play Stud, you already know how to play this one.

Razz is simply Seven Card Stud in reverse. That is to say, the goal for this game is to form the best possible low hand, with high hands rendered moot. Suits don’t matter at all, as a high hand like a flush turns your cards into dust. Instead, Razz is all about making the best “bad” hand.

The gameplay follows the exact same structure as described in the previous entry. You’ll get two cards face-down, along with a face-up card, to begin each hand. From there, you can keep betting or calling to draw on fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh streets.

If you happen to make a pair at any point, your hand is essentially worthless, with the goal being to string together five low and unconnected cards. The best possible hand in Razz is the wheel straight, or A-2-3-4-5, but technically speaking, you aren’t playing a straight here – just the five lowest cards in the deck.

From there, A-2-3-4-6, A-2-3-4-7, and so on round out the list of top Razz hands.

The idea of competing to land the “worst” hand may sound weird at first, but it only takes an orbit or two to get the hang of things. And at that point, when you know what you’re trying to hit, drawing and hoping to find a lowly deuce takes on the same level of excitement as hitting a big ace in Hold’em.

Many players mistakenly believe that Razz removes the role of bluffing from poker, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like in Hold’em or Omaha, when you’ll invariably face a rough run filled with inferior cards, Razz players face the opposite dilemma – what to do when your hand keeps pairing or making trips.

When the deck is hitting you in the face with strong hands, which are actually a liability in Razz, the only avenue left is to bluff. Razz players call it “snowing,” but the essence remains the same: bet, look calm, and hope they fold.

Once again, Negreanu took time out of his busy schedule to teach beginners the ropes of Razz, so take a look at his video lesson here.

While the game is definitely among the least well-known, Razz holds a special place in the hearts of poker pros. For one thing, it’s a purist’s game, challenging players to use their wits and strategy, rather than massive all-in bets, to succeed consistently. For another, the lack of widespread popularity makes the rare Razz tournament a veritable goldmine, what with smaller field sizes and less experienced players.

Phil Hellmuth loves nothing more than to win WSOP gold bracelets, which makes sense, as the “Poker Brat” is the all-time leader in the bracelet race at 14 wins and counting. And while he definitely considers No limit Texas hold’em to be his game of choice, Hellmuth has two Razz bracelets in his trophy case.

In comments made to PokerNews shortly after winning the 2015 WSOP $10,000 Razz World Championship, Hellmuth explained how he suddenly embraced the obscure variant and went to work mastering Razz:

“I think I figured something out about razz in maybe 2012.
All of a sudden there was something about the game that just clicked.
I was like wow, this game just makes sense, and then I won a razz bracelet.”

You might not win a pair of gold bracelets, but learning how to play Razz is a great way to round out your poker repertoire by studying the essence of limit betting and hand reading.

4 – Triple Draw 2-7 Lowball

After reading about a poker game called Razz, you’d be forgiven for thinking Triple Draw 2-7 Lowball is just a bad joke, a string of nonsense words disguised as a card game.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, the game affectionately known as “Deuce” is beloved by pros and amateurs alike.

Triple Draw 2-7 Lowball blends several gameplay concepts you’ve already learned about in the preceding entries. Like the Stud games, you won’t have any community board cards to work with, while betting is strictly capped using a limit structure. And like Razz, players are hoping to land the lowest or worst five-card combination at showdown.

A hand of Triple Draw 2-7 Lowball begins with everybody in the pot taking five cards face down. After a round of betting, the first of three drawing rounds arrive, and players can discard one, some, all, or none of their cards before taking replacements.

When you like your five cards and don’t want to draw, you’re “standing pat.” For the most part, a player standing pat tends to have the goods, but you’ll also see skilled opponents stand pat in an effort to bluff.

Unlike the rules of Razz, which don’t take straights and flushes into account, a Triple Draw 2-7 Lowball hand can’t use five-card strings of consecutive cards or identical suits. In other words, making a straight or flush kills your hand.

Another change concerns the four Aces in the deck, which can be used as high or low in most other variants. Here, aces are always high cards, and thus work to kill your hand.

The best possible hand in this game is called, appropriately enough, the “Number One” – and it’s formed by the 2-3-4-5-7 combination. As you can see, no Aces or straights here.

Going back to the Negreanu well of wisdom once more, here’s “Kid Poker” on learning to play Razz.

5 – Badugi

One of the oddest poker variants out there, Badugi is another low-hand-wins game.

The object here is to form the best four-card low hand, with one special caveat – you have to hold all four suits to make a “badugi.”

You’ll start with a four-card starting hand face down, followed by a round of betting. From there, the action goes draw -> bet -> draw -> bet -> draw -> bet, followed by the showdown. With Aces counting as low cards, and straights irrelevant, the best possible hand is A-2-3-4 of all four suits.

Thus, if you start out with Ad-2d-3s-4h, you’ll need to ditch one of the diamonds and hope to catch a club to form a Badugi. This extra element leads to some very delicate strategic decisions, while making the game a ton of fun to boot.

Here’s 2005 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem and a few of his fellow PokerStars Team Pros teaching the world about Badugi.


Learning about the other branches on the poker family tree is an essential step toward taking your game to the next level.

Anyone can learn to play Texas hold’em, and indeed, the game’s popularity is owed to its simplicity. But after a few years spent grinding away and playing only the top 10% of premium hands, Hold’em can definitely become a bore.

For that reason, knowing your way around the Omaha, Stud, Razz, Lowball, and Badugi tables is a great way to branch out and keep your poker exploits exciting for years to come.

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.