I first played draw poker for reasonable stakes at the Club Royal in Palo Alto, just down the street from and owned by the owners of the legendary Cameo Club, home at the time to some of the largestMichael Wiesenberg made his living playing poker for 10 years before turning to a career as a writer. His books include 'Free Money: How to Win in the Cardrooms of California'; 'The Dictonary of Poker', and 'The Ultimate Casino Guide. Check out his writings on everything online draw poker! games in a public cardroom, all no-limit lowball. I played in the no-limit draw game at the Club Royal for more than 10 years. I like no-limit draw. There’s a lot of skill in figuring out what the other players have, and manipulating the final outcome both by the betting and by the ability to influence the ending constitution of your hand. In any game other than forms of draw, you have no influence on the final makeup of your hand. In draw, you can decide between drawing to a straight or flush, or one or two pair, depending on what cards you keep. In hold’em, the cards are predetermined as is the hand you will end up with. In stud, you can get a different card, dependent on whether your betting induces someone to stay or fold, but you still must draw to the same hand. Your chances of ending up with a particular hand are just as predetermined as in hold’em. You can change your chances in draw (and lowball, too).
The regular game at the Club Royal was for a long time either $2 winner-blind or $4 winner-blind. That is, in the smaller game, the winner of a pot left $1 of the pot for the next hand. The minimum opening bet was $2. The maximum, of course, was as much as you had on the table. The ante was a dime from each player. In the $4 game, the winner left $2, and the bring-in was $4.The ante was a quarter. After awhile, they changed the game to three traveling blinds and no antes, a much better game because the format forced the players to gamble a bit more. The dealer and the player to his left put in $1, and the big blind put in $2. The minimum bet was $4. Nominally the same size pot as the winner-blind ante game before anyone opened, but actually a game stimulating more action, because when you won the pot, you got to keep the whole thing; $2 was not dead money that had to be left for the next pot. Due to the blinds, the games were always bet-or-fold before the draw. The smaller games in San Jose had no blinds, only antes; they had always been pass-and-back-in, and tended to be very tight. But when you had to either open or toss your hand, you had to put some money in the pot if you wanted to draw to that small pair or to that straight or flush.
Draw died out in California mainly because of the lack of action. Due to the structure of the game, major confrontations are few. It’s just too hard to find good hands. Lowball has more action, but still only two betting rounds. When the new games, variations of stud and hold’em, came to California, they quickly drove draw out and severely limited the interest in lowball. Maybe triple-draw lowball will revive some interest, but no-limit draw just doesn’t exist anymore, except in a few places outside the US. That’s a shame, because no-limit draw is a lot of fun, and involves thinking and strategy.
Here is an interesting hand I played.
Brad opened for the minimum, $4, in early position. I knew that Brad’s minimum opening hand was a pair of aces. He would not open with kings or less. Of course, he would open with two pair or better. He would never open in early position with a straight or flush draw, unless he was drawing to a straight flush or a 16-way straight. (That’s three cards in a row in the range 3 through queen along with the joker. For example, with 7-8-9-joker, any 5, 6, 10, or J makes a straight; four each of those cards makes 16.) I was the dealer. (The game had no house dealer. Players dealt for themselves.) I had a pair of aces. My side cards were K-Q-7. I had $1 in the pot, representing the dealer blind. I added $3 to call. The little blind folded and the big blind added $2 more.
Time to draw. The big blind asked for three cards. He of course had a pair, likely smaller than aces.
Brad asked for two cards. Right away I knew what he had. I had seen him do this many times before. He always kept a king as a kicker when he had a pair of aces, in case someone else was drawing to aces, so his kicker would beat theirs if neither improved. Had he drawn one card, I would have been suspicious of three-of-a-kind, although he could easily also have two pair. But a two-card draw had only a slight chance of actually being trips. Funny thing about trips in draw poker. Almost every player thinks he must draw one card to “disguise” his hand. Depending on the action before the draw, however, particularly in a no-limit game, drawing one rarely fools anyone. Despite that, though, most players always kept a kicker when they had trips. Similarly, drawing two rarely fools anyone either, because everyone figures the player has one pair and is keeping a kicker. I used to fool people sometimes by drawing two to trips. They thought I wouldn’t want to give away my hand if I really had trips, therefore, I couldn’t. I didn’t do it all the time, though; not even most of the time. Just what I hoped was the right time.
Well, back to Brad. I was pretty sure he had exactly A-A-K. Should I draw three cards and hope for another pair to beat him? No. I already had his A-A-K beat because my fourth card was a queen. I also had several of the cards he needed for improvement locked up. I drew one card. Now, if I’d had the joker as one of my aces, a one-card draw was very reasonable against a hand that didn’t already have me beat. If my hand was A-joker-K-Q, I would make two pair or better with any card 10 or higher, and it would be a good two pair. Lots of ways to help. But I did not have the joker. By drawing one card, the best I could make was three aces. My intention was not to improve, though. My intention was merely to end up with the best hand after the draw. I was effectively keeping two kickers to my one pair.
Parenthetically, you may wonder, considering the range of hands Brad could have, that since a pair of aces at best had him tied, why I even called his opening bet. I called because the pot offered me an immediate 8-to-3 return, or 10-to-3 if the big blind called, and more if the little blind called. (Yes, either could raise, but that was always a chance to take—if either did, depending on the size of the raise, I probably would lose no more than $3 on the hand. If Brad reraised, I certainly wouldn’t.) If Brad had me beat, I was most likely a 2.7-to-1 underdog. Two pair smaller than aces-up put me at that disadvantage. Trips made me worse than 8-to-1, but I still had the positional advantage, and, if I beat trips for him, this being a no-limit game, I was going to win more than 8 times my investment. All in all, even if he had a better hand than I, I still had positive expectancy (+EV).
After the draw, the big blind checked, Brad checked. I caught a deuce, which did not help my hand any, and just showed down. I won. The big blind had not improved the small pair he had drawn to, and Brad had what I had thought he had, A-A-K, plus the jack and 10 he had caught. Had I drawn three cards, I probably would have lost. When I did not improve on the draw, it never even crossed my mind to bet; I was pleased neither of my opponents had bet.
No one had ever seen anyone keep two kickers to one pair, and all were amazed. I didn’t explain why I had done what I had done, but Brad knew.
Would I have been better off drawing three cards, giving myself the best chance of improving and winning a bigger pot? No. In the exact three-handed situation of the little blind drawing to a smaller pair than aces (say eights), Brad drawing to A-A-K, and me drawing to A-A after discarding the king and queen, Brad would win 56% of the time, the small pair would win about 25% of the time, and I would win less than 19%—even though I had started with the second-best hand. And of the times I improved, most of the time I wouldn’t make anything after the draw. I could always bluff, of course, but the danger existed of either of them calling. Both would pass and call with two pair. On the other hand, though, when I took one card, as I did, I gave the odds better than a 100% flip: they became considerably in my favor. The ratio of my winning to Brad’s winning to the small pair’s winning was about 57:27:16, even better than Brad’s edge would have been in the other draw (the one in which I took three cards).
I had just had an instinctive feel for the rightness of my play at the time, but I confirmed the figures on Caro’s Poker Probe. Back in the early ’70s there was no poker analysis software; there weren’t even personal computers.
This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine. © 2006 Michael Wiesenberg.
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