One game you’ll probably never see spread in a casino cardroom is “Guts.” Poker is all about aggression and fearlessness, but Guts takes that to another level. There are multiple variations of Guts, but let’s start by looking at what all these games have in common.

You start by putting in an ante. All the players are required to do this. Then everyone gets dealt a hand. At this point, you declare yourself “in” or “out.” That’s all there is to the betting round, so the antes for Guts are usually higher than normal.

The players who agreed to stay in show their hands. The player with the best hand takes the pot. The player with the worst hand, though, must match the pot, and another round gets played. The other players must re-ante, but the player who had to match the pot anted when he put in that pot-sized bet.

This continues, the pot growing progressively larger, until there’s only one player left who has “the guts” to say he’s “in.”

Here’s an example:

You have 8 players, and everyone antes $1. There’s $8 in the pot. You win, but one of your buddies has the lowest hand. So you put $8 in your stack, and your buddy replaces it. Everyone antes another dollar, so now there’s $15 in the pot. ($7 in antes plus you buddy’s pot-matching bet.)

The next round, you lose, but you don’t have the worst hand. Another player wins the $15, and another player with the worst hand puts $15 in the pot. For the next round, there’s $22 in the pot.

This continues until finally only one player has the guts to stay in. If you’re playing in a home poker game and want to watch an entire evening’s winnings evaporate over a few hands, this is the game to play.

On the other hand, if you’re way down for the day and want to catch up over the course of just a few hands, Guts is also the game to play.

The rest of this post looks at the different variations and rules variants available in Guts poker.

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An Important Piece of Strategy Advice

Guts is a game with a huge advantage for the dealer.

As David Sklansky might ask, “Do you see why?”

It’s because the dealer always acts last in the betting order. And since you’re going to play until no one else is willing to call “in” but you, all you need to do is wait until no one else is willing to get in there with you. If everyone else says “out,” you can win a huge pot by default. In fact, if your bankroll can handle it, you can just keep playing until no one else can.

But here’s another piece of strategy closely related to this. The player who acts before the dealer should know that the dealer has this advantage. If everyone folds to him, then he only has to beat the dealer to win that big pot. And he probably has at least a 50/50 chance of having a better hand than the dealer.

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Ways of Getting Rid of the Advantage for the Dealer

There are multiple ways of eliminating or at least minimizing this unfair advantage for the dealer. The first of these is by using the “chip declare” method. Instead of going around the table in sequence announcing in or out, everyone holds out a fist and reveals what’s in that fist at the same time. If you put a chip in your fist, you’re in. If not, you were out.

Some people think this is a time waster, so they either rotate who gets to deal or who gets to receive the first card in the game. This eliminates the dealer advantage too, but the advantage just rotates with the deal.

You can also set a cap on how high the pot is allowed to get. Or if you and your buddies are real action junkies, you can make everyone who loses a hand match the pot at the end. That makes for an exciting and frustrating game, but I know a lot of gamblers who love it.

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2 Plus 1

This is a 2-round version of Guts. The strategy changes between round 1 and round 2.

You each get 2 cards, then you declare in or out, just like in any Guts game. If you stay in, you get a 3rd card. The hands are then ranked in the same way that they’re ranked in Monte Carlo (see below).

This changes the game dramatically. You might have a horrible hand like 3-7 an stay in hoping to catch a 3rd suited card and make a flush. So might your opponents.

In many 2 Plus 1 games, you’ll have a declaration before the 3rd card is dealt and anther declaration after the 3rd card is dealt.

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This is 2-card Guts with an interesting variation. You get 2 cards, then each of you gets to declare. After everyone declares, the dealer flips over one more card, face-up, in the middle of the table.

If this card is black, then you only use one card from your hand.

If the card is red, then you get to use 2 cards from your hand.

If you have a small or middle pair, you have a 50% chance of having an almost certain loser. On the other hand, if you have a pair of aces, you’re all set regardless of whether the flipped over card is red or black.

Some people just call this game “Shoes.”

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Indian Poker

This is an entirely luck-based game played with a single card per player. You don’t get to look at your card, though. After the cards are dealt, you hold your card to your forehead so everyone else can see it. All the other players do the same. You decide whether you’re in or out based on everyone else’s cards.

This game gets really entertaining when someone with an ace declares himself out because he saw an opponent with a king.

This is fun, especially when you have someone at the table who’s never heard of it before.

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Monte Carlo

This is 3-card Guts, and it’s the version of Guts that’s most like a “real” poker game. Everyone gets 3 cards, and flushes and straights do count. There’s usually some confusion about whether a straight or a flush is higher, because in a 3-card game, the math changes on which hand is more probable.

This is the typical ranking of hands in Monte Carlo, from best to worst:

  • 3 of a kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Pair
  • High card

Of course, in a dealer’s choice home game, the dealer could come up with his own hand rankings chart.

One variation of Monte Carlo I should mention is called “Balls.” It’s a face-up Monte Carlo game. There’s a declaration round after each card is dealt, so the game happens over the course of multiple “betting rounds.”

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Guts poker isn’t going to be taking any casino cardrooms by storm, but it can be a fun addition to your home poker game. It’s a good idea to know a little about the other players at the table before declaring this as the next game. Hurt feelings and anger can result when someone doesn’t really understand how much money they might lose playing any of these Guts variations.

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