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 is most common with the
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.
This is popular when we are a little short on players. Each player gets two
(or three) independent
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.
This variation is usually played with
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.
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.