Dealing the Cards

The order in which Hold’em is dealt is very specific and, assuming you’re playing with a table full of lucid, honest people, never changes.

The hole cards

Starting with the player clockwise from the dealer button, all players are dealt two hole cards, one at a time, in a clockwise fashion. You are allowed to look at your hole cards (in fact you should — unless your psychic powers are way, way up there, it would be hard to know exactly what kind of hand you had if you didn’t). However, for the most part you should not show these cards to other players, even when folding.

Be very careful to not expose your hole cards to other players as you peek at them. You’re allowed to use both of your hands to look at your cards (although you’re not allowed to take your cards off the edge of the table) and should do so to help keep them shielded from prying eyes. Always memorize your cards when you look at them, including the suit — this will keep you from having to refer to them again when something like a flush or straight draw hits the board (if you do, it’ll be obvious that you’re looking to see if you hit your straight or flush draw).

When you’re dealt your hole cards, it’s not a bad idea to wait and not look at either of them until it’s your turn to act. This way you can watch other players around the table as they glimpse at their cards for possible hints as to what they may have. This strategy also keeps you from being obvious about whether you’re going to bet or fold well before it’s your turn to act.

If you do decide to wait to look at your hole cards, nearly every player at the table will be looking at you as you glimpse your cards. Have your best Poker face ready. (If you don’t have the ability to generate a good Poker face, sneak a peek at each of your cards, one at a time as they are dealt.)


When playing in a casino environment, protecting your cards is essential. This means you should always have control of your hole cards either by keeping your hands on them (not a great choice, because forgetting and letting them go is too easy), or by placing something on top of your cards as they lie at rest on the table.

The protector you use can range from just an extra Poker chip in your stack, to your car keys, or maybe even your Lord of the Rings lucky charm.

If you don’t protect your hand, and it’s hit by cards being mucked (discarded) by other players, your hand is automatically folded. Another possibility is that the dealer assumes you have folded and just mucks the hand herself. (The underlying theory here is that you can’t prove what hand you had out of the mess of cards sitting in front of you.)

Get in the habit of dropping a chip on top of your face-down cards at the table. When you fold, pass your hole cards face-down to the dealer, and leave whatever you’re using as a “protector” in front of you.

The flop

After a round of betting for the hole cards (see “Betting” later in this chapter),

a card is burned off the top of the deck (meaning discarded without being looked at — this is done in case the top card had somehow been exposed or marked), and three cards are dealt face-up to the center of the table. This is known as the flop and is the start of the community cards on the table — those cards that everyone may incorporate in his hand.

Everyone who has not folded now has a five-card hand — two hole cards combined with the three community cards. A round of betting takes place.

The turn

After the flop betting round, another card is burned from the deck and a fourth community card is exposed. This card is known as the turn (sometimes fourth street).

All players still in the hand now have six cards to choose from to make their best five-card Poker hands. There is another round of betting and one more card yet to be exposed.

The river

A card is burned and the most infamous of community cards, the river (sometimes called fifth street) is dealt. All remaining players have seven cards for selecting their best five-card Poker hand (their two hole cards combined with the five community cards). A round of betting takes place, and the best five-card hand at the table is the winner.

To determine their five-card hand, players may use zero, one, or both of their hole cards in combination with five, four, or three community cards, respectively.

Because a player is required to use at least three community cards to make a hand, there can be no flushes if there are not three cards of the same suit (multiple suits with no flush possibilities based on the current exposed community cards is known as a rainbow). Nor can there be a straight if there aren’t three cards from a five-card sequence (for example, 5-8-9).

In Figure 1-1, George is playing the board and has a king-high heart flush.

John is using one hole card for an ace-high flush, but Ringo is the big winner using both hole cards for a straight flush.

The showdown

If everyone in a hand has folded, leaving a single player, that person wins the pot by default and is not required to show his hand to any player at the table in any way.

If more than one player at the table is still in a hand, and the final betting round has ended, the game has entered a phase known as the showdown (the part where people expose their cards to see who has won).

Anyone still in the hand may turn over his cards at this point, but people are usually reluctant to do so. If no one is making a motion to show his hand, the last person to raise (or the first person to bet if there were no raises on the river) in the final round of betting exposes his hand first — the theory being that this is the hand that everyone else called. (If no one bet on the river, the player closest to the dealer has to expose his hand first.)

Players are welcome, if not encouraged, to muck a losing hand without showing it. After a hand has been mucked (meaning turned face-down and pushed into the discards beyond the player’s control), the hand is considered dead and no longer in competition for the pot.

After the first hand is exposed, remaining players expose their hands in a clockwise order. The dealer will muck losing hands one by one, leaving only the winning hand exposed for the awarding of the pot. When the dealer has determined a winner, she will push the pot in the direction of the player, and at that point, the winner is welcome to drag the pot in.

Don’t ever trust another player when he announces a hand at the end of a showdown and muck your hand based on that information. After you’ve mucked your hand, it is truly dead and you can never bring it back. If there is an error on a player’s call, other players may lie to you as a “joke.” It’s even more likely that they’ll misread a hand. (We bet we’ve seen people read a combined hand of four spades and three clubs as a “flush” a hundred times in my life.) If you have any question as to who won a hand when you’re involved in a showdown, merely turn your hand over and let the dealer make the decision.

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