WSOP: Chinese Poker (1995 to 1996)

[SS] “What do you consider the essential elements that a game needs to be considered poker?” Stan the Stat asked.

[FF] “Playing cards”, Figaro the Fish offered.

[SS] “I’d argue that technically you don’t need playing cards. Many poker games could be adjusted for tiles like those used in dominoes or mah jong.”

[RR] “Betting”, Roderick the Rock proposed.

[FF] “Definitely. You need a way to keep score in each hand and long term.”

[SS] “Agreed.”

[LL] “Bluffing,” Leroy the Lion claimed, “is the single key component that makes poker poker.”

[SS] “While I also agree with you, the World Series of Poker actually once had a game that had no bluffing: Chinese Poker, an extension of Pai Gow Poker which itself came from the Chinese domino game Pai Gow. Pai Gow, whose history can be traced back to the 10th century in China, is almost completely a game of luck, as all players need to do is split four tiles into two groups of two. Pai Gow Poker expanded on this, replacing the dominoes with playing cards and having players create a group of two and a better group of five. Chinese Poker added a little more skill by expanding the game to thirteen cards (groups of 3, 5, and 5).”

Game Name Chinese Poker
Game Type Irregular
Game Limits Point Scoring System
High or Low High
WSOP Years 1995 to 1996
Buyins $1,500 to $5,000
Largest Field 69 (1995 $1,500 event)
Notable Champions Steve Zolotow (won the 1995 $5,000 event ahead of Doyle Brunson)
Basic Rules Each player is dealt thirteen cards to arrange into a row of three cards, a better row of five cards, and an even better row of five cards. The respective rows are compared, with bonus points for winning every row.
History Chinese Poker evolved from Pai Gow Poker in the early 20th century, possibly earlier.
Notes Some rules allow surrendering. Like in Blackjack, this allows you to concede defeat for less than losing every matchup would cost.

[SS] “A modern variation called Open Face Chinese Poker (OFCP) developed in the 2000s, spreading to the U.S. by 2012. In this much more strategic game, players reveal and place their cards in turn, starting with five cards on the first turn then one on each subsequent turn.

An even more recent twist on this, Pineapple OFCP, starts with five cards, but then players reveal three cards at a time choosing two to keep and one to discard. This game requires more cards, so is limited to two or three players.

In December 2013, WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart asked for input on whether OFCP should be a bracelet event and the conclusion was a clear no. Daniel Negreanu led the charge against the game, and Jack Effel agreed that ‘if there’s no betting or bluffing it’s not a poker game’.”1

[LL] “Maybe somebody will invent a variation of Chinese Poker that includes betting and bluffing so it can return in a few years…”

Footnotes:

  1. The merits of Open Face Chinese Poker as bracelet event discussion took place on Twitter on December 23, 2013.
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WSOP: Omaha (1983 to present)

[SS] “Rod, why are you always going all Peyton Manning on us in the side game?” Stan the Stat joked, referring to the Dealer’s Choice cash game that ran after the monthly tournament had shed enough players to free up a table.

[RR] “What do you mean? Because I play so well?” Rod suggested.

[FF] “I think he means because you’re so old you should retire.” Figaro the Fish jabbed.

[SS] “No, I mean why do you always call ‘Omaha, Omaha, Omaha’?”

[RR] “I just really like the game. I can never hit a hand in Texas Hold ‘Em, so having four hole cards instead of two really helps. It’s fun to make some straights and flushes and full houses for a change.”

[SS] “I’m sure you also like the certainty that comes with holding the nuts, something that happens way more often in Omaha. And Peyton Manning was certainly the nuts back in 2013 when he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns.”

Game Name Omaha
Game Type Flop
Game Limits Limit or Pot Limit
High or Low High or Hi/Lo (a.k.a. Omaha 8 or Better)
WSOP Years 1983 to present
Buyins $1,000 to $10,000
Largest Field 1,293 High (2015 $1,000 event), 1,036 Hi/Lo (2014 $1,500 event)
Notable Champions Daniel Alaei has won four bracelets in Omaha; Scotty Nguyen and T.J. Cloutier have each won three.
Basic Rules Omaha is played exactly like Hold ‘Em except that each player is dealt four hole cards, of which they must use exactly two to make their hand.
History Omaha is a fairly obvious variation of Texas Hold ‘Em, but it didn’t become popular until Bill Boyd began spreading the game as Nugget Hold ‘Em at the Golden Nugget Casino in 1982.2
Notes Big O is an Omaha variation in which each player is dealt five hole cards, but all other rules remain the same. With each player holding ten possible two-card combinations instead of six, stronger hands abound.

Footnotes:

  1. Peyton Manning yelled “Omaha” as an audible extensively during the 2013-14 NFL season.
  2. Casino executive Robert Turner deserves the credit for introducing Boyd to the game, which was also known as Nine Cards, Fort Worth, and Oklahoma before players agreed on Omaha, already the name of the Texas Hold ‘Em variant that required both hole cards to be used.
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WSOP: Five Card Draw (1978 to 1982)

[SS] “Five Card Draw is another old game whose popularity has faded”, Stan the Stat continued. “The American classic was contested at the World Series of Poker from 1978 to 1982, initially with a $5,000 buyin before dropping to $2,000 and then $1,000.”

[LL] “Five Card Draw was the first poker game I learned as a kid just around that same time”, Leroy the Lion added. “I still have the sheet of hand ranks that I tediously hunted and pecked on a manual typewriter. We played penny ante, so it was basically just for fun, and I’m pretty sure I was horrible at it. Fortunately, so was everyone else.”

[FF] “I’ve never played it. Should we try it in our side game?” Figaro the Fish wondered.

[RR] “I don’t think so. It requires too many cards to be played by more than five or six people. And there just isn’t much going for it. You have to figure out what people have based on just one or two bets and the number of cards they draw. And it’s usually played as Limit Poker. Not very exciting.”

[SS] “I agree. The Moneymaker generation of poker players didn’t miss much by not learning Five Card Draw. Don’t worry though, I’ll get to a bunch of better games you’ll like better soon.”

Game Name Five Card Draw Poker (a.k.a. Limit Draw High)
Game Type Draw
Game Limits Limit
High or Low High
WSOP Years 1978 to 1982
Buyins $1,000 to $5,000
Largest Field 36 (1981 $1,000 event)
Notable Champions Lakewood Louie (1978 & 1979), David Sklansky (1982)
Basic Rules Antes only. Each player is dealt five cards, and there is a round of betting. Each player can draw from zero to five cards, and there is a second round of betting.
History Five Card Draw dates back to at least the 1830s, shortly after the 52-card deck became common, allowing the addition of a draw to a simple 5-card betting game. Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back in 1876 while playing Five Card Draw.
Notes Home games sometimes limit draws to three cards, four if the player keeps an Ace. Most video poker games in casinos play Five Card Draw.

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WSOP: Deuce to Seven Draw (1973 to present)

[SS] “Deuce to Seven Draw is another lowball version of Five Card Draw”, Stan the Stat continued. “As the name indicates, the best possible hand is a Seven-High: 75432. Straights and flushes are counted and are very bad.”

[RR] “It’s very confusing that some low games use Five-high and others use Seven-high”, Roderick the Rock commented.

[SS] “There are also Six-high games, which is what happens to Ace-low games when straights count against you. Fortunately, the WSOP doesn’t play any of those. But you can see how each variation would develop independently. Each group can argue that their way is the ‘right’ way to play lowball. I could even claim that Deuce to Six lowball also makes sense, but fortunately that never took off.

Game Name Deuce to Seven Draw (a.k.a. Kansas City Lowball)
Game Type Draw
Game Limits Limit or No Limit
High or Low Low
WSOP Years 1973 to present (except 1983 & 1999)
Buyins $1000 to $10,000
Largest Field 285 for Draw (2012 $1,500 event) and 388 for Triple Draw (2015 $1,500 event)
Notable Champions Bill Baxter has won a record five Deuce to Seven events. Erik Seidel is one of several players who have won two. Jennifer Harman famously won the 2000 event despite having just been taught how to play. Christian Pham repeated her trick in 2015 when he accidentally signed up for the $1,500 buyin Deuce to Seven event instead of the $1,000 No Limit Hold ‘Em event on the same day.
Basic Rules Blinds and Antes. Each player is dealt five cards, and there is a round of betting (no limping allowed). Each player can draw from zero to five cards, and there is a second round of betting.
History The early history of Deuce to Seven Draw is basically unknown. It may have been one of the lowball games played in California and Nevada as far back as the 1930s.
Notes Deuce to Seven Triple Draw, which adds two draws and two rounds of betting, was first played around the late 1970s and joined the WSOP lineup in 2004, returning for good in 2007. Tuan Bui Le is the only player to have two Triple Draw titles (2014 & 2015).
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WSOP: Razz (1971 to present)

[SS] “Did you hear that Phil Hellmuth is joining us for tonight’s tournament?” Stan the Stat asked excitedly.

[RR] “I don’t think so; he didn’t RSVP.”

[SS] “He’s Elias the Eagle’s ‘plus one’. Phil’s friends with a local pro that Elias knows.”

[RR] “Really?”

[SS] “Not really. April Fool! Of course, you knew I was just teasing you, razzing you as a lead-in to the next WSOP game. Razz is a lowball version of Seven Card Stud. Aces are always low, so the best possible hand is a Five-High: 5432A. Neither straights nor flushes count against you.”

Game Name Razz
Game Type Stud
Game Limits Limit
High or Low Low
WSOP Years 1971 to present (except 1976; maybe not 1972)
Buyins $500 to $5,000
Largest Field 462 (2015 $1,500 event)
Notable Champions Several players have won two Razz bracelets, including Gary Berland, Huck Seed, Phil Hellmuth (his only non-Hold ‘Em bracelets), and Ted Forrest.
Basic Rules Antes only. Each player is dealt two hole cards. There is a round of betting after each of four up cards and another round of betting after one final hole card.
History Razz was an obvious variation of Seven Card Stud, but nobody knows when it was invented or even how it was named. The word “razz” itself dates back to 1920, when it was used as a short form of “raspberry” to mean “to hiss or deride”.1 The game of Razz started to become popular in the 1950s.
Notes Razz is the Ace-to-Five lowball version of Seven Card Stud.

Footnotes:

  1. Source: “razz” in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

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WSOP: Seven Card Stud (1971 to present)

[SS] “Another old American classic, Seven Card Stud, has always been played at the World Series of Poker, including the cash games in 1970.”

[LL] “I grew up playing that, too, although I admit we played a lot of Baseball.1 On the other hand, what’s more American than poker and baseball?”

[SS] “Fortunately, the WSOP has sensibly stuck with games without wild cards.”3

Game Name Seven Card Stud
Game Type Stud
Game Limits Limit
High or Low High or Hi/Lo (a.k.a. Stud 8 or Better)2
WSOP Years 1971 to present
Buyins $500 to $10,000
Largest Field 478 for High (2006 $1,500 event) and 788 for Hi/Lo (2006 $1,000 event)
Notable Champions Artie Cobb, Johnny Moss, and Men Nguyen have each won three bracelets in Seven Card Stud and one in Seven Card Stud Split. Gary Berland and Jeff Lisandro both won two titles in Stud and one in Split.
Basic Rules Antes only. Each player is dealt two hole cards. There is a round of betting after each of four up cards and another round of betting after one final hole card.
History Seven Card Stud, an extension of Five Card Stud, first became popular during the U.S. Civil War. It spread from the Army to the Navy and from coast to coast, remaining the most popular form of poker all the way until Hold ‘Em dethroned it in the 1980s.
Notes The Women’s Championship was contested in Seven Card Stud from 1977 to 1999 (and mixed Hold ‘Em & Stud from 2000 to 2003). The Mixed Doubles event was played in Stud in 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1983.

Footnotes:

  1. Baseball is a Seven Card Stud variation in which Threes and Nines are wild and Fours give you an extra card.
  2. Razz, which is basically Seven Card Stud Low, will be covered next.
  3. There have been exactly two exceptions. California Lowball, with a single joker, was an event in both 1983 and 1986.

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WSOP: Texas Hold ‘Em (1971 to present)

[SS] “Texas Hold ‘Em, of course, is the game you think of most when you think of the World Series of Poker. It’s played in the majority of events, including the Main Event. It’s the game used for almost all of the special tournaments like the Casino Employees event (since 2000), the Women’s Championship (since 2004), the Seniors and Super Seniors events (since 2001 and 2015), and the One Drop high rollers (since 2012).

It’s played at the widest range of buyins, the most limit types (Limit, Pot Limit, and No Limit), and the most table sizes (Heads Up, Six-Handed, Eight-Handed, Full Table, and Mixed Max, where each day of the event uses a different table size).”

Game Name Texas Hold ‘Em
Game Type Flop
Game Limits Limit, Pot Limit, or No Limit
High or Low High
WSOP Years 1971 to present
Buyins $500 to $1,000,000
Largest Field 22,374 (2015 $565 event [Colossus])
Notable Champions Main Events: Johnny Moss (1971 & 1974), Doyle Brunson (1976 & 1977), Stu Ungar (1980, 1981 & 1997), Johnny Chan (1987 & 1988), Phil Hellmuth (1989 & 2012 Europe)
Basic Rules Blinds and possibly antes. Each player is dealt two hole cards, and there is a round of betting. Three community cards are flopped followed by a round of betting. A turn card is followed by a round of betting. A river card is followed by a final round of betting.
History Texas Hold ‘Em originated in Texas in the 1950s1 and was brought to Las Vegas by Felton McCorquodale, Crandell Addington, Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston, and their friends in 1967.2
Notes Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple are Hold ‘Em variants in which each player is dealt three hole cards, discarding one card before and after the flop respectively.

Footnotes:

  1. Hold ‘Em may actually date back as far as the 1930s, but the 1981 Don Jenkins biography on Johnny Moss that makes that claim only supports it only with anecdotal evidence.
  2. The Golden Nugget was the first casino to spread Texas Hold ‘Em. The Dune held the first Vegas Hold ‘Em tournament a couple years later, in 1969.

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WSOP: Ace to Five Draw (1971 to 2004)

[SS] “Ace to Five Draw is a lowball version of Five Card Draw”, Stan the Stat explained. “As the name indicates, the best possible hand is a Five-high: 5432A. Neither straights nor flushes count against you.”

[LL] “Rod, you’d like this game”, Leroy the Lion suggested. “You’re always complaining that you never get any cards.”

[RR] “It doesn’t work that way”, Roderick the Rock retorted. “I’d finally get dealt a royal flush.”

[LL] “At least you’d beat Umberto the Unlucky. He’d get quads.”

[SS] “A royal flush isn’t actually that bad here. It’s just Ace-high, so it’s better than a pair of Twos.”

Game Name Ace to Five Draw
Game Type Draw
Game Limits Limit or No Limit
High or Low Low
WSOP Years 1971 to 2004 (except 1974 & 1975 [probably played in 1972])
Buyins $500 to $5,000
Largest Field ~218 (1987 $1,000 event)
Notable Champions Johnny Moss (1971 & 1988), Perry Green (1976 & 1977), Bill Baxter (1982)
Basic Rules Blinds and Antes. Each player is dealt five cards, and there is a round of betting. Each player can draw from zero to five cards, and there is a second round of betting.
History The game’s history is murky but may have found some popularity as far back as the 1930s. Ace to Five is still played in WSOP mixed games, but has effectively been replaced by Deuce to Seven as a standalone event.
Notes California Lowball, which adds a joker to the deck, was played in 1983 and 1986. There is also Ace to Five Triple Draw, which adds two draws and two rounds of betting. John Juanda (2002) and Men Nguyen (2003) won the two times this event was held.
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WSOP: Five Card Stud (1971 to 1974)

[SS] “Bill Boyd was the Marion Tinsley of Five Card Stud”, Stan the Stat suggested.

[FF] “I’ve never heard of either of them”, Figaro the Fish objected.

[LL] “Before your time”, Leroy the Lion intervened. “Tinsley was by far the best checkers player in the world for decades. He single-handedly prevented checkers from being conquered by computers, and as soon as he died, humanity conceded mastery of another game to silicon.”1

[SS] “Correct. He was so good that he officially withdrew from the Checkers World Championship process for sixteen years so someone else could win. When he returned, he was still unbeatable and held the crown for another eighteen years.

Boyd was arguably the best Five Card Stud player in the world. He won the inaugural $1,000 1971 WSOP event against an unknown number of opponents,2 the $10,000 1972 event against a single opponent, the $10,000 1973 event unopposed, and the $5,000 1974 event against seven opponents. The game was no longer popular, and nobody really wanted to play Boyd anyway, so they discontinued the event. Amarillo Slim claimed that he’d rather catch frost on his winter peaches than play Five Card Stud with Bill Boyd.”3

Game Name Five Card Stud
Game Type Stud
Game Limits Limit
High or Low High
WSOP Years 1971 to 1974
Buyins $1,000 to $10,000
Largest Field ~10 (1971 $1,000 event)
Notable Champions Bill Boyd (1971-74)
Basic Rules Antes only. Each player is dealt one hole card. There is a round of betting after each of four up cards.
History Five Card Stud first became popular during the American Civil War.4
Notes The game can feature a bring-in, in which the player with the lowest card showing after the first up card must make a minimum bet.5

Footnotes:

  1. Don Lafferty, the second best player in the world, tied a match against Chinook that Tinsley had started but could not finish due to illness. Chinook then beat Lafferty in the rematch in 1995.
  2. The 1972 Five Card Stud event probably had ten or fewer players. Boyd had also narrowly lost the vote for the Best Five Card Stud Player of the 1970 WSOP to George Barnes.
  3. Source: Men of Action — Bill Boyd.
  4. Source: Wikipedia Five Card Stud article.
  5. It is unknown whether the WSOP events featured a bring-in.

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WSOP Poker Variations: Introduction

[LL] “I really enjoy the dealer’s choice cash games after our Hold ‘Em tournaments”, Leroy the Lion opined. “While I appreciate the fact that Hold ‘Em is probably the most accessible game for amateurs, I’m a really big fan of variety. For example, I don’t have a favorite food, so if you ask me what I want to eat, it’ll be something I haven’t had in a while.”

[FF] “I like the fact that it’s a cash game, so you can rebuy if you run out of chips”, Figaro the Fish said. “Busting out of a tournament is just so… final. But I like the variety too. I actually wish we played more different games.”

[RR] “It’s dealer’s choice”, Roderick the Rock reminded Figaro. “Just call whatever you want.”

[FF] “I tried that. But you guys have already banned Baseball, Follow the Queen, Five Card Draw with One-Eyed Jack and Suicide Kings…”

[LL] “You mean every game with wild cards.”

[SS] “There are enough games you can play without relying on the luck of wild cards”, Stan the Stat insisted.

[FF] “But those are my favorites!”

[SS] “There’s a reason no games at the World Series of Poker have wild cards… Actually, did you know that there was one game, played only twice, that had wild cards?”

[RR] “Really!?”

[SS] “Yep. No Limit Ace to Five Draw with Joker was contested in 1983 and 1986. Only 37 and 32 players entered, and it never came back.”1

[FF] “That’s too bad.”

[LL] “The problem with wild card games, Figaro, is that the wild cards are too powerful. If you have one, you have too big an advantage over the players who don’t have one. But like Stan said, there are lots of games to choose from, even if we just stick with what they play at the WSOP.”

[SS] “Very true. Even though a No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournament has served as the championship event since 1971 (and that’s been true for pretty much every major poker festival ever since),2 the WSOP has always had a good variety of games.

The first five events were:

  • Limit Ace to Five Draw
  • Limit Razz
  • Limit 7 Card Stud
  • Limit 5 Card Stud
  • No Limit Hold ‘Em

Game Types

These five events covered the three basic types of poker games: stud, flop, and draw. Those early poker pioneers already possessed the skills to handle almost every game that has ever been played at the WSOP even as it grew from 5 events to 69.

Stud

Three of the 1971 events were stud games: Razz,3 7 Card Stud, and 5 Card Stud.

Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo (or Split) was added in 1976.

Flop

No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em was the only flop game played in 1971. Limit and Pot Limit versions would join the mix in 1983 and 1992, respectively.

Omaha would be added as a Limit game in 1983 and as a Pot Limit game in 1984. Both would also gain Hi/Lo versions (1990 for Pot Limit and 2000 for Limit). Big O (Omaha with five hole cards) would join as part of mixed games in 2015.

Draw

Ace to Five Draw was the only flop game played in 1971. It seems like a surprising choice now, as many movies set in poker’s past portray Five Card Draw as the game of choice.

Ace to Five Triple Draw, Deuce to Seven Draw, Deuce to Seven Triple Draw, Badugi, Badeucy, and Badacey are the other draw poker games that have been played at the WSOP, the latter three only in mixed tournaments.

Game Limits

The 1971 WSOP had four Limit games and one No Limit game. The first Pot Limit game was Pot Limit Omaha in 1984.

Hold ‘Em is the only game that has been played as Limit, Pot Limit, and No Limit. Omaha is Limit or Pot Limit.4 Ace to Five Draw is Limit or No Limit.

High, Low, or Hi/Lo

The 1971 WSOP had three High-only games and two Low-only games. The first Hi/Lo game, also known as a Split game, was Seven-Card Stud Split in 1976.

Hold ‘Em and Five Card Stud have only been played as High-only games.

Omaha is a High or Hi/Lo game (called Omaha 8 among other names).

Five Card Draw is a High-only game whose Low-only partners are Deuce to Seven Draw and Ace to Five Draw, which differ mainly in what the low hands are.

Seven Card Stud can be a High-only game or a Hi/Lo game (Stud 8); Razz is the Low-only counterpart.

Badugi, Badeucy, and Badacey are Low-only games.”

[FF] “That’s a lot of poker variations!”

[SS] “More than enough to keep you and Leroy happy for a while, I hope.”

Footnotes:

  1. Mike Cox finished second in 1983 and first in 1986. David Angel finished first in 1983 and third in 1986. Some well known pros also cashed in 1986: Jack Keller (2nd), Dewey Tomko (5th), Bobby Baldwin (6th), Stu Ungar (7th), and Billy Baxter (8th).
  2. In roughly chronological order, the Main Event for all of the following are contested in No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em: World Series of Poker, Super Bowl of Poker, Irish Open, U.S. Poker Championship, World Poker Tour, Aussie Millions, and the European Poker Tour.
  3. Razz is basically 7 Card Stud Low. Razz and all of the other poker variants will be explained over the coming weeks.
  4. No Limit Omaha does exist. The 2016 WPT L.A. Poker Classic had a No Limit Omaha 8 or Better tournament.
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