I’ve been thinking a lot about different poker variants ever since Balatro came out, and more specifically thinking about how different variants of poker manage public and private information, and how different varieties have differing amounts of player interaction. After noodling on this off and on for a while, I think I’ve come up with a pretty fun variant of five card draw (my favorite game of poker) that works in the public knowledge and shared pool of Texas Hold ‘Em, while also increasing player interaction.

Updated 5/11/2024: added optional rule to discard face down instead of face up. Updated 5/5/2024: you may now discard up to two cards from your hand, but all cards remaining in your hand must be used.

Design goals

I used to play a lot of poker and blackjack with my dad and siblings growing up, because a deck of cards and bag of poker chips was a fantastic way to entertain rowdy children while waiting at the airport to fly down to visit my grandparents. Our favorite by far was five card draw, mostly because it was the easiest for a bunch of kids and tweens to learn, and even now it’s one of my favorite poker variants, because it has actual choice outside of just betting. I loved agonizing over which of my cards to redraw, trying to guess the probabilities in my little eleven year old mind that barely had a grasp of algebra, much less statistics.

Texas Hold ‘Em started getting popular right around the time my grandparents passed away, and with no yearly cross-country flight, my relationship with poker ended. Before then, though, Texas Hold ‘Em taught me how much fun a poker variant where you have public knowledge and shared cards could be, but the lack of player agency always bothered me. The betting part of poker was the part that interested me the least, so moving all agency to betting was a step back in my book.

So, with all my cards on the table there (hehe), my design goals for Red Rose Poker are the following:

  1. At least one non-betting step with player agency and tough decisions
  2. Public knowledge
  3. Shared cards
  4. Player interaction

After some periodic background thought and a few false starts, I think I’ve come to a poker variant that hits all of the above. I’m sure that there’s already an existing variant of poker that plays very similarly to this, because there are as many varieties of poker as there are stars in the sky, but this one’s mine.

Red Rose Poker

Red Rose Poker is a mix of five card draw and Texas Hold ‘Em where the flop/turn/river community cards are made up of discards rather than drawn directly from the deck. To play a round of Red Rose Poker:

  1. Each player is dealt a hand of five cards. These cards are private.
  2. One round of betting in the usual poker style.
  3. One at a time in the same order as betting, each player places one card face down in the center of the table, then discards up to two cards face up. The face down cards form the river.
    1. If there are only two players, also place one face down card from the top of the deck into the river.
  4. The river cards are flipped face up, and another round of betting takes place.
  5. Each player reveals their hand, and makes the best 5-card play possible with all of the cards in their hand, plus however many cards from the river are needed to make a hand of five.

And that’s it! To compare against the design goals:

  1. At least one non-betting step with player agency and tough decisions: Choosing which cards to put into the pot can certainly be a tough decision!
  2. Public knowledge: The discard pile and community cards (post flip) are public knowledge.
  3. Shared cards: The community pool always consists of at least two cards, and at least one card from the central cards must be used to form your final hand.
  4. Player interaction: Each player gets to directly choose at least one card to enter the community cards.

As always, if you do decide to give this a go, lemme know what you think on Mastodon at @jewelpit@dice.camp! Also, if you know what the variant of poker that already plays like this is called (because it’s basically guaranteed that this already exists), lemme know that too!


  • If discarding one at a time is too slow, you can switch to discarding face down so that everyone can discard at the same time.

Final thoughts

  1. Despite spending a lot of time thinking about poker since Balatro came out, I have yet to actually play it. One of my friends who didn’t grow up playing poker is absolutely obsessed with it right now though, so clearly it’s doing something right.
  2. Anaconda looks cool. I’ve thought about what a drafting variant of poker could be like, and I was pleased to see that one already exists. Drafting is one of my favorite mechanics, and it’s criminally underused. I even ran a game of Rules Cyclopedia D&D several years ago where players would have to draft for class abilities!
  3. It’s called Red Rose Poker because everyone pools some cards together into a community pile that anyone can use, and the red rose is the symbol of democratic socialism.