A poker variant is a game of cards that follows the single main rule of Poker: the ranking of hands or a simple variation of it (such as adding additional possible "hands" like three pair, or reversing the order of the hands, for Lowball). Some variants of poker are more "poker-y" than others, but if hands aren't ranked, it ain't poker.
Some players would argue that the only true poker variants are those listed below as the Major Variants, but considering that many cardrooms offer other slightly different forms, and that home games offer even more wildly creative versions, it's probably best to stick to one basic rule.
The Major Variants
There are six major variants of Poker in play today in the casinos of the world:
- Texas Hold 'em has become the most popular variant of poker due to its constant presence on the television.
- Seven-card stud is probably second only to Hold 'em, and was once at the top of the heap.
- Omaha is also available at a wide selection of cardrooms, both brick-and-mortar and online.
- Five-card draw, once considered to be the standard form of poker by the general public, has lost its status with the advent of Hold 'em.
- Razz is most often played as a stage of a HORSE game, but can occasionally be played on its own.
- Lowball, once the game of choice in California, is becoming a rare breed.
Any of these major variants have many sub-variants, and it is possible to argue forever about whether No-limit hold 'em is a separate variant of poker, or merely a different betting structure of the Hold 'em variant (we'll take the latter position for purposes of the wiki). And virtually any form of poker can also be played in a hi-lo split format, where the pot is split between the highest and the lowest hand. Arguments continue about whether those differences also constitute different variants or not.
The Minor Variants
A number of other variants of poker occasionally show up, in either physical casinos or in online casinos. Since commercial enterprises spread these games and (presumably) players play them and pay companies to host them, they are undoubtably variants, but their rarity renders them significantly less important than the Major Variants above:
- Pineapple is similar to Hold 'em, but players are dealt three downcards instead of two, and then discard one prior to the flop.
- Crazy Pineapple is similar to Pineapple, but you discard the extra card after the flop.
- Lazy Pineapple is similar to Pineapple, but you never discard your third card and any number of your three hole cards can be used to make your hand.
- Big O is a variant of Omaha where players are dealt five hole cards instead of four.
- Five-card stud was once very popular but has fallen so far out of vogue these days that I'm not sure any casino has an actual cash game for it, anymore.
- Chinese Poker is a game where you simultaneously make three separate poker hands
- Mexican Poker is poker with the 8's, 9's, and 10's removed from the deck.
- Badougi (also Badugi) is a sort of four-card poker that is apparently sometimes played in mixed games.
The Home Game Variants
A number of other variants of poker seem to crop up regularly in home games but have never (to my knowledge) been played as a regular ring game in a casino, either online or not. Some of these are quite famous and even (as far as home games go) quite popular. But even these are beginning to get edged out in favor of the ubiquitous Texas Hold 'em.
- Anaconda involves players passing each other discarded cards, in a circular fashion.
- Baseball is a form of 7-Stud where 3's and 9's are wild and 4's allow you to buy an extra card (giving you eight or more cards from which to make a hand).
- Chicago was seen in Rounders and is a variant where the highest spade wins half the pot.
- Follow The Queen is a variant where the upcard dealt out after a queen becomes wild.
- Southern Cross is a form of Hold 'em where the community cards are arranged in a cross, and you can only use one direction of the cross in your hand.
The Obscure Variants
What? You thought there couldn't possibly be any other variants? Wow, are you in for a shock.
There are literally hundreds of variants of poker, most of them played only by a small group of people who either invented the form themselves or saw it at a different home game and liked it enough to bring it to their own. These oddball variants only get played in Dealer's Choice games where you have a dealer with a sense of humor, or a sense of adventure.
There is a very entertaining and informative book on the subject called Dealer's Choice, which lists literally hundreds of variants with entertaining names and rules like:
- "Suck" (three-card stud, but if you fold, the next player gets to add your folded cards to his hand)
- "Hamlet" (7-Stud where Jacks are low, Queens are wild, and Kings are dead)
- "Downtown" (7-Stud where your upcards must be dealt in numeric order or your hand is declared dead, but you have the option of skipping an upcard deal if you like)
- "San Francisco" (7-Stud where Queens are wild and straights don't count)
- Play all games? (2+2, 23 August 2005)