8 unique poker variants to try at your next home game

Looking for a different poker game to play at your next home game? Check out these unique poker variants that you won’t find in a casino.


Phil Ivey started playing Five-Card Stud for pennies with his grandpa. Daniel Negreanu grew up playing Vanunu in Toronto. Phil Hellmuth’s maiden World Series of Poker cash was in a Seven-Card Stud Split event.

While today’s generation of young poker players dives straight into No-Limit Texas Hold’em–poker’s most popular variant–that often means they skip learning mixed games and other interesting poker variations, of which there are too many to list.

Why limit your poker home games to Texas Hold’em when there are so many fun types of poker games to play?

Here you’ll find the rules to eight unique poker variants that you and your friends can learn in no time. You won’t find these types of poker in Vegas or on PokerStars.


LAZY PINEAPPLE (a.k.a. TAHOE PINEAPPLE)

Unique quality: You start and end the betting with three cards, not two

Standard Pineapple poker is a variation of Texas hold’em in which players are dealt three hole cards instead of two, only for one to be discarded before the first round of betting begins. If you can’t be bothered with all that, just keep hold of all three hole cards and play Lazy Pineapple (a.k.a. Tahoe Pineapple) instead.

How to play Lazy Pineapple poker

The game is essentially the same as Texas hold’em except players are dealt three hole cards rather than two. The aim is to make the best five-card poker hand using the standard flop, turn and river community cards, but players can only use a maximum of two of their hole cards.

This means by the end all players are holding a variety of different poker hands. Once the final round of betting is complete, those still in the hand turn over their best hand (using one or two of their hole cards, or none if playing the board).


IRISH POKER

Unique quality: It starts as PLO and ends as NLHE

Like Pineapple poker, Irish poker is another twist on Texas Hold’em with a bit of Pot Limit Omaha thrown in.

How to play Irish Poker

Players are dealt four hole cards at the start of each hand and the first round of betting plays out like a typical Pot Limit Omaha hand. The players to the left of the dealer post the small and big blinds, then action moves clockwise from the left of the big blind.

A three-card flop is then dealt face up and another round of betting begins. Once completed, all remaining players must discard two hole cards, leaving themselves with two. 

The rest of the hand plays out identically to a Texas hold’em hand: turn, betting, river, betting, showdown.


SIMULTANEOUS (a.k.a. HOLDEMAHA)

Unique quality: The PokerStars Blog team plays it

This game right here is a favourite among the PokerStars Blog team, and we’ve spent many hours playing it in hotel rooms and airports whilst on the road for poker events.

How to play Simulatenous poker

Compared with some of the other poker formats we’ve discussed in this article, Simultaneous (or Holdemaha, as we like to call it) is going to seem comparatively simple. All players get dealt six hole cards, and they must split those into two hands: a No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) hand (two cards) and a Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) hand (four cards). Once these hands are set face down on the table, they cannot be changed.

The action proceeds like a regular PLO hand (the game can be played both pot limit or no limit, but as each hand creates so much action, you might want to stick to pot limit). There are rounds of betting pre-flop, on the flop, turn and river.

Players are playing both their NLHE and PLO hands simultaneously (it’s not just a clever name). If a hand gets to showdown, the player with the best NLHE hand will win half the pot, and the player with the best PLO hand will win the other hand. If one player has both the best NLHE and PLO hand, they scoop the whole pot.

The fun comes in figuring out whether your opponent has just one good hand–i.e. are they betting to try and get you off a chop, or do they have both hands covered? Then again, maybe they have nothing at all.

So what do you say? Have a game at home with friends, then come sit in our game.

We need some new blood.


VANUNU

Unique quality: roshambo-esque live reads required 

As mentioned, former PokerStars Ambassador Daniel Negreanu has waxed lyrical about his love of Vanunu in the past, as it’s one of the games he grew up playing in Toronto. According to Kid Poker, it helped him hone his poker talents, and with the number of different poker formats Vanunu combines, that’s hardly surprising. 

How to play Vanunu poker

Each player is dealt seven cards face down, which they do not look at. Each player then exposes a card one at a time and a round of betting follows each card as players wager that they have the best high or low hand. This continues until there are five cards face up and two down. 

At this point, players have the option to ditch one of their cards in exchange for another. They’ve got to pay for the privilege, however, with a pre-determined amount going into the pot for an exposed card, and double that amount for a down card. 

With their hands set (five up and two down), each player must then declare either low, high or both. This means they think their hand is the best low hand out there, or the best high hand out there, or both. All players do this by dropping chips (or coins) into the pot at the same time, so there can be no cheating (like a game of roshambo): one for low, two for high, or three for both. 

If you declare both and your hand does not win both the high and the low, you cannot win any part of the pot. If there are only low hands out there, the best low hand scoops the pot. The same goes for high hands. Otherwise, the best low hand and the best high hand chop the pot. 

With elements of seven-card stud, razz, draw games, and plenty of live reads, this one is sure to keep your next home game interesting. Who knows? It could help your poker game like it did Negreanu’s.

Negreanu loves Vanunu (and peppers)


DEATH WHEEL

Unique quality: Community cards used must be adjacent

Like Vanunu, the awesomely-named Death Wheel is also commonly played hi/lo (although playing high is an option too). But there’s a particular element to it that makes it a fun yet infuriating format for your next poker home game.

How to play Death Wheel poker

Each player is dealt four hole cards, while six community cards are dealt face down in a circle in the centre. The idea is to make the best five-card hand using only two from your holding and three from the six community cards (like Pot Limit Omaha). However, the three community cards you use must be adjacent to each other in the circle (a.k.a. the Death Wheel).

There’s a round of betting when hole cards are dealt, then a community card is exposed followed by a betting round. This is repeated until all six community cards are face-up. However, you never expose adjacent cards. You must only expose a card opposite a face-up card, with the idea being you won’t know which three cards you can use until the end.

There are six possible three-card combinations you can use to make your hand, and with four cards also in the hole, the winning hand is usually a pretty good one, so you might want to muck your junk hands early on.

What makes it infuriating? Well, you might have made a royal flush, but if the cards you need don’t line up, then it’s a no-go.


FIVE AND TWO

Unique quality: The two-card board must be used together or not at all

This spin on Five-Card Draw has enough unique elements to make it an exciting addition to any poker home game.

How to play Five and Two poker

Five and Two is a hi/lo split-pot game which means there can be two winning hands: one high and one low. The low hand is awarded to the player with the worst hand (i.e. 7, 5, 4, 3, 2). Aces are high and it’s up to you if you want to enforce rules on what constitutes a low hand (in Omaha 8-or-Better, a low hand must be five cards of 8 or less).

The aim is to make the best (and worst) five-card poker hand. But there are two ways you can play it, as we’ll explain.

All players are dealt five hole cards, then two community cards are immediately dealt face up. There’s an initial round of betting before players get to draw cards (you can exchange as many cards as you wish from your five hole cards).

Once all players have drawn, there’s a final round of betting followed by a showdown.

At this point, there are two ways you can play Five and Two (you should decide this before the game begins). 

You can play it so that each player can only play one hand (a high or a low). At showdown, they must announce whether they’re playing a high hand or a low hand before they show their cards. They can only win the pot with the hand they announce.

OR you can play it so that players can play both high and low hands at the same time, akin to Omaha 8-or-Better. This way, players can sometimes have the best and worst hands simultaneously, scooping the entire pot.

Remember: if the community cards are both high, there’s a good chance your opponents are trying to make high hands. This makes it more appealing to go in with your low hands. Likewise, if the two community cards are low, your opponents are probably chasing low hands, which means your high hands might not require as much strength to win half of the pot.


ANACONDA

Unique quality: Passing cards to other players

Stitching up an opponent by giving them three of your junk cards? That sounds pretty fun. The only problem is someone will be trying to stitch you up too.

How to play Anaconda poker

Anaconda is a fun take on poker in which each player is dealt seven hole cards. After examining their hand and looking for the best possible five-card poker hand, players must then ruin it by ditching three cards and passing them to the player on their left. A round of betting follows.

Players must then get rid of two of their cards, only this time they pass them to the player on their right. Another round of betting ensues before each player passes one final card to the player on their left. A third and final betting round takes place, after which it’s time for showdown. Whichever remaining player holds the best five-card poker hand wins the pot.

We all know there are no friends at the poker table. But in a game of Anaconda, your seat at the table is more important than ever. Who do you want to stitch up the most?


SPIT IN THE OCEAN

Unique quality: There are plenty of wildcards, including the sole community card

If you’ve played draw games in the past then you’ll be able to pick up Spit in the Ocean pretty quickly. Even if you haven’t, it won’t take long to learn and is a particularly interesting variant using wildcards to increase the action.

How to play Spit in the Ocean poker

The aim of the game is to make the best five-card poker hand using four hole cards and one community card. But there’s a twist.

All players put an ante into the pot before the dealer hands out four cards face down to each player. Once all cards are dealt, the dealer then flips over the next card and places it face up in the middle. This is the only community card and it’s also wild, meaning it can be used as any card in the deck.

All cards of the same value as the community card also become wild. So if the community card is a six, the remaining three sixes then become wildcards. If a player holds one or more of the sixes, they can use it (and the community card) as any card they wish to make the best possible hand.

There is a round of betting (this is a limit game), after which comes the one and only draw in the game. Players can exchange as many cards as they wish and when all players have four cards once again, the final round of betting takes place.

With wildcards in play, big hands are common so it’s not often you’ll get to showdown with just one or two pair. Let the action begin!

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