Out of the Kitchen and Into the Spotlight: Triple Draw

This is the third in a series of articles dedicated to games of the inaugural Dealer’s Choice event at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP).

I find the most interesting PokerNews articles are those that delve into the backgrounds of my favourite players or other poker celebrities. While recaps of their hands played and recent wins can also be informative, interviews allowing a glimpse into their personal lives – their education, hobbies, goals and aspirations in and outside of poker, what first interested them in the game, etc. – are the most likely to capture my attention.

One of the fascinating things I’ve learned is that many of them have competitively played at least one other game or sport before taking up poker more seriously. They cite parallel skills involving memory, logic, psychology, assessment of risk versus reward, and study as being transferable to the poker arena. It has been particularly interesting to read about players being successful at competitive chess, backgammon and bridge; and among the younger generation, those with StarCraft and Magic experience.

As for me, personally ...

“WHAT? Really?!” My friend rolls his eyes again. Boy, is he fuming now!

“It IS a word,” I say, reassuringly. “I swear. 61 points.”

“FEDEX?” he responds, with a volatile mix of anger, doubt and sarcasm. “It’s a brand name! It’s capitalized. And, it’s an abbreviation, isn’t it? You can’t use those in Scrabble!”

“Well, sometimes,” I attempt to explain, “certain non-words become acceptable as words through widespread usage. They make it into a major dictionary, and eventually, into the Scrabble dictionary.”

My friend is now glaring at me, utterly unimpressed. “I don’t buy it. Not one bit.” He’s thinking about whether he should challenge my word. “You’re bluffing.”

“I don’t need to bluff you,” I reply, defensively. OK, maybe that was a bit cocky. “But seriously, FEDEX is valid. It’s a verb.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he stammers. I look up from the board briefly, just in time to see my friend flip me the bird. “And what about XU? What the hell is that?”

“It’s a Vietnamese coin ... and, oh, you can’t put an ‘S’ on the end.”

“I swear you’re just making this shit up,” says my friend, clearly frustrated. Maybe this Scrabble game was a bad idea.

I see him calculating his next play ... or maybe he’s thinking of quitting. After a while, it’s clear he’s not going to let this one go.

“Google.”

“What? What about them?”

“Well, is GOOGLE a word? If FEDEX is a word, then GOOGLE should be, too. You know, like ‘I’m going to GOOGLE all of these made-up words when we’re done’. ”

“Hmm… That’s a good question,” I say, thoughtfully. “I think it is in one of the major dictionaries now, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in the official Scrabble dictionary – yet.”

“See ... now I know you’re just making this stuff up.”

“They’re actually adding new words to dictionaries all the time,” I point out. “They take a bit longer to make it into the Scrabble dictionary though, which I hear is going to get a bunch of new words soon.”

“Like what?”

“Ummm ... I don’t know. SELFIE? TWEET?”

“Seriously?”

“Actually, I read the other day that S-R-S-L-Y was added to one of the dictionaries. That was interesting.”

“Seriously,” sighs my friend, shrugging his shoulders in apparent surrender. “Well, I’m no word expert,” he concedes, “but I guess if something gets used as a word often enough, it probably makes sense it eventually finds its way into the dictionary and is accepted as one.”

“Yeah,” I say with a grin. “Just wait until L-O-L makes it in. I’ll buy you a beer.”

Now, I know you’re probably thinking ... what does all of this have to do with poker, let alone mixed games or Dealer’s Choice? The connection might be a bit of stretch, I admit, but bear with me; I’m in a bit of a philosophical mood.

In last week’s article, I introduced Badugi, one of the featured games in the Dealer’s Choice event at the WSOP. Badugi is a relatively new variant in competitive poker that has increased in popularity since its introduction over five years ago on a number of online sites. It has three drawing rounds, and as such, is considered a variant of Triple Draw, the main subject of today’s article. As Triple Draw has been around much longer, and well-established as a poker game, if we were to consider Triple Draw a parent of draw poker, then Badugi might be its child.

In a comment to last week’s Badugi article, a PokerNews Canada reader (@Kevkassabian) made an interesting point on Twitter:

“Badugi should not be considered poker. Just sayin”

“[E]xcept for the 3 street [b]etting, how is it in any way similar to poker?
[A] poker hand is made with 5 cards not 4.”

It was not too long ago I thought this way myself. In fact, back when Badugi was first introduced, there were heated debates about whether it ought to be considered “poker” at all (click here for an example). At the time, opinions were clearly divided, and both the ‘for’ and ‘against’ factions stood very firm in their positions.

Since then, the struggle to define what it means for a game to be considered “poker” continues. What was primarily a theoretical, philosophical exercise may now be gaining more practical importance as our neighbours to the south continue to fight for the return of online poker and to convince lawmakers that poker games involve skill, not mere games of chance.

A recent example of a similar debate involves the game of Open-face Chinese Poker (OFC). Don’t let the simple inclusion of “poker” in the game’s name fool you. At the end of last year, Jack Effel, Tournament Director of the WSOP, initiated a discussion among players as to whether or not this popular game should be made a bracelet event, leading to another heated “is it poker or not” dispute.

Jack EffelThe cat's out of the bag now. Time to weigh in on OFC. Bracelet event or not? Voice your position. Happy debating :)

In the end, it appeared he was most persuaded by Daniel Negreanu’s comment:

Jack EffelI will say that @RealKidPoker has a great point that if there's no betting or bluffing it's not a poker game. Anyone have a better argument?

The result: no OFC bracelet event.

Does this mean if a game involves betting, it should then qualify as a poker game? Or is it more about having multiple streets of wagering and requiring players face each other rather than the house? While many poker games do involve constructing five-card hands, or are based on known low or high hand ranking systems, what confines us to such a narrow definition?

When forced to think about whether Badugi has all the classic “poker” elements while its parent, Triple Draw, is already well-accepted as a poker game, I feel the real question is: should we even care? Why handcuff ourselves with traditional thinking? Perhaps it’s time to simply accept that Badugi is a poker game and lay the debate to rest. As long as there are enough people, over time, who have come to accept Badugi as poker, I think that’s reason enough to welcome it into the family.

Poker, like language, is constantly evolving. If we don’t want interest in poker to fade, we have to allow it to progress. If enough people use a new term as a word, it eventually becomes accepted as one. There’s something genuinely satisfying about that. Similarly, once enough people accept Badugi as a poker game, then a poker game it should be. This is where we are now, and that is how I see it.

Deuce-to-Seven (2-7) Triple Draw

2-7 Triple Draw is a draw game involving three draws. Just as Badugi differs from No-limit Hold’em in several key aspects, so does 2-7 Triple Draw. One key difference is that each player is dealt five cards. Also:

• The betting is typically fixed limit (when played in a mix), so for any given wager, the amount you can bet or raise is restricted.
• It’s a draw not a flop game; there is no board, and therefore, no shared cards. You can’t see any of your opponents’ cards, and your opponents can’t see yours.
• It’s a lowball game, meaning you are trying for the lowest possible hand.

Object of the Game

The object of 2-7 Triple Draw is to make the lowest five-card hand possible. The Ace always plays as a high, undesirable card.

In 2-7 rankings, straights and flushes are valid hands, but because they are strong hands in high-hand ranking systems, they are undesirable in 2-7 Triple Draw, as we are trying to make the lowest possible hand.

Therefore, the best hand in games using 2-7 rankings is NOT 2-3-4-5-6, even though this hand contains the five lowest-ranked cards; it is a straight. The best hand is, in fact, 2-3-4-5-7, with at least two suits represented (i.e. not a flush), hence the game name’s modifier “Deuce-to-Seven.” This hand is made up of the five lowest-possible cards that do not form a straight.

Example:

{7-Diamonds}{5-Diamonds}{4-Spades}{3-Hearts}{2-Clubs}: 7-high = the “nut” Triple Draw hand

Hand Rankings

2-7 Triple Draw is a lowball game. Accordingly, you want to make the lowest-ranking hand possible.

Consider the following examples (ordered from strongest hand to weakest):

{7-Diamonds}{5-Diamonds}{4-Spades}{3-Hearts}{2-Clubs}: 7-high hand
{8-Clubs}{6-Hearts}{5-Clubs}{4-Clubs}{3-Clubs}: 8-high hand
{9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts}: 9-high hand
{A-Spades}{7-Hearts}{6-Spades}{5-Spades}{2-Diamonds}: A-high hand
{3-Spades}{3-Hearts}{7-Clubs}{4-Diamonds}{2-Hearts}: pair of threes
{7-Spades}{6-Diamonds}{5-Diamonds}{4-Clubs}{3-Clubs}: straight
{8-Hearts}{6-Hearts}{5-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{2-Hearts}: flush

In lowball games, the highest-ranked cards of a hand determine its rank. Therefore, assuming the hand does not contain a straight, flush, or any pairs – all of which are undesirable – when determining the rank of a hand, the cards are ordered from highest to lowest. For example, with the cards {9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts} ordered from high to low, it is clear this is a 9-high hand (and not, for example, a trey-high hand).

Further, this 9-high hand will beat any higher-ranked one, including any 10-high, J-high, Q-high, K-high, or even an A-high hand (recall that Ace plays as a high card in 2-7 rankings), as well as any hand containing a pair or higher-ranked hand (e.g. straight, flush, etc.); however, a 9-high hand will lose to a 7-high or 8-high hand (not a straight or flush).

When comparing two or more hands where their highest cards are of the same rank, the ranks of the next highest card(s) are used to break the tie. Suits, however, are never used to break ties. For example:

{9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts} will beat {9-Spades}{8-Hearts}{6-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}{2-Diamonds}
{9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts} will lose to {9-Spades}{7-Hearts}{5-Clubs}{4-Diamonds}{2-Clubs}
{9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts} will beat {9-Spades}{7-Hearts}{6-Clubs}{5-Spades}{3-Diamonds}
{9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts} will lose to {9-Diamonds}{7-Clubs}{6-Spades}{4-Diamonds}{2-Spades}
{9-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{6-Hearts}{4-Hearts}{3-Hearts} will tie {9-Hearts}{7-Spades}{6-Clubs}{4-Spades}{3-Spades}

Play of the Hand

In 2-7 Triple Draw, there are four betting rounds and three opportunities to draw. There is a low-limit bet associated with the first two betting rounds, and a high-limit bet associated with the last two. For example, in a game with limits identified as “50/100,” the low-limit bet is 50, and the high-limit bet is 100.

Here is an example of a 2-7 Triple Draw deal:

  1. Blinds are posted: In a game with limits of “50/100,” a big blind of 50 and a small blind of 25 will typically be posted.
  2. Deal: Each player is dealt five cards.
    In this example, you are dealt {7-Clubs}{7-Diamonds}{K-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}{2-Clubs} in middle position.
  3. First Betting Round: It is 50 to call. If you choose to play, you can call 50, or raise to 100, assuming no one else has raised. Any subsequent raises must be in increments of 50 – the low limit bet.
  4. First Draw: You can choose to discard any number of cards or “stand pat” (i.e. draw none).
    In this example, you will discard one of the sevens and the King, since pairs and high cards are bad for Triple Draw hands. You proceed to discard the {7-Clubs} and {K-Diamonds} on the first draw; note that you want to discard the {7-Clubs} and not the {7-Diamonds} which would leave you with three clubs and a draw to an unwanted flush. You pick up the {4-Spades} and the {A-Hearts} for a new holding of {A-Hearts}{7-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}{4-Spades}{2-Spades} (an Ace-high hand).
  5. Second Betting Round: Bets and raises are again at the low-limit bet – 50 – on this round.
  6. Second Draw: You can choose to discard any number of cards, or stand pat.
    In this example, your hand now has five cards of different rank, but the Ace plays as high in 2-7 rankings and is an undesirable card. You proceed to discard the {A-Spades} on the second draw, drawing with your strong 7-high, four-card holding. You pick up a {Q-Diamonds}, improving to {Q-Hearts}{7-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}{4-Spades}{2-Spades} (a Q-high hand).
  7. Third Betting Round: Bets and raises are now at the high-limit bet – 100 – on this round.
  8. Third Draw: You can choose to discard any number of cards, or stand pat.
    In this example, with a Q-high hand and a strong four-card underlying holding, it will usually be correct to draw again to try to make a stronger hand, especially when facing multiple opponents. You proceed to discard the {Q-Hearts} on the final draw, again drawing with your strong 7-high, four-card holding. You pick up a {9-Spades}, improving to {9-Spades}{7-Diamonds}{5-Clubs}{4-Spades}{2-Spades} (a 9-high hand).
  9. Final Betting Round: Bets and raises remain at the high limit bet – 100 – on this round.
  10. Showdown: Once betting on the final round is complete, the hands of the remaining players are compared to determine a winner.
    In this example, your nine-high hand will beat the hand of any opponent who has a higher-ranking hand, including any 10-high to A-high hand and any hands containing a pair, straight, or flush, for example. However, your nine-high hand will lose to any lower-ranked hand such as a seven-high or eight-high hand (no straight or flush).

Basic Strategy Tips

Here is a list of recommended starting hands:

  1. 7-high pat hands
    Being dealt one of these hands is extremely rare. Bet and raise to make your opponents pay to draw and stay pat until you get to showdown. Expect to win often with these hands.
  2. 8-high pat hands
    Being dealt one of these hands from the start is also extremely rare. The strongest hands of this group (i.e. hands headed by an 8-5 or 8-6) will win a fair share of pots, but are vulnerable to being overtaken when facing multiple drawing opponents. When numerous opponents are drawing, the chances of at least one of them making a superior 7-high hand are high. Bet and raise to narrow the field until you encounter resistance.
    The weaker hands of this group (i.e. hands headed by an 8-7) play decently in heads-up situations, but will be overtaken quite often in multi-way pots, especially when the opponents tend to play strong starting hands. You may need to play these hands more cautiously when facing action from tight, predictable players who appear to have made stronger hands.
  3. 7-high one-card draws
    Most hands that are only one card away from making a 7-high pat hand are also very strong starting hands. While you are not guaranteed to make a 7-high hand, with three chances to improve you will be heavily favoured to do so, especially against opponents who may be drawing two or three cards.
    Key exceptions include draws that tend to make straights. Straights will usually have little showdown value and should be avoided. Accordingly, a hand such as 7-5-4-3 is weaker than one that cannot make a straight (e.g. 7-5-4-2), and in particular, open-ended straight draws such as 7-6-5-4 are highly problematic and should be folded often. That said, a hand such as 5-4-3-2, despite the straight possibility, is considered premium as drawing any seven or eight will still result in a very strong hand.
  4. 8-high one-card draws
    Hands that are one card away from making an 8-high pat hand are also highly playable, despite not being able to make a 7-high hand. There are two primary factors affecting the desirability of any given draw in this group: hands that tend to produce straights (e.g. 8-6-5-4, or worse, 8-7-6-5) are inferior to ones that will not; and hands that are heavier in higher-ranked cards (e.g. 8-7-6-3) – we call these rough holdings – are much weaker than hands concentrated in lower-ranked cards (e.g. 8-4-3-2) – we call these smooth holdings – given the latter hands can potentially improve to much stronger hands.
  5. Two-card draws to a 7-high or 8-high hand
    Hands that are two cards away from making a 7-high or an 8-high pat hand are quite common and vary widely in strength, from strong wheel draws (e.g. 7-3-2) to inferior rougher holdings (e.g. 8-7-6). In general, holdings that tend to produce mid-ranked straights should generally be avoided. You also want the cards you start with to be as low as possible. You are looking to improve to a strong one-card draw quickly, preferably on the first draw, but no later than the second draw.

With three draws available to allow each player’s hand to potentially improve, the ability for a player to ultimately end up with a strong hand at showdown is high. Also, the more players involved in a pot, the more likely a very strong hand will be made, especially if your opponents have disciplined starting hand standards.

To get a better sense of the range of hands that can be made in Triple Draw, it is instructive to construct and review a chart of the top hands in 2-7 hand rankings:

1. 7-5-4-3-2
2. 7-6-4-3-2
3. 7-6-5-3-2
4. 7-6-5-4-2

5. 8-5-4-3-2
6. 8-6-4-3-2
7. 8-6-5-3-2
8. 8-6-5-4-2
9. 8-6-5-4-3

10. 8-7-4-3-2
11. 8-7-5-3-2
12. 8-7-5-4-2
...
18. 8-7-6-5-3

19. 9-5-4-3-2
20. 9-6-4-3-2
21. 9-6-5-4-2
...
52. 9-8-7-6-4

53. 10-5-4-3-2
... etc.

Note that each of these five-card hands can be constructed from any one of 1020 different suit combinations (discounting flush possibilities).

A few observations:

• Very few of the top hands – in fact, only four of the top 20 – do not include a deuce, suggesting that deuces are extremely important in Triple Draw. There are some strong hands that can be made without a deuce (e.g. 8-6-5-4-3 which is #9), but these are few and far between; furthermore, the best hand you can make without a deuce or a trey is a very meagre #33 (9-7-6-5-4). Bottom line: very few starting hands that do not contain a deuce (or at least a trey) should be played.
• There are four 7-high hands, 14 8-high hands (only five of which are better than 8-7 high), and 34 9-high hands. Given the multiple possibilities of 9-high hands, they are not very strong, and generally quite easy to make. With all three draws remaining, and particularly when facing multiple opponents, consider aiming for an 8-high or better hand, and preferably at least a top-10 hand.

That said, as more draws are exhausted, it becomes harder to make strong hands if you still need to draw to improve. Therefore, although you might initially have been intent on making a strong 8-high hand, if, for example, there is only one draw left and you hold a 9-high hand and your opponents appear to still be drawing, you may be better off keeping the 9-high hand and hoping for the best. On the other hand, if an opponent has stood pat with what you expect to be a stronger hand, you have a strong underlying one-card draw, and the pot is large enough, you might consider discarding the nine and drawing again; however, if you have a poor underlying one-card draw, you should instead lean toward folding.

Similarly, against a single opponent who is still drawing, it may even be correct to stay pat with a 10-high or J-high hand, rather than trying to improve to a better hand with only one draw remaining. If your opponent is no longer drawing, however, and you suspect he may have a better hand, you should typically fold unless you have a strong underlying one-card draw and the pot is a decent size, rather than pay to draw again for another bet, which, going into the third draw, will be at the high limit.

Needless to say, it is very difficult to improve to a strong pat hand if you need to draw two cards to improve, and you should typically fold rather than pay to continue to the final draw in those situations.

As was the case in Badugi, consider the following advanced play: you will occasionally find yourself still needing to draw on a later round facing one or two opponents who are also drawing but who tend to fold on the final betting round whenever they have failed to draw a strong pat hand themselves. In these scenarios, you might consider the possibility of snowing as an alternative to drawing: stand pat on the second or the final draw and bet to represent having made a strong pat hand even though you do not actually hold one. This bluff, when used judiciously and against the right opponents, can be effective at taking down pots in situations where improving to a very strong hand by drawing is unlikely.

Ace-to-Five (A-5) Triple Draw

A-5 Triple Draw, which is also a featured variant in the WSOP Dealer’s Choice event, is played in the same manner as 2-7 Triple Draw, the only exception being a difference in hand rankings, arising from the following:

• Aces play as low, desirable cards;
• Straights and flushes do not count against the hand, and are ignored.

Therefore, the best hand in A-5 Triple Draw rankings is A-2-3-4-5.

Most of the general principles discussed earlier with respect to 2-7 Triple Draw will apply here, except that, advantageously, it is no longer necessary to avoid hands tending to produce straights – drawing a straight will not render a hand useless in A-5 Triple Draw.

Also, because the Ace is now considered as a low rather than high card, it is important to adjust your expectations of what hands are considered to be strong.

For example, while an 8-high hand in 2-7 Triple Draw can range from very strong to mediocre, all 8-high hands in A-5 Triple Draw are quite marginal; in fact, there are about as many combinations of 8-high hands in A-5 rankings, as there are 9-high hands in 2-7 rankings. Note the following:

2-7 rankings

• The top 4 hands are 7-high.
• The top 18 hands are 8-high or better (nine of these are 8-6 or better).
• There are 52 hands that are 9-high or better.

A-5 rankings

• The top 6 hands are 6-high or better.
• The top 21 hands are 7-high or better (eleven of these are 7-5 or better).
• There are 56 hands that are 8-high or better.

Accordingly, as a general rule of thumb, consider working toward making a top-10 hand at the outset. Just as you might aim to make 7-high and strong 8-high hands when playing 2-7 Triple Draw, you should consider aiming to make 5-high, 6-high, and strong 7-high hands in A-5 Triple Draw.

Next week: Badeucy and Badacey

Ken Lo is the author of A Poker Player’s Guide to Mixed Games: Core Strategies for HORSE, Eight-Game, Ten-Game, and Twelve-Game Mixes, which is scheduled for public release in late Spring 2014. He currently resides in Toronto, Canada.

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