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5 Card Draw (1) - Introduction


In this article
  • How to play 5 Card Draw
  • Why you should play 5 Card Draw
  • Where you can find 5 Card Draw online
  • How much you can expect to win and BRM

The game of 5 Card Draw (5CD) is one of the oldest and most commonly known games in poker. Perhaps not the ”Cadillac”, but more the ”T-Ford” of card games, originates from the American Civil War. It was the most popular card game until Stud Poker came along in the early 20thCentury.

You will rarely find 5 Card Draw in the bricks & mortar environment today, maybe as it is a game with just two rounds of betting. However, it is still a popular home game and you will definitely find it on most online sites and networks.

One reason the game is less popular than some of the other, bigger games, is that there are only two betting rounds, as well as the fact that if you are a favourite in a hand, the underdog won’t get lucky particularly often. A favourite hand will hold more often than in games with more dynamic odds and if you play 5 Card Draw poorly, you will lose more frequently to the stronger player. Maybe this is one reason the gaming industry and the media never really wanted to promote 5 Card Draw to a broader extent.

Nonetheless, many players prefer shorter games with fewer betting rounds, as they do not have to wait as long between hands. The people we see today playing 5 Card Draw have known the game since they were kids and they just want to sit down and have some fun in a game that is close to their hearts.

Many of these people are very sporadic poker players who enjoy playing casino online just as much. They have very little knowledge of the game but they keep coming back, as 5 Card Draw is their favourite game of choice. If you are a player with good strategical knowledge of 5 Card Draw you will naturally beat most of the opposition at the lower limits and if you practice further, you will find great value on higher limits, provided you select your tables carefully.

Goal of the article

If you are a beginner or intermediate player in 5 Card Draw, you should be able to get a lot out of this text and if you really take it seriously and practice, you should become a consistent winning player.

I have written this article in order to motivate you to play 5 Card Draw and to convince you that there is a lot of value to be found in a very amusing game. Due to its nature (with two betting rounds and the statistical fact that if you have the best hand in a heads up situation you will be a 75% (or higher) favorite most of the times) the variance is therefore lower than in many other games of poker. The game is therefore ideal for bankroll building.


The scope of this article is limited, as it is an introduction for beginner players and for those who already know the game but want to take it a step further and become more profitable. As this is an introductory article, I may leave deeper concepts for further discussion in other upcoming articles.

For instance, we will not go into detail for short-handed and heads-up play. I will try not to be too mathematical. My approach will be more intuitive, although there will be some statistical facts every now and then. The betting format I will use to illustrate concepts and hands will be fixed limit. This is probably the most commonly played format online, although there are a lot of PL and NL games to be found on various networks and sites. These formats are also subject for upcoming articles.

Rules of play

Normally in the online environment, 5 Card Draw is played in either 5- or 6-handed format. The regular form of 5 Card Draw online is played with a small and a big blind. Usually the small blind (SB) is the half size of the big blind (BB). There are some sites which offer 5 Card Draw with antes. There are two rounds of betting:

1st betting round: predraw

Each player gets dealt 5 cards face down and then a round of betting starts. In a fixed limit (FL) game with blinds $2/$4, the SB and BB are $1 and $2 respectively.

Predraw a player may open with a bet of $4 ($2+$2) and then another player may raise to $6 and a third player can make it $8. The pot is then considered capped (just like in fixed limit Hold’em).

The order of betting is the same as in Texas Hold’em – UTG starts and BB is last to act. After the betting has finished it's time for the ”draw” when you exchange the number of cards that could improve your hand.

The Draw

You may discard all 5 cards if you wish –the equal amount of cards will be replaced. For instatnce, if youhave a pair you may opt to discard 3 and try to improve to trips or if you already have a complete hand then you can choose to ”stand pat” (you do not fold any card).

The SB is always first to draw and the player on the button draws last. Position in the game of 5 Card Draw, means both being able to see how many cards the other player(s) draws and later on how the betting proceeds before it is your turn to act. It is naturally an advantage in a game with no common or open cards shared.

2nd betting round: postdraw

When the draw is completed the”postdraw” action begins. The player in SB acts first by betting (or checking). If the player first to act opts to bet then he will bet $4 dollars (a Big Bet) given a $2-$4 FL format. The next player can raise to $8, a third player can make it $12 and a fourth player $16, then the pot is capped.

In the event of a showdown, the player with the five best cards wins according to the same hand ranking as Texas Hold’em or Omaha.

Why should you play 5 Card Draw?

There are many reasons why you should play 5 Card Draw. First of all, 5 Card Draw is a short and simple game as far as rules and action are concerned. Secondly, you will still find many new or novice players that have very little knowledge of strategies.

The truth is that there is not much written about 5 Card Draw concepts and strategies. You will find short articles online and there are not many books out there for beginners or readers seeking more advanced material. Even though 5 Card Draw might appear simple, there are decisions and strategies that clearly determine if you will become a winning player or not.

Who is the fish?

The novice players or the more ”fishy players” if you will, sometimes come from Hold’em background. These players often wish to find a complement to either their cash game or they’re looking to find a new, fun side-game to their tournaments. There are also those people who grew up with 5 Card Draw but never really learnt how to play it in terms of strategy.

Furthermore, you will find people from Casino, Sports Betting and other recreational games. They prefer to play a game with a faster action pace and less waiting between hands. In this aspect, 5 Card Draw is the ideal game of choice.

The game is relatively small in the world of poker and also there are many grinders out there, who discovered the game long time ago, but usually when you sit down at a table from 3$/$6 (FL), you will find ”fish” or weak players. That being said, in order to spot and beat these weaker players, you have to acquire the proper concepts and strategies of 5 Card Draw. With the help of this article, along with some real money experience, you will have a very good chance of beating the game.

Although the player base is smaller in comparison to Hold’em or Omaha there are certainly enough players out there to make a solid extra income. There are those who play professionally and make a very good living off 5 Card Draw (depending on the definition of being a ”pro”, there are those who make >$100K per year, but not many). What still amazes me is that there are still so many ”regulars” at the tables that never seem to learn the game properly. They never seem to disappear, probably because they just love the game!

A game of low variance

Without going into deeper mathematical and statistical concepts it has to be said that 5 Card Draw has a lower variance than most other poker games. In the context of poker variance means ”a measure of uncertainty”. For instance, if a game has high variance, it has a lot of uncertainty meaning that the result can turn out extremely well or extremely poorly. However, in the case of low variance, the outcome of the game will be more certain and there will be fewer less swings or fluctuations in the results.

There are two reasons to why 5CD is a game of low variance:

  • There are only two betting rounds.
  • If you have a superior hand, for instance a higher pair to your opponents lower, you will always be an almost 75% favourite before the draw.

Given the game has a nature of considerably low variance with many weak players playing it for various reasons, the game is ideal for players who want to build a bankroll at a normal (perhaps slower), more steady pace with fewer swings.

Easier concepts and strategies

As in Hold’em, there are many concepts for mathematical statistics and game theory that can illustrate how 5 Card Draw should be played. I would like to start by pointing out that if you are playing to become a solid winner, 5 Card Draw should be played in a very simply and straight forward fashion – both when it comes to drawing cards and betting.

You always enter a pot with a bet/raise. If, for example, you are dealt a pair of aces, go ahead and open bet and, if you get called, you discard three cards. You observe how many cards your opponent folds and then make a decision as to whether to bet, raise, check or fold, depending on your position and the strength of your hand after the draw.

Well, this all seems very easy, but there are more strategies and concepts involved that you should know well before you start playing seriously. As pointed out before, there are fewer betting rounds in comparison to Hold’em and the statistical odds in hands is more ”static” than in a more dynamic game like Hold'em.

For instance, imagine how Hold’em would be if you only played pre and postflop and then there was a showdown. Not many card games can be illustrated close to ”accurately” with various mathematical and statistical concepts, but there is no doubt that 5 Card Draw can be described and illustrated more simply than Texas Hold’em, for instance.

In this article, I will show the most fundamental strategies which should be enough, along with real money practice, to beat the average player.

In conclusion - the reasons why you should play 5 Card Draw:

  • It is a simple game: easy to learn and the action is fast.
  • Due to the fact that 5 Card Draw only has two betting rounds and that many people are familiar with the game from the early days (and never really learnt the game) it attracts more recreational and hobby players. You will also find Hold’em players with less theoretical knowledge about the game and overall the value at the tables is very sound, despite the relatively small player base. In addition, there are regulars that never seem to learn the “proper” way of playing 5 Card Draw.
  • The game is low variance which is a perk for building a bankroll.
  • There are easier and less complicated strategies and concepts.
  • The game is fun!

Where to find 5 Card Draw online

The game of 5 Card Draw was introduced online through a site called Paradise Poker and it was initially in the played in fixed limit format (no antes). The year was 2001 and it was the beginning of the so called poker boom.

The following year the game emerged on the Ongame Network (today owned by Bwin) and a year later on the Entraction Network (former B2B). Later on, networks like IPN and Merge began to offer the game and, in 2007, PokerStars introduced 5 Card Draw along with other games of draw.

Naturally, you will find most games at PokerStars but if you play at Ongame, Boss or Entraction, you will find games of great value if you take a closer look. Even though the traffic may be lower on these ,networks you will probably face more players coming directly from Casino or Sports Betting backgrounds, as the skins on these networks consist of many Casino and Sports Betting sites.

I recommend that you are prepared to play 5 Card Draw anywhere online but I would like to stress that if you intend to pick up the game seriously and look for a steady profit, it is necessary to be very selective when choosing the right tables with the best value (table selection). If you acquire a good, solid knowledge of how to play 5 Card Draw, you should have accounts prepared on every network or site that offers the game, in order to maximise profit.

The future of 5 Card Draw

Bear in mind that the player base in 5 Card Draw is smaller than in games like Hold’em and Omaha. During the naissance of online poker, the game never got much attention, although it was a very easy game to learn. Media always gave and will probably continue to give more attention to the game of Texas Hold’em.

The future of the game of 5 Card Draw depends on the overall activity of poker and naturally the game of Hold’em (the game most promoted on TV, news media and on the internet). Let's just put it this way: I believe that the game of poker will remain online and very popular for many years to come. I think poker, in the same way as Sports Betting or Casino online, has come to stay. Given that vision, I am also confident that 5 Card Draw will be available with good player traffic for a very long time to come.

Win rates and bankroll

How much can you expect to win?

What I have mentioned earlier is that if you follow the concepts and strategies from previous chapters and you practice you will be able to make a very good extra income in a game with comparatively low variance. 

Without going into deeper statistical methods I would like to explain how much you can expect to win if you turn out a good winning player.
It depends on a lot of things

The winrate depends on many things. There are many tables I do not bother studying extra since I already know the players or have notes on them – so if it is a table with tight/aggressive players I will just stand in line for the next one. When I play limits from $2/$4 and down I find a lot of value. I sit down there because I know the players are often making mistakes. They are limping a lot, slowplaying two pair and trips frequently and rarely putting me to difficult situations.

On limits above there will usually be less mistakes and there is not very much for ”free”. So when playing higher I am extremly selective as far as my opponents. It all affects my winrate. My recommendation is you look for opponents making frequent mistakes and then you go ahead and play the ”proper” 5CD and you will be enjoying a good winrate.

Naturally how well you play (or how close to ”correct”) 5CD draw is a factor when determining your win rate. Have in mind though, since there are many bad players out there, you do not need to be the ”Superstar 5CD-player”. You can easily have a win rate over 2-3 BB (Big Bets)/100 (hands played) if you find the right spots with the right (poor) opposition. That is definitely not bad.

If the table format is less than 5-6 players, the game is considered short-handed. If you do well short-handed, which is slightly more difficult since it allows for a little more ”creativity” (as far as hand selection and betting are concerned), your winrate will be considerably higher.

I will limit this section of the article and say that when I use winrates I apply the measure BB/100 and it feels safe to say that you may estimate your own winrate after 4000-5000 hands of play. The reason for that is that the game of 5 Card has merely two betting rounds. The win rate BB/100 should therefore intuitively be lower. The truth is, if I look at my experience and results (I am not going to brag now), that I have achieved amazing win rates with well over 7BB/100 hands for limits from 3$/$6 and down. It sounds amazing doesn't it? Well, it could be a further proof that it is true that the game is poorly played.

I am mostly playing full ring games but sometimes when tables break up, if the value still is left , I remain HU or 3 or 4-handed. If you become a real good short handed player – naturally you can enjoy even higher winrates but remember that swings will be higher as well. I will leave the subject of how to estimate a more exact winrate for 5CD for further discussions in upcoming articles.

Recommended bankroll for FL 5CD

I will say something short on recommended bankroll for FL 5 CD. I will not apply further statistical concepts as far as ”risk of ruin” (RoR) and standard deviation when recommending the proper bankroll for FL 5CD. My general recommendation, since the betting rounds are only two and given that it is fair to say that opposition on lower limits (from $3/$6 and down) is still weak. The recommendation I will give is 200 times the Big Bet (200 x BB). So, if you opt to play $1/$2 FL you should have a bankroll of $400 before you sit down (the Big Bet is $2).


In my experience, as far as the lower limits, I have never had downswings for more than 40-50 BBs. When that happened I had been playing tired and at the same time faced very cold cards. Even though 200 BBs might seem conservative for me I think it is a good direction for a beginning player. If you feel confident and you would like to take a shot at a higher limit then in fact you could play with a bankroll as low as 100 x BB. But as a general advice for beginners: you should be conservative and play with 200 x BB to feel safe.


I hope you will enjoy reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it and I hope it will be helpful when getting started with 5 Card Draw. Finally, I hope that it will help to improve your game and that you come out winning at the tables. I wish you the best of luck!


Comments (7)

#1 purple16, 11 Aug 11 19:12

Very nice. Can't wait for the next articles.

#2 Dendra, 11 Aug 11 20:39

looks interesting, cant wait for more

#3 weedo25, 11 Aug 11 22:13

<3 5 card draw and 2-7

#4 TheKudy, 12 Aug 11 08:55

Thx for the article, looking forward to next one :)

#5 EvGalois, 12 Aug 11 09:33

Thank you I hope it was a good opener. If you are playing or started to play 5CD feel free to post hands or questions in the forum under: http://www.pokerstrategy.com/forum/board.php?boardid=1475.
It is time we get some more discussions and talk going as far as this game.

#6 AKM247, 12 Aug 11 14:47

Interesting read - look forward to the next articles :)

#7 brckobrckovic, 01 Mar 16 09:30

verry nice I love to read this stuff