How to Play Poker
While advanced players spend a lifetime exploring the subtleties of poker, the basic rules are easy to master. There are many, many kinds of poker, but to be called poker they must conform to the basic rules. Here are a few ground rules for every poker variation:
When playing poker, a pack of 52 cards – with the possible addition of one or two jokers – is used. Cards are numbered 2 to 10 plus the face cards Jack, Queen, and King. The ace’s value is lower than 2 or higher than King depending on the game – in some games, it can be played either way. Classic poker is typically a one-pack game, but in casinos and professional matches, two packs of contrasting colors are used in alternation to speed up the game.
Poker is in essence a betting game. For each hand, gamblers add their bets to a common pot based on their confidence in winning the hand. The contents of the pot grow with successive betting rounds until they are awarded on a winner-take-all basis to the winner of the hand.
Although you could contribute to the betting pot with currency, people usually play poker with chips, with different colors representing different denominations of funds.
The chip with the lightest color, usually white, typically has the lowest value – equivalent to the minimum bet or ante. A red chip might be worth five white chips, and a blue chip is worth 10, 20, or 25 white chips. Before the game starts, each person “buys in” by purchasing a few chips.
One player is made the banker, and it is that player’s job to keep a record of all the chips purchased by each gambler. Poker rules specify that players are not allowed to make even the simplest private transactions among themselves. A player with surplus chips can return them to the bank for cash or credit but cannot sell them directly to another player. Players can purchase more chips only from the banker.
In a casino or gambling parlor, the house is the banker. Dealers can execute simple transactions like selling chips, but cashing out and other large or complex transactions take place only at the casino’s banking window.
Types of Poker
There are two major types of poker: Stud poker and draw poker. Complicated games, including the games used in televised tournaments, are variations on these two basic games. The rules for both of these poker games are almost identical.
In stud poker, each poker is dealt five or seven cards. In the five-card version, the first two cards are dealt face down, then the remaining cards are dealt face-up so every player has a chance to see them. In seven-card stud, each player’s first two cards and final card are dealt face-down. The rest are face-up.
The face-up cards allow each player to see parts of other players’ hands. Players assess the strength of their own poker hands by comparing them to the cards likely held by other players and make wagers accordingly.
The player who bids the most wins unless one or more players are willing to match the player’s bet. If two or more players are still betting after the final card is dealt, then the players show all their cards and the player who has the best hand wins all the chips.
With five-card draw, each player is dealt five cards, all face-down. Players may try to improve the strength of their hands by trading as many as three of their cards for new ones from the deck. A player holding an ace can trade in four cards.
So Much for Poker Rules: Let’s Play
Ready to play a game? There’s no better way to learn poker than to ante up and deal ’em. It’s educational, and it’s fun!
The first step in playing poker is to decide whether you wish to play draw poker or stud. The number of players in your group and the experience they have with poker can help you decide which game to play. Here are some quick recommendations:
Up to 4 players: For this table, any form of stud is a good choice of poker for beginners. Only very experienced card-sharks will bother to play with such a small table, and they tend to prefer a stripped deck with certain cards removed. Play plain ol’ stud, and they’ll leave you alone.
5 to 8 players: Good for any form of stud or draw poker.
9 or 10 players: 5-card stud is an excellent choice.
More than 10 players: With this many players, you need a game with hands that are smaller than five cards. Consider spit-in-the-ocean and three-card poker. Another option is to form two separate tables and organize two different games.
Back to the Rules: Rounds of Betting
Betting is an essential element of poker and the whole reason the game involves poker chips. It adds an element of excitement to the game to wager real money, and betting allows poker experts to make a living. At various points during a single hand, dealing is suspended to allow the laying of bets. Here’s how it works:
Bet: During the course of a poker deal, there will be one or more betting intervals during which every player has the opportunity to bet on their poker hands. The main objective is to minimize losses with a poor hand and maximize winnings with a good hand. Once a bet has been made, the other players must call or raise if they want to remain in the hand.
Raise: A player who has a good hand or is bluffing (pretending to have a good hand) may raise or increase the wager. Each player at the table must match the newly raised amount in order to remain in the hand. Players can raise if other players have placed bets during the current round and the raising player has enough chips to match the highest bet made and make a bigger one. Poker rules dictate that all players after that are required to call (bet sufficient chips to match the raised bet) or re-raise (raise the bet even higher) to stay in the hand.
Call: Once a player has raised the stake – that is, made a bet – the other players decide to call (wager an equal amount), raise, or fold. If you call, you are still in the hand. If you fold, you lose your chips in the pot and do not play the remainder of the hand.
Fold: If your hand isn’t good enough to win, you can simply lay down your cards. You will lose the amount you have bet so far, but you stop the losses. People who fold their poker hands can’t win the pot but they also don’t lose any more chips on the current hand.
Check: If no one has yet bet during a round of betting, a player may check, which simply means “pass.” When you check you refuse an opportunity to open the betting. You will have a chance to raise, call, or fold after another player opens the betting for the hand. If all the players check, everyone remains in the hand and that round of betting is considered complete even though no bets were placed.
There are a few different ways to fix the betting limit of a poker game. Limits prevent a player with a lot of money from having an unfair advantage. Typically a game of poker has:
No Limit: With no limits, a player can bet or raise any amount up to the total of their chips.
Pot Limit: In pot-limit poker, each player can raise an amount equal to the value of the chips in the pot at the time.
Fixed Limit: In fixed-limit games, each player can call, bet, or raise, but only up to an amount set in advance. The limit may vary according to the stage of the game.
Limits don’t change the rules but they affect the game, and you would be wise to adapt your poker strategy accordingly.
Table Stakes: The limit for each player is the value of chips they have in front of them. In table stakes, players can’t withdraw their chips or return them to the banker until they leave the game. They may add chips to their stacks, but only between hands.
All In: The all-in rule states that a player can’t forfeit the game because of lacking sufficient chips to call another player’s bet. If you wish to call but you don’t have enough chips, you call by pushing all your chips into the pot – you are all-in. If y