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Draw Jacks or Better

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This variant of Draw poker is so popular in the United States that some books will describe it as the classic version of Draw. It’s played the same as regular Draw poker except for a few changes. The most obvious is the requirement of an opening hand of Jacks-or-better to start the betting. This means at least one of the players must have been dealt a hand with a pair of Jacks or any other hand that’s stronger than that one in order for the game to begin by opening the betting. If nobody has a hand that meets these requirements, the cards are collected, players ante into the same pot and then they’re redealt a new hand. If again nobody has an opening hand, the cycle starts all over with collecting, anteing and redealing the cards until somebody does.

Another difference is the addition of a Joker, called a ‘bug,’ which can only act as an Ace or to finish a straight or flush.


Ante and Deal

At the start of the game, every player who wants to play that hand puts an ante into the pot. The dealer deals everyone five cards facedown, one at a time, starting with the player to their left.

First Betting Interval: Before the Draw

Starting with the first player to the left of the dealer, they look at their cards to see if they have an opening hand of Jacks-or-better. If they don’t, they have to check and the play moves to the next player. If that person also doesn’t have an opening hand, they have to check as well and the play moves to the next player, and so on until a player with an opening hand is found. If nobody has an opening hand, the players ante into the same pot and the cards are redealt.

If you do have a hand that’s Jacks-or-better, you can place an opening bet if you want, or you can check. Either way, you have to say that you have a qualifying hand and the pot is opened. So even if you choose to check, the other players are free to bet.

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Starting with the first active player to the dealer’s left, they’re given the opportunity to discard some cards in their hand in exchange for new ones. The maximum number of cards that can be exchanged is not the same for every game it can range from one to all five cards. Be sure to find out what the maximum number is before you start. In home games with ‘dealer’s choice,’ the dealer announces what the maximum is for that hand, and the maximum number of draws per hand. This means you can have more than one round of drawing, which will add on another betting interval. Casinos usually keep it to one draw round.

Discard your unwanted cards in front of you. Don’t expose your cards when you’re discarding them as you don’t want to give anyone clues to the cards that are no longer in play. Nobody not even the dealer should touch the discard pile when the game is live. And remember, if you had the opening hand, keep your cards close by (some casinos ask you to put a chip on your discarded opener cards).

The dealer will collect all of the discards and put them in a pile off to the side (except if you have a chip on your discards). Then they’ll start with the first active player to their left and ask them how many cards they want. The cards are then dealt to each player in a clump. This means if you ask for three cards, the dealer will give you three cards all at once (unlike how the game was initially dealt, with each player only getting one card at a time). Be careful to ask for the same amount of cards that you discarded. After the draw, having more or less than five cards will automatically disqualify your hand and you lose any chance to win the pot.

If you like your cards, you don’t have to draw. This is referred to as ‘standing pat.’ You can knock on the table (as you would to indicate a check) to let the dealer know you’re not drawing.

Second Betting Interval: After the Draw

After everyone’s had a chance to draw, the action starts with the player to the left of the dealer who’s still in the game. You can check, call, bet, raise or fold in turn.


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Once all of the bets are equalized from the final betting round, players who are still left in the game turn over their cards and the best poker hand wins the pot. If all but one player folds, the last remaining player wins (this can happen before the showdown). The cards are then given to the player to the left of the dealer and the next round begins.


These rules apply in addition to general poker rules, so be sure to read that section as well.

  1. The pot can only be opened if at least one player has a pair of Jacks or a better hand. If nobody has one, the dealer button (or the dealer in home games) moves one place to the left and everyone has to ante again into the same pot (unless the pot limit for that game has been reached) and the cards are redealt. Three consecutive redeals is the usual maximum before anteing is finished.
  2. If it’s discovered before the draw that a player erroneously opened the pot (they didn’t have a qualifying hand, but announced that they did), any other active player can open the pot except any players who previously declined to open the pot for that hand. The person’s hand with the false opener is declared fouled and they give up any claim to the pot including their opening bet. As long as the action before the draw isn’t completed, any other bets the false opener made after their opening bet is given back to them. However, if no other players open the bet, the false opener gets all but their opening bet back. The first bet and antes stay in the pot and any player who was in that hand are permitted to ante again for the next hand.
  3. A player who opens the pot must be able to prove they had an opening hand if they want to win the pot.
  4. The hand will continue to be played even if it is discovered that the opening hand was not a Jacks-or-better hand if a player has raised, two or more players have called the opening bet, or all of the action is finished before the draw.
  5. If you are all-in for the antes only (or a portion of the ante), you can declare the pot open if you have a qualifying hand. If you’re all-in and erroneously declare the pot open, you lose your ante money and can’t play any more deals until somebody wins that particular pot. Even if you were to buy more chips, you can’t play in any more deals until after that pot has been legally opened and won.
  6. After the action is finished before the draw, the opener can’t withdraw their bets (regardless if they had the opening hand or not).
  7. An opener can ask to have their discards retrieved to prove they had the opening hand, but in casinos, this is up to the management if they want to permit it or not.
  8. Players can ask that the opener hold on to their opening hand cards to prove that they had the opener after the showdown.
  9. You can split openers (meaning discard some of the cards needed to make the opening hand), but you have to declare that you’re splitting openers and then put all of your discards under a chip so the dealer doesn’t collect them. They can be turned over at the end of the showdown to prove that you had the openers. However, if it’s shown that you didn’t have the opener after saying that you did, you lose any claim to the pot.

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