Poker is a card game enjoyed by millions of people throughout the world. Nowadays, internet sites offer an opportunity to play in the comfort of your own home.
Poker is easy to understand, taking only a small amount of time to learn how to play. Yet it is complex enough that many books and articles have been written that instruct you how to improve. Is it a game that you would enjoy? Quite likely, yes.
Do you have what it takes to be a successful poker player? Good players come in so many varieties that it would be hard to predict failure or success by looking at someone’s resume. A shoe salesperson could easily be a better poker player than the company president. Even though there is some mathematics connected with poker, one very seldom has to do math while playing. Since a hand’s chance of winning is based partly on the odds, a feel for the odds is needed, but it is based a lot more on memory than doing arithmetic.
One trait strongly associated with poker success is discipline. The essence of poker is betting that your cards are better than the opponent’s, but if you play many hands and the opponent plays only a few, the one’s he selects figure to be better on the average than the one’s you select. You want to play only the hands that have a high prospect of success. Frankly, quite a few people who are good at poker are not disciplined in eating, drinking, or tobacco use, but have learned to be fussy in their choice of which poker hands to play. So you cannot just look at someone and know if they have sufficient discipline to be a good poker player.
Integral to enjoying the game is a reward for winning and a penalty for losing. Often this is monetary, which has led poker to frequently being a gambling game. Yet an incentive such as getting points toward a goal will have the same general effect, causing the player to aim at a net win rather than playing every hand, good or bad.
In playing poker for money, one must be careful to put at risk only what one can afford. Although poker is an enjoyable activity for a great many people, it also can bring misery to a person who loses money that should have been spent on necessities. There are organizations that help people who have a gambling problem, but don’t let things go that far. If you play for money, manage your money responsibly.
Here is how poker is played. Your goal is to win chips. A few chips are put into the pot before the cards are dealt, so the players have an incentive to stay in. Some cards are dealt for a starting hand; then there is a betting round. If someone bets, you must match that bet to continue contending for the pot. If you like your hand–or wish to bluff–you can increase the amount of chips the others must put into the pot to stay. This is called “raising.” The players keep receiving new cards and betting afterward, until all the cards for that poker form have been dealt. When the betting is over, the players show their hands, with the highest-ranking one winning the pot. You can also win a pot by making a bet that no one wants to match. If they all fold their cards, you win.
A poker hand is always made up of your best five cards after all the betting is over. (In most poker forms, you select the best five cards out of a greater number.) The first step in playing poker is learning the relative value of the different hands. That way, you will know if you have a good hand or a bad one, and who wins at the end. Here is the scale of values, from highest to lowest. They are ranked in a manner that the harder the hand type is to get, the more it is worth.
Poker Hand Rankings
- Straight flush – This is five cards of the same suit in sequential rank, such as Ks Qs Js Ts 9s. Aces can be either high or low in most poker forms. Five cards of the same suit ace through ten are called a “royal flush,” which is the best possible poker hand.
- Four of a kind – All four cards of a certain rank (plus any other card).
Example: 9s 9h 9d 9c 2h
- Full house – Three cards of one rank and two of another rank.
Example: 7s 7h 7d 3c 3s
- Flush – Five cards of the same suit. Example: Ah, Qh, Jh, 9h, 2h.
- Straight – Five cards in sequence. Example: Ks Qd Jd Tc 9h
- Three of a kind – Three cards of the same rank (plus any two other cards).
Example: 2h 2s 2d As Kh
- Two pair – Two cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank (plus any other card).
Example: Q Q 8 8 4
- One pair – Two cards of the same rank (plus any three other cards).
Example: K-K-6-4-2 beats Q-Q-A-J-9
- No pair – The highest card in the hand wins.
Example: A-6-4-3-2 beats K-Q-9-8-7
Ties are broken, if possible. When two players have the same type of hand, the one with the higher-ranking cards wins the pot. For example, a jack-high straight beats a nine-high straight. Aces and sevens beats kings and deuces. When two players tie for the top card, we keep measuring until the tie is broken. So a flush with cards that rank A-K-Q-J-9 is a better hand than A-K-Q-J-2. With two pair, the higher pair is compared first. Kings and deuces beats queens and jacks. Cards not used to make a pair are also used to break a tie if all else fails, so A-A-K-K-4 beats A-A-K-K-3, because each hand has aces and kings, but the four beats the three. We do not compare any cards not used in the final hand, so only the five best cards are ever compared, and if they are the same, the outcome is a tie. All suits are of the same value, so identical flushes tie.
Types of Poker
There are many types of poker. In most forms, the highest-ranking hand wins the pot. In low poker, the lowest-ranking hand wins the pot. At high-low split, there are two winners, the highest and lowest hands, each winning half the pot.
Betting can be structured, where the amount of a bet or raise is specified. This is called “limit poker.” Betting can be “no-limit,” where you can bet any amount that you have in chips on the table. If a bet is made that turns out to be larger than the opponent has in play, the bettor is refunded the excess amount. (A pot is never lost because you do not have enough money to cover the full amount wagered.) There are also “pot-limit” betting rules, where you can bet any amount up to the size of the pot.
The poker form most often seen on television is hold’em. Each player receives a starting hand of two cards. There are five more cards dealt, but instead of being personal cards for only a particular player, they are common cards, meaning any player may use them. These cards are dealt faceup in the center of the table, which is called “the board.” Sometimes these cards are referred to as board-cards. They are dealt at three points during a deal. The first time is after the players have bet on their starting hands. Three cards are then placed faceup on the board. This is called “the flop.” The players bet for the second time. Another card, called the “turn card,” is placed on the board. The players bet for the third time. Then the last card, called “the river card,” is placed on the board. There is a final betting round, after which the players show their cards to see who wins he pot. This is called “the showdown.” At the showdown, a player may use any combination of personal cards and board-cards for his final hand. On rare occasions, his best hand may actually be the five board-cards, where he is said to be “playing the board.” He cannot win the whole pot that way, since the other players can do the same thing, but he can still get part of the pot if no one else can beat the board.
Hold’em, when played with limit betting, normally uses the lower limit on the initial and flop betting rounds and the upper limit on the turn and river betting rounds. For example, if the game is “$2-$4 limit,” All wagers are in $2 increments on the first two betting rounds and $4 increments on the last two betting rounds.
The game played for huge sums in televised tournaments is almost always “no-limit hold’em,” where a player can bet all his money at any time. This poker form uses to the fullest extent poker skills such as bluffing, reading the opponent, and having the courage to bet all your chips (running the risk being eliminated from the tournament if you lose that hand) when the occasion calls for it. No-limit hold’em is riding a wave of popularity now, both for tournament play and casual games, as more and more people find being able to bet all your money at once to be much more exciting than when the amount you can bet is restricted.
A poker tournament may charge an entry fee, or be a “freeroll,” where prizes are given away without any obligation to pay for playing. Here is how a tournament is run. You are issued a fixed amount of starting chips. If you lose all your chips, you are eliminated from play. (Some tournaments, called “rebuy tournaments,” allow you to re-enter during the early part, such as the first hour of play.) The stakes are continually raised at specified points, as the event transitions from many players with few chips to a few players with many chips. The tournament runs until one player has won by acquiring all the chips. Multiple prizes are usually distributed, based on the number of entrants.