‘Oh those Russians’ sang Boney M (approvingly) at the peak of the 1970s disco boom, and yet the exclamation is still applicable to the 2010s online casino and online (and offline) Poker booms…
To what do we refer? Russian Poker, no less.
In case you’re not familiar with this variant of the most popular card games family in the world, don’t worry — the cards aren’t written in the Cyrillic alphabet, nor is it related to ‘Russian Roulette’, thankfully.
And you certainly don’t get to remove the King, Queen and Jack from your hand and bayonet them down a coal mine in Ekaterinburg…
In this article, we’ll outline in brief (no ‘War and Peace’ here) the main facets of the rules so you can get a taste for what it involves.
If you decide it’s for you, then read on and we’ll give you some practical hints and tips on playing as well.
How to play Russian Poker
There are some slight differences when you play Russian Poker in a casino from the online game, so let’s look at the rules common to all types before turning to the latter.
First of all, you play Russian Poker against the house (ie. the dealer; in effect the casino itself) only, and never against other players.
In bricks-and-mortar casinos other players can play simultaneously as with BlackJack, but you aren’t competing with them as such.
If you decide to play a hand, you have to put an ‘ante’ bet in the relevant, marked field, and you will then be dealt 5 cards, immediately followed by the 5 cards dealt to the dealer.
They even let you see the 5th dealer’s card to make things easier…
What happens next is up to you and depends what cards you have.
As stated the idea is to get a better hand than the dealer, using the standard Poker rankings. Looking at your hand, if things don’t look good, you can fold immediately and lose your ante.
However, don’t be too hasty to do this, as there are a few extra factors in Russian Poker that you need to think about.
You can ‘draw’ up to 5 new cards, as with Video Poker, in an effort to get a better hand (you can also fold after this). In doing so, you place a bet, which is the equal to your ante.
What sets Russian Poker apart?
But that’s not all; before you decide to ‘call’ the dealer there is one little thing which really sets Russian Poker apart — you can actually buy a 6th card!
That’s right — why make do with 5 when you can have 6 cards!
The ‘cost’ of the 6th card is the same as the ante.
But when you’ve bought the 6th card, does that mean you can make a 6 card hand, for instance a straight of 6 cards?
No, not quite. As we mentioned, Russian Poker uses the standard 5-card rankings, so what you can actually do is make up 2 hands, provided at least ONE card is different between the 2 hands.
For instance, let’s say you get 10-J-Q-K-A in the first deal, giving you a straight.
Obviously you aren’t going to draw any cards, but if you bought a 6th card and it was another Q, you would in fact get 2 straights!
This is because the second hand uses a different Q from the first. Or with a more mundane hand; if you had a pair of 10s from the deal, then bought one more card which made up a pair of 9s, you would have 2 pairs!
The good news is if both of your hands beats the dealer, you score with both hands according to the paytable.
Even better news is that in order to win, only ONE of your 2 hands needs to beat the dealer — so if you have a pair of 6s and a pair of Ks, and the dealer has a pair of Qs, you would still win with the Ks!
A couple of other things
There is one other factor to take into consideration.
The banker needs to qualify in order for you to claim your winnings.
The dealer does this if they have a high card (A-K) hand or higher; if they don’t, what you have in your hand matters not, even if you have a coveted Royal Flush - you’d win nothing.
That said, you’ll get a chance to buy an extra card for the dealer to, so you’d obviously take that in the aforementioned case, to see if you can boost the dealer’s hand to qualify.
If you beat the banker when all is said and done, your bet pays out according to the paytable you’ll find displayed (payouts range from evens for A-K up to 100:1 for Royal Flush) plus you get your ante back!
Naturally if the banker beats you, you will lose your bet — your ante will push back to you, and both will push back if you score the same.
Bonus bets can also be placed in many versions of Russian Poker before you receive a deal; these are bets on you getting a certain high scoring hand and payout huge odds (for instance a Royal Flush pays out at 1000:1).
You may also see insurance bet options in walk-in casinos, which you can place against the dealer failing to qualify.
One other difference between the online game and playing in a land-based casino is that in the latter you can often buy as many cards as you want — this means you buy a card, if it’s no use, discard and buy another and so on — but with the proviso that each buy you must pay the ante +1 each time (so if the ante is 5, you buy the first card for 5, the second for 10, the third for 15 etc.).
Where and how should you play?
The online casinos are only slowly discovering Russian Poker, though we’re confident that this will change over time.
One good place to play is at ComeOn! casino, which uses an immensely playable version by the developer GamesOS. Naturally, many good walk-in casinos offer Russian Poker, particularly the bigger halls.
They are too numerous to list here of course, but please note that you may see the same game listed as Lunar Poker.
As its name suggests it has its origins and is popular in Russia (where in fact gaming is pretty much well suppressed except in a few resort locations, mirroring the situation in America) and Eastern Europe in general, so you will probably see it if your travels take you to that part of the world.
As regards a little strategy, the following tips will help you:
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Mimic the dealer; if your hand wouldn’t qualify if it were the dealer’s, best to fold.
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Don’t bother with insurance (unless you have a high hand of around 3-of-a-kind or better).
-Â Â Â Â Â Â Always bet with a pair or higher, and always buy a 6th card if you have a straight or a flush, to give you the chance to get 2 winning hands (see above).
You should be well equipped to take your first steps into the world of Russian Poker now — na zdrovije!