Poker is a card game in which players are dealt cards that they try to combine into ranked hands: pairs, straights, flushes, and so on. Players take turns betting chips on who has the best hand, raising one another's bets until everyone calls or everyone folds. In the end, the player with the most chips wins.
Poker evolved from a number of games, including the Arabian game "as-nas" as well as the French "poque." Poker and other bluffing games have been popular for centuries, and most recently cable television and online play has made poker more popular with amateur players who want to win it big in nationally televised tournaments. While professional players like Doyle Brunson and Amarillo Slim dominated the poker world in the 70s, today the online boom has led to a new generation of professionals who developed their skills at home games and online to become the future of poker.
Poker is played around a table, topped with felt. Some have padded edges for players to lean on. As with most card games, the players arrange themselves in a circle and take turns acting. The action moves clockwise around the table. The center of the table is where players place their bets. This area is called the pot, and some tables have a line to mark it off--be careful not to let any of your chips accidentally slip past the line because many card rooms have a rule that any chips in the pot are considered a bet!
The purpose of poker is to win the most chips from your opponents. You win chips one of two ways: convincing your opponent to call your bets and then showing the best hand; or by bluffing and convincing all your opponents to fold.
After cards are dealt, there is a round of betting: players take turns doing one of the following:
After every player has acted, more cards might be dealt and there might be more rounds of betting. This continues until either every player has folded, or there are no more rounds of betting. If every player folds, the player who made the bet wins the pot; if more than one player still holds cards, they showdown and compare hands--the player with the best hand wins.
There are two major styles of play: cash games and tournaments. In cash games, players buy as many chips as they want and play as long as they want. If a player loses all their chips, they can buy more, or they can decide to stop playing for the day. Cash games are more casual than tournaments, since players can come and go as they please; but players can also hunker down at a table and play for hours or even days, which means some cash games can turn into big-ticket events.
In tournaments, every player starts at the same time with a set number of chips. As time goes on, the minimum bets start to get bigger. When players lose all their chips, they are eliminated from the tournament. The tournament goes on until one player remains. Tournaments are how championships like the World Series of Poker are decided.
Depending on the game, anywhere from 2-10 players can be seated at the same table. During tournaments, multiple tables of players might play against one another, and the tables will combine as players are eliminated. Players take turns being the dealer, also called being "on the button" (named for the white button that indicates who is dealing). Even when playing at a casino, the dealer rotates because the dealer is the last person to act during a round of betting, which is a valuable position.
Any game worth its salt uses chips. Sure, you could use cash, but it's harder to make change, and betting dollar bills can be more stressful than betting with chips. Plus, let's be honest: chips just look cool, and feel good to play with. Most poker games use a standard 52-card deck (some use Jokers as well). You can never have too many decks, since one might lose a card or get bent. Just make sure they have different backs so you don't mix them up. You can play at any table, but a real table with felt and pads make the game go more smoothly and feel more authentic.
Most casinos and tournaments have rules about taking too much time, using profanity, or distracting other players. Always be courteous. The most important rule is that verbal bets are binding: what you say is what you mean, so don't misstate "50" for "15." String bets are a big no-no: when it's your turn to bet, you have to state or move in one motion. This means the melodramatic scenes in the movies ("I see your 5… and I raise you 20 more!") are actually rule violations. This is because seeing your opponent's reaction can make you act differently, and this is an unfair advantage.
In tournaments, it's winner takes all: whoever has all the chips gets first place, and whoever was eliminated last is second, and so on. The prize pool is awarded, with the last player to make a profit called "the bubble." In cash games, you leave with what you won, so just know when to walk away!
The specific rules of poker vary from game to game. But most games follow the same structure: dealing and rounds of betting. Each hand begins with a blind bet: either a blind or an ante. Cards are dealt one at a time, starting with the player to the left of the dealer, moving in a circle clockwise, and ending with the dealer. The number of cards dealt varies according to the poker variant being played:
After cards are dealt, there is a round of betting: a player (usually the one to the left of the dealer) can check or bet.
Depending on the poker variant, more cards are dealt:
Depending on the game, there can be multiple rounds of betting. But the outcomes are always the same:
The player with the best hand wins. The hands are ranked as follows, from lowest to highest:
If two players have the same exact hand, they split the pot.