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A Look at House Rules: Running Out of Cards

  • Linda GeenenLinda Geenen
A Look at House Rules: Running Out of Cards 0001

Before you grab your chest and fall to the floor screaming for a medic because your first thought is that the card manufacturers of the world have shut down, please take a deep breath and remember this article is about house rules. The cards are always rolling off the assembly line and your favorite card room will be dealing out hand after hand into eternity as long as players fill the seats.

But just to keep you in the know in case you’re in a crazy hand with massive action all the way to the end, let’s talk about what happens when the dealer runs out of cards.

It’s fairly standard that the last card of the deck is never used in any game under any circumstances. (Note: In some card rooms you may find that if the last card on the deck completes the deal on the final street in the hand it will be dealt without reshuffling.)

Why? Our theory is that it’s possible the card may have been exposed if the dealer has the bad habit of turning his or her hand at any angle other than level while dealing the hand, even if using a cut card (the card that protects the bottom of the deck). If you have another thought on the reason the last card is never used, please leave us a comment.

It isn’t possible to run out of cards during the deal in hold’em and Omaha games as long as the number of players at the table doesn’t exceed the standard nine or ten and the deck has 52 cards in it. However, in stud-based games or draw games, if all of the players at a full table continue to the end of the hand, that will completely exhaust the deck. Most mixed games and stud-based games have a maximum of eight players for that very reason — namely, to minimize the chance of running out of cards during a hand.

So how is it handled when the dealer is running out of cards to deal in a hand of stud or draw?

Stud-Based Games

If the dealer is paying attention and realizes there are not enough cards left on the stub to finish dealing the last round in a stud game, once the action is complete on sixth street, the dealer will burn a card and turn the next card face up in the middle of the table as a community card (such as are used in hold’em and Omaha). That card then plays in everyone’s hand as if it were each player’s last card, but it does not affect the order of where the action starts — that is, the hand that was high in stud, or low in razz, before that card was dealt, will start the action.

If the dealer has already begun dealing the last down card (seventh street) to some players before realizing the shortage of cards, the deal will continue until the last card on the stub is reached. At that point, the last card and the burn cards will be scrambled/reshuffled, cut, a burn card is dealt, and the remaining players will receive their last cards.

Super Stud-Based Games

What is Super Stud? The game is usually played five-handed and begins with each player being dealt five cards face down. Each player then discards two and chooses one of the three remaining cards as a door card (up card). The hand then proceeds in the same format as a regular stud-based game.

When dealing Super Stud, if the number of burn cards will complete the deal of the hand, the dealer will scramble and cut the cards to finish the deal. If the action requires more than the number of burn cards, the dealer will use the muck (dead card pile), the burns, and the last card of the deck to scramble, shuffle, cut, burn, and deal the next card. This could happen on more than one street and a burn card is required in all instances.

Draw Games

The situation of running out of cards is handled a little differently in draw games. When there are not enough cards left to complete the draw, the cards are dealt down to the last card on the deck, the discards from the current round are kept separated from the muck which is pulled together with the last card and burn cards to be scrambled, shuffled, and cut, ready to deal the burn and replacement cards to finish the hand.

Home Games

In our opinion, because we always reference the fun and excitement of playing poker with friends and relatives, along with the range of game formats and variants that might show up in your favorite game, it’s very likely that situations will arise in home games in which a shortage of cards would occur.

Hopefully your host has a solution that’s set in stone for how to handle running out of cards in a hand. It’s difficult to play when there is no set rule and a decision is always subject to change, so it’s worthwhile having a rule in place for when the deck is exhausted in order to keep the game orderly.

If you play in a home game that has a rule that is used for handling running out of cards in a hand which is different from any of those listed here, please share it with us in the comments section.

Online Poker

Back in June PokerStars dealt its 100 billionth hand. That’s quite an achievement, and really it’s incredible to imagine that many hands once you start wrapping your thoughts around a figure as high as 100 billion! Having dealt so many hands, PokerStars has had a lot of experience dealing with all sorts of situations in poker, including the one of running out of cards in stud-based or draw games.

The way PokerStars handles running out of cards in a stud hand is to turn the seventh street card face up in the middle of the table — the community card — and it plays in everyone’s hand as if it were their last down card. As in casino card rooms, the hand that controlled the action on sixth street also starts the action after the community card is dealt.

Meanwhile, it’s also possible to run out of cards when playing draw games online, especially in games like deuce-to-seven triple draw. In that case, PokerStars “reshuffles” all of the draw cards and remaining cards in the deck to be subsequently dealt to the players in action. This means there is a possibility you could draw a card you had previously discarded! But if that happens, just go with the flow because the format is set so that each player has the same disadvantage/advantage over an extended period of playing time.

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