Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha, Stud, Badugi - what do all these names mean? Are they the same thing? We're going to break down exactly what poker is and why there are so many names for what most people think is the same game.
Poker encompasses a large number of card games that share certain similarities. These games are considered variants that use different rules. Certain variants are highly popular among poker enthusiasts and beginners such as Omaha and five-card draw. They're all played with one standard 52 card deck (unlike blackjack which commonly uses multiple decks) and they all involve wagers made by the players over which hand is best based on an agreed-upon hand ranking list.
In the majority of poker games, the first round of betting starts with one or more players putting in blind bets in the form of an ante or blinds. These bets are forced and are designed to create the action as it gives the players something to fight for. After the first round of betting, all subsequent betting rounds are voluntary and the number of betting rounds will depend on the specific poker variant.
Once a bet has been made, the players who are left to act can decide to surrender their hand, or "fold", they can increase the bet by at least double (a "raise"), or they can match the bet, also known as a "call". Each betting round ends when the last bet has been matched by all remaining participants.
If all remaining players bar one fold in a betting round, the remaining player wins the pot without having to reveal their hand. Once the final betting round has been completed all remaining players turn their hands face up and the best five-card hand combination wins - this is called a "showdown".
As the majority of bets in poker are placed voluntarily, there is the opportunity for strategic play. This can be thinking that betting a hand for value has a positive expected value against the range of hands your opponent will call or bluffing a hand that you know can't win at showdown but can make your opponent fold.
This means that while chance will influence the outcome of one hand, the long-term expectation of players is dependant on the quality of their strategy and how well they can implement the game theory, psychology, tells, and math while they play.
Texas Hold'Em Basics
If you've heard of poker you've likely heard of Texas Hold'em.
Texas Hold'em is currently the most popular poker variant across the world and is the game you'll likely find being played in the card room of your local casino.
As Texas Hold'em is a poker variant or subset, it follows the basic outlines that we've laid out but it has specific rules.
Before players are dealt cards, a small and a big blind are posted by the players to the left of the button. The big blind is the minimum bet that can be made in all subsequent betting rounds. Texas Hold'em can be played as either limit, pot-limit, or no limit. This refers to the size of the bets you can make, with limit having two specific amounts you're allowed to bet, pot-limit where the betting limit is the current size of the pot, and no limit where there are no limits to the amount you can bet at one time.
Once the blinds have been posted each player is dealt two cards face down (hole cards) and the first betting round begins.
Once the first betting round has been completed, three community cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table - this is called the flop. These are cards that all remaining players can use along with their two private cards to make a five-card poker hand. This round of betting starts with the player who is to the direct left of the button and ends once the last bet has been matched or all players have folded.
Next, a fourth card is dealt face-up in the middle of the table, called the turn. Again, the betting round begins with the player to the left of the button and ends when the last bet has been matched or all players have folded. If there are still players remaining the fifth and final card is dealt face up in the middle of the table, called the river. There is a final round of betting, and if multiple players remain after this round is completed then the best five-card hand is made up of any combination of the board (the flop, turn, and river) and the player's two hole cards, wins the pot.
While Texas Hold'em may share some rules with other poker variants (the number of betting rounds, the flop, turn, and river, betting limits, etc.), it's this exact combination of rules that make this game Texas Hold'em.
Similar in its name is Ultimate Texas Holdem. This is, however, a video poker game with a gameplay trying to closely mimick the one of regular Texas Hold'em. Video poker, one could argue, is a type of poker although it is more of an RNG game.
Similar Poker Variants
Whilst Texas Hold'em is the most popular poker variant currently played, there are a wide variety of games that are popular in their own right and played by lots of people.
Pot-Limit Omaha is one of the games most similar to Texas Hold'em, but with a few key differences. One of them is in the name, Omaha is almost always played as a pot-limit game whereas Texas Hold'em is almost always played as no limit - though you can find each variation of both games.
The next difference is in the number of cards dealt to the player. In Omaha, you're dealt four cards compared to two in Texas Hold'em. However, when making a five-card poker hand, you're obligated to only using two cards from the four you're dealt and three from the board, whereas in Hold'em you can use as many cards from the board as you wish.
There are other variants of Omaha called "Hi-Lo" or "Eight or Better". These are split-pot games where at showdown half the pot is awarded to the best hand and the other half is awarded to the worst hand. It can be the case that two different players have different halves of the pot, or the same player may win both halves. You are still obligated to use two cards from your hand and three from the board but you are allowed to choose different cards for the high and low halves of the pot.
Five-Card Draw is mechanically a very different game to Texas Hold'em and Omaha. In this game, each player is dealt five cards face down, and after each round of betting the players choose a number of cards to discard from their hand to be replaced with new ones from the deck.
There are commonly three rounds of betting and discarding, followed by a final round of betting after all players have completed their final discard round. If more than one player remains after the last round of betting, the players showdown, and whoever has the best five-card poker hand wins.
Unlike Hold'em and Omaha, there are no shared cards in this game so information on the kinds of hands your opponent can have is very limited. For example, in Hold'em if the board readsthen you know your opponent cannot have a straight or a flush. However, in five-card draw, your opponent's hand is completely concealed so the only way to deduce the strength of their hand is to use the information in your hand and the betting actions of your opponents.
Poker vs Texas Holdem: Questions
We've collected and answered the most common questions surrounding poker and its variants:
What is poker?
Poker is an all-encompassing term for a variety of card games that involve wagering between the players on whose hand is best based on an agreed-upon hand ranking list. The wagering can include bluffing to make your opponent surrender a hand that is better than yours, allowing you to win.
How is Texas Hold'em different from poker?
Texas Hold'em is a variant of poker and therefore isn't inherently different from poker. However, it has a specific set of rules that set it apart from other poker games; such as the number of cards dealt to each player, the number of betting rounds, and the betting limits.
Can the number of betting rounds influence a game's outcome?
It can in two different ways. Additional betting rounds are usually accompanied by additional cards being dealt and the more cards that are dealt the more chance can affect a hand. Also, additional betting rounds give more opportunities for skilled players to exert their edge over weaker opponents, meaning they're more likely to win.
How is Omaha different from Texas Hold'em?
In Omaha, there is an increase in the number of cards dealt to the player from two to four. There is a strict rule on how a player chooses cards to make a five-card poker hand at showdown as they must choose two from their hand and two from the board. Omaha is mostly played as a pot-limit game whereas Hold'em is primarily no limit.
Which poker game is worth playing?
This all depends on your personal preference, you should always play what you find the most fun. Games like Omaha and Hold'em require a more strategical approach if you want to play well, whereas games like five-card draw are more about reading your opponent and psychology.
We've only scratched the surface on poker and all its variants, while Texas Hold'em is the most popular, there are a plethora of other fun variants you can try.
This article was published on August 30, 2021, and last updated on July 14, 2022.