Guts is often played as an option in dealer's choice poker games, although it is not strictly speaking a poker game. It is normally played with hands of fewer than five cards, and it has a different betting mechanism from normal poker - match pot betting. If the players are somewhat reckless the size of the pot can escalate very rapidly, and the name presumably refers to the bravery required to contest one of these large pots and risk losing an equally large amount.
This is the basic game. A standard 52-card pack without jokers is used. In theory as many as 26 people could play, but the game probably works best for around 5 to 10 players.
The players need to agree in advance on the ante that all will pay at the beginning to start the pot, and it is wise also to agree on a maximum amount that can be won from or lost to the pot in a single deal. This might for example be set at 100 times the ante.
If the pot is empty all players pay the agreed ante to the pot. The cards are shuffled and cut and the dealer deals the cards one at a time face down until every player has two cards. The players look at their cards.
Starting with the player to dealer's left and continuing clockwise around the table, ending with the dealer, each player in turn says either "in" or "out".
Players who say "out" cannot win the pot, but do not lose any extra money.
If more than one player says "in", all those who are "in" show their cards, and the player with the best cards wins the pot. When comparing hands, aces are high and
Therefore the highest hand is A-A, then K-K, Q-Q, etc. down to 2-2, then A-K, A-Q, A-J, ... , A-2, K-Q, K-J, ... ,K-2, Q-J, ... down to the lowest hand 3-2.
Players who said "in" but do not have the highest hand must each pay an amount equal to the whole pot, and these payments form the pot for the next deal.
If two or more players tie for best hand, they share the pot equally.
If just one player says "in" and all the others say "out", the player who is "in" simply takes the whole pot and does not need to show any cards. The pot will also be emptied if there is a tie between all the players who stay in. This may end the game, if it is being played as an option in dealer's choice. If the game is to continue, the players will need to place a new ante.
Note that if all the players other than the dealer say "out", the dealer will automatically say "in" and collect the pot, irrespective of how good or bad his or her cards may be.
If after the losers have paid, the amount in the pot exceeds the agreed limit, the excess chips are set aside in a reserve. The pot to be played for in subsequent deals will be equal to the limit, and if it is won, chips are brought out of the reserve to form a new pot. Example: there is 80 in the pot and the limit is 100. Four people stay in. The winner takes the 80, the three losers each pay 80, and there is now 100 in the pot and 140 in reserve. If this pot is won without a contest there will be 100 in the pot and 40 in reserve. If this too is won without a contest there will be 40 in the pot and no reserve.
Some play a version in which all players declare simultaneously whether they are in or out. This is sometimes done by the players holding their cards face down over the table, and the dealer calling "1 - 2 - 3 - DROP". On the word "DROP" all those who want to be out must drop their cards, and the others are in.
The dropping method has the disadvantage that some players might be tempted to try to delay for a split second to see what the others will do. Therefore it is probably better to declare using chips. Each player holds out a closed fist, when all are ready, everyone opens their fist, and those holding a chip are in while those with empty hands are out.
If everyone is out, the pot stays for the next hand and some play that all players must contribute another ante to it. Some play the wimp rule that in this case the cards are shown and the player with the best hand must ante on behalf of all players.
The game with simultaneous declare has less tactical scope than the game declared in sequence. There is no point in bluffing - players simply stay in if their cards are good and drop otherwise.
Some play that if more than one person stays in, only the player with the worst hand must match the pot. If two or more players tie for worst they must both or all match it. In this version, players ante on every deal, adding their ante to the pot. Only a player who had to match the pot is excused from placing an ante on the following deal.
Some players find it unsatisfactory that when only one player stays in, that player simply takes the pot without a contest. They play a version in which an extra hand known as the kitty or ghost is dealt. This hand belongs to no one, but is exposed in the final showdown. To win the pot you have to beat the ghost as well as the other players. If the ghost wins, everyone who stayed in must match the pot. In this version, sometimes everyone drops out, in which case all must add an ante to the pot for the next deal.
There is another version in which the ghost only plays when just one person stays in. If two or more players stay in, they play only against each other.
The presence of a ghost hand that always plays makes it unprofitable to bluff, so players will stay in only with a better than average hand, which makes the game tactically less interesting than the version with no ghost.
Each player is dealt three cards rather than two. The betting procedure is the same as in two-card guts, but with three cards most people play that 3-card straights and 3-card flushes count. The ranking of hands from high to low is usually:
but some groups may rank a straight flush above three of a kind or a flush above a straight so this should be checked and agreed before playing.
Some play that after the deal and before the declaration, all players pass one card face down to the left. Players must decide what card to pass before seeing what they have received.
Each player is dealt two cards, players declare in or out, and those who are in receive a third card. Hands rank as in Three-card Guts.
Some require those who stay in for a third card to pay an extra ante and take part in a second round of declaring in or out when they have three cards. So players who stay in for a third card but drop out when they have seen it lose this extra ante but do not risk having to match the pot.
Brian Johnson describes a variant in which players are initially dealt 4 cards face-down. Twos are wild. Players declare simultaneously by holding a coin in their closed fist if they are playing. Players who are in receive 2 more cards face up, so that each player has 6 cards, and whoever can make the best 5-card poker hand wins. All players who stay in and lose match the pot. Usually a maximum loss per deal is agreed, say $5.00, and if the pot contains more than this, losers only pay the maximum.
The game ends when one person stays in by themselves, winning the whole pot.
In this variant of 4-2-2,also contributed by Brian Johnson, after the declaration, instead of dealing two cards face up to each player, the dealer deals three common cards face up, and players form their best 5-cvard poker hand from the 7 available cards - the 4 that were dealt to them and the 3 on the table.
In these games the deal is in three stages. At each stage players declare in or out, but players who declare out keep their cards and may still compete in subsequent stages.
This game is played in three stages, with three-card, five-card and seven-card hands. At each stage, if more than one player stays in the highest of them wins from the others, but if only one player stays in, the player scores a point (sometimes known as a leg, and represented by a token of some sort) towards winning the pot. The game continues until someone collects three legs and wins the pot.
Stage One. All players ante and three cards are dealt face down to each player. Players then declare whether they are in or out. Declarations can be in sequence or simultaneous, as agreed in advance by the players - or in dealer's choice as specified in advance by the dealer.
Stage Two. Now all players, including those who didn't stay in in the first stage, are dealt two more cards face down. Everyone declares again. As before if no one stayed in nothing happens, and if one player stayed in that player gets a token. If two or more stayed in, the best five-card poker hand wins, using normal poker ranking and with fives wild instead of threes. Players who stayed in look privately at each others hand and the loser(s) pay the winner(s) as before.
Stage Three. All the players are dealt two more cards face down, and there is a third round of declarations. If no one stays in all cards are thrown and there is a new ante and deal. If just one player stays in that player gets a token before the cards are thrown in. If two or more stay in, they show their hands and the winner is the holder of the best five-card poker hand (using any five cards of the seven), with sevens as the only wild cards. The winner is paid by the losers who stayed in as before.
If no one has three tokens yet, everyone keeps the tokens they have, all cards are thrown in, everyone adds another ante to the pot, and the cards are shuffled and dealt by the next dealer, beginning with three cards as before.
As soon as any player collects a third token, whether on a three-card, a five-card or a seven-card hand, that player collects the whole pot and the game is over.