Poker Home Games – Criss Cross

June 29, 2007

Also known as Iron Cross, Criss Cross is a fun game of stud poker that can be played with a variety of wild-card rules. You can also go high-low for a split pot if you’re playing with a bunch of people and want to increase your chances of winning some money.

Cross-cross can also drive you crazy, and I’ll explain how in the steps that follow.

1. Every player is dealt 4 down cards and 5 community cards are dealt face down in the center. It’s very important that these cards form a “cross” or a “plus sign,” as the order in which they are turned over is vital to the betting and overall structure of the game.

2. Knowing that you will use your 4 cards and one of the two rows of cards in the middle (you can only use one of the three-card rows…either up and down or side to side. The middle card, of course, is part of both rows and therefore will be available to use regardless of which row you choose to make your best or worst hand) there is an initial round of betting.

3. The first card is flipped up (I always play that the person who dealt does the flipping for the entire hand, and I recommend you do it the same way just so you don’t have everyone reaching in and flipping cards over) and another round of betting ensues.

4. Going counterclockwise (I guess it doesn’t really matter which way you go, as long as the middle card is flipped up last), the rest of the cards are flipped up one by one, with a round of betting between each card.

5. The middle card is flipped up, and everyone can now use their 4 cards and one of the two 3-card rows to make their best poker hand. There is a final round of betting and then players show their cards.

So how does this game drive you crazy? It never fails that you can make a perfect hand with the cards on the board…but they’re just not in the same row. You’ll get great practice keeping your poker face if you’re holding a pair of kings, and the first two cards up in the cross are both Kings….but….ah, ah, ah….you can only use 1 of them in your hand.
Sucks, don’t it? Better hope for that boat.


1. One way to play criss cross is just like any other straight stud, no wild cards, no high-low, very boring. They way I look at it is if you’re going to try a new game where the rules are a little different, you might as well keep going and implement some wild cards into the mix. But, as always, it’s the dealer’s choice.

2. For the no wild-card purists that are willing to compromise just a little bit, one option is to make the middle card of the community cross wild. And, subsequently, if it’s a 5, all the other 5’s would be wild, as well. So you’d be sitting pretty with a pair of fives in your hand. This has a little bit of strategy to keep in mind, as you may want to stay in to see the last card if you’re sitting on a low to mid pair that otherwise wouldn’t be worth much.

3. My favorite way (and the way I actually learned Criss Cross) is to play with baseball rules. Of course, this also gets cloudy as there are numerous ways to play baseball. But for now, here are the rules I play with. 3s and 9s are wild. If a 3 comes face-up, you must match the pot or fold. This rule significantly hikes the value of the pot when you’re playing straight baseball and the decision only falls on 1 person…so you can imagine how much the pot grows when 5-7 people are put to the decision of matching or folding, especially if it’s late in the hand already.
Also, if a 4 comes face-up, every player gets a free down card. Some play you have the choice of buying the extra card for a predetermined amount, and that’s up to you to decide.

Personally, I’m all for wild-card games on Poker, but they definitely serve more as pot-builders and a break from Hold ‘em games and Hearts when you’re doing an all-night game. And by all-nighter, I mean nobody is ever allowed to leave before the break of dawn for fear of having all of his quarters thrown at him and being hoisted into the pool (if you have a pool. If not, just spray beer on the person, the effect is basically the same.)

That’s what friends are for?

June 26, 2007

What is it about your friends that they love to see you miserable? Well, maybe not your friends, but mine seem to love goating me into playing cards when they know full well I’m either not in the mood to play or I’m trying to save a little money.

Yeah, maybe they’re not really my friends.

My dillusions about my social life aside, does this ever happen to anyone else? You’re either getting through your day at work…or running errands and spending time with your family on the weekend, or just having fun (for free) watching TV or surfing the Internet, when the call comes:



“You’re playing cards tonight.” (Note the lack of putting this in the form of a question.)

“I can’t, man, I got some stuff to take care of, and I need my cash to buy some…”

“Dude, you’re playing…don’t be an idiot.”

Can’t argue with that logic.

Now, I’m not talking about giving into an addiction here, nor am I in any way indending to make light of gambling addictions. My observation is simply that the people you know more often than not just need a fourth, or a fifth, and no matter what your excuse to abstain, it’s just not good enough.

I know what you’re saying – “you’re a big boy, you can say no.”

Right, I could, but herein lies the problem, and if you’re a poker player at heart you know the problem all too well. And all it takes is that one call or that one nudge to get the voices going inside your head.

You want to say no, but you reason with yourself over and over again until somehow you’ve justified it to your satisfaction that you can play.

Let’s take a minute to run through some of these common reasonings everyone probably deals with:

The line: “It’ll be fine…I’ll buy in for $40 bucks, and if I lose that on, I’m done.”

The reality: Yeah, RIGHT. The minute you drop down to your last few lonely white chips, you know damn well you’re readying the checkbook to cover your dumb ass. Unless you’re prepared to play cards without an ATM card, personal check or more cash handy (or play at a place where they won’t take your word of credit), you’re just flat out lying to yourself.

2.) The line: “I’d be the same way if I wanted to play and we needed another person.”

The reality: Which proves that you love taking your friends’ money just as much as they like taking yours. You may be friends, or you may just be putting up with each other’s presence for the greater good of having a recurring poker game.

3.) The line: “He’s right, I am being an idiot.”

The reality: If this is the line you use to make your final decision, then you’re absolutely right.

4.) The line: “It’s been a long day, I deserve it”
The reality: Maybe so, but you obviously had a reason for not playing initially. Do you even remember what it is? Or has that been supressed far beneath the visions of Swisher Sweets, Bud Light and a pair of fours?

5.) The line: “If I say no…he’ll keep calling me, he’ll keep calling me…OK…I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go, I’ll go….DAMMIT!”

6.) The reality: Heh heh, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

So, that’s the reality of what you go through when presenting with such a tantalizing option. Because deep down you know you want to play…you always want to play. And against your better judgment, the desire to have a good time doing something you love gets the best of you. It eats away at you and trumps the need to save money, wins out over time with the family, and pushes those errands and housework aside for another day.

But so what, right? You deserve it. And you’d be acting the same way if you needed someone else.

Yeah, yeah that’s right. I love those guys. They’re my best friends.

Poker Home Games – Pimp Guts

June 18, 2007

Pimp guts is an interesting game I learned a while back in high school, and it’s one that’s made its rounds through the home-game circuit all over the country, becoming fairly well known. I will, however, give everyone an explanation of how it’s played below for the purpose of being able to elaborate on it with our own home-game, mutated variations of pimp guts that will come in future blog articles.

So here we go with “regular” pimp guts.

1. Each player receives 3 total cards, two down and 1 up.

2. The highest up card is deemed the pimp. If two people are stuck with the same card, and that card is the highest on the table, then they’re both the pimp. Being the pimp means you are automatically in the hand whether you want to be or not.

3. Going around the table, starting with the person to the left of the person pimped (if multiples are pimped, then use suit to break the tie to determine where to start) each person must decide if he or she wants to stay in or out based on the strength of their 3-card poker hand. As in many 3-card guts games, flushes and straights do not count. The best hand you can get is three of a kind, followed by a pair, followed by high card.

***Note*** Although flushes and straights do not count in the poker hand hierarchy, they do afford the player the opportunity to receive three new cards. Some games play that person then is automatically in, and some play they still have the option to go out after that. The decision, of course, is up to the house.

4. Players show their cards and the best hand winds. If only one person stays in (namely the pimp), then that person faces off against the grill, three cards dealt off the top of the deck. The grill, as well, can take 3 new cards if it draws a straight or flush.

5. Those who went in and lost have to pay pot plus one ante to the middle. So an initial 5 dollar pot (with a dollar ante) would mean you must pay 6 bucks to the middle if you stay in and lose.

6. Game continues until someone clears the pot.

7. Usually players will set an agree-upon “roof” before the start of the game, a dollar value to cap the pimp rule in pimp guts. If the pot exceeds that roof amount, the high card switches from being pimped to being the “pole position.” This means two things. First, he or she does not have to go in, and second, he or she gets the opportunity to play last (a big advantage if nobody else takes a chance to go in, and you’re sitting with King high, you may feel lucky enough to go in, knowing you’ll only have to beat the grill.) High card ties are broken with suit, as only 1 person can be pole position.

8. To make things even more interesting, you can make pairs, triples or quads “in” during the game, so even if they’re not the high card, if pairs are in and two people get a 7 face up, then they’re both pimped in addition to the high card on the table.

This is the basic format for pimp guts, and things can get quite hostile when you’ve been pimped 4 times in a row and lose each time, effectively cutting deep into your chip stack through no fault of your own. But chance, of course, is a big part of games like pimp guts…as is the payoff.  You’ll have a hard time finding Pimp Guts online at sites like StarPoker, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play it in your home games.

Poker Home Games – King Shi-y

June 14, 2007

Everyone knows at least a few variations on 5 card draw. In the world of home games, they’re like buying a sappy, cliché-ridden birthday card for your significant other…you didn’t come up with the idea, and you’re not proud of what you’ve done, but you keep going back to them over and over again.

OK, that was a crappy simile, but the point is, no matter how serious a card player you think you are, it’s always fun to take a break and deal a few hands where everything from Aces, Deuces, and one-eyed jacks to the suit of your choice can be wild. Face it, it’s in your nature to go for five of a kind.

“What do you have?”

“Straight flush, buddy.”

“Oh, really? See what I have over here is…five of a kind.”

Can’t beat that.

Here’s my favorite of all the five card draw with wild-card variations. And it’s called King Sh—ty. For cleanliness sake, I’ll just refer to it as The King for the rest of the explanation.
The King is similar in betting format to most other five-card draw games, and believe it or not, a little bit of strategy actually comes into play.

1. Everyone is dealt 5 cards to make your best 5-card poker hand. One draw will follow, where you may exchange as many cards as you want. If you want to dump your whole hand, you’re welcome to do so.

2. Kings and the lowest card in your hand are wild. (Hence the King and Sh–ty.)

3. There is an initial round of betting, and then the draw. So here’s the tiny bit of strategy that doesn’t involve massively out betting your opponents to make them cower before you. Since the lowest card in your hand is wild, that means 3’s, 4’s and 5’s are good to have, especially if they’re paired, because then both of them are wild. However, you have to weigh (before the draw) how close your wild card is to a 2 against how much everyone else is throwing into the middle. Because although the Kings will always be wild, if you go in with a pair of three’s, you better hope the draw doesn’t land you an undercut card, and leave you stuck with trip 3’s. (One way to avoid this is if your hand is strong enough, just keep your cards to eliminate the possibility of being undercut at all.)

4. Realistically in The King, you shouldn’t feel safe with anything less than a strong 4 of a kind. There are just too many wilds possibilities out there. If you’re thinking even an Aces full house will get you the money, you’re wrong. All someone else needs is one king and one pair, and they’ve got you beat.

5. One more round of betting.

“What do you got?”

“Royal flush spades!”

“Oh……really…..see what I have here is – five of a kind.”

I don’t care how ridiculous some of these games can get in terms of wild cards, they can be just as fun as a hold ‘em tournament when the night starts to get long and you’re looking for a little variety. Play 5 card draw for free on today.

Plus, I could never get tired of flipping over 5 of a kind.

Poker Home Games – Continents

June 8, 2007

Another great game that has the potential to build huge, heaping pots is Continents, a lengthened, expensive variation of some home game’s version of Guts.
Continents is the favorite of my drop games…and by a drop game, I mean a poker game in which at one point or another, everyone chants “1….2….3!” and either drops their cards if they’re out, or holds onto them if they’re in.

We won’t get into the never-ending debate as to whether it should be “1…2….drop, or 1….2….3….and then drop,” or we’ll be here for hours. Although for your purposes of playing at home, it’s always best to choose one or the other before the hand begins to avoid individual interpretation…namely cheating.

Anyway, Continents is a game that can take a long time…it’s not just playing one hand of the game and winner takes what’s in the middle.

Here’s the rundown, and by the end you’ll know why the game is called what it is.

1. Each player is dealt 2 cards, the object being to make the best high poker hand you can. As I mentioned, this is a drop game, in which the player must decide based on the strength of his hand whether he wants to continue on in the game. The penalty for going in and losing is a burn to the pot. In Continents, the burn is three times the ante. When we play, it’s a $1 ante and a $3 burn…and we only consider it a really good pot if it exceeds $200.

In Continents, you’re deciding whether to keep playing with the understanding that whoever stays in will receive a third card to complete their poker hand.

Also, straights and flushes are worth nothing. Three of a kind is high, then pairs, then Ace high, etc…

2. “1….2…..3….drop!” OK, you held your cards, hoping that Ace 7 will somehow hold up against the other two people who held as well.

3. Now the fun part…the introduction of the grill, the evil cards off the deck meant to put a stop to any one player’s easy run at a winning hand. That’s right, the grill plays every hand, as well, pitting its three cards against yours.

4. So with three people remaining, the grill gets its 2 initial cards first, then everyone in order receives their last card, and then the grill gets its last card.

5. Now everyone flip ‘em up and shows what they’ve got. Let’s say of the 3 remaining hands, one had a low pair, one had Ace Jack, and you ended up with Ace seven. And we’ll say the grill had nothing on this hand.

6. So the low pair wins the hand…which means what? Well it means two things. First, the low pair is the only person who went in to not have to burn 3 times the ante into the pot…and it also means that person keeps the cards that made his hand a winner. So the low pair, say it was 2 three’s, are kept by that person, face down.
These cards do not become part of the person’s next hand, and you can’t use them in any future hands. What you’re doing is building your continents, and when one person gets to 7 cards, he wins the pot.

7. When the burns have been paid and the winning cards taken out, the dead cards are cleared and set aside until the deck runs out. (So through each deck, the players will be wise to whether the Aces have come up yet, or if going in on King high still might not be the best idea.)
Then a fresh hand is re-dealt, but there is no re-ante each time.

8. Now, backtracking just a little, let’s say the grill had the winning hand. Everyone who went in would have to burn three times the ante, and the grill then would keep whatever cards made it the winner…and these cards would go face up in the middle for everyone to see.
This part is the best….if the grill reaches 7 cards before anyone else, everyone turns in their cards and the game begins again – but the built up pot remains in the middle.
I know, good stuff.

9. A couple things to note at this point. First, if only one person goes in, he still must face off against the grill. Second, if two people face off with a high-card hand, the winner only keeps the high card, and not both the high card and the secondary high card that was used to decide the winner.

10. Also, if you want to keep the pots from getting too big too quickly, you can only use the grill when one person goes in alone. That way the grill will be less likely to grow, and there will be fewer burns since players will only face each other when more than one person goes in.

11. One more rule, you do not have to answer questions of how many cards you have, or what cards you have won out of the deck to that point. You can stack your cards so other players can’t tell how many are there, but you have to keep the cards on the table. You, of course, may look at those cards for reference and to keep track of how many you have.

Continents gets really fun when more cards start being removed from the deck, and the decision to go in on Jack or Queen high is looking a hell of a lot better that the first few hands….but is that last king still lurking out there?

What’s it worth to you to find out?

Brush up on your poker skills at today.

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