I’ve just gotten back from a week at the tail end of the World Series of Poker (WSOP), and had a chance to meet up with my friend and podcast co-host Andrew Barber. When not in tournaments, he’s been spending his time in Vegas playing 20/40 Limit mixed games, and told me about a fun new variant some of the players down there have come up with, called Drawmaha. As you can guess from the name, it’s a mash-up of draw poker and Omaha, though when Andrew first said it, I understood “Drama-ha,” which seems like it would be an equally apt description.
Correction: Apparently the game is not a new invention this year and was played in some of the cash games at last year’s series and has been a favourite of Greg Raymer for years. It was, however, new to Andrew, and the first I’ve heard of it.
Many cash game pros prefer mixed games to Hold’em because it’s possible to hold larger edges; with the extent to which Hold’em has been studied, it’s rare to find anyone making egregious errors at the mid-to-high stakes, whereas when it comes to games with which no one has very much experience, those with good instincts and a strong grasp of poker fundamentals will play vastly better than those who are just muddling through or learning strategy by rote. It’s for a combination of this reason and simple entertainment that these mixed games are a hotbed of innovation, with new variants popping up every summer when the WSOP rolls around.
Of course, as I’ve explained in the past, it’s very hard to come up with truly original poker mechanics that “work,” in the sense of producing enough strategic depth to be interesting while not offering significantly greater possibilities for collusion than standard variants. Instead, most variants are hybrids, with mechanics from one standard game included in another.
(1) After flop betting has concluded, but before the turn card is dealt, there is a drawing round in which players can exchange any number of cards from their hand for new ones.
(2) At showdown, the pot is split between the best five-card hand in the hole – as in Draw Hi – and the best Omaha hand, i.e. using two hole cards plus three from the board.
As with most Limit games, the preflop and flop betting rounds use a small bet, equal to the big blind, while the turn and river use a double-sized big bet.
Strategically, it’s an interesting game in that most of the really strong Five-Card Draw hands are pretty terrible in Omaha; if you’ve got a flush in the hole, it’ll be very hard to make one on the board as well, for instance, and it’s almost never advisable to play hands containing a three-of-a-kind. It’s probably a good idea to play these hands in Drawmaha, as you’ll have one half of the pot nearly locked up, but the objective with them will usually to be to treat them as semi-bluffs, trying to make others fold before showdown, and settling for a chop if they don’t.
There are, however, a few sorts of hands that are strong both ways. Straights and straight draws are good, because unlike flushes, having one in hand makes it easier, not harder, to make one on the board as well; five connected cards will very often flop two pair and a wrap (monster straight draw) in Omaha. Of course, getting dealt a pat straight is rare, and with only one draw, making one that way is tough too; as with trips and flushes in the hole, you’re often going to be holding a monster for one half of the pot but very little equity for the other, so here too you’ll find yourself trying to bluff your opponents off of a chop a lot of the time.
The best starting hands will be big pocket pairs or two-pairs, especially ones with some suitedness or connector value – AAJJT double-suited will be a monster in Drawmaha, as it is in either Omaha or Five-Card Draw. I would expect a lot of hands to end with a pair of Aces or any two pair winning the Draw half of the pot, and those which also manage to make a set or nut flush in Omaha being the most common ways to get a scoop.
When you do make straights and flushes using the board in Drawmaha, you’re considerably more likely to get paid for them too. When a flush comes out on an unpaired board in Omaha, it usually makes any hand other than the nut flush into a bluff-catcher. Of course, opponents still have to call some of the time, because bluffing with the naked Ace of the flush suit is a common tactic, but the need is stronger in Drawmaha, due to the other possibility, that the player has a strong five-card hand but has missed the board and is trying to bluff his opponents to avoid having to chop.
Another interesting aspect of the game is that it is higher-information than either of its component games. In Five-Card Draw Hi, the number of cards taken by a player provides considerable information: three cards is always a big single pair, two cards is either three-of-a-kind or the player disguising his single pair by keeping an extra card, and one card is either two pair, a straight or flush draw semibluff, or the player disguising his three-of-a-kind. Things are more complicated in Drawmaha, in that a player drawing two on a Jack-high board could have, for example, AAJxx, hoping to pull another Jack or, failing that, to make top two on the board.
At the same time, the board texture does give you more information about the specifics of the player’s hand than one can get in Five-Card Draw. Let’s say the flop comes out King-Nine-Six rainbow and a player who just called preflop takes one and begins to get aggressive. In this case, depending on the player, you might guess that he has two small pairs, one of which has made a set. That’s not automatically true, of course; he could have had something like AJT87 and decided to pitch the Ace, for instance, but in terms of the median hands you’d expect to see for each half, guessing two small pairs for draw and a set of Sixes for Omaha would not be a bad starting point in deciding how to play your own hand, and if a Queen came on the turn, watching whether he slows down or not could help you confirm or refute that read.
Furthermore, preflop action gives you much more information in Drawmaha than it does in Omaha, because Five-Card Draw hand equities run much further apart than they do in Omaha. It’s rare for a reasonable Five-Card Omaha hand to be worse than a 2-1 underdog to any other, but a pair of Kings is enormously behind Aces Up, needing to hit a 12% shot at pulling a third King while also fading the possibility of the opponent making a Full House. So, just as the draw gives you additional information about opponents’ Omaha hands that you would not have ordinarily, the preflop betting action can be tremendously helpful in narrowing your opponent’s Five-Card Draw range.
When Andrew told me about the game, he described it as “an amazing exercise in hand reading,” and I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that. Having thought it through as I have here, however, it’s clear to me that this description is bang on, and that it’s the interplay between the two halves of the game that makes it so. The additional rounds of betting give you information about the player’s hole cards that you would not have in Five-Card Draw, while the draw itself gives you information about what the opponent flopped which you would not have in Omaha.
As with Duck Flush last year, Drawmaha is a game I really hope to have the chance to try at some point. Unfortunately, seeing as I failed to win the Little One for One Drop, the 20/40 stakes Andrew was playing were a little rich for my blood, so I wasn’t able to partake this time around. There’s always next year, of course, but I assume they’ll already be on to the next thing by then: Crazy Pineapple Razzdugi, perhaps, or Irish Duck Stud.
Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.