Poker Home Games: Lowball Stud

May 25, 2008

Poker Home Games: Lowball stud


I continued my recent them of getting back into the poker scene this weekend, finding some time on a Friday night to join in a small, but fun 4-person night of poker.  And to an extent, I feel re-energized about the game as a whole.  It’s easy to become disillusioned with cards as a serious but somewhat casual player, either when you lose or you’ve just been playing for so long it feels like you’re just going through the motions.


However, I find myself staring at an upswing in interest and enthusiasm toward poker, and with a few new games up my sleeve, what better time than describe the one that helped me win 2 out of 3 “tournament” format gaming sessions.


1.)    Base poker game for this one is seven-card stud. 


2.)    Your lowest hidden card is wild.  If that card is a 3, all 3’s in your hand (hidden or open) are wild – just for you.  Everyone will have their own wild card exclusive to their hand.


3.)    Betting happens the same as seven-card stud.


4.)    When it comes time for the river, you have the option of “buying” to have your card face up, or you can take it face down for free.


5.)    Final round of betting, winner takes all


Fairly simple rules, but plenty of strategy along the way.  The most obvious strategy is whether to take your last card up or down.  On the surface, it’s a straightforward decision that would seemingly only make a difference as to what your hand ends up as…the main effect being taking the card face up to avoid undercutting a pair of already-established wild cards.


For example, if your two hidden cards are 3, 3, or one is a 5 and you have a five face up in your hand, these are both scenarios where you’d probably pay to have the card face-up, so as no to run the risk of your river card face-down being a 2.  The result of which would be dropping your # of wild cards from multiples down to 1, and thus certainly handicapping your hand.


Part of the strategy, however, is keeping the power of your hand as well hidden as possible.  Of course, that’s the goal in every poker hand, but in lowball stud you actually have the power to do something about it.  So sometimes there’s the question of a calculated gamble – taking your last card down even though there’s a slight chance you may be undercut – to throw your opponents off the scent that you already have two established wild cards, either hidden or matched somewhere in your open hand.


I like this game because it brings in the element of wild cards without going overboard, and without too much craziness or other rules.  The wild card won’t chance unless you run the risk (but again, you’re the one making the decision there).  There are no extra cards to come into play, and there are no match the pot predicaments.  So it keeps close to what pure poker is all about…although purists will always scoff at wild cards, I find them fun, and in the setting of a home poker game, more than appropriate.

Poker Home Games: Boardwalk

May 18, 2008

Here’s a new game I learned over a recent weekend. Actually, I learned it from one of our summer interns at work that kept playing at Full Tilt.

I call it “The Boardwalk”, although he called it “Sideways Pyramid”, which I don’t particularly care for, because as you’ll see, the design of the cards doesn’t truly represent a pyramid. It’s more of an Mayan temple…which makes me think of Apocalypto and people getting their hearts ripped out.
So….we’ll stick with “Boardwalk.”
The game is high-low, somewhat similar in principle to games like “Criss Cross.”
1) An ante is made
2) Every player is dealt two hole cards. You are allowed to look at them. Keep them hidden.
3.) Before any community cards are turned over, there is a round of betting.
4.) Nine cards are dealt out in the center of the table in three rows of three, one on top of the other. These cards are all dealt at the same time and turned face-up at the same time.
5.) Second round of betting
6.) For the turn, two cards (one on top of the other) are dealt to the right of the nine cards (that more or less form a square themselves).
7.) Third round of betting
8.) The River is dealt face-up to the right of the two turn cards.
9.) Final round of betting.
At this point, your table will look something like this, with the X’s representing face-up cards.
10.) Declare high or low (however you want, hidden coin, call out, etc…) and reveal
Things to note:
- BOTH hole cards in your hand must be used.
- You can “walk” any of the four possible “boards” in front of you (Get it? Yeah it sucks, but it’s still better than sideways pyramid.)
- You can walk a different board for your high and low hand, this is allowed.
Option 1 – You can take the top row of 3 cards, the top turn and river
Option 2 – You can take the middle row of 3 cards, the top turn and river
Option 3 – You can take the middle row of 3 cards, the bottom turn and river
Option 4 – You can take the bottom row of 3 cards, the bottom turn and river
Best 5-card poker hand wins.
So, like I said, a slight variation to criss-cross…I suppose you could play high only, or introduce baseball or other wild-card game rules into this just as easy, as well.

Gather ’round the table

May 11, 2008

I miss my old poker table.We abused the poor thing, my fraternity brothers and I. But it was all done with love. Every spilled beer was a big, warm hug. Every cigarette burn on the wood was a heart-felt kiss. Good ol’ Pokey (seriously, though, we didn’t name it) withstood two strong years of late-night, poker tournament abuse and never asked for anything.

Except not to be trashed…which, unfortunately, we had no choice but to do anyway.

OK, flashing back…let’s see….10 years. We’d always played cards in our fraternity house, as I’m sure everyone else did at every other house throughout the world. We played on the kitchen folding tables, we played on the TV area coffee table, and we played on the beds in each other’s rooms. Hell, I’m even guilty of playing on the floor in our upstairs hallway…until the sun came up.

At one point, my buddy Evan and I, who had just taken a liking to midday trips out to local flea markets, decided the focus of this trip would be….well, there was never a focus. We didn’t even know where we were ending up half the time.

I’ll set the scene for you. Missouri isn’t the most urban of places this fine country has to offer. Outside of the somewhat entertaining college town of Columbia (which is smack in the middle of the state), you run into a lot of towns with signs boasting “Population: 51″ and “Population: 33.”

Yeah, those kind of towns. I went to a Chili Fest in one of those towns once and came back with a cow skull. That, however, is a different story.

The flea markets are scattered throughout the state. They’re indoors, and usually just long rows of shelves in a big room with all sorts of middle America crap staring you depressingly in the face. All varieties of signs and mirrors are hanging from the ceiling. You can find anything from 8-tracks to baby clothes to dining room furniture. Shelves lined with 25-year-old shot glasses and thimbles are not out of ordinary, either.

The shops tended to go hand-in-hand with a pawn shop nearby, too. Or a gas station that sold 45 different types of chewing tobacco.

But they do have their charm. I suppose.

Anyway, one afternoon in April or May, the two of us ventured out in search of cheap crap to add to our increasingly tacky rooms. I think we actually went into three different flea markets. (Classes weren’t that much of a concern to either of us at that point…..or perhaps any point.) The largest one had all sorts of trashy treasures for our enjoyment. I mean, half the fun was just sifting through all this junk. It still amazes me what collects in these places.

In a side room, after pushing aside a collection of old-fashioned baby carriages (and not old-fashioned in the nostalgic, classy sense), Evan found a Budweiser, plug-in sign that would’ve looked handsome perched above the entrance to the toilets in any dive bar across the nation. I can’t remember, but I’m sure he bought it.

As I turned around to escape the dark, moldy walls and cold, cement floor, a little piece of heaven starred back at me from behind two 6-foot mirrors.

It was one of those moments you have at the Humane Society when you know you’ve found the dog that’s gonna be your new best friend.

An eight-edged, light wood-colored, green….uh….plastic-topped beauty.

The price, you ask? Believe it or not I remember. A reasonable and sexy $38.


That night, I tell you, we played like kings.

Granted each 3-hour gaming session would leave you with 3-5 splinters and some green rub-off on your wrists…it was all worth the sacrifice to have such a necessary piece of furniture in our basement.

You know, a typical fraternity basement. Ping pong table, folding chairs, poker table, and…..that’s about it. Then there was the closet with the pool balls, but that, too, is a completely different story.

Whether it was coersing little drunken, rushing high schoolers or duking it out with the house experts, I could sit at that table for days and days and never miss a thing.

I won my fair share of cash at that table, not to mention a couch and some textbooks at the end of a semester (hey, when it’s all profit, they’re worth their weight in gold).

Too sad that Ol’ Pokey died before his time. And it’s always a tragedy when the father outlives the child.

That’s right, Ol’ Pokey was my child.

One day I’ll own another dedicated poker table – perhaps I’ll pay for it with my winnings from FullTilt. It’ll be fancier, with real green felt and cupholders that don’t warp from the condensation on the beer cans. It’ll serve it’s purpose, for sure, but it’ll never hold a candle to Ol’ Pokey.

I miss that poker table.

Poker Home Games: 31

May 4, 2008

I learned this game when I was in junior high. Seventh-grade, I think, well before you could play poker online at sites like FullTilt Poker. The guy who taught it to me was only doing it so he could take my money. I remember the scene vividly.

It was toward the end of lunch, the 10 minutes after everyone finished eating but before the call to go outside for recess. Everyone was loaded with quarters because our new cafeteria had vending machines – a first for us. The particularly popular one dispensed multiple varieties of Campbell’s soup. Don’t ask me why that one was a favorite over the candy machine, but it was.
So my “friend’ teaches me the game, I lose a hand here or there, and then quickly pick it up. It’s not that difficult, but I’ve also been playing cards for a few years even at that point.
Long story short, by the time the call came for recess, I was up $4.75, and my friend, defeated but accepting, said, “You’re gonna be my secret weapon to take money off everyone else.”
It never actually panned out that way, but he never ended a session with me up money, either.
31 isn’t really a poker game, not in the true sense of the word. But it borrows a couple poker themes and there’s an exchange of money, so….close enough, right?
On to the rules. Each hand is very quick, but you can play this an unlimited amount of times. Another very unique thing about this is it works best when there’s only 2 people involved, in my opinion. I’ve tried it with 3, and even at that number it doesn’t capture the true spirit of the back and forth of the game.
1.) Each player is dealt 3 cards, hidden. You can look at them. The object of the game is to get as close to 31 of the same suit as you can before your opponent does. Face cards are worth 10, Aces is always 11.
2.) Like in gin rummy, a top card is turned over from the deck, and the non-dealer (you’ll switch off), has the option of taking that card, or offering it to the dealer.
3.) If the dealer declines, the non-dealer then draws a new card from the top of the deck. The player then can choose to keep this card and discard another from his hand, or simply discard the one he took from the deck.
4.) Whichever card was discarded is available to the other player, he then is afforded the same choice between that card and the deck.
5.) The game goes back and forth (there is no betting), until someone KNOCKS. When this happens, the opponent gets 1 more turn, and then the cards are turned over.
6.) The difference in points between the two is then translated into whatever monetary denomination you’re playing for. So if the person who knocked has 29, and the other person ends up with 25, and you’re playing a quarter a point, then player 2 would owe player 1 a dollar.
7.) Rinse and repeat.
STRATEGY: The game is deceptively straightforward…and there’s not an incredible amount of critical thinking or decision making outside of choosing the best time to KNOCK without getting greedy. For example, if you have 21 or more on the first hand, you might want to try your luck and knock right away…you might only win by 5 or 6 points, but the odds are in your favor.
The only other time strategy comes into play is if you know your opponent is going for a certain suit, say clubs. Now if a 10 of clubs comes up and it’s your turn, but you’re not going for clubs, do you take it just to hurt your opponent? Do you switch what suit you were going for as a result? If you hesitate too long on your choice, your opponent might catch wind of what you’re doing, and knock early, guessing you’ve split your suits and are vulnerable.
It’s a fun, quick game, and the money adds up. Highly recommended if you’re stuck with 2 people waiting for the rest of the group to show up, or at the end of the night if only two are left awake.