The Top 10 Texas Hold’em Variations You Can Play (And Why You Should)

texas hold em poker

Texas hold’em—the most popular poker game in the United States—has numerous variations you might not be aware of. Some of these variations just have to do with the rules for bet sizing. Others are stranger and more involved, like casino game versions of Texas hold’em where you play against the dealer instead of against the other players.

Texas hold’em itself is a simple enough game. You use the standard poker hand rankings, and you play high-only. I’ve never seen Texas hold’em played as high-low split.

Each of the players starts with two cards, face-down. These are your hole cards.

All of the players share five cards, face-up. These are the community cards.

You can use any combination of the hole cards and the community cards to make your hand at the showdown. The best possible poker hand wins the pot.

The game is divided into four phases:

  1. Preflop
  2. The Flop
  3. The Turn
  4. The River

There’s a round of betting that ends each of these phases. Preflop is when you get your two hole cards—everyone bets based on their two hole cards. On the flop, the dealer spreads three cards face-up to be used as community cards by all the players.

The turn and the river are each single-card phases. That’s where the dealer puts out one card in each phase, face-up.

The betting limits are normally doubled during the turn.

Texas hold’em also uses a forced bet structure called a “blind” structure (as opposed to an “ante”). With an ante, each player must make the forced bet on every hand. With a blind, only two players make the forced bet, and the players who make the forced bet rotate around the table.

And that’s it for the basics of Texas hold’em.

Now let’s start looking at the variations of Texas hold’em that you came here to read about.

1. Limit

In limit hold’em, you must bet in specifically-sized increments. For example, in a $4/$8 limit game, you would bet in increments of $4 preflop and on the flop, then in increments of $8 on the turn and the river.

You can only bet or raise $4 during those first two rounds. You can’t place an $8 or $12 bet, though—you could raise to that amount once someone has bet, but you can’t just bet more because you feel like it.

Limit hold’em is a mathematician’s game. Some people call it a “grind.” It’s more mathematical and easier to play than pot limit or no-limit hold’em.

I always suggest that if you’re new to Texas hold’em, start by learning how to play limit before moving up to pot limit or no-limit.

2. Pot Limit

In pot limit hold’em, you can bet as many chips as are in the pot. This is usually significantly more chips than you’d be able to bet in a limit hold’em game, and the pots in pot limit hold’em can get big fast.

Here’s an example

You’re playing at a $1/$2 pot limit table. This means that the blinds are $1 and $2. So preflop, the size of the pot starts at $3. You also get to include the amount you’re using to call the initial bet.

With that $3 pot, you could bet $3, and the player behind you could then raise the bet to $9. (There’s $6 in the pot, and the player also gets to include the $3 call in his calculation.)

If the next player wants to, he can raise to $24. (There’s $15 in the pot, plus the $9 call.)

Pot limit bears more similarities to no-limit hold’em than it does to limit.

3. No Limit

In no-limit hold’em, you can raise up to the amount of the stack of chips in front of you. If another player has fewer chips than you do, they can still call your bet, but they create a side bet. They don’t get to compete for the additional amount they can’t afford.

No-limit hold’em still has minimum bet sizes and blinds, but there’s no maximum bet. Also, if you want to raise in no-limit hold’em, you must raise at least the size of the previous bet.

No-limit Texas hold’em is the game that’s played in the championship event at the World Series of Poker.

In any of these three Texas hold’em games (limit, pot limit, or no limit), if you run into a situation where you don’t have enough chips to cover the bet or raise in front of you, you can go all-in and wager whatever chips you have left.

This creates a side pot. Only the people who could afford all the bets are in competition for the side pot. This prevents a situation where you have to run out to the car and wager the deed to your house. This is also referred to as “table stakes.” You can’t be forced out of the game for not having enough chips in front of you.

4. Ultimate Texas Hold’em

Ultimate Texas Hold’em is the most popular casino game version of Texas hold’em available.

But wait. You ask, isn’t Texas hold’em a casino game already?

Actually, it’s not. Poker games are gambling games, yes, but they’re not casino games. The big difference is where the money comes from and who you’re competing with for the money.

In a real poker game, you’re competing with the other players at the table for their money. In a casino game, you’re competing with the dealer for the casino’s money.

So Ultimate Texas Hold’em can be considered to have at least as much in common with blackjack as it does Texas hold’em poker.

Here’s how you play Ultimate Texas Hold’em.

The dealer shuffles and deals from a standard deck of 52 cards. You start by making an ante bet and a blind bet, both of which are the same size. You also have the option to make a side bet called the trips bet.

After placing your bet, the dealer gives you two cards and takes two cards for herself. You can look at your cards, but not the dealer’s.

At this point, you can check, or you can make a play bet. The play bet must be either 3x the size of the ante or 4x the size of the ante.

After you choose, the dealer spreads three community cards face up in the middle of the table. If you checked preflop, you now have the option of making a play bet, but the amount must be 2x the ante. If you already made a play bet, you can only check here.

At this point, the dealer spreads two more community cards face up in the middle of the table. If you still haven’t made a play bet, you can now do so, but it must be the same size as your ante bet. If you don’t make a play bet at this point, you must fold and forfeit any possible winnings.

If you didn’t fold, you and the dealer compare poker hands using any combination of your hole cards and the community cards. If the dealer has at least a pair, she opens.

If the dealer opens, and the player wins, the blind, ante, and play bets all pay off at even money. If the dealer opens, and the player loses, the player loses all three of those bets.

If the dealer doesn’t open, the ante bet is treated as a push, which means that you don’t lose the bet, but you don’t get any winnings on it, either. The blind and play bets are always in action, regardless of whether the dealer opens.

The ante bet and the play bet always pay off at even money, but the blind bet pays off based on the strength of your final hand, as follows:

  • Royal flush – 500 to 1
  • Straight flush – 50 to 1
  • 4 of a kind – 10 to 1
  • Full house – 3 to 1
  • Flush – 3 to 2
  • Straight – even money
  • Any other hand is treated as a push for the blind bet

You’ll notice some obvious differences between Ultimate Texas Hold’em and traditional Texas hold’em. I already discussed how the house is banking this game instead of the other players. This means you’re always playing heads-up against the dealer; what the other players are dealt has no effect on your action.

You’ll also notice that the way the betting is handled and the order of the deal are also handled differently. The most notable difference is how the last two community cards are dealt at once, whereas they would be dealt one at a time in a traditional Texas hold’em game.

This makes for a faster-paced game, which the casino loves, because they make more money when they get in more hands per hour.

5. Pineapple Hold’em

Pineapple hold’em is played just like Texas hold’em, but you get three hole cards instead of just two hole cards. How those three hole cards are handled determines which kind of pineapple hold’em you’re playing.

In standard pineapple hold’em, you get three cards, and you choose one of those cards to discard before the first round of betting. You can show the card you’re discarding, but you don’t have to—and it’s always better to reveal less information to the other players than more.

In crazy pineapple, you don’t have to choose which card you want to discard until after the first two rounds of betting. You discard after the betting round on the flop but before the betting round on the turn.

In lazy pineapple, aka Tahoe pineapple, you don’t have to choose a card to discard until after the final betting round. You keep all three cards until you know what the final card is, at which point you get to choose which card to discard.

In all these versions of pineapple, it’s not necessary to reveal which card you’re discarding.

Even though all of these versions of Texas hold’em are very similar, they’re not at all the same games.

The main thing which distinguishes pineapple hold’em from Texas hold’em is the additional data point that you have—the third hole card. You have a piece of information that the other players don’t have—you know that whatever the third hole card was, you won’t see it on the board.

If all three of your hole cards are suited, you know that drawing to a flush is still possible but less likely because one of the outs is already in your hand. If all three of your hole cards are of the same rank, you only have half the chance of getting three of a kind, and four of a kind is impossible.

Also, since you’re dealing with more cards, the winning hands will usually be higher than they would in a regular game of Texas hold’em. Top pair is often a winning hand in Texas hold’em, but it’s not as likely to win in any version of pineapple hold’em.

Your best starting hands in pineapple are high pairs and connected cards. You have a better chance of hitting at least a straight in pineapple poker, and lower cards aren’t worth as much as they are in Texas hold’em, even if they’re paired.

6. Speed Hold’em

Speed hold’em is an online variation where you play with a pool of players rather than with a limited number of players at a single table. If you fold a hand, you immediately get dealt a new hand against a new set of players. It’s like sitting at a Texas hold’em table and being immediately re-seated with a new hand as soon as you fold.

If you’re a low-stakes player, you can get in a lot of practice fast by playing speed hold’em online. Other than the fast action, it plays just like any other Texas hold’em game. It’s also obviously a game you wouldn’t be able to play in a casino setting because of the physical aspect of playing in a live casino.

Speed hold’em is always played as a no-limit game, and most casinos offer it at low stakes starting at $0.02/$0.05 and going up to $1/$2 no-limit.

If you’re an action junkie, you’ll probably love speed hold’em.

Another game played in home games is also called speed hold’em.

You get four hole cards, and you immediately choose two cards to discard. Then all five community cards are dealt at once. There are only two betting rounds in this version of Texas hold’em.

This version isn’t available online at all.

7. Omaha

Remember pineapple hold’em, where you get three hole cards?

Omaha is like that, only you get four hole cards.

Furthermore, you don’t have to discard any of those cards, but when it’s time to make your final hand, you must use two cards from your hand and three cards from the board.

Omaha is played high only, as Texas hold’em and pineapple hold’em are played.

But it’s more common for Omaha to be played as a high-low game, or 8 or better. This is where the winner of the pot must split the chips with the person who has the best possible qualifying low hand. For these purposes, a low hand is any hand made up of five cards, with no pairs, all ranked lower than 8.

This has obvious effects on strategy.

As I pointed out with pineapple, the additional cards mean that you must have a stronger hand to win in Omaha than you would need to have to win in Texas hold’em.

Pineapple hold’em is usually only played in home games, but Omaha is commonly spread in cardrooms, too. It’s not as ubiquitous as Texas hold’em, but you’ll usually find at least one Omaha table in any reasonable-sized casino cardroom.

8. Texas Hold’em Bonus

Texas Hold’em Bonus is another casino game based on Texas hold’em. It’s similar to Ultimate Texas Hold’em, but it has a few differences. But like Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Texas Hold’em Bonus has you playing against the dealer rather than against the other players.

The game isn’t as popular as Ultimate Texas Hold’em, but you can find it occasionally. You get to bet on your hole card, and you get to bet on the flop. Unlike Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Texas Hold’em Bonus has a turn AND a river card, but you don’t get to bet after the river card.

Here’s how you play Texas Hold’em Bonus.

The dealer uses a standard deck of 52 cards. You start by placing an ante bet. You also have the option of placing a bonus bet.

You get two hole cards. So does the dealer. You then get to fold, or you get to make a flop bet. This bet must be 2x the size of the ante. You don’t have the option of checking here—it’s bet or fold.

The dealer then spreads three community cards. At this point, you can check or make a turn bet. If you make a turn bet, it must be the same size as the ante bet.

The dealer then spreads a fourth card, the turn. You can check or place a river bet. As with the turn bet, a river bet must be the same size as the ante bet.

The dealer then spreads the fifth card, the river. You and the dealer each make the best hand from any combination of five cards in your hand and on the board.

If the dealer has the better hand, you lose all your ante bets, flop bets, turn bets, and river bets. The bonus bet might still win, though.

If you have the better hand, you win even money on the flop, turn, and river bets.

The ante bet, though, pushes unless you have at least a straight. If you have a straight or better, the ante bet also pays off at even money.

In case your hand ties the dealer’s hand, all these bets push.

The bonus bet only pays based on your two hole cards and the dealer’s two hole cards. It pays off based on a pay table. This pay table varies based on where you play, but it’s common to see a 1000 to 1 payoff for a hand where you have pocket aces and so does the dealer.

If you have A-A, but the dealer doesn’t, the bonus bet pays off at 30 to 1. The payouts go down from there, but you need at least a pair of 2-2s for the bonus bet to pay off. It pays off at 3 to 1 for any pair of 2-2s through 10-10s.

9. Casino Hold’em

This is another house-banked casino game based on Texas hold’em. It’s popular internationally and online. Like Texas Hold’em Bonus and Ultimate Texas Hold’em, it’s you versus the dealer, not you versus the other players.

Here’s how you play Casino Hold’em.

The dealer uses a standard deck of 52 cards, and you start by placing an ante bet. You also have an optional progressive side bet.

After you place your bet, the dealer gives you your hole cards, gives herself her hole cards, and deals three community cards face up in the middle of the table.

At this point, you can fold or call. If you fold, you forfeit your ante. If you call, you must place another bet equal to 2x the ante.

Then the dealer spreads two more community cards (the turn and the river). There are no more betting rounds; you and the dealer compare hands to see who wins as soon as the last two cards are dealt.

The dealer needs at least a pair of 4s to qualify. If the dealer doesn’t qualify, the ante pays off according to the pay table. The call bet is treated as a push—it’s returned to the player with no winnings, just like a push in blackjack.

If the dealer qualifies and wins, you lose both your ante and your call bet.

If the dealer qualifies and loses, you win even money on the call bet. You also get paid off based on the pay table.

If you and the dealer tie after the dealer qualifies, both bets are treated as a push.

The progressive side bet pays off regardless of whether you fold or beat the dealer. It’s based on your final seven-card hand (the two hole cards plus the community cards).

The pay table for the game varies, but the hands on the pay table always are the same:

  1. Royal flush (pays off at 20 to 1, 25 to 1, or 100 to 1, depending on the casino)
  2. Straight flush (pays off at 20 to 1, 25 to 1, or 49 to 1, depending on the casino)
  3. 4 of a kind (pays off at 10 to 1, 12 to 1, or 17 to 1, depending on the casino)
  4. Full house (always pays 3 to 1)
  5. Flush (always pays 2 to 1)
  6. All other hands (always pays even money)

Casino Hold’em is a lot of fun if you can find it.

10. Aviation Hold’em

If Omaha hold’em and pineapple hold’em got together and produced a baby, that baby would be Aviation hold’em. In this variant, you start with four hole cards. You discard one preflop and another on the flop.

It’s an unusual Texas hold’em variant, but you’ll see it played occasionally in a home game. It’s basically just Omaha high, but with the additional discarding action preflop and on the flop.
Most advice for Omaha high applies to Aviation hold’em as well.


Those are the 10 best variations of Texas hold’em that I know of. I’m perhaps being cheeky by featuring limit, pot limit, and no limit as three separate games—but the differences in betting structure change the nature of the game so much that I think it’s a fair way to present these games.

Which of those Texas hold’em variations were you already familiar with, and which ones are new to you?

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.