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Guts Poker


Guts Poker, or just Guts, is a popular home poker-based game. It is known for being easy to play and extremely volatile. Given the potential for huge pots, it takes a strong stomach to be a good Guts player. Given the simplicity, it is also a good game to call when everybody is too tired or drunk to concentrate on a legitimate poker game.


There are numerous variants of Guts Poker. I, personally, have seen it played several different ways. The one thing almost every variant has in common is the player is forced to a simple decision with every hand — "in" or "out."

For now, this page shall address only a variation that I shall call Three-Card Monte Carlo Guts. This is characterized by each player getting three cards and every losing player matching the pot (as opposed to just the player with the worst hand). Following are the specifics.

Three-Card Monte Carlo Guts

  1. A single 52-card deck is used.
  2. Each player shall Ante a specified amount into the pot.
  3. Each player is dealt three cards.
  4. The order of poker hands is as follows from highest to lowest:
    • Straight flush
    • Three of a kind
    • Straight
    • Flush
    • Pair
    • Three singletons
  5. After seeing his cards, each player must simultaneously declare if he is in or out. This is generally done by everybody opening his fist at the same time. A chip in the fist indicates "in" and an empty fist indicates "out." A variation is to simultaneously drop cards for "out" and holding them for "in." However, this second method is vulnerable to cheating via a move known as the "late drop."
  6. The pot shall go to the player with the highest hand among all those who went in. All other losing players who went in must match the pot.
  7. In the event one player only is in, he wins the uncontested post automatically.
  8. In the event nobody is in, a new hand is dealt.
  9. The game ends when somebody wins an uncontested pot.


Here is a partial list of rule variations.

  • Two cards (or any number) are used instead of three.
  • Players must Ante again to the pot if nobody is in.
  • If three or more players are in, only the losing hand must match the pot (this is known as Survivor Guts).
  • Players declare in order. A button rotates around the table to indicate which player must declare first.
  • If only one player is in, then he must beat a dummy hand.
  • Hand rankings can be altered. For example, no straights or flushes.


Following is my strategy for Three-Card Monte Carlo Guts. What I claim is that this strategy will be equal or superior to any other mix of player strategies. It may not be the absolute optimal hand but I believe it to be very close and should do well against recreational opponents.

The following table shows the minimum hand to go "in" with according to the total number of players (including yourself).

Three-Card Monte Carlo Guts

Players Raise on
2 K97
3 AQ8
4 Pair of sixes
5 Pair of nines
6 Pair of jacks
7 Pair of kings
8 Pair of aces
9 9-high flush
10 Jack-high flush

It is worth adding that the strategy for "survivor" guts, where only the loser must Ante, has a surprisingly similar strategy. For now I will say that in a game of amateurs it would be pretty safe to use the table above under "survivor guts" rules.