McHaffie: MCU lesson 125 / Draw Poker

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2008.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 125: Draw Poker

Doyle Brunson has stated that Mike Caro is the best draw poker player in the world. It’s just one of the forms of poker that Mike excels at. Draw poker is the one that is portrayed in the western movies, where cowboys lose the ranch over a bad decision and where you see those famous shootouts over one player calling another a cheat. Thank goodness, we’ve become a bit more civilized since those early days.


Mike claims that draw poker is the “very best game for you to practice reading tells and using psychology.” Why is that? Well, you aren’t privy to the cards that your opponent is holding, so you have to rely on how they’re acting. How are they responding to the cards they’ve been dealt? How many cards they replaced is an important clue, but behavioral observations can be even more rewarding!

There are several varieties of draw poker; draw poker with a joker, without a joker, open blind, lowball, and high-back-to-low.

In draw poker you’ll be dealt five cards, all face down. After viewing your cards you get the opportunity to bet, replace the cards that don’t appeal to you, and then you get the chance to bet again. In one common form of draw poker you are required to have jacks or better to open the betting.

Mike says it’s very important, profit-wise, to observe the tables prior to taking a seat. You want to choose a table that is loose and fun with lots of laughter. Distractions at the table that will bother other players and not you, such as a beautiful, flirty woman, a boisterous man, a gum chewer, or a hummer, should compel you to take a seat. You’ll see splendid tells there. Although Mike isn’t a superstitious man, there are many superstitious players who do almost anything to “change” their luck, like frequently playing musical chairs.
Steer clear of a table where there are more sophisticated players than you. Avoid tables where everyone seems to be arguing, or quiet and conservative tables.


Things to consider before choosing to open:

A)    Were you dealt aces, kings, queens, or jacks?

B)    Do any of your opponents show an interest in opening, often by staring away as the action approaches?

C)    Of the players that have checked, are there any seeming likely to raise later?

D)    Is your hand strong enough to raise or reraise?

E)     What is the size of the ante compared to the opening bet?

F)     How loose are the opponents?


In draw poker aces are extremely important. If you’re playing draw with jokers, aces become more valuable, because that joker is a limited wildcard, serving only as an ace or to complete a straight or flush. You’ll find that you can make a straight by drawing one card much easier when you hold the joker.

Mike says you will probably be dealt a pair of aces every 26 minutes. Aces are usually always a safe opener. Now, I know it’s exciting to be dealt aces, but you should still be aware of tells.

If you hold a pair of kings against an infrequent raiser who doesn’t bluff often, you should routinely fold. It isn’t wise to call an opener with jacks, queens, or kings. You usually need at least a pair of aces or a quality flush or straight draw to call an opener.

We’ll examine draw poker in more depth in the future, because Mike believes this most well-known of all poker forms has been “disrespected.” It isn’t even an event at the World Series of Poker, and Mike thinks this is a serious omission. — DM

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