Common Variations

I think part of what makes poker appealing to us Silicon Valley types is its modularity: You can construct a new game by taking a feature from an one game and adding it to another. Here are some of the most commonly abstracted features:


This is a pretty universal variant: The pot is split between the high hand and the low hand. It generates larger pots both because there are two ways to win, so more people stay in, and because it's not uncommon for one person to have a "lock" on one way (be the only person "going high" or "going low") and so drive the pot up by making large raises whenever they can. Thus, one might win more splitting the pot in a high/low game than in a winner-takes-all game.

The Ace-2-3-4-5 straight is known as The Wheel and is the lowest possible hand. That is, when you go low, the fact that it's a straight doesn't count: it's a "five high" hand. (This does not mean that straights are ignored for low hands: a 2-3-4-5-6 hand is a "six high straight" not a "six high" hand!) An Ace-2-3-4-5 straight flush also counts as The Wheel, and it's thus possible for the same five cards to win both high and low.

It's not uncommon in passing games like for two or more players to have The Wheel. This is not a good situation to be in, as they may put in nearly a third of the pot and only get a quarter of it back.

In most high/low games, it's necessary for the players to declare 'which way they are going' at the end of the game. This can be low, high, or "both" (which is sometimes known as "pig"). Going both ways means that you can win the whole pot, but it's necessary to win both ways to win both: if you tie low or tie high, you lose the whole thing. Declaration is done by taking two coins under the table, and bringing out zero, one, or two of them in your fist. When everyone's fist is out, everyone opens up and shows their coins. No coins means low; one coin means high; and two coins means both.

One common variation on high/low games is Chicago, where the high (or low) spade in the hole takes half the pot.


This is, so far as I know, a local invention: Clubs may be either one higher or one lower than their face value, but they may not have their face value. That is, a three of clubs may be played as a two of clubs or a four of clubs, but not as a three of clubs; an ace of clubs may be played as a king of clubs or a two of clubs, but not as an ace of clubs.

This is sort of like a limited wild card: It's possible to get five of a kind by having three of a kind and the bracketing clubs. When ambivalence has been called, it's not uncommon for people to spend some time analysing their hands to be sure they know just what they have. However, the most difficult thing about ambivalence is 'taking it off' on the next hand!

Ambivalent clubs is by far the most common ambivalent option, though there is a vocal minority (me) that holds that ambivalent hearts make more sense. We also occasionally play games where the ambivalent suit depends on some event, like the suit of the last queen played face up.

Roll 'em

Roll 'em is most common with the but we've occasionally applied it to games as well. You arrange your hand face down in the order you want to reveal it. You may or may have a 'blind' bet (without seeing anything of your opponents' hands), with the person to the dealer's left starting the bet, but once everyone has flipped a card, the high hand opens. When that betting round is over, everyone flips another card, the high hand opens again, and so on.

A new variation on roll 'em is play 'em. Just as in a roll 'em game, you select your five card hand, discarding any extra cards. But, instead of placing the cards face down and flipping them one by one, you bet, play your first card, bet again, play your second card, and so on. Just like roll 'em, but you can change the order you play your cards as you see how others hands develop.

Double Hands

This is popular when we are a little short on players. Each player gets two (or three) independent or hands. You ante once, but bet each hand independently: ie, a nickel bet means a nickel on each hand, or ten cents total. As is usual with games, betting starts with the high hand showing, and proceeds clockwise: It's not impossible for the same person to have the first and last bet. Hands can be folded separately.

The variations revolve around the hole cards. The most standard variation is to have separate hole cards for each hand. Sometimes we play with a single hole card, common to both hands; other times, we allow either or both down cards to be used in either hand, making it effectively Double Six Card Stud.

Follow The ...

This variation is usually played with games. In its most basic form, the first card dealt face up after a queen is wild. However, we've also played variants where red queens make red twos (or threes and nines) wild while black queens make black twos (or wild, or where a queen played face up makes its suit ambivalent.

Pay To Fold

Instead of anteing, you have to pay some dealer-decreed amount - typically a quarter - to fold. This has the effect of raising people's "fold point". The person who might have stayed in for a nickel and folded on a dime may now say "it'll cost more to fold than to stay in", and pay the dime instead of folding.

Some people violently dislike this one.

Jon Shemitz - - September 29, 1999..January 6, 2000