Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2008) in Bluff magazine.
A few minutes ago, I sat down to write this column on a completely different topic. What happened? Well, my mind started wandering. And I imagined myself playing hold ’em, but the game that wandered into my head wasn’t any that you’ve ever played before. I’ve never played it, either, except just now in my vision. But I’m so intrigued by the concept that I want us to share it.
If you like the game I’m about to describe, I invite you to be the first to try it out in your home-game environment or coax your cardroom into spreading it. Then, report back to me (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know what happened.
Feeling modest tonight, I’ve decided not to credit myself in naming this new game. Instead, I’m calling it Caro Hold ’em as a tribute to my grandfather. The rules are really very simple, and it won’t take you long to get accustomed to them.
Not limit, not no-limit
This can’t be played no-limit, as you’ll quickly understand. But it isn’t a form of limit hold ’em, either. Everything plays the same way as standard limit hold ’em, except each player starts with five secret cards, not just two. Oh, and one more thing: It’s not a three-card flop, followed by a single card on the turn and river. Hell, no! It’s a two-card flop. Let’s call it a flip, followed by a single board card, which we’ll call a blip, just because it rhymes. Then there’s a reflip — two more board cards.
There are the familiar four betting rounds: Pre-flip, flip, blip, reflip. What’s so innovative about that order of dealing the board? Nothing. But there’s a reason for it. The game wouldn’t balance strategically with a 3-1-1 board. That’s because of the method of wagering. And this is where it gets strange.
Whatever the established limit is for a betting round, you wager it once for each card you continue to hold. At any point in the wagering, you can throw away any excess cards above one, then bet. You can bet or raise holding five, four, three, or two cards — or even keep just one. Yes, you must keep at least one card, even if you plan to play the board. Winners are determined at the showdown, when necessary, just as in regular hold ’em.
That means you can use two, one, or none of your private cards to form your best hand. Sometimes you might continue to hold more than two cards at the showdown, when there’s no betting after the reflip (or when you’re voluntarily keeping needless cards during the reflip betting in an attempt to bewilder or intimidate opponents). If so, you can use no more than two private cards.
Why wouldn’t you keep all five cards until betting after the reflip? You might, but then you’d be paying five times the wagering limit for each bet, call, or raise. The risk might be worth it, but might not.
Let’s say it’s a $10 per unit game. Each unit of wagering — meaning you bet, call, or raise that much for each card you retain — is then $10 before the flip and after seeing the flip, $20 after seeing the one-card blip, and $40 after seeing the two-card reflip (the final two of the five board cards). How come? It’s a matter of keeping the game in tune. The larger final betting round reflects the fact that almost all players will normally be holding only two cards at that point, having seen the entire board. Otherwise, the wagering often would be smaller than on previous rounds when some players may have chosen to hang on to more cards.
These are the key rules and elements:
- The more cards you keep, the more likely you’ll be to stumble into a winning hand.
- The more cards you keep, the more expensive it is to play and the greater your risk.
- You might indicate strength by throwing away more cards and perhaps psychologically enhance your bluffing chances.
- You might mislead by keeping more cards than needed, though that can be expensive if you lose.
- Cards discarded must be placed face up in front of player, so others can discern how many cards are kept and easily monitor the correct betting. The face-up provision adds an element of strategy. (You might show a discarded pair face up when there’s a smaller pair on the board, representing three-of-a-kind and hoping to bluff your way to victory.)
- Players who fold, throw their cards away facedown, as in regular hold ’em.
- Players may reduce their hands at any point before betting, calling, or raising, even on the same round where they originally held more cards and wagered more. (There are possible elements of deception here, too.)
- Think of bets and raises not in terms of the size of the wager, but the number of levels. A bet is level one. A raise is level two. A reraise is level three. (There probably should be a cap at level four, especially if more than two players remain.) Remember that at each level (bet, raise, reraise) the cost is often different for each player. It depends on the number of cards held.
- You cannot throw away cards when you check, but only just before you wager.
Just so you see it more clearly, if an opponent on a $20 round holds four cards, he must bet $80 or check. If he bets and you reduce your hand to two cards, you can raise for a total of $80 ($20 for each card to call and $20 for each card to raise). If he calls without further reducing his hand, he’ll be investing $160 to your $80.
By the way, if you split a pot, you might lose money, assuming you kept more cards than an opponent.
That’s Caro Hold ’em. Call it just Caro, for short, if you prefer. You’ll meet elements of poker gamesmanship you’ve never encountered before. And I’m betting that after just a couple hands, you’ll be comfortable with the rules and procedures. I’m not claiming any legal ownership. As of now, this game is in the public domain, so it’s yours. Enjoy. — MC