Basic Poker Rules

Poker and its ancestor card games have been popular ways to fulfill human needs for play and competition for more than a thousand years, if we accept the ancient Chinese as the inventors of the earliest poker variation. Today, most poker games are variations on three fundamental types: Texas Hold ‘Em, Seven-Card Stud and Omaha. Both Seven-Card Stud and Omaha also come in low-card versions. This article will discuss the three basic types of poker that use “high-card-wins” rules.

What’s Needed to Play Poker

Getting started in poker is simple when it comes to equipment. All that’s needed are a deck of 52 cards, poker chips of various denominations to make bets, cash to pay off the bets and any mutually agreed-upon number of players, generally from 2 to 7. (However, the World Series of Poker allows nine players at its final table). Also needed are a table and chairs to accommodate the players. Refreshments are optional, but appreciated.

The toughest part of what’s needed to play poker is information. First, poker players should learn proper game etiquette; rude, obnoxious people who forget to ante or play out of turn take the fun out of the game. Next, each player should know the rankings of poker hands and the rules of the game being played. Finally, players need to learn some strategy for playing their hands. Strategies include how to bet, how to watch for other players’ “tells” (physical signs that players could have winning cards, losing cards or be bluffing) and how not to give off their own “tells” to other players.

Finally, the intangible quality of truly great poker players is something known as “heart.” In his book, The Gentleman’s Handbook on Poker, William J. Florence writes: “The strong point in poker is never to lose your temper, either with those you are playing with or, more particularly, with the cards. There is no sympathy in poker. Always keep cool. If you lose your head you will lose all your chips.”

How the Action Works

In every poker game, there are nine common actions: ante, bet, blind, call, check, deal, fold, pot and raise.

Ante. Before a hand is dealt, players put a certain predetermined amount in the pot (the collection of money earned by the winning player). This is called the “ante.” This is a small contribution, not a bet, to get the pot started. Antes are typically the lowest denomination being played in the game.

Bet. This action is when you wager an amount on the probability that your poker hand will be higher than all other players so that you win the pot. There are multiple poker strategies for how to bet depending upon what cards you hold. The betting round ends when everyone still in the game calls the last bet.

Blinds. A “blind” is a forced bet of predetermined amount put in before the deal. It’s called a blind because players bet without seeing any cards. Usually the two players on the dealer’s left pay the blinds. The player immediately left of the dealer puts in a smaller bet called the “little blind,” while the player two places left of the dealer bets the “big blind.” Usually the “big blind” equals the smallest possible bet, while the little blind is half or a third of the smallest amount. Say the minimum bet is $6, the big blind would place $6 and the little blind could bet $3 or even $2. Since blinds are forced bet, they count as the first bets for the players who put them in. This means that no player can “check” on the first round of betting; all must bet.

Call – When a player bets, the next player has three options, among them call or see the bet (match it exactly). Betting then moves on to the next player.

Check – This means to pass on betting that round, but stay in the game. Any round can be “checked around” while players wait to draw new cards.

Deal – Distribute cards evenly to each player. The number of cards and the way in which they’re dealt depends on the type of poker game being played.

Fold – To fold a hand is to drop out of the game, also known as “mucking.” Smart players fold unless their hands are likely to win, thereby preserving their bankroll and allowing them to play longer.

Pot – The collection of bets on the table that is taken by the winning player.

Raise –To raise a bet is to increase the amount of the bet, a signal that you think your hand is better than the other players’. A player whose bet has been raised by another player gets the option to see the raise when the betting cycle returns to him or her. Raising a bet is a calculated strategy also used to psych out other players when bluffing.

Some Final Notes

Now that you know the basics, your play will improve as you add to your poker knowledge. For example, make the effort to learn the best starting hands in Five-Card Draw, Seven-Card Stud and Texas Hold ‘Em, as well as the worst starters. This way you’ll know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, as Kenny Rogers sang in “The Gambler.” In addition, learn how your position at the table can hurt or help you, depending on where the dealer sits.

Be sure to follow good poker etiquette, since courtesy always makes the game go better, and don’t be too proud to take tips from others. As playwright David Mamet has said: “Poker … will teach [a player] about his own nature. Many bad players do not improve because they cannot bear self-knowledge.”