Onion Hold ’Em

Try not to cry as you peel away your cards while making your way to the showdown in this variant of Hold ‘Em poker.


Onion is Hold 'Em poker, with four hole cards dealt to each player and discard stages after the flop and turn bets (“peeling the onion”), leaving remaining players with two hole cards at the river. Otherwise, play proceeds as in Texas Hold 'Em. Onion is usually played pot-limit. #OnionPoker


I play in a regular poker game, and we play several variations of the game. Our game started with just Texas Hold 'Em, then expanded to Omaha High-Low, and now has many additional variations in rotation. We originally limited games to ones played in the World Series of Poker, but even that limit has been stretched. For instance, one of our players recently introduced a game which he read about on a blog, which he said made it “real”. We’ve created a variation that I feel is as fun–more fun, in fact–than several of the ones in rotation, and since making a blog post is enough to make it real, here’s it is: Onion Hold 'Em.


Onion is typically played pot-limit (it’s the other PLO). That is, the amount a player may commit to the pot with each bet is limited to the amount in the pot from previous betting rounds, plus any committed chips from players who acted earlier in the current round. That said, there’s no reason it can’t be played as a no-limit game; the game mechanic of “peeling the onion” is simply more interesting if the game gets to its later stages. Playing Onion as a limit game may also be fun for the same reason, although I haven’t tried it.

Summary of Game Flow

For players who are familiar with Texas Hold 'Em, this is a concise description of the game; a detailed version is below.

  1. Four cards are dealt face down to each player, instead of the normal two. Bet as normal, based on the hole cards dealt. Each player will eventually be making a five card hand with five community cards and two hole cards after later rounds, just as in Texas Hold 'Em.

  2. Flop and bet occur as in Texas Hold 'Em.

  3. “Peel the onion.” That is, each player discards a card from his hand, face down, leaving him with three remaining hole cards. This mechanic forces each player to choose among possible draws and made hands, which is where the game gets its name; “Peeling the onion” may make one want to cry, as it can in the kitchen. ;)

  4. Turn, bet, and “peel” again, leaving two hole cards in each player’s hand.

  5. River, bet, and showdown as in Texas Hold 'Em.

Detailed Game Flow

  1. The deal. Each player is dealt four cards face down from a standard fifty-two card poker deck (that is, all cards of values: two to ten; jack; queen; king; ace, from all four suits: clubs; diamond; hearts; spades). Each player should keep these “hole cards” from being identified by other players.

  2. The first round of betting. Starting to the dealer’s left, each player may: check (pass the action to the next player without betting, if no bet has yet been made in this round); open the betting (be the first player to bet his hand); raise a previous bet (by a minimum equal to the amount of any previous raise); call a previous bet (commit the total amount the previous player has committed to the pot, but not adding any additional raise); fold (abandon the hand face down at no cost other than any bet already committed earlier in the hand). Each player may choose from these available actions in turn, moving clockwise around the table, until all players have acted and have either folded or committed the same amount of chips to the pot. The only reason a player should have less committed than other players is if he has no chips remaining to commit, in which case he is said to be “all-in”. An all-in player can continue to a showdown without further betting, but can only win an amount equal to the number of chips in the pot when he committed his last chips, matched by each player still in the hand. Remaining players continue play as normal, starting a side pot for additional bets.

  3. The flop. Three community cards are dealt face up in the center of the table.

  4. Second round of betting. Betting commences according to the same rules outlined earlier.

  5. Peeling the onion, part one. The namesake round of the game: Each player discards exactly one of their hole cards, face down.

  6. The turn. A fourth community card is dealt face up so that there are now four community cards in the middle of the table.

  7. Third round of betting. Again, as before.

  8. Peeling the onion, part two. Each remaining player discards exactly one of their three remaining hole cards, again doing so face down, leaving each with two hole cards remaining.

  9. The river. A fifth (and last) community card is dealt face up with the other four.

  10. Final round of betting. A fourth round of betting proceeds as before.

  11. Showdown. Each remaining player reveals their hole cards, starting from the dealer’s left and working clockwise around the table. The best possible five card hand is constructed from the two hole cards and the five community cards. Any or all of the community cards may be used to construct the hand, and it is ranked with all other previous hands according to standard poker rules. A player may elect to abandon his hand, and all of his bets, without showing the hand. The player with the best five-card poker hand wins the pot. Ties split the pot among players with equivalent hands.


Crazy Onion. Play is as described above, but each card discarded during the “peel” stages is discarded face up. This added information can aid opponents, but can also be used by the canny player to convince other players that his hand is better than it is. When discarding face up, it is customary to do so after all players in the hand have selected their cards to be discarded, and once discarding has begun, players may not change their selection.

Crazier Onion. This is the same as Crazy Onion, above, but cards are discarded face up starting from the dealer’s left and working around the table clockwise until all players have discarded. Players need not select a card to discard until it is their turn; they get the advantage of seeing the discard choices of players who are further out-of-position.

Comments Welcome

Tweet with the hashtag “#OnionPoker”. I’ll incorporate feedback here.

Another Variant: Funyon

Update 2017/8/24: I’ve described an Onion variant that’s become one of our local favorites in another post: Funyun.