How to Play Indian Poker: The Complete Guide


There’s one poker variation that trumps everything else when it comes to the fun and interaction—Indian Poker. You probably have heard of it before, or you’re planning to play it with friends. Regardless, you’re in for a treat because Indian Poker is the opposite of the game we’re all used to playing.

Indian Poker or the “blind man’s bluff” is a poker variation that reveals all of the cards in play to a player, except for his cards. Each player will place their card on their forehead, without seeing it, then use the available data to strategize and “reverse bluff” their opponents.

You won’t see it in play when watching WSOP, but it’s one of the most popular variations that people use when playing with friends. We’ll discuss it in great detail, including the basic rules and different types. So stick around to learn about this perfect casual poker game.

complete guide to playing indian poker
Indian poker is mostly played just for fun with friends.

Basics of Indian Poker

Similar to other poker variations, Indian Poker is a game of ambiguity, strategy, and bluff. However, this variation is the opposite of what we’re all used to playing. That’s because every player will see your card except you! So whatever strategy you use when playing will depend on your opponent’s cards.

It seems easier to play than other variations because every card in play is visible to you, but it’s actually the opposite. Indian Poker is a case of data quantity versus quality, and it proves that having more data to work with doesn’t really make poker easier.

Even if you have all the cards visible to you, aside from your cards, knowing your odds of having the nuts is impossible, making it more challenging to formulate a strategy. The only variable available to you is your opponents’ cards, and that’s what you’ll be using to bluff them.

In a typical poker game, you’ll calculate your hand’s strength without seeing your opponent’s cards. In Indian Poker, you’ll have to calculate your odds of beating your opponent’s card without even knowing what your hand is. If you have community cards in play, the game gets even more complicated.

Although it’s possible to monetize Indian Poker, people prefer to play it as a drinking game. Since it has a much higher level of ambiguity than other poker variations, it can be tough to formulate a winning strategy. Although bluffing and strategy can improve your chances of winning, luck will always be a significant factor, so we only play it for fun and entertainment

What Do You Need to Play Indian Poker?

You don’t need a lot to play Indian Poker, because money (or chips) is rarely involved. The most common variation only requires a deck of cards and a shot glass—or glasses if you want to up the ante. If you already have these, you can start playing Indian Poker and try its different variations.

One of the things that made this game popular amongst poker players is its versatility. There’s no specific set of rules that apply to Indian Poker, and you can change any part of the game to your liking. The only rule that it has is that a player’s cards will always be visible to every player, except for the one who holds it.

Its versatility is one of the reasons why there are so many variations of Indian Poker that you can play. The rules, bets, and use of cards may vary, but the idea remains the same. You’ll always have to formulate a winning strategy without knowing your cards.

Aside from the cards and a shot glass, you’ll also need 2 to 7 players. 3 is the recommended number of players to start the game. However, in other variations where each player receives two cards and has community cards in play, having two players is also possible. The more players there are on the table, the more interesting the game gets, and the harder it is to formulate a winning strategy. 

what is needed to play indian poker
Indian poker can be played just with 2 players. But more players, the more fun game becomes.

How to Play Indian Poker 

Playing the Indian Poker is easy, but winning it isn’t. It works the same as most poker games starting with the dealer, drawing one card face down to each player. Once every player has one card each, they’ll stick it on their forehead (without seeing their cards) to reveal what they have to the other players.

It’s “reversed poker,” so instead of bluffing your opponents with the cards that you hold and force them to fold, you’ll bluff them with the cards that they have and persuade them to stay in the game. Since your opponents are also unaware of the cards they have, you can use it to give them the impression that they have a high card.

This gameplay even adds up to the complexity of this variation and makes it much different from the poker games that we usually play. Everything in Indian Poker flows in reverse, and correctly using the data that you have will get the other players “punished” for falling to your trap. 

The Objective of the Game

The game’s objective is simple: you only need to have the highest card in play to win. Since there’s no money involved, the other players have more reason to fold whenever they feel like their cards are weak. The player who calls after one betting round and loses will drink whatever’s in the shot glass. If more than two players are still in play after the betting round, the player who has the lowest card takes the shot glass.

In some variations, before a game starts, each player will place their “bet” or a shot glass for each player. If there are seven players in a game, the loser or the player with the lowest card and still called will drink all of it. The higher the ante gets, the more motivation each player has to fold and stay out of the game.

It’s also one part of the equation that you have to consider when playing this game. Unlike other poker games where you force other players to fold, this game should have at least two players left by the end of the betting round to have a loser. Instead of intimidating the other players with the cards you have, your objective is to have at least one other player stay in the game

Dealing Cards in Indian Poker

Dealing cards will depend on the variation that you’re going to play. A typical Indian Poker only needs one card for each player without the need for a community card. In a simplified game, only the high-value cards are in play—10 to A. Although the card’s suit doesn’t affect the rankings, people still keep all four in play to increase the level of ambiguity.

In some variations, each player will receive two cards or more cards. These additional cards can make the game more complicated, but it doesn’t really add up to the “fun factor” when playing. It’ll still depend on how you use your opponents’ actions to determine how your cards stack up against theirs. Their actions don’t guarantee anything, though. Remember, your opponents are also unaware of what their cards are.

In some variations, community cards are in play, and it uses the typical hand rankings in Poker. This gameplay adds even more complexity with the game because, aside from the cards of the other players, you also need to consider the community cards. Like Texas Hold’em, the flop, turn, and river cards could make or break your opponent’s hand, forcing you to adapt and adjust your strategy instantly. 

How the Betting Round Works

There’s only one betting round in a typical game, and each player can only move to call or fold. The game will only continue if two or more players call. If you’re using shot glasses as the ante, there’s more reason for players to fold, so part of your strategy should be to make sure that the players stay in the game.

When there’s money involved, players can choose between call, raise, or fold. The round continues as long as players call the raises, and players re-raise the bet. The betting round ends when every player after the last raise has either called or folded, and no player has made a re-raise. 

Playing indian poker for money
If money is involved, then you have the option to call, raise, or fold. But variations without the money are more popular.

How to Determine the Winner

Different variations have different ways to determine the winner. However, in a typical game, the player with the highest card wins, and the player with the lowest takes the shot glass. When money is involved, the player with the best card or the last player to survive the betting round takes the pot.

In other variations, especially with Indian Stud Poker and Indian Texas Hold’em, the usual card ranking is in play. Instead of only using the card number to rank the lowest to highest, we’ll also use the card suit to rank each player’s hand. The hand rankings include pairs, trips, quads, straights, and flushes, so you’ll have to use all 52 cards to play. 

Hand Rankings for Indian Poker

Hand ranking is straightforward when playing a typical Indian Poker game; there are no pairs, straights, flushes, full houses, and quads. Whether you’re using one card or more cards, the player with the highest card, without considering the suit, wins the round. We recommend that you use a simplified deck if there’s only a handful of players because the more cards there are in play, the harder it is for the players to strategize.

The typical poker hand rankings apply when there are community cards in play, or each player gets five cards each. A five-card game isn’t as common because five cards for each player makes the game even more complicated. On the other hand, using community cards adds a new depth of ambiguity, forcing each player to up their game to win the round. 

Popular Variations on Indian Poker

Now that you know how you can play Indian Poker, you’ll most likely have another variation in mind. It’s normal when playing Indian Poker because it has so much potential with its core gameplay. However, before you start playing your preferred variation, it would be better to learn more about the most common (and interesting) games that you can play. 

One-Card Poker⁠

One-card is the most common and, presumably, the original version of Indian Poker. It’s an over-simplified form of Poker where you only need a handful of cards without any regard for the suit. You can play it with 52 cards or a stripped-off deck. The game will still be fun, and the only difference you’ll get from it is the level of difficulty for the players.

The lack of information about the cards that a player holds outweighs all the available information. So even if you know most of the cards in play, including the cards of other players, it can still be tough to pull off an excellent bluff. Unlike other poker games that rely on a mix of strategies and bluffs, one-card poker heavily relies on a player’s skill to create an impression that his opponent has the upper hand. 

Match Pot Betting

Aside from the gameplay, the betting round also has different variations, and the most common is match pot betting. With this rule, every player will, upon agreement, simultaneously announce whether they’ll call or fold. It’s a popular Indian Poker variation because it takes the other player’s decisions out of the equation.

During play, if a player before you, who has a higher card, folds, you’ll have more reason to fold as well. But with match pot betting, you won’t have a chance to consider it because everyone calls or folds at the same time. It’s also highly possible for two high card players to fold at the same time, after seeing each other’s card as a potential winner. 

Multi-Card Poker

People who want to up their game can use more than one card to make the game a bit more interesting. You can use two, three, or even four cards. However, since the hand rankings for this variation still follow the same ranking as the one-card poker, it only makes the game unnecessarily more complicated.

With four cards in play, only the highest card of all four will count, and disregard the remaining three. So, technically, it makes the game a bit more challenging, but it does very little in improving the “fun factor” that players can get from it. If you want a variation that makes the game more challenging and fun, it would be better to play Indian Texas Hold’em or Indian Stud instead. 

Indian Texas Hold’em

The gameplay for this variation is similar to the one we all loved. The only difference is instead of keeping your cards a secret to your opponents, you won’t know what cards you have until the end of the round. It’s a bit more complicated than the other poker games we’ve seen because your objective will be the opposite: make the other players think that they have a better hand and, possibly, persuade them to build up the pot.

Indian Texas Hold’em uses money as the ante, and the player with the best hand takes the pot. Community cards are still in play with the flop, turn, and river. Players can make their bets on each street and could raise, call, or fold before the betting round ends. It has become one of the most popular variations of Indian Poker because it combines the complexity and ambiguity of Texas Hold’em and the “reverse strategy” of Indian Poker. 

Indian Stud Poker

Five-card or seven-card Stud Poker; you can use either, then upgrade it with the Indian Poker twist. The only difference that it has with a typical Stud Poker is that each player will only receive one card on the first round, then place it on their forehead without seeing it. Betting and card distribution follow the same format as Stud Poker.

Although it sounds fun, Indian Stud Poker is actually a lot harder when you’re playing it for the first time. Since there are no community cards to use as your baseline for the hand ranking, it can be challenging to determine how well your cards stack up against your opponents. That’s why it’s usually only played as a casual game for professionals who want to add a twist with their game. 

Conclusion

Indian Poker is a popular variation that we usually play with friends. You can play it as a drinking game or use money as the ante. It’s the opposite of a typical poker game because you need to mislead your opponents to think that they have a better hand.

That’s the core rule when playing this game, and you can adjust the rest to your liking. Some of the most popular variations of this game include:

  • One-Card Poker⁠
  • Match Pot Betting
  • Multi-Card Poker
  • Indian Texas Hold’em
  • Indian Stud Poker

You can use any of these to play with your friends or add more twist to it, but it should always retain the core gameplay of an Indian Poker—keep the card’s value unknown to the player who holds it.

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