Basic Rules of Poker
Poker has many variations, all following a similar pattern of play.
The right to deal each hand typically rotates among the players and is marked by a token called a 'dealer' button or buck. In a casino, a house dealer handles the cards for each hand, but a button (typically a white plastic disk) is rotated clockwise among the players to indicate a nominal dealer to determine the order of betting.
One or more players are required to make forced bets to create an initial stake for which the players will contest. The dealer shuffles the cards, he cuts, and the appropriate number of cards are dealt to the players one at a time. Cards may be dealt either face-up or face-down, depending on the variant of poker being played. After the initial deal, the first of what may be several betting rounds begins. Between rounds, the players' hands develop in some way, often by being dealt additional cards or replacing cards previously dealt. At the end of each round, all bets are gathered into the central pot.
At any time during a betting round, if a player makes a bet, opponents are required to fold, call or raise. If one player bets and no opponents choose to call (match) the bet, the hand ends immediately, the bettor is awarded the pot, no cards are required to be shown, and the next hand begins. This possibility of winning a pot without showing a hand makes bluffing possible. Bluffing is a primary feature of poker, one that distinguishes it from other vying games and from other games that make use of poker hand rankings.
At the end of the last betting round, if more than one player remains, there is a showdown, in which the players reveal their previously hidden cards and evaluate their hands. The player with the best hand according to the poker variant being played wins the pot.
The most popular poker variants are as follows:
Players each receive five - as in five-card draw - or more cards, all of which are hidden. They can then replace one or more of these cards a certain number of times. Draw poker is any poker variant in which each player is dealt a complete hand before the first betting round, and then develops the hand for later rounds by replacing cards. This is often the first poker variant learned by most players, and is very common in home games although it is now quite rare in casino and tournament play. Two to eight players can play.
Players receive cards one at a time, some being displayed to other players at the table. The key difference between stud and 'draw' poker is that players are not allowed to discard or replace any cards. Stud poker is any of a number of poker variants in which each player receives a mix of face-down and face-up cards dealt in multiple betting rounds. Stud games are also typically non-positional games, meaning that the player who bets first on each round may change from round to round (it is usually the player whose face-up cards make the best hand for the game being played). The cards dealt face down to each individual player are called hole cards (which gave rise to the common English expression ace in the hole, which suggests that one has something valuable that is hidden from view).
Five-card stud first appeared during the American Civil War, and became very popular. In recent years, Seven-card stud has become more common, both in casinos and in home games. These two games form the basis of most modern stud poker variations.
The number of betting rounds in a game influences how well the game plays with different betting structures. Games with four or fewer betting rounds, such as five-card stud and Mississippi stud, play well with any structure, and are especially well suited to no limit and pot limit play. Games with more betting rounds are more suited to fixed limit or spread limit. It is common (and recommended) for later betting rounds to have higher limits than earlier ones. For example, a "$5/$10 Seven-card Stud" game in a Nevada casino allows $5 bets for the first two rounds and $10 bets for subsequent rounds. Also common is to make the final round even higher: a "$5/$10/$20" game would allow $20 bets on the last round only. Another common rule is to allow the larger bet on the second round if there is an "open pair" (that is, at least one player's upcards make a pair). Some casinos (typically in California) use the smaller limit on the first three rounds rather than just the first two.
It is a common convention in stud poker to name the betting rounds after the number of cards each player holds when that betting round begins. So the bet that occurs when each player has three cards is called "third card" or "third street", while the bet that occurs when each player has five cards is "fifth street". The final round, regardless of the number of betting rounds, is commonly called the "river" or simply the "end".
Community card poker
Players combine individually dealt cards with a number of "community cards" dealt face up and shared by all players. Each player will attempt to make the best five card poker hand using the community cards and their own face down cards. Two or four individual cards may be dealt in the most popular variations, Texas hold 'em and Omaha hold 'em, respectively. About the time of World War II, many modern poker games used community cards (also called "shared cards" or "window cards"), which are cards dealt face up to the center of the table and shared by all players. In these games, each player is dealt privately an incomplete hand ("hole cards"), which is then combined with the community cards to make a complete hand. The set of community cards is called the "board", and may be dealt in a simple line or arranged in a special pattern. Rules of each game determine how they may be combined with each player's private hand. The most popular community card game today is Texas hold 'em, originating sometime in the 1920s.
In home games, it is typical to use antes, while casinos typically use only blinds for these games. Fixed limit games are most common in casinos, while spread limit games are more common in home games. No limit and pot limit games are less common. Later betting rounds often have a higher limit than earlier betting rounds. Each betting round begins with the player to the dealer's left (when blinds are used, the first round begins with the player after the big blind), so community card games are generally positional games.
Most community card games do not play well with lowball hand values, though some do play very well at high-low split, especially with ace-to-five low values, making it possible to win both halves of a pot. When played high-low split, there is generally a minimum qualifying hand for low (often 8-high), and it is played cards speak.
Hold 'em is normally played using small and big blind bets - forced bets by two players. Antes (forced contributions by all players) may be used in addition to blinds, particularly in later stages of tournament play. A dealer button is used to represent the player in the dealer position; the dealer button rotates clockwise after each hand, changing the position of the dealer and blinds. The small blind is posted by the player to the left of the dealer and is usually equal to half of the big blind. The big blind, posted by the player to the left of the small blind, is equal to the minimum bet. In tournament poker, the blind/ante structure periodically increases as the tournament progresses. (In some cases, the small blind is some other fraction of a small bet, e.g. $10 is a common small blind when the big blind is $15. The double-blind structure described above is relatively recent; until the 1980s, a single-blind structure was most common.)
When only two players remain, special 'head-to-head' or 'heads up' rules are enforced and the blinds are posted differently. In this case, the person with the dealer button posts the small blind, while his/her opponent places the big blind. The dealer acts first before the flop. After the flop, the dealer acts last for the remainder of the hand.
The three most common variations of hold 'em are limit hold 'em, no-limit hold 'em and pot-limit hold 'em. Limit hold 'em has historically been the most popular form of hold 'em found in casino live action games in the United States. In limit hold 'em, bets and raises during the first two rounds of betting (pre-flop and flop) must be equal to the big blind; this amount is called the small bet. In the next two rounds of betting (turn and river), bets and raises must be equal to twice the big blind; this amount is called the big bet. No-limit hold 'em is the form most commonly found in televised tournament poker and is the game played in the main event of the World Series of Poker. In no-limit hold 'em, players may bet or raise any amount over the minimum raise up to all of the chips the player has at the table (called an all-in bet). In pot-limit hold 'em, the maximum raise is the current size of the pot.
Most casinos that offer hold 'em also allow the player to the left of the big blind to post an optional live straddle, usually double the amount of the big blind, which then acts as the big blind. No-limit games may also allow multiple re-straddles, in any amount that would be a legal raise.
Play of the hand
There are only two private cards in hold 'em. They are dealt first.
Play begins with each player being dealt two cards face down. (Like most poker games, the deck is a standard 52 card deck, no jokers.) These cards are the player's hole or pocket cards. These are the only cards each player will receive individually, and they will only (possibly) be revealed at the showdown, making Texas hold 'em a closed poker game.
The hand begins with a "pre-flop" betting round, beginning with the player to the left of the big blind (or the player to the left of the dealer, if no blinds are used) and continuing clockwise. A round of betting continues until every player has either folded, put in all of their chips, or matched the amount put in by all other active players. See betting for a detailed account. Note that the blinds are considered "live" in the pre-flop betting round, meaning that they contribute to the amount that the blind player must contribute, and that, if all players call around to the player in the big blind position, that player may either check or raise.
After the pre-flop betting round, assuming there remain at least two players taking part in the hand, the dealer deals a flop, three face-up community cards. The flop is followed by a second betting round. This and all subsequent betting rounds begin with the player to the dealer's left and continue clockwise.
After the flop betting round ends a single community card (called the turn or fourth street) is dealt, followed by a third betting round. A final single community card (called the river or fifth street) is then dealt, followed by a fourth betting round and the showdown, if necessary.
If a player bets and all other players fold, then the remaining player is awarded the pot and is not required to show his hole cards. If two or more players remain after the final betting round, a showdown occurs. On the showdown, each player plays the best five-card poker hand he can make from the seven cards comprising his two hole cards and the five community cards. A player may use both of his own two hole cards, only one, or none at all, to form his final five-card hand. If the five community cards form the player's best hand, then the player is said to be playing the board and can only hope to split the pot, since each other player can also use the same five cards to construct the same hand.
If the best hand is shared by more than one player, then the pot is split equally among them, with any extra chips going to the first players after the button in clockwise order. It is common for players to have closely-valued, but not identically ranked hands. Nevertheless, one must be careful in determining the best hand; if the hand involves fewer than five cards, (such as two pair or three of a kind), then kickers are used to settle ties (see the second example below). Note that the card's numerical rank is of sole importance; suit values are irrelevant in Hold'em.
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