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How to Play 5 Card Draw

Get an edge with these quick tips and basic strategies


One of the simplest forms of poker technically, 5 Card Draw is at the same time one of the hardest to master psychologically.

5 Card Draw is often the first form of poker learnt by new players - widely featured in movies, there are no community cards and just two betting rounds, the second coming after players 'draw' new cards from the deck.

One of the oldest forms of poker, 5 Card Draw was the most popular game before the rise of Texas Hold'em in the 20th century. Its early play can be traced back to 19th century gold miners and the American Civil War.

5 Card Draw
Game ComplexitySimple
TypeDraw Poker
Players2-7

Gameplay of 5 Card Draw

  • Setting Up

    Setting Up

    • You'll need: a button, small & big blinds (similar to Texas Hold'em).
    • Deal each player 5 cards, face down.
    • 5 Card Draw can be played with a no limit structure as on the silver screen, however limit and pot limit are more common online.
  • Action

    The Action

    • Action starts to the left of the big blind. You may fold, call or raise.
    • After the 1st betting round, draw 1-5 cards or choose to 'stand pat', not replacing any cards. The player to the left of the button draws first.
    • A second and final round of betting then begins with the player to the left of the button.
  • Who's the Winner?

    Determining a Winner

    • Players remaining after the second betting round go to a showdown.
    • The player now holding the best 5 card hand wins the pot.
    • In the event of a tie, the pot is split.

Basic Strategies of 5 Card Draw

  • Pre-Draw

    Don't open limp into pots, giving a poor hand in the big blind a cheap shot to outdraw you even drawing 4 cards. Raise around 2.5x - 3x the big blind.

    If you're going to be drawing 4 cards, i.e. don't even hold one pair or a draw, simply fold your hand pre-draw.

    Play tight early as being out of position on the drawing round is a disadvantage - opponents see how many cards you discard before they have to act.

  • Drawing

    The standard, statistically sound plays are to draw 3 to a pair (i.e. keep your A-A and replace the other 3 cards), 2 to trips and 1 to a flush / straight draw or 2 pairs.

    Deviate from these occasionally to mix up your range, e.g. you hold A-A-A and draw 1 to represent two pairs or a draw and induce action.

    Stand pat when dealt straights, flushes and full houses pre-draw. You may choose to draw 1 with e.g. K-K-K-2-2 to get action from another 1 card draw heads up.

  • Betting

    Raise aggressively when dealt a pat hand e.g. A-2-3-4-5 before the draw, as once you stand pat players are unlikely to give you further action.

    A half pot size bet is a good sizing to entice opponents to call unprofitably with draws, not getting the correct pot odds to continue.

    Beginners shouldn't bluff - fundamentals like starting hand selection, position and pot odds are more important in this low variance, mathematical game.

What You Need to Know About 5 Card Draw Starting Hands

  •  Good Starting Hands

    Play these hands in all positions (and for a raise):

    • Pat hands, i.e. a straight, flush, full house, or straight flush. Quads also (but draw 1).
    • Trips, and high 2 pairs.
    • K-K-A or better.
    • Open-ended straight flush draws.
  •  Poor Starting Hands

    Never play these hands: 

    • Hands where you have to draw 4 cards.
    • Low pairs.
    • 3 to a flush / straight.
    • Gutshot straight draws.
  •  Marginal Starting Hands

    Play these hands cheaply:

    • Mid pairs e.g 8-8-A-K-Q.
    • Weak 4 flushes.
    • Low open-ended straight draws.
    • Broadway straight draws and A high flush draws.
  •  Positional Hands

    Play in late position when folded to you:

    • Q-Q-A from the hijack.
    • J-J from the cutoff.
    • 9-9 from the button.
    • Steal with blockers like A-J vs tight blinds.

Do's and Don'ts for Better 5 Card Draw Play

  • Don't Get Married to Your Hand

    A-A, two pairs and even trips are vulnerable vs players drawing 1, and it isn't necessary to lead out with a bet post-draw unimproved unless you're up against a loose-passive calling station.

  • Do Pay Attention to the Draw

    Versus a balanced opponent, the number of cards he draws is your only indication of his hand, and you'll have to figure out an optimal range to call bets. Against weaker players you can play more exploitably. Take notes.

  • Do Play Tight

    Entering the pot with the second best draw is a recipe for ending up with the second best hand post-draw. You also open yourself up to very unprofitable situations where you're drawing to one or two outs. Play a tight range to make decisions easier and avoid being outdrawn.

5 Card Draw Poker Videos

  • 5 Card Draw: Decent Starting Hands

    A live presentation by a draw poker expert.  

    This Video Contains:

    1. Examples of non-pat hands that can be played for the right price.
    2. A 4 to 1 benchmark for reasonable pot odds to call pre-draw.
  • How to Gamble in 5 Card Draw

    Tips from a dealer at London's International Club.

    This Video Contains:  

    1. Dealing the cards to four players in a live poker game.
    2. Reading your hand and choosing which cards to discard.

Where Can I Play 5 Card Draw Online?