5-card draw strategy

5-card draw poker

Five card draw poker is one of the oldest and best-known poker disciplines. Professionals players consider this format more complicated than 7-card poker, largely because the rules of 5 card game are very different from Hold'em.

This format is easy to learn, however mastering the strategy and tactics is not so simple.

General introduction to 5 card draw strategy

As in any other types of poker, position is of great importance in 5 card draw format. If you play on UTG position, it is recommended to apply a tight strategy and scrupulously choose decent starting hands. Since the participant on UTG should act first, he will have to fold his hands more often. As for participant on the button, he acts the last and may raise more often and play aggressively.

The main tactic of winning play is to raise in the first betting round, then refusal from cards’ exchange and raise in the second betting round. For those fortunate enough to obtain good hole cards, this method is considered a win-win.

If starting holding doesn’t please with promising cards, it is better to fold. However, much depends on the level of limits and position.

In all games with exchange, draw attention to the rivals' reaction after receiving the hole cards and exchange. If you play online, then the time taken by your rival to make a decision and the nature of bets will be the main indicators. Many participants of five card draw poker try to hit a set, but if the rival prefers to exchange one card, it is likely that he intends to make a flush/ straight/ full house.  

Poker strategy

Draw poker strategy

If you've already got acquainted with draw poker rules, you know that the common cards are absent. In this regard, the process for making reads on your rivals' holdings is much more difficult. Here are the six important components that form the basis of five card draw strategy:

  • Prudent approach to selection of starting holding. Consider the initial range of a card, including position.
  • Proper card selection for exchange. Consider your outs and possibility to hit and improve your hand.
  • Strategy effectiveness on the streets. Force your competitors to fold their holdings.
  • Analyze the power of your rivals’ cards, by considering the total number of pocket cards that were not exchanged (if the rival exchanges 1 card, it is likely that he tries to hit a straight, flash or full-house).
  • Make assumptions concerning the rival’s hands based on their action. Monitor their size of bets, raises and so on.
  • Making assumptions concerning the range of your rivals’ cards using psychology. Analyze their gestures, facial expressions and speech (when playing offline).

The listed above key nuances state that the player should be observant and attentive in order to understand his competitors’ moves with strong and weak holdings. You should also remember about mathematical expectation.

Now, let's look at the strategy before exchange, in the process of exchange and after it.

5 card draw strategy

5 card draw strategy before exchange

In early position, start to act with a pair of aces and better. Don’t apply limp. Make a raise in order to win the bank as early as possible.

In the middle position, include the kings in your range (on cut-off – queens and jacks). On the button, you can play with nines and higher. If your position is SB, then limp with AQ-66 and raise with 77+. When playing on BB, raise against limpers with a pair of kings and higher. However, if only SB enters the game, make a semi-bluff raise with a wide range of hands.

If you face a raise and there are two or more participants in game, you can call with a pair of tens or better, as well as good draws (open ended straight draw, flush draw). If you fight in a heads-up against raiser, then draw combinations are no longer relevant. In hand against loose raiser (especially if he raises from late position), you can re-raise with a pair of aces or better.

If you fight against tight rival, act with a pair of aces and 2 pairs. When having stronger combinations, make a re-raise.

If there are limpers before your turn to act, then your strategy won’t change significantly. Much depends on information about competitors, but in general, you should exclude the bottom pair from the opening range (especially if there are two limpers). It may be possible to limp with the next strongest pair, but in general, when having KK and higher, you need to raise. At the same time, we don’t allow SB to "barge" into game on the cheap, and also reduce probability that blinds will intend to hit a small set or improve holding with a “naked” ace that can destroy your kings. Also, you force limpers to invest money, who either don’t have very good holdings or they are not very familiar with a draw poker strategy.

Slow play is rarely recommended for the discipline we discuss. One of the mistakes of many newbies is their preference to slow play with a straight draw or flush draw in the hope of hitting combination. This is a simple math: we catch 8 or 9 outs out of 47 ones, that is, the 5 card draw odds of improving are about 1 to 5 (1 to 4 for a flush draw). Therefore, in order your call/ limp with draw to be profitable, there must be 3 or 4 competitors, which doesn't happen very often. As a result, in practice, you should only play with draw on SB if there are limpers, or respond to a raise on BB.

Exchange strategy

The strategy of exchange is usually quite simple, namely make exchange according to your holdings. Don’t use cunning, if you possess a pair – change 3 cards.

Participants often try to disguise a pair and demonstrate it as a set, by changing two cards. However, this is not very effective. The owners of set often change one card and want to show 2 pairs. This move is more logical and it can be used in 70% of cases.

Strategy for 5 card draw poker

The probability of improving to a full house is practically the same when exchanging one or two cards. The probability of improving to four of a kind when exchanging one card is half. However, the disguising of set will often help you win a bet from the opponent who has received two pairs.

As for the pair, the state of affairs is different: the exchange of three cards will increase your chances of improvement. Since the owners of set more often exchange only one card, you won’t be able to often deceive your opponents.

In some cases, you are able to try not to change cards. Aside from the obvious 5-card ready-made hands, this move can be applied as a semi-bluff with two pair, as well as a full bluff. In this case, you should raise before exchange and bet/ raise after that.

If you were lucky enough to get a free exchange from BB, then you don’t need to change two cards with a pair. Change three cards! If you have an ace or king, keep it and change the other four cards.

Betting after exchange

During betting process, your actions will largely depend on the rivals and their actions before exchange. Try to estimate your opponent’s card. This is not difficult:

  • limp and exchange of three/ two cards means the presence of middle pair;
  • limp and exchange of one card means the presence of small two pairs, straight or flush draw;
  • raise and exchange of three cards means the presence of top pair;
  • raise and exchange of two cards means a pair or set (here it would be better to have additional notes on the opponent);
  • raise and exchange of one card means two pairs, set or draw;
  • raise and absence of exchange means the presence of straight or bluff.

If the bank has not been raised and you fight against one competitor, you can select a bet variant with any two pairs. If there is no raise and several opponents are in the game, then you should bet with two pairs with high tens and higher. If you face bet and call, then you need to possess two pairs with high jacks or better.

If you want to make a bet against one opponent in a raised pot, you need to have minimum two pairs with jacks. If there are several opponents, you should possess kings.

5 card draw poker


Four participants are engaged in hand: “A”, “B”, “C”, “D”. All of them pay $1 ante. Dealer "A" deals 5 cards.

Let's consider the play of "D", who received Q♦ 9♦ 8♦ 5♦ and 2♥ (he should exchange 2♥ for a diamond).

“B” starts to act and bets $5. "C" folds, "D" makes a call, "A" also calls. “B” exchanges 3 cards. Dealer deals 3 cards to "B". "D" gives one card and receives three of diamond. Now, it is the turn of "A" to act, who exchanges 3 cards.

The second betting round starts. "B" checks, "D" checks, "A" bets $10 and "B" folds. “D” raises and bets $16, “A” calls and finishes the betting round.

At showdown, "D" shows a flush and player "A" has 2 pairs. As a result, "D" won the pot.

Final thoughts

Five card draw poker is an old discipline. To this day, the simplicity of rules and game attractiveness don’t leave poker community indifferent. However, simple rules are not a sign of strategy simplicity. Those who want to learn to play 5 card draw poker and win for the most part, they will have to work hard.

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Sunrise Editor
Cardmates journalist, news editor and translator since 2016. Specialization: poker news and review of events.
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