Poker Variants – Definitive Guide (2024)

  • 10 mins read

Learn the key rule changes, and more importantly the strategy differences, of two popular poker variants (short deck poker, and pot limit Omaha).

  • No Limit Texas Hold’em is currently the most popular poker game, played either online or live.
  • However, other poker variants are available.
  • Reasons to learn poker variants include:
    • less boredom, from adding variety to your games
    • potentially softer games as your opponents may be less experienced in these variants
    • there may be less strategy information readily available
  • Find an enjoyable new poker variant, with our comprehensive guide.

Even if you specialise in no limit hold’em, we think it’s advantageous to learn the strategy for other poker variants.

No limit Texas hold’em is only one of many variants of poker. However, for many it is often synonymous with the word poker. However, this variant wasn’t always the most common game. Limit hold’em was the game you would find most often spread before the no limit hold’em boom. There was also a time when stud games were commonplace – however nowadays you will rarely see them in live environments.

Live cardrooms may spread other games from time to time, or even regularly. Popular online cardrooms may allow you to play these poker variants at all times.

Why learn other poker variants?

different poker variants

If you aim to make as much profit from poker, you may find there is more profit/hour playing poker variants.

That is to say these games may be softer.

The reasons this may be the case are:

  1. There is a mountain of information out there on how to beat no limit hold’em. The game is far from solved. But, there is enough information to do well if players absorb and use the information out there. There is less easily accessible information out there on strategies for many of these other games.
  2. Many of your opponents (especially live) will have less experience playing these other games. Thus, they may be less good at these games.
  3. Each of these other games requires different strategic adjustments. You may have learnt hold’em in such a way that many of your plays are semi-automatic. Playing other games forces you to think harder about strategy. This could help you with your general poker thinking, which could help your no limit hold’em game too.
  4. Being able to play different games may help some players to not burn out. This is because you don’t have to play the same game again and again.

Short deck no-limit hold’em

short deck poker

16 cards (every 2,3,4 and 5s) from the 52 card deck are not present. A6789 is the lowest possible straight (as there are no 2-5 cards in this game).

The rankings of hands is slightly different from the non short deck game. Furthermore, it varies depending on where you are playing. Flushes always beat full houses. But, a three of a kind may or may not beat a straight depending on where your are playing.

Rule differences

The differences in short deck poker strategy from normal texas hold’em are due to the differences in rules. Lets us look at these rule differences one by one in detail. Rules can vary between cardrooms, but the most common rule changes are:

SIXTEEN less cards

16 cards (every 2,3,4 and 5) are taken away from the deck prior to the game. This means instead of there being 52 cards in the deck, there are 36 cards in play.

A6789 is a valid straight

This is also the lowest possible straight you can make (equivalent to A2345 in normal hold’em). The reason for this is aces count as low or high for straights just like normal hold’em. Then, the next lowest card after the A is the 6 in short deck.

Flushes beat full houses

The reason for this is they are harder to make than full houses in short deck. There are only 9 cards of each suit in the deck in short deck (13 in normal hold’em). You will need 5 of these 9 cards between your pocket cards and the board to make your flush. By the same logic, three of a kind should beat straights too in short deck. But, in order to keep the game as close to normal hold’em as possible, this rule is rare. This is in order not to complicate the game for the casual player.

Compulsory ante, no blinds

In most cardrooms instead of there being a big blind and small blind, every single player posts an ante preflop. The button posts double the ante. You can think of each ante as an unit (as there are no blinds in this game). Also, think of stacks in terms of units. Without blinds, the player to the left of the button acts first on all streets (including preflop).

How do these rule differences affect your short deck poker strategy?

The key things we recommend you think about are:

Massive multiway pots
  • Every single player has posted an ante prior to getting hole cards. The button has put in a double ante. Thus in order not to fold, each player has to put in at least the equivalent of the ante again. Thus, in loose passive games you will often see massive multiway pots (sometimes the whole table goes to the flop).
  • If equity denial is your key objective preflop, you will have to open big enough to get folds. If your open is too small other players will have a massive incentive to continue. This is especially true for the button. They have guaranteed position throughout the hand, and have already put in a double ante. It may will serve you best to develop a limping range. By limping we mean just calling the extra ante put in by the button. This should include strong hands you want to re-raise (to prevent opponents exploiting you).
  • Postflop, if there hasn’t been a big raise preflop from someone, you will often be multiway. And, the SPR may not be high. You will need to consider whether equity denial means you may want to get all the money in fast. This may include overbetting, or even going all in as early as the flop.
Changing of hand ranking
  • You will also need to consider the effect of the changed hand rankings:
    • Imagine you have the nuts on the flop, in the form of a flush. You can often be more certain than in normal hold’em that this will still be nuts by the river. This is because full house don’t beat flushes.
    • Imagine you make a non-nut flush with 2 cards from your hand, and 3 on the board. It is more difficult for opponents to have a better flush. This is because there are only 9 cards per suit to begin with.

Pot limit Omaha

omaha poker

Pot Limit Omaha is one of the most popular poker variants (especially in a live environment). We have some great Pot Limit Omaha strategy advice for transitioning no limit hold’em players.

Key rule differences

FOUR hole cards
  • Each player receives at least 4 cards face down preflop (instead of 2 in texas hold’em).
  • It is important to note that this changes the complexity of the game enormously. Instead of having 1 hold’em 2 card preflop hand, you can have 6 distinct hands.
    • Let’s say you hold A♠️A♦️T♠️9♦️ you have the following hold’em hands – A♠️A♦️, A♠️T♠️, A♠️9♦️, A♦️T♠️, A♦️9♦️, T♠️9♦️
Use EXACTLY 2+3 cards
  • You must use both your hole cards, and 3 from the shared board cards to make your 5 card hand.
  • So if you are dealt A♠️A♥️A♦️A♣️ in a deep stacked full ring PLO game, this isn’t something to get excited about.
    • You don’t have (and won’t be able to make) quad aces or three of a kind aces. This is because you can only use 2 cards from your hand.
    • You also cannot make any flushes. This is because you must use 2 cards from your hand, one of which won’t be of the flush suit. But, note you do block all 4 nut flushes which could be useful.
Maximum bet size
  • There’s no maximum bet size in no limit Texas hold’em. However, in pot limit omaha there is a cap on bet or raise sizes.
  • The maximum bet is the size of the pot.
    • Want to raise a bet? Your maximum raise size is the size of the pot if you had called. Imagine your opponent bets $100 into a pot of $100
      • Facing such a bet you can fold, call $100, or put in a maximum of $400.
      • Why $400? Had you called the pot size would have been $300. This means you may put in $400 into the pot should you wish. That’s $100 for your call, and $300 for the raise.
    • If this seems complicated, just remember the maximum amount you can raise to (including your call) is THREE TIMES the previous bet, plus any money ALREADY in the pot prior to the previous bet. Let us consider the example above again.
      • In this case the previous bet was $100. There was $100 already in the pot prior to the previous bet. So, what’s the maximum amount you can raise to (including your call)? It’s 3x$100 + $100 = $400.
    • Imagine 1 opponent has bet the exact size of the pot. Everyone else has folded in between, and you are considering raising. An even quicker formula for the amount you can raise to (including your call) is 4x his bet.
      • If one person has called, this formula becomes 5x the original bet, etc.

Key Pot Limit Omaha strategy

Transitioning NLTH players must consider the following Pot Limit Omaha strategy:

Equities run closer, but don’t dismiss PLO as a game of luck
  • Each player receives the equivalent of 6 hold’em hands preflop.
  • Thus, equities tend to run a lot closer than hold’em.
  • That is to say even with what you might consider a strong opening hand, versus a drawing hand from your opponent, you will not be as strong a favourite as you might have been in hold’em.
  • However, you should not take this information to conclude that PLO is a 50-50 game of luck.
  • Especially when playing deep your decisions about which hands to play preflop (and how), pursuing high quality draws postflop, and using position wisely will help you get an edge on your opponents.
Making the actual nuts is important when deeper stacked

When drawing, the deeper stacked that you are the more important it is to draw to the actual nuts. Making the 2nd best hand, when opponents have 6x the possibilities as hold’em from starting hands can be a disaster.

Being able to retain equity through the streets is important

Be aware of hands that flop nuts, but will not be that on a majority of cards to come. Unless you can get the money in when you are the favourite, you will have to be careful.

You have a lot of information in your pocket cards

Having 4 cards in your hand, gives you a lot of information, especially when it comes to blockers. When you can block the majority or even all of the strongest possible hands, and there is a lot of money behind, you should be able to take down the pot.

Prepare for higher variance

The variance inbuilt into this game is higher than NLTH. As such, you require a bigger bankroll (in terms of buy-ins, relative to the stakes you are playing). You will also need to have the ability to not tilt when big swings occur (as they inevitably will).