No Limit Five Card Draw High Rules and Basic Strategy

Rules of the Game

No Limit Five Card Draw High (NL5CD) is as American as apple pie.  Until the poker boom back in 2003 many people thought Five Card Draw and poker were one and the same.  “What is Hold’em?  That’s also poker?” were the questions that many asked as they watched Moneymaker take down the WSOP Main Event.  NL5CD was always the game of choice On TV and movies where people were getting shot for cheating, losing farms, winning tickets to the Titanic, and lots of other good stuff.

Nowadays the game is almost non-existent.  Several years ago limit games were quite popular online but seemingly dried up after Black Friday in 2011.

The only appearance NL5CD typically makes these days are in some tournaments at the WSOP; the Dealer’s Choice and Big Bet Mix events.  And it might also show up in the nosebleed big bet cash games that run during the WSOP.

Rules have evolved over the years; the game used to be ante only with a joker added to the deck.  At the WSOP the game is played without a joker and with blinds accompanied with a somewhat large ante.  However, the game is still played with a single draw.

Basic Strategy

Starting hand selection is very important in NL5CD because with just one draw an inferior hand is quite an underdog to overtake a better hand.  For example two small pair is roughly a 75% favorite over a pair of aces.  Aces need to improve to at least two pair or better and may even lose to a full house when it does.

Since running into a better hand can be very costly you must play reasonably tight from early position.  Any two pair from the UTG spot has around an 85% chance of being the best hand at the table thus it is an open from any position.  Aces from UTG have around a 67% chance of being the best hand while KK is approximately 56%.  Thus AA is a clear open while KK is borderline and perhaps requires an ace blocker.  Below is a reasonable opening chart and along with the corresponding approximate percentages that your hand is best amongst the remaining players:

UTG:  KK(56%) or AA(67%)+

Hi-Jack:  KK(63%)+

Cut-Off:  QQ(63%)+

Button:  99(58%)+

Small Blind:  99(76%)+; (Same as button due to being out of position).

In addition, one card flush or straight draws can also be played.  From what position depends on the quality of the draw and the overall aggression level of the table.  Flush draws are stronger since you have one more out than straight draws to complete them and they beat straights.  High cards also add value to your hand because you can miss your draw but make a high pair that can possibly win the pot.  The aggression level of the table matters significantly with these hands because you really want the opportunity to take the draw and realize your equity.

In a mixed game format every table is a complete wild card in regards to how the NL5CD level is played.  As one may suspect, aggressive players may be encouraged with the high ante structure to make plays and put a lot of pressure on marginal holdings.  But other tables may be filled with players just playing the NL5CD round in a straight-forward manner.  Of course you should also be aware of the opportunity to pick up chips by playing aggressively before the draw but it may be required to size the raises slightly larger than you would in No Limit Hold’em to get the folds that you desire.

Whenever you hold trips it is almost advantageous to draw just a single card in order to muddle your range to also include two pair and draws.  This more ably allows you to value bet your trips on the end and collect value after the draw.  With only two betting rounds it is very important to maximize your chances to get value from both of them.  In contrast, if you raise small trips from UTG and draw two cards a competent player would only put more money in the pot when you are beaten.

After the draw it is incredibly important to size your bets appropriately to increase the odds of accomplishing what you want.  For example, when you hold two pair you don’t want to size it so large that only trips can call, however, when you hold a busted draw a larger sizing may be required.  An easy balance to sizing your busted draws larger is to also bet big with straights and flushes.  With only two rounds of betting you should typically go for larger value with your best hands anyway.

Further Learning

There are none either online or written that we know of so be on the lookout for more material in future on