Understanding the Basics of Play

Poker is a simple game to learn, although one can spend a lifetime trying to master it. You win money by winning pots — the money or chips wagered during the play of each hand (or round) of Poker, from the first cards dealt until the showdown. A hand also refers to five cards in the possession of a player.

You win hands in one of two ways:

  • You show down (reveal) the best hand at the conclusion of all the betting rounds. When two or more players are still active when all the betting rounds are done, they turn their hands face up. The pot goes to the player who holds the highest hand during this showdown.
  • All your opponents fold their hands. No, this doesn’t mean they politely clasp their fingers on the table in front of them. Folding a hand (or, more simply, folding) means that a player relinquishes his or her claim to the pot by not matching an opponent’s bet.

In this case, you may have had the best hand or you may have been bluffing — it doesn’t matter. When opponents surrender their claim to the pot, it’s yours.

In games like Seven-Card Stud and Texas Hold’em, the best hand is a high hand. (For more detail about high hands, see the section titled, “Hand Rankings” in this chapter.) In other games, like Lowball and Razz, the best hand is a low hand. (The best possible low hand is 5-4-3-2-A; the next best is 6-4-3-2-A.)

In split-pot games, two winners split the pot. For example, in Seven-Card Stud, High-Low Split, Eight-or-Better (mercifully abbreviated as Seven- Stud/8) and Omaha High-Low Split, Eight-or-Better (or just Omaha/8), the best high hand and the best low hand split the pot (provided that someone makes a low hand composed of five unpaired cards with a rank of 8 or lower). The worst possible low hand would consist of 8-7-6-5-4. The best of all low hands is 5-4-3-2-A (known as a wheel or bicycle). Although a high hand always will be made in split-pot games, there won’t necessarily be a low hand. And when there’s no low hand, the high hand wins the entire pot.

Most games require ante or blind bets. If antes are used, each player must post a token amount of money in order to receive cards. As for blinds, one or two players are required to make a bet or portion of a bet before the hand is dealt. This requirement rotates around the table so each player pays his fair share.

Each time a round of cards is dealt, players have an opportunity to check, bet, fold, call, or raise. Any time a player decides to forfeit his interest in the pot, he may release his hand when it is his turn to act (to do something related to

betting: raise, fold, check, or call). When a player folds a hand, he isn’t required to place any more money in the pot. If a player bets or raises and no one calls, the pot belongs to that player, the cards are collected and shuffled, and the next hand is dealt. If there are two or more players still active at the end of the hand, the best hand wins the pot.

Although there are different rules for each specific version, Poker really is this simple. Yet within its simplicity lies a wonderfully textured game structure that is always fascinating, frequently enjoyable, and, for some, a lifelong source of pleasure.

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