Anaconda

An anacondaAnaconda is a very informal poker game that causes its players to make a lot of gut-wrenching decisions! You might form an excellent hand, but have to break it up between betting rounds. It’s also a split pot game, with half the pot going to the player with the best hand and the other half going to the player with the worst hand.

Anaconda is mostly played as a part of dealer’s choice games; it’s not likely to be found at your local casino. It can be played by up to seven players, and is best with four or more.

Object of Anaconda

The object of Anaconda is to form either the highest-ranking or lowest-ranking poker hand by selecting cards to pass to the other players.

Setup

Like most poker games, Anaconda is played with one standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Since an anaconda is a snake, we suggest using a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, which have a dragon on the ace of spades, keeping the reptile theme going. You also need something to bet with; poker chips work well, but you can use cash, matchsticks, bottle caps, pieces of gum…

All players ante. Shuffle and deal seven cards, face down, to each player. The deck stub is set aside and has no further effect on game play.

Game play

After everyone has had a chance to look at their hands, the first betting round takes place. This follows the norms of betting in poker. After the betting round concludes, the players that are still in the hand select four cards from their hand that they want to keep, setting the other three face down in front of them. After everyone has made their choices, everyone passes these discards to the first player to the left of them. Everyone picks up the cards that they received and adds them to their hand.

After the first pass, there is another betting round. Then, a second passing round occurs; this one is conducted the same as the first, except instead of passing to the left, the cards are passed to the second player to the right. A third round of betting happens after this.

Now, each player decides whether they will compete to have the highest hand or the lowest hand. Each player takes a chip in their hand and shuffles it from hand to hand under the table, out of view of the other players. The players then form one of their hands into a fist and bring it above the table. On the count of three, the players open their hands to reveal whether or not they are holding a chip; those holding a chip are indicating that they intend to compete for high hand, and those with no chip are going for low.

The players now form their final hands, discarding three cards face down into a discard pile. Each player then turns four of the cards making up their hand face up on the table in front of them, placing the fifth card face down next to the rest of their hand. Then, one last round of betting occurs. (It’s worth noting that at least part of the outcome will be fairly obvious in many cases, because at this point, the players know 80% of their opponents’ hands and whether everyone is going high or low. But some surprises can come out with the last card!)

After the final betting round, the fifth card of each active player’s hand is revealed, and the pot is split between the best high hand and the best low hand. (See “Rank of poker hands” and “Lowball poker” for information about how to determine the best hand.) Any remainder is left in the pot as “flavor” for the next hand.

Anaconda strategy

Anaconda plays a bit differently than other forms of poker simply because the player is unable to simply “stand pat” with the cards they are holding; one card of any given five-card combination must be passed. For this reason, royal and straight flushes are useless unless lucked into after the second pass, and regular straights and full houses will be difficult to keep filled. The best hand to hold is four of a kind, not only because it is a very powerful hand, but also because the only card that will need to be passed is the kicker, which is irrelevant for four of a kind. Pursuing a flush is also a decent option, because with four to a flush, there are nine possible cards that can make the hand, although in larger games it is more likely that a full house will be present.

Players should also keep in mind that going for low is an option. Many players naturally tend toward going for high, so it is not all that rare for a player to win the low half of the pot with a fairly weak hand simply because they were the only one who declared low. A player intending to go high who misses their hand going may, rather than folding immediately, consider seeing if they can refashion their hand as a suitable low hand.

Remember that bluffing with the final reveal is possible, and both be wary of this from other players and take advantage of it yourself. Careful selection of which cards are revealed can help represent hands both stronger and weaker than what you actually have. A revealed hand of Q-Q-Q-3 could be four of a kind (Q-Q-Q-Q-3), a full house (Q-Q-Q-3-3), or even just three of a kind (Q-Q-Q-3-?). With jacks full of 9s, a player can choose to reveal J-J-9-9 to try to convince their opponents that they only hold two pair, or J-J-J-9 to bluff that they have quads. Keep your table image in mind too; if you are known to the other players to play conservatively, try representing a higher hand than you really have, and if you’re known as a loose player, show a poor hand.

Naturally, it is important to pay attention to what the other players are revealing. It is pointless to try to bluff that you have four 10s if one of your opponents is showing a 10 plain as day on the table. Likewise, if there are multiple possible four-of-a-kinds or full houses on the table, you are likely to be unable to get anyone to fold to your flush no matter how hard you bet it.

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