An overview of the different online poker games

For someone starting out in online poker the number of games offered by a large online poker room such as PokerStars can be overwhelming. Apart from the difference in stakes (including 'play money' or free poker games) these online poker games vary in the actual poker variant that is played, in their betting limits and in their format (i.e. tournament or cash game). Also the maximum number of players at a table can be different, resulting in either heads-up, full ring or shorthanded games. The differences between full ring and shorthanded poker games are discussed in a separate article. In this article we will take a closer look at poker variants and the different betting limits and formats available in today's online poker games.

Different poker variants

The following is a list of the different variants of poker games offered in approximate order of availability and/or popularity. To find out which online poker rooms offer the poker variants of your choice, visit the page where you can compare online poker rooms.

Texas Hold'em - Without a doubt the most popular and most available form of poker at this moment is Texas hold'em. In this poker game, each player gets dealt two cards face down (the hole cards). There are five community cards dealt on the table (board) which every player at the table can use. In Texas hold'em there are four betting rounds. At showdown the player with the highest five card hand wins.

Omaha (high) - Another very popular poker game that is second to Texas hold'em when it comes to availability online is Omaha. The rules of Omaha are very similar to Texas hold'em, except that with this game each player gets dealt four hole cards instead of two. The players have to use exactly two of their hole cards and three of the five community cards to make their hand. The most common betting structure for this poker game is pot limit (PLO, pot limit Omaha). Omaha is a high variance game with a lot of action. Players often hold very strong draws or the nuts and therefore even the second best hand possible (second nuts) is often a hand to be very careful with.

Omaha high/low - In high/low split games also the lowest hand will be rewarded with half the pot. When determining the lowest hand straights and flushes are ignored and therefore A-2-3-4-5 is the best possible low. To count as a low hand it cannot contain a card higher than an eight ('eight-or-better'). Each player must play exactly two of their hole cards for the high and the low (if possible). The two hole cards used for the low hand do not have to be the same hole cards used for the high. If there are no qualifying low hands then the whole pot goes to the best high hand. In this poker game pots often get split. If there is one high hand and two low hands of equal value then the high hand wins half the pot, while both low hands only win a quarter of the pot. The trick is to win both the high and the low to scoop it all. Therefore it is important that your starting hand contains at least an ace, the card which can count both as the highest and the lowest card.

Seven card stud (high) - Seven card stud is a poker game with five betting rounds. The first betting round takes place after each player has been dealt two cards face down and one card face up. Then there are three more rounds in which the players who are still in the hand receive one card face up and a final betting round after dealing one card face down. When it comes to a showdown the highest poker hand wins.

Seven card stud high/low - This is the high/low split variant of seven card stud. Just as in Omaha high/low the lowest hand wins half the pot. Straights and flushes are ignored when determining the lowest hand and a low cannot contain any card higher than an eight. When there is no qualifying low hand the whole pot goes to the highest hand.

Razz - Razz is another name for seven card stud low. This poker game plays like seven card stud high/low, except that there are no high hands. In Razz there is no qualifier for the low hand: a low hand can contain cards higher than an eight.

Five card stud - In five card stud there are four betting rounds; one after each player has been dealt one card face down and one card face up and then three more rounds after dealing one card face up to each remaining player. At showdown the highest poker hand wins.

Five card draw - Five card draw is a poker game in which each player is dealt a complete hand of five cards face down. After a round of betting the remaining players can try to improve their hand by discarding any amount of their five cards and replacing them with the same amount of cards from the deck. Then a last round of betting takes place after which the player with the highest ranking hand at showdown wins the pot. This variant is very rare in tournament format.

2-7 triple draw - Just like five card draw this poker game starts with the dealing of five cards to each player. Now there are three rounds of drawing (hence triple draw) and therefore a total of four betting rounds. The lowest hand wins at showdown. In determining the lowest hand, the ace is only a high card and straights and flushes are not ignored. The lowest hand possible is 2-3-4-5-7, followed by 2-3-4-6-7. PokerStars also offers this game with a single drawing round.

Badugi - Badugi is a new poker variant which is offered by PokerStars. This poker game can be described as a four card triple draw lowball game. Each player is dealt four cards and after the first betting round there are three more rounds of drawing and betting. The best hand is a 'badugi' of A-2-3-4, that is, the lowest four cards of a different suit. If two, three or all four cards are of the same rank or suit, then you have a 3-card, 2-card or 1-card hand respectively. A 1-card hand is the worst hand you can have in badugi. Some badugi hand rankings: [A 2 3♣ 4♠] > [A 2 3♣ 5♠] > [A A 2♣ 3♠] > [A A 2♣ 4♠] > [A A 2♣ 4] > [2 2 2♣ 2♠] > [7 7 7♣ 7♠].

Mixed games - HORSE, RASH, SHOE, HA and HO are all a combination of the games above. In these poker games every poker variant is usually played a certain amount of hands before rotating to the next variant. In addition there are also poker games in which different betting structures of the same poker variant are used (limit and no-limit Texas hold'em in 'Mixed hold'em' for example). H = hold'em, A = Omaha, O = Omaha high/low, R = razz, S = seven card stud, E = seven card stud high/low (eight or better).

Different poker betting limits

(Fixed) limit - In fixed limit games the amount a player can bet is predetermined. In later betting rounds the amount to bet usually doubles and this amount is called a 'big bet'. In a (fixed) limit hold'em game of $.50/$1 the big bet is $1 and the small bet is 50 cents. The small bet is equal to the big blind and therefore the small blind is 25 cents. Pre-flop and on the flop the small bet is used. On the turn and the river the betting amount is equal to the big bet. Usually a single player can bet and raise up to an amount of four bets (small or big depending on the betting round) before the betting is 'capped'.

Pot limit - In a pot limit game a player can never raise more than the total pot size. The total pot size is the sum of money from previous betting rounds, the bets in the current round and the call of those bets from the player raising.

No limit - A player can bet any amount up to his entire stack size. Usually there is a minimum bet size equal to the big blind and a minimum raise size of the previous bet or raise. No limit games do not differ much from pot limit games as overbetting the pot in no limit games is quite uncommon.

Capped games - These games are either no limit or pot limit games with a maximum betting amount per hand lower than the maximum buy-in.

Different poker formats

Cash games - These are the poker games in which the chips represent real money. In cash games you can sit down and leave whenever you want allowing great flexibility. Often there is a minimum and maximum buy-in amount determined by the online poker room. Players can reload their stack in between hands up to this maximum (usually 100, sometimes 200 big blinds for no limit and pot limit games) if they wish to. Buying in for the full amount allows you to maximize your winnings with your strong hands.

Tournaments - In poker tournaments the total value of the chips is not equal to the amount of money at stake. Tournaments are characterized by rising blind levels. A tournament with long levels and small jumps between the consecutive blind levels is said to have a 'slow structure', which allows the better players play more hands and therefore utilize their skill advantage more than in faster structured tournaments (such as turbo tournaments). Once you loose all your chips in a tournament you can't reload like in cash games and you are out of the tournament (with the exception of the first hour of 'rebuy and add-on' or R&A tournaments).

Within the tournament format one can distinguish 'Sit and Go's' (SNG's) and scheduled poker tournaments. Sit and Go's have a predetermined amount of entrants and start as soon as this number of entrants is reached. Mostly these are single-table tournaments. Some of the bigger poker sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker also offer multi-table SNG's with up to 180 or even more players. They still fill up at a decent rate because of the amount of people playing at these online poker rooms. Scheduled tournaments start at a predetermined time and are mostly multi-table tournaments (MTT's). Tournaments with over 1000 entrants are not uncommon.

Further reading at First Time Poker Player:

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